Preparing under pressure
This morning I’m trying to prepare a sermon (to a deadline, as most sermons are). I’m doing so in the context of just hearing about a devastating pastoral situation of some close friends. I’m gutted and find it really hard to apply myself. That’s not uncommon. Thankfully, these kinds of situations are relatively rare. There are joys as well as sorrows. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves having to prepare a message for the godly congregation whilst being burdened by the ungodliness of others.
This is not the same thing as a Messiah complex. Thinking we can fix the world is a bad path for a pastor to take. But there is something about pastoring that keeps us from professionalising. We feel the pains and sins of those we minister to – just as the Apostle Paul did. And so it should be. Pity the congregation whose pastor is so compartmentalized that he is able to switch off from them completely. Some shepherd!
What to do? The sermon has to get done. The people have to be ministered to. I need to be in prayer for the particular situation, and possibly even spend some time trying to help. The answer is always the same – to throw ourselves on the mercy of God. I’ll probably do that over a long walk, praying and reflecting and asking God to remind me that I pastor not just two errant sheep, but a few others too who need to hear the word of God this Sunday.
I spent some of yesterday with a dear pastor who has really been through it the last few years: trouble like you wouldn’t believe. His testimony stirred me up. “The Lord has kept me from bitterness.” Looking in from the outside, this seems humanly impossible, such has been the situation. But we preachers find that the Lord sustains and equips for the ministry the Lord gives. Which means that I prepare my sermon casing myself wholly on him.
Which, by the way, is the means of preparing every sermon.
EMA Seminars part 2
Picking up on yesterday’s post, here are the other seminars. All are open for booking for now.
Seminar 4: Teaching Genesis. 3 one hour sessions helping preachers and teachers get to grips with the book of Genesis. Delegates should leave both enthused and equipped to teach this book effectively. With Andrew Reid (Lead pastor, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Doncaster, Victoria).
Seminar 5: Preaching refresher. 3 one hour sessions going over some preaching basics – ideal for those starting out in ministry or needing a refresher (e.g. mission partners on a break). With Jonathan Griffiths (Lecturer, PT Cornhill).
Seminar 6: The preacher and his family. Bruce Ware (Professor of Christian Theology, Southern Baptist Seminary and author of Big Truths for Young Hearts) helps us think practically about how the pastor leads his family at home. This would also be appropriate for wives attending the EMA.
Seminar 7: Preaching masterclass. A small (20 people) round table group for experienced preachers helping to hone preaching skills and work on the book of Judges, with special focus on how to apply the book faithfully. This group will require some pre-work. With Mike Raiter (Mike leads the Centre for Biblical Preaching in Melbourne, Australia).
EMA seminars part 1
Next year’s EMA is made up of plenary sessions and seminars. The seminars are of two types: those focused on preaching (preaching is the thing that brings us together) and those focused on the topic. We’ve got seven altogether, and here’s a brief taste of what we’ve planned. Please note that Seminars 2 through 7 are only available to three day guests because each builds on the previous day, whereas Seminar 1 (in the main auditorium) is made up of three standalone sessions. The seminars connected to the theme are:
Seminar 1: Humanity and church life. Working through the implications of a robust doctrine of humanity in key areas of church life: Beginning and end of life issues (John Wyatt, Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College London); gender issues (Mike Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill College); culture and race issues (Tim Keller, Senior Minister, Redeemer Church, NY).
Seminar 2: Women in ministry. A small seminar working through the implications of the doctrine of humanity for women in ministry. With Carrie Sandom (Women’s worker, St John’s Tunbridge Wells) and Kathleen Nielson (Director of Women’s Ministry, The Gospel Coalition).
Seminar 3: Crossing Boundaries. How does our doctrine of humanity break down some of the key barriers that exist in society today? This interactive seminar will have both theological and practical input as we try to work through some of these issues for the church today: we will look at race, class and age. With Adrian Reynolds (Director of Ministry, PT) and a panel of pastors facing these issues locally.
We’ve long toyed with the idea of tackling some of the presenting issues that evangelicalism is faced with. Our panel of local church men who guide our thinking and planning have encouraged us in this. But we felt an “ethics” EMA or a “sexuality” EMA would be predictable, on the back foot and never really get to the root of the issue.
So, instead, join us next June for an EMA on the doctrine of humanity. So much of what we get wrong in this area is because we get the fundamental doctrines askew (and this applies to lots of other issues too). Get the fundamentals right and we’re prepared to answer all kinds of questions on the front foot. That’s why we’ve planned next year as we have.
