The leader and his tongue
We’re off on a Cornhill+ study conference this week with a small handful of students. The aim is to do so some focused work and praying on Christian leadership. Steve Wilmshurst and I will be leading our happy band and this year we’re joined by Andy Upton to come and assist. These are normally precious times: the honour of teaching others and learning and growing myself.
This year I’m leading a session on the tongue: i.e. our speech. I’m convinced this is a much neglected topic when it comes to leadership (which seems to focus so much on the doing of leadership). But speech is at the heart of what it means to be a leader. I take it that’s why James 3.2-12 follows James 3.1. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” is then followed by James’ well-known words about what we say.
These two must not be divorced. Of course, there are general truths for everyone about speech, but James is particularly concerned to connect leadership and control of the tongue together and we must not break the link. Paul has the same concern for leaders, “Set an example for the believers in speech…” (1 Tim 4.12).
I find this a challenging area. Here are some diagnostic questions to help.
Is my speech wholesome? All Christians are called to speak words that are pure.
Is my speech hypocritical? Too many of us are one thing to some, and another to others.
Is my speech hasty? The Scriptures counsel us to think before we speak.
Is my speech constructive? Paul is strong on this in Ephesians – only speak what builds others up.
Is my speech true? Gossip, slander – these are serious sins which the pastor must put to death.
God help me.
Leadership and La Vuelta
It’s been a while since my last cycling illustration and – I hear you cry – “how much longer must we wait before the next?”. Never fear, here we go. This last week saw the culmination of the third Grand Tour cycling race – La Vuelta (basically the tour of Spain). It’s one of the three-week mega-rides of which the Tour de France is the most famous.
Last week the Sky pro-cycling team had a really, really bad day. It’s unusual. They are normally all over the tactics and their policy of marginal gains (making leaps forward by taking lots of small steps) is well documented. Indeed, over the first week and a half of the tour, the Sky team made small improvements until they were looking like real contenders.
And then, in one day (in fact in a few short minutes) they blew it.
It was sad to see, but a sobering reflection of the reality of Christian ministry. Take leadership, for example. Church can really be a slog. We make very small gains, incremental really, which taken together – we hope and pray – lead to the glory of God. But as leaders we can have one bad day which blows it all.
Or let’s get more personal and think about battling sin. Many church leaders battle sexual sins – lust, pornography and so the list goes on. We battle day in, day out, making – it seems – very small gains. But one day can blow it all. That could be deadly to ministry.
What is the antidote? 1 Peter 5 is very helpful: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” The antidote is fourfold:
- We must think of ourselves with sober judgement (Rom 12:3) taking care lest we fall. I need to keep reminding myself of my besetting sins and my inclination to them.
- We must be alert against our enemy. He is prowling around looking (let’s be honest) to devour YOU and we need to be aware of his wiles.
- We must exercise faith. Easy to write, hard to do, but in part at least this means feeding our souls with the means God has given us to deepen faith: prayer and the word.
- We must realise we are not alone. The family of believers around the world are sharing the same sufferings. In fact, working out sanctification in the community of believers is an essential step to fighting sin. “Confess your sins to one another.”
Then listen to God’s gracious word: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Marriage and ministry
Just a few places are left on our marriage and ministry stopover in October. The Wiltshire venue is now full, I’m afraid, but we’ve room for 3 or 4 extra couples with Wallace and Lindsay Benn at Hothorpe Hall Mon 24 Oct – Tues 25 Oct. These are important retreats for those who are married and in ministry. If it’s difficult to get away when it’s only one of you, it’s doubly so when it’s both! Yet, it consistently scores as one of our most valued conferences, so why not try to make time if you can? We’ve deliberately planned it for school half term holiday (for most) as couples tell us it’s easier to arrange child care then rather than in the normal routine of school life and so on. You can book here.
And if you can’t make it, watch out for a new title what Mrs R and I wrote – Glorious Union: flourishing in marriage and ministry will be available from 1 November and if you order now, it comes with free postage!
1 Timothy: what kind of book?
We’re close to finishing a series on 1 Timothy at church. It’s been – I think – a really helpful reminder of what church is all about. The book is sometimes rather harshly described as a “church manual” which makes it sound (to most) the least exciting book in the whole canon. Of course, there will be some people who read their fridge-freezer operating guide from cover to cover before plugging in, but most of us know how our Smeg works and the thick multi-language guide generally stays in its cover. Until things go wrong. Then, naturally, we’re all over it.
And so it is with 1 Timothy, people think. It only comes out when absolutely necessary. Well, if that’s your view, I could forgive you for thinking how dull it must be. But the metaphor is all wrong. If we must use a metaphor such as this, then 1 Timothy is not an operating manual, it’s a sea chart for a rocky shore. On my wall, I have such a chart of the Thames Estuary, where I grew up. It’s detailed, complex and – this is my point – absolutely indispensable. After all, some “have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.”
No sailor worth his salt would put to sea without a chart. And no church worth its salt would neglect such an important book.
The Gospel Transformation Bible
There are many study Bibles, of course. Many. And many of them are good (with a few not quite so hot). One of my favourites is particularly underrated, I feel. Perhaps that is because it is relatively unknown. It is Crossway’s ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. Catchy title, I know. But behind the slightly clunky title is a remarkable resource. Edited by Bryan Chappell and Dane Ortlund, this Bible has contributions from the likes of Kathleen Nielson, Dave Helm, James Hamilton, Mike Horton, Greg Gilbert, Iain Duguid, Colin Smith, Bruce Ware, Kent Hughes, Kevin DeYoung and Mike Bullmore – in other words, a long list of people we would know and trust.
