The great challenge of pastoral godliness
There are four types of Christian behaviour, it seems to me:
There are, firstly, good things done for good motives. This is what the Bible calls righteousness.
Then there are good things, but done for wrong motives. To all the world, this appears like righteousness, but as we shall see in just a moment, God’s word has a different assessment.
There are bad things done for good motives – in other words, times when acting in good faith, we just get things wrong, a word spoken with good intent, perhaps, but entirely the wrong thing to say.
Then there are bad things done for bad motives. This is what we generally call sin.
And therein lies the issue. Of my list of four, three are abhorrent to God. However, when it comes to putting sin to death, most of our focus – indeed, all of our focus – is on number four. I don’t want to ignore that. But godliness is more than outward behaviour. It involves inward motives – and this is a particular issue for pastors and preachers.
I was thinking about this today meeting up with a friend. We read just one verse – Matthew 6.1. “Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
There’s nothing wrong with being righteous in front of others, but if we do it “to be seen by others” (with wrong motives for example), then Jesus is clear. What reward can we expect? None. Zilch. Zip. That’s a sobering assessment isn’t it? Particularly when it comes to how I act as a pastor and even the words and illustrations I use in my preaching.
The reality is, of course, more complex. I tend to do righteous things for mixed motives. I am somewhere between 1 and 2 on my list. But in so much as I am doing right things for wrong motives, I have to seek out this sin and with the Spirit’s help put it to death. That’s not comfortable nor easy. Frankly, I’m more at ease with number four on my list. But if I’m going to take Jesus’ word seriously, it’s a process that cannot be ignored. For me, or for you.
Pastoring dementia patients
I’m not normally one for simply posting links, but occasionally you come across something which deserves a wide hearing – this is one such post about pastoring dementia patients.
Worth a click and a minute.
Come, Holy Spirit
The parable of the soils (Mark 4) is pretty clear. Not all the soil on which we sow is good soil. In fact, sometimes the sowing of the word actually hardens people who have not been given the secrets of the kingdom. This parable is such a helpful one for preachers on many levels, but let me pick out one particular aspect which is clear. Preaching is a spiritual work. Of course it is mediated through men faithfully exegeting, applying and communicating truths. We must not ignore any of these or get so mystical that we get to the point where none of this matters.
But nor must we be so caught up in the work that we fail to ignore what is in plain view of Mark 4. Unless the Spirit gives life and gives the “secrets of the kingdom” to people there will never be understanding however good the sermon is. I’m reminded of the time William Wilberforce took William Pitt to hear one of London’s finest preachers. Wilberforce was amazed at the sermon and asked his friend Pitt what he thought. He was completely unmoved.
What does this practically mean for a preacher? It must surely mean this – that we need, in prayer, to confess our entire dependence upon the Spirit to bless our ministry. The preacher should be praying before and after his sermon, even during. Like Spurgeon, we should be climbing every real or metaphorical pulpit step crying out “Come, Holy Spirit.”
Faithful exegesis is just the start
What makes a good sermon? Very often, in our circles, we’re obsessed (rightly) with getting the text right. That has to be the starting point. Without faithfulness to the text, the sermon cannot be a good sermon. But it’s the height of naivety to think that’s job done. A good sermon will take the excellent exegesis and apply it faithfully as well. It’s a weak spot for many of us, which is why we’ve asked Bryan Chapell to come and help us at this Spring’s Ministers Conferences – still a very few places available.
But it’s good to be reminded that even then it is not job done, because we have to communicate what we have prepared. To use an extreme example, if we don’t say a word, what we have written on the page is irrelevant – we have to get from the page to the people. This is a softer skill than exegesis – if only there were a ten point plan or a seven step approach. But in reality, the ability to communicate is individual – and whilst there are things we can and should do, each preacher will be different. There is, then, a kind of preaching equation which looks something like this:
PREACHING = FAITHFUL EXEGESIS + APPROPRIATE APPLICATION + GOOD COMMUNICATION
I know things are a little more complex than this – but without (2) and (3) we should not kid ourselves that we have a preached a text.
Oh, and did you know (by the way) that preaching is a spiritual discipline? More of that tomorrow.
Leadership: the real deal
I’ve just returned from my pastoral road trip to Normandy, visiting the D Day landing beaches with a friend. It was great – the sun shone, the sky was blue and we had the various memorials and museums almost entirely to ourselves. 2017 anybody? There are parts of the trip that are always moving – the US cemetery at Coleville is one of these – the Commonwealth cemeteries are dotted around and smaller because not all the dead were buried in one place – but the US cemetery contains all, or nearly all, of the Normandy fallen – it’s a moving visit.
However, my favourite place is undoubtedly Pegasus Bridge. There is an excellent museum and a bust commemorating John Howard, the leader of the assault on the bridge which captured its objective in just 30 minutes, with only one casualty (Lt Den Brotheridge). His memoirs are very interesting. His command unit, made up of three gliders, rehearsed the landing for almost a year. In the event, it all ran like clockwork and he had to do very little leading in the thick of it. But his testimony is that real leadership was in getting his troops ready, not necessarily in leading them over the top. Over the period of training they got bored, distracted and leadership meant keeping them going even when they didn’t feel like it and keeping fixed on the objective.
We tend to reduce leadership down to amazing moments of skill, courage and persuasion. But in fact, Leadership 101 is just as much – if not more – about the ordinary. It’s about keeping people going in the routine and ordinariness of life, with their eyes firmly fixed on the objective. We tend not to exalt such ordinary leaders as much as the gung-ho valiant warriors, but it’s every bit a part of leadership.