Bruce Ware will help us understand not only what the doctrine of humanity is (created in God’s image, marred, redeemed, restored in Christ) but how this affects how and what and why we preach. Other speakers will help us connect the dots in various ways – some more specific than others. We have a strong line up which we’ve chosen because of the topic – that always comes first for us: Tim Keller, Mike Ovey, Mike Raiter, Andrew Reid, John Wyatt, Christopher Ash, Jonathan Griffiths, Efrem Buckle, Kathleen Nielson, Vaughan Roberts and Reuben Hunter. Oh, and me. I’ll say a bit more about the seminar tracks another time.
Why not make time today to come next year. Because of the room we have you can bring (and perhaps should think about bringing) your preaching or leadership team – what a joy it might be to bring (even for a day) that great lay leader who needs to be encouraged with you! This is our third year at the Barbican and the third year of a three year trial. It’s the year where we will work out whether it’s a long term viable location. So please come. And grow. And be encouraged.
EMA unity 2015
We’ve now finalised the EMA line up and seminar streams for 2015. We’re at the Barbican again from 22-24 June, back in our normal slot and hoping to see many of you there. As with other conferences, even if you don’t book now, it’s good to plan to be there. Try freeing up three days in May and it’s an impossible task. Do it now, and it’s manageable.
I love the EMA. You might expect I would say that, but even before I worked at PT Towers, I loved it. Not every session hits the mark every time for every pastor – and I certainly found that from time to time certain sessions resonated more than others. That’s the nature of conferences. But the setting of the EMA made that almost (not quite) an irrelevance.
For the EMA is one of the few gatherings in the UK where evangelicals from different backgrounds and ages and churches come together. It could be even more so – and we’re always thinking about that – but we’ve always said it’s a useful by-product that people from different churches meet in this way.
I’m increasingly convinced that it’s more than a useful by product but an essential element of what goes on. We need our distinctives. My own convictions are of Independency and I rejoice in those and want to find time to meet those who share them. But I contend that if that is our only interaction we will be poorer for it. So a gathering like the EMA serves the cause of Christ by seeking to see preachers built up: but it also serves the cause of Christ quietly, gently, promoting a gospel unity that cannot be manufactured, but is real and tangible.
Make time for conferences
There’s a good article in this month’s EN about why pastors should attend conferences. In broad terms, because pastors and preachers need help, they need to sit under ministry, they need time to relax and they need friends and space to develop and cultivate friendships. We heartily agree. The article speaks volumes.
But here’s the thing. It’s hard for pastors to find time in the diary. And – our experience shows us – that unless you carve out time well in advance, you run the risk of missing out. Nearer the time it’s just too difficult to free up space to invest in ministry in this way.
So, even though it’s a cold, wet November day, can I encourage you to think now about 2015? Not just our conferences, of course, but other ways you can be encouraged. I happen to think that our conferences tick all those boxes. Others do too. But make sure you carve out the time now – and make sure your friends do too.
Our ministers residentials next year are 27 -30 April for Senior Ministers (in post longer than 7 years)(with Peter Adam and David Robertson – an intriguing combination). Then the following week it’s 5-8 May for the young ‘uns with Peter Adam (we’re working him hard) and Paul Mallard (who will help us minister to those who are struggling: a much neglected topic). Then in the autumn (9-12 November) we’re joined by OT expert Richard Pratt together with your truly.
I have the privilege of going to all these conferences and they’re definitely worthwhile. Why not carve out time to plan to join us for one of them next year?
Thoughts for Preachers on 2 Peter, #4
A final thought on 2 Peter. This time it’s a difficulty of application.
Peter spends a long time in ch.2 spelling out three things about the false teachers themselves: their destructive denial of the return of Christ, the depraved conduct they engage in, and the ways they try to entice believers into the same. My initial problem in applying that is: I struggle to think of many people who fit exactly that description and who are causing problems for the people I preach to. There are plenty who hold official teaching positions in churches who deny the return of Christ: just round the corner from most Bible-based churches there will be a church where that denial can be heard from time to time. The problem is that most of those preachers are thoroughly decent people who give themselves in love and service to their communities. So in preaching 2 Peter, just who am I to relate this to in our world?
Here’s my not very profound thought. In our particular world right now there may not be many obvious individuals who have in themselves all the features set out in ch.2. But there is no doubt what happens morally in churches and denominations which consistently deny the return of Christ as judge. (And of course you effectively deny something if you refuse ever to speak about it, or if you reinterpret it into something else, as liberalism regularly does with biblical truths about Christ.) What happens is: those churches and denominations end up before long going along with the world in its approval of gross immorality. That is rather obviously happening in major denominations right now. What Peter says in ch.2 of individuals may in our world be more observably true of churches and denominations. But the principle is the same, and the same sharp application is valid and timely.