But what makes it stand apart is the focus of the study notes which have one basic aim – to show how each portion of Scripture fits in with the big story and comes back to Christ. Then, alongside this, there are really helpful application notes. Bryan Chappell explains this in the introduction:
“The goal… is twofold (1) to enable readers to understand that the whole Bible is a unified message of the gospel of God’s grace culminating in Jesus Christ, and (2) to help believers apply this good news to their everyday lives in a heart-transforming way.”
What this means is that the GTB is a really useful resource to put into the hands of Bible study leaders, occasional preachers and Sunday School teachers. They can’t hope to have extensive libraries on their shelves, but as one-volume books go, this is worth its weight in gold. You don’t see it in bookstores very often, but tenofthose.com have a load at ridiculously cheap prices (£70 bibles for £9). I’m not being paid to promote them (though I would take the cash!). I genuinely believe that – even if you don’t use the ESV text – this is a really helpful book. At these prices, you could buy each of your Sunday School teachers a copy as a Christmas present.
Well, why not?
Frameworks and the text
I am greatly enjoying reading through Progressive Covenantalism (ed. Wellum & Parker) at the moment. It’s a thoughtful, careful collection of esays steering a course away from some of the madness associated with New Covenant Theology towards a more academically rigorous framework. A review will be forthcoming! But one paragraph caught my eye. We’ve long said at PT that one of the key things that a preacher has to do is to make sure that his framework does not affect his interpretation of the text.
Some have interpreted this to mean that we don’t like any framework. That’s patent nonsense. Everyone has framework (even “not having a framework”!). Rather, we are keen to say that the text must be in the driving seat. In his contribution to the book, Jason Meyer makes this point with slightly more finesse:
“In Greek mythology Procrusteus was the son of Poseidon. He had an iron bed that he offered to weary travellers. He used hospitality as a torture trap. If travellers were too short for the bed, he would stretch out their bodies to fit the bed. If they were too tall for the bed, he would cut off the excess length of their legs.
“Theological systems can become a Procrustean bed. If the text does not want satisfy our system, we can stretch the text to say what we want. If the text says more than what comfortably fits our system, we can cut off what we wish it would not say.
“I am not denigrating theological systems. On the contrary, theological systems can sharpen our understanding of the whole counsel of God but only if they do not first determine our understanding of God’s word. Therefore, theological systems should always be paired with theological self-awareness. We must be up front with our theological commitments, taking them to Scripture. The Bible does not belong on the bed. The Bible is the bed. The Bible alone has the authority to serve as the Procrustean bed for all our thinking. If we love the Bible more than our theological systems, we will be eager to measure our systems with our theological thinking.”
EMA 2017: Booking now open
I hope I have whetted your appetite for the EMA. It’s never too early to put the date in your diary for 2017. Next year’s conference runs 27-29 June and we’ll be joined by Kevin DeYoung, Denesh Divyanathan, Andy Gemmill, Vaughan Roberts, Graham Beynon and Garry Williams. It’s also the 500th year since old Martin posted his 95 whatnots on the church notice board, so expect there to be some focus on that alongside our main theme which is Bearing Fruit and Growing: Preaching and the Mission of the Church. Booking is open now, but even if you don’t book right at this moment, save the date, as they say. Our diaries soon fill up and the nearer we get to deadlines the harder it is to carve out time to make them. So why not carve out the time now?
Praising God for Alec Motyer
We were sad to learn of the passing to glory of Alec Motyer a couple of weeks back. Alec was a good friend to us at PT and a personal mentor to David Jackman who was so instrumental in the formation of the Trust. Indeed, if you have ever heard David on Isaiah, you’ve heard Alec. “Everything I learnt about Isaiah, I learnt from him”, David used to say.
He also spoke for us at conferences and helped out with various things around the place. I sometimes tried to coax him out of retirement and he would always courteously decline with a polite but twinkling letter. His replies are the only ones I ever kept for any time. You could almost hear his chuckle as he typed out the words.
He will be sadly missed, but his life and ministry were a great example to us all, not least in the love and care he showed for his people, his students and his family. Thank you Lord, for Alec.
Lucas at the EMA
I managed to persuade Dick Lucas to come out of his self-enforced EMA retirement for one last hurrah. This is classic Dick, some real gold delivered in his own inimitable style. And, of course, he wore a tie.
Pastoral complexity and a dose of realism
Mrs R and I got to enjoy a film night recently: Eye in the Sky starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman (and a host of other well known stars). It was a compelling film, based on the moral decision to send a missile from a drone to destroy three terrorists and two suicide bombers.
The film was exciting, tense and thought-provoking, though not without its flaws. Key amongst these was the switch in moral dilemma. Towards the beginning of the film, the issue at stake was whether the British government should be killing two British citizens without trial, a kind of Judge Dread scenario. This is an interesting line of thought and needed to be developed more.
However, once a young girl sets up stall next to the targeted compound the moral issue switches to whether her possible death is acceptable collateral damage. You’ll have to watch the film to see how it pans out.
The film simplified things, focusing for the main part on the second issue. But for me the first issue is just as troubling and needs some more assessment. It interested me that the movie was only really able to deal with one moral issue at a time. Presumably that makes for a good script (or is all we audiences can cope with)?
However, in the real work, complexity is the norm. We find this pastoring. In the classroom, pastoral ethics on, say, marriage, seem very straightfoward. But in the real world, where there are kids and multiple layers, things are much messier. The classroom rarely prepares us for the real complexity of life.
But we must not stick our heads in the sand. Part of preparation for ministry has to be determininng a settled position on what we do with competing ethical choices and whether we take a graded view (where we choose the lesser of two evils) or whether we view life more in terms of absolutes. Once the situations are upon us, it’s generally too late to make a choice.
For, as the film does aptly portray, decisions made in split second are very often not the best ones.