Women in Ministry 2011
If you're a woman in ministry in a conservative evangelical world, you may feel a bit uncared for. After all, we spend ages explaining and thinking through what we mean by women's ministry or women in ministry, but then we just leave you to it!
That's why our Women in Ministry conference is a key part of our conference calendar. Next year it will be held at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire from 17 to 20 January 2011. Speakers include Angus Macleay, Kate Selby and Kirsty Birkett – a really great line up.
- If you're a woman in ministry, do think about joining us – you can book here.
- If you're a church leader and you employ women in ministry, why are you not encouraging and building them by sending them along? Invest in this important area of ministry!
As you read this, I will probably be on final approach to Inverness (see picture, although I'm guessing it's not going to look quite like this on Monday!!). I say probably because more snow is forecast, who knows….?
Anyway, Vaughan Roberts, Sam sam the media man and I are off to see Christian Focus our publishing partner. PT jointly publish titles with them:
- Our Teach the Bible series is now growing, with a few new titles planned for launch in 2012. So far we've launched Teaching Isaiah, Teaching Amos, Teaching Matthew, Teaching John, Teaching Acts, Teaching Romans, Teaching the Christian Hope and Spirit of Truth. More info here. Look out in 2012 for some new volumes from both OT and NT books.
- Our Practical Preacher series currently has two titles: The Priority of Preaching and Bible Delight both by Christopher Ash. We hope to add a third in time for next year's EMA. Watch this space. More info here.
We've started to translate some of the books into Russian with (hopefully) more languages to follow.
It would be relatively straightforward to preach passages without thinking how they fit together. Here's a good example. Hebrews 1.1-4 is a stonking description of the supremacy of Christ. Hebrews 1.5-14 is a good OT exposition of how Jesus is better than the angels – and seeing as angelic supremacy is not a particular problem to tackle today you could just turn that into a sermon on angels. Then have a week's break and preach Hebrews 2 on how Jesus is the perfect man.
That misses the logic and flow of the passage, though. The overall theme is the supremacy of Jesus. No doubt first century Jewish converts thought that angels too were exalted beings and so chapter 1 is necessary to put this right. No, angels are actually servants of men! Now, follow the flow. Wasn't Jesus a man too? OK, I understand that he is better than the angels, but bringing him down to another human hardly asserts his supremacy, does it? True – hence chapter 2 which shows us that Jesus is not just another man….
That, I think, is the flow of thought, and it gives more substance to the preacher who tackles Hebrews 1-2. I think he's going to preach a better sermon as a result. At least, he should….
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Well, it is Christmas….
H.T Tim Challies
It’s all in the headline (NOT)
An interesting case coming out of the European Court of Human Rights this morning. It involves three women from Ireland who travelled abroad to have abortions because they weren't able to have them in the republic. I know that abortion in Ireland is a contentious issue, but what also interests me is the way the media report this case.
Basically, two of the women lost the case and the third won because her life was in danger and the Irish constitution (as I understand it) allows abortions in those circumstances. The court ruled that the woman's rights had been breached not because she was not given free access to abortion but because the state failed to provide access on the basis that its constitution ruled. In other words, this is not a case about abortion per se, but a case about a national state not doing what its constitution requires. Nevertheless, the BBC website headline is telling, if not misleading:
Well, this is a blog about preaching, not about abortion, important a topic though that is. But preachers can give headlines that are also misleading. In fact, we can talk about Christianity this way too. After all, Jesus implores us to count the cost of following him (Luke 9.23-27) but how many evangelistic talks does that make it into? Few, I guess.
Paul's testimony is clear: "we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor 4.2).
How accurate are your preaching headlines?
Q&A to end Cornhill
This week is the last week of the Cornhill term before Christmas. This afternoon that means that four members of staff are going to form a panel and answer some submitted questions. One, unsurprisingly, is about baptism. Amongst the staff we have persuaded paedo-baptists and persuaded credo-baptists (I count myself amongst the latter). Fortunately for me, the question is framed in such a way that I can answer it "I don't." I'm guessing that won't be enough of an answer though!
It's a complex subject wrapped up in how we understand covenant (and, in particular, the Abrahamic Covenant). No time for that here, right now. But it's worth pointing towards two excellent resources for those who are unclear or undecided about this issue. So, here are two excellent books, one from each camp. I think it's worth reading the argument of the two views from inside the camp, rather than a caricature presented by those who disagree with the position.
- For paedo-baptism, I found The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge and published by P&R to be thorough and well argued. It includes contributions from Joel Beeke, Richard Pratt and RC Sproul.
- For credo-baptism, the best resource I have read is Believer's Baptism edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright with contributions from Mark Dever, Andreas Kostenberger and Timothy George. It is published by Broadman and Holman.
It should go without saying that sitting on the fence on such a key ecclesiological issue (though certainly not primary, I would suggest) is a poor place for a church leader to be.
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How to avoid being a sermon hack
OK, I hope you spotted that this was a spoof – a little bit of irony. But it hurts, because it's rather close to the mark for many of us. Here's my antidote – five tips for avoiding being a sermon hack. This time, irony-free.