Thoughts for Preachers on 2 Peter, #3
More on 2 Peter, this time on one of the letter’s tricky verses. What on earth is the second half of 2.10 saying about the false teachers?! ‘Bold and wilful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones’ (ESV).
Problems, as commentators like to say, abound here. Who are these ‘glorious ones’, and how are they being blasphemed? Jude 8-9 speaks in similar terms but with more detail; if the two passages are talking about the same thing, then the beings whom the false teachers are speaking about are rebellious angels, and what they’re doing is arrogantly pronouncing their own judgment on them. (That would fit, speculatively, with their denial of the return of Christ as judge: if he’s not the judge, they’re free to take judgment on angels into their own hands.)
NIV points in this direction: ‘Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings’. This seems pretty likely, but to call such condemned beings ‘glorious ones’ as Peter does still seems odd.
What is the poor preacher to do, who can’t write a PhD on the problem before Sunday? Well, 2.10b is obviously an example of the false teachers’ despising of authority in 2.10a. What we do know clearly about these false teachers is that they despise the authority of the apostles who proclaim God’s promises about eternal salvation and eternal condemnation that are coming with the return of Christ. Whatever these false teachers are saying precisely about whatever glorious/celestial beings, it looks in the context like it’s part of the same attitude. And seeing that, the preacher can press on in confidence.
Thoughts for Preachers on 2 Peter, #2
Let’s come to the end of 2 Peter. The final two verses are a terrific summary of Peter’s whole message to the believers:
3.17: Don’t be carried into error and fall from your security.
Peter’s writing to believers who are faced with people who claim to be Christian but who are teaching that there will be no return of Christ and so no final ultimate act of judgment from God. Such people then enjoy throwing themselves into depravity and encouraging others to follow them.
Peter warns: if you follow that error about Christ and so indulge in lawless living, you will ‘fall from your secure position’. That phrase clearly refers back to the same truth put the positive way round in 1.10-11. The warning is stark. A clear departure from truth, expressed in godless living, leads to eternal destruction.
3.18: But grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
Verse 17 was “don’t do this!”. This verse is: “do this instead!”. And growing in godliness, as a true expression of true knowledge of Christ, is still what Peter’s talking about. See how he linked godliness with knowledge of Christ that way in 1.8; see how the command to keep fighting for growth in godliness tops and tails the letter, and is linked with the return of Christ and being found ‘at peace with him’ (1.5; 3.11, 14).
There are a number of different good ways to plan out a preaching series on 2 Peter. It’s no bad thing, though, to end by majoring on the summarising commands of these last two verses. It can help drive the heart of Peter’s aim home with some simplicity and power.
Thoughts for Preachers on 2 Peter, #1
I’ve had the opportunity to preach and teach 2 Peter in a few settings in the last eighteen months. So here follow four blog posts that might be helpful for others on this rich little letter.
It’s very clear that Peter is strengthening the believers against destructive teaching and depraved conduct, as he calls it in 2.1-2. He expands on it pretty graphically throughout ch.2. Most likely the same people are described again as ‘scoffers’ in 3.3-4, who explicitly deny Christ’s coming again in glory. It’s easy to see how this false teaching matches up with their depraved conduct, since they can live how they want to if Christ is not coming again as judge. Peter reminds the believers sharply how God has spoken about coming final judgment and acted in judgment in many ways in the past:
• in the revelation of Christ’s glory in the Transfiguration, which Peter takes as a demonstration of Christ as the final judge (1.16-18)
• in OT prophecies (1.19-21)
• in his acts of judgment and salvation in the OT (2.4-9)
• in the flood (3.6)
• in Paul’s letters (3.15-16 – referring, it should be noted, specifically to what Paul says about judgment and salvation on the last day).
I think this helps us feel the sharpness of the opening of the letter. When Peter talks about God’s ‘very great and precious promises’ (1.4), he surely means something quite specific: God’s promises that there will be a final day of ultimate judgment on the ungodly and of salvation of the righteous, all done by Christ at his return. I think that explains why Peter says that God gave these promises ‘so that through them you may participate in the divine nature’, i.e. share God’s moral nature: if we hold firm to belief in Christ’s coming again, with all that that entails, we will continue to strive to grow in godliness and Christlikeness.