After all, an elder must be able to manage his household well. That’s a pretty mundane measure at some level – I think about my own household and what that looks like day to day. There’s an awful lot of keeping going in there – and that is true leadership. Don’t knock it. Instead, desire it.
What? No food? I’ve got some ideas.
Quite a few people have noticed the absence of a meal option at this year’s EMA. That’s not a mistake. Sadly, the food supplied for a sandwich lunch kept increasing in price and remained average quality – £7 is too much for a sandwich when you can pick up a decent meal deal on the way in for £3. So, for those feeling as though the world has ended, here are ten things you could do with £12 (£4 saving per day over three days).
1. You could buy a quarter of a kindle. Get together with three other guys, buy the e-reader, load it up with some free stuff (Spurgeon, Calvin and so on) then send it to an overseas pastor. You will be doing him a great favour. Some publishers might even give you some free ebooks if you ask nicely…
2. Buy 12 evangelistic books, write in the inside front cover, and give them out in the place where you live – perhaps at the shopping centre, perhaps from door to door work.
3. Buy a bottle of wine/non-alcoholic alternative and some cheese from Lidl and invite your neighbours around. You could start by telling them how you saved up for the nosh and take it from there.
4. Buy a homeless guy a McDonald’s value meal. Every day.
5. Get a subscription to EN.
6. Get a one way train ticket to Nuneaton. (Nuneaton needs the gospel too).
7. Buy two tickets (depending on cinema!) for the new Risen! movie and take a friend.
8. You could gift aid the saving and make it into £15 then donate it to a charitable cause.
9. You could have two lunches every day and still take home £1 for a Sherbet Dib Dab.
10. If you were really desperate you could buy 12 copies of my new book on giving a Bible talk and give a copy to 12 guys or girls who regularly do talks in church. As I say, only if you’re really desperate…
Introducing Equipped to Preach the Word
Equipped to Preach the Word is a new resource we’ve put together as a series of videos and accompanying manuals to put resources into the hands of those who long, under God, to train up a new generation of faithful and effective Bible preachers.
Topics include: the nature and necessity of revelation, interpretation and application; apostolic priorities and practice; contemporary challenges in the culture and the church; careful reading and thoughtful analysis of Scripture; watching your life and doctrine; the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly.
This course helps you to train others to acquire and develop the necessary practical tools and skills to expound the Bible’s message. This includes both the preparation of the text and the presentation of the preaching, so as to connect that message to our contemporary cultures. The course seeks also to motivate the preacher to progress and perseverance, through spiritual encouragement, not only to be a skilled workman, but also to be maturing as a humble servant, whom God can use.
The combination of video teaching and downloadable materials for further discussion and practice exercises make this a flexible resource for training groups.
There is a worldwide need for the Word of God to be proclaimed and for Christians to be more deeply rooted in its truth. That is the heartbeat of Equipped to Preach the Word.
You can watch the trailer below or see here for more details (scroll down a bit for the manuals and introduction for leaders)
When less is more
Something happened to me recently as I was about to preach – something that winds most preachers up. The service had been packed a bit more than usual of good and right things, and so in order for the service to finish in good time I needed to shave a few minutes off of my sermon. (We try to finish in good time so that the kids’ group leaders can plan accordingly.) This doesn’t happen often with us, but inevitably in any church it’s going to happen from time to time.
At that moment a preacher can easily strike up a good line of chuntering in his head, as he sees the minutes tick by. All the wonderful fruits of my study that won’t now get an airing! All those carefully-crafted explanations and powerful applications that won’t see the light of day! You might start to feel as put out Christopher Lee allegedly did when his role as Saruman was entirely cut out of the cinema release of part three of The Lord of the Rings (although he did make it into the extended DVD version – but I digress).
So on the hoof I cut out one of my two closing applications. Was it good for my humility to have to do that? Of course it was. It’s very easy for our right convictions about the vital centrality of the preached word to morph into a preciousness about myself as a preacher with this sermon I’ve prepared. It’s good of the Lord occasionally to pull us up short on that one.
And was the sermon obviously worse as a result? I doubt it. Perhaps sometimes in God’s goodness one punchy application actually has a deeper impact – and maybe even a wider impact – than ticking through a longer list. This is not an argument for ten-minute sermons or a justification for services eating into the sermon-time every week, but nevertheless with preaching, as with many other things in life, occasionally less is more.
The Risen Movie
Here’s Dan Rackham, a recently graduated Cornhill student, on the Risen movie which he got to see at a pre-screening. Includes, towards, the end, some ideas for how you could use it evangelistically as part of your Easter outreach, though I’m not sure I will be dressing up as a character….. 😉
One of the problems with EMA is that, being based in central London, many who might really benefit from it are unable to attend just because the cost of accommodation in London for three nights is simply unaffordable.
For the past few years, we’ve been looking for ways to help facilitate such people and are so grateful for a small group of volunteers who have generously offered their homes to host a guest (or sometimes two!) for the duration of the conference. This kindness makes all the difference to those guests and also to us too; to be able to welcome those who otherwise would be prohibited from coming. We are so thankful for this willingness to help and such hospitality.
This year’s EMA runs from 21st-23rd June. Perhaps you also may be able and willing to offer your home to someone for those days? If so, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re a pastor, please feel free to pass this request onto members in your church that may like to help.
Equally, maybe this is your solution to attending the conference if accommodation costs were a hindrance to you? Or perhaps you know someone whom this would really benefit? Again, please feel free to get in touch at the above email address. We’ll do our best to help you out where we can.
Thanking you in advance.
PS: We are also looking for hosts for the Cornhill Summer School which is the week after EMA (27th June- 1st July); if you’re able to help then, let us know about that too!