- Don't take on too much. I don't just mean the admin of pastoring, I mean too much preaching. Some exceptional preachers can cope with preparing three messages a week. I would suggest they are few. If your preaching schedule has made you into a hack, don't accept it, rework the schedule. Be honest with your church leaders (they would much rather you were!). If a sermon takes 10 hours of thorough preparation, it's unlikely you'll be able to do three a week. It's pretty unlikely you can do two a week for a sustainable period of time.
- Read and study a passage before. Our esteemed Jacko (David Jackman to me) suggests reading through a book in personal devotions six months before preaching it. I think that's good advice. Let it be deep in your heart and mind before you come to study it for preaching. I also think you should start thinking about your next passage before you have preached the current one – because just as you want to relate backwards in a Bible series, you should be thinking about how it relates forwards. I used to set aside a few hours on a Friday when Sunday's message is coming together to think about the following week.
- Use commentaries selectively. Frankly, I find devotional type commentaries derived from sermons pretty unhelpful, not because they aren't brilliant and contain useful insights, but because I can't read a Stott book and then not preach his sermon! I leave them until the end. So, for me, Tyndale over BST and NICOT/NICNT over NIV Application. Work it out yourself.
- Work on the big idea carefully. This is a key step which sermon "experts" often overlook. You may not realise it, but if your sermon (supposedly expounding the passage) and the passage don't match up, then the message is seriously undermined. I was reminded in a Cornhill sermon group last week of what a significant difference it makes if the preacher has grasped the main thing. Don't be formulaic about this. The last thing we want is formulaic preaching. But recognise that the hard work of asking "what is this passage about?" is a key step in preaching well. "This is sweaty, difficult work, but it has to be done" (Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching p70).
- Pray. Duh! We don't believe in works, but as Stuart Olyott pointed out in last year's Resource Guide, the ministry of the word (Acts 6.4) "is an and". Of course, God has been gracious to you and me when we have been prayer-less – but let's not presume on his grace.
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When seven point sermons can work
I'm not normally in the habit of preaching seven point sermons. But sometimes they can work. I'm not talking about seven distinct separate teaching points, like a Puritan sermon. This sermon has just one point, I think – the supremacy of Christ. It's based on Hebrews 1.1-4 – and here is the diagram that's in my head:
The seven points serve the aim of the sermon which is to portray the richness and supremacy of the "Son of God." This is the one burning idea I want hearers to go away with and which should cause preacher and hearer to fall to their knees in worship, adoration and wonder. It's a technique Paul sometimes uses in purple passages – pile description upon description not necessarily to make a point of all the points, but to make a point of the whole.
So, this seven point sermon is really a one point sermon.
Or, it could also be a seven part mini series….. but that's another thing all together.
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2011 EMA launch
Today we're officially launching the 2011 Evangelical Ministry Assembly – our 28th. Held from 22-24 June at St Helen's Bishopsgate, our theme for 2011 will be "preaching that connects: conservative, radical ministry." So much of our preaching is exegetically faithfuly but dull or lifeless in its application. It simply doesn't "land." Our contention is that we need to be conservative about the things we ought to conserve (primarily the message and the method), but radical about how we apply this to life.
Our main speakers will be Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan), who models this so superbly, David F Wells (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and IVP author), Liam Goligher (Duke Street Church, Richmond) and Vaughan Roberts (Director of PT and Rector of St Ebbe's Oxford). Four seminar streams will tackle "connecting with…." particular groups of people: women (men think they have this all sewn up!); children (is dumbing down the only option?); atheists (how do we reach those staunchly opposed to God?); muslim people (increasingly an issue for many of our churches).
It promises to be stirring and helpful. Last year the EMA sold out and we had to close bookings some weeks before the event, so if you were one of those disgruntled people who phoned – sorry, but please do book early this year (we also have less spaces available than last year).
See you there! Book here.
My 5 steps to easy preaching
Or, how to be a sermon hack without really trying. I know you'll find these tips helpful:
- Come fresh to a passage. After all, freshness is best. Make sure that you don't look at a passage before you come to do your Friday or Saturday preparation. Previous study will only hold you back. Let the word sink into you at the same time as you are preparing; it doesn't need to have done so before.
- Avoid the Old Testament. As someone said to me this week, "The Old Testament is both hard and boring." Stick to the New Testament, and, to be honest, stick to the easier parts. There's plenty there, why waste effort on hard stuff? Your congregation will not cope anyway.
- Don't get wound up about praying. You know full well that you've preached OK (at least, if not better) when prayer has been slight. Prayer is not an essential ingredient like some magic spell to be cast over your message.
- Choose a good story. Everyone loves a good story. It will keep people with you. Select a really good story on which to hang your sermon. Funny too, if possible. Start with it, come back to it at the end.
- Read selectively. To be frank, throw out all those commentaries that are of the analytical verse-by-verse kind. The only commentaries worth their salt are those which are based on sermons. Use these copiously. You will find inspiration for both headings and illustrations here, saving you the bother of doing these yourself. After all, if it ain't broke….
And, hey presto, you're a sermon hack. Congratulations.
1. irony. n. an expression of meaning by the use of a language of a different or opposite tendency.
2. Read 2 Tim 2.15 again: "Do your best"
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