The professionalisation of ministry
I believe the care of souls is in such a deplorable state in otherwise orthodox (and often growing) churches because of the failure to love on the part of pastors….We pastors are being killed by the professionalising of the pastoral ministry… the more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Mt 18.3); there is no professional tender-heartedness (Eph 4.32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps 42.1).
This is Jim Eliff, founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide writing in Reforming Pastoral MInistry – now a fairly old book (2001), but still worth reading. It got me thinking a little about what it is in our current climate has professionalised ministry. These are observations made without comment – in the sense that some just describe the world we live in. We can't get rid of them, necessarily. But we need to recognise them if we are to avoid our own ministries becoming professionalised. Why does it happen?
- It is the general pattern of the world to professionalise. We live in a qualification culture where training needs to be undertaken for everything. This brings a focus on qualifications above all else.
- We are reductionistic about ministry. Preaching is key, it may even be the pinnacle of pastoral ministry, but it is not everything that pastoral ministry is.
- We increasingly work in team environments. As such senior ministers become team leaders rather than shepherds of the flock.
- Because of church size, pastoral work is often delegated downwards to, say, small groups. This may be practical but distances the pastor from the sheep.
- We've seen the resurgence of the alpha-male pastor. Perhaps this needed to be addressed, but we may have swung too far the other way.
- We've embraced the notion that bigger is better when it comes to church life. For all kinds of reasons this is sometimes the case. But not always, and never in some areas. Pastors are often now CEOs
We're always tempted to bring the world into the church, of course. And so we embrace professionalism without even noticing it. Heaven help us.
Woodhouse on 2 Sam 6
There's no denying that 2 Sam 6 is a hard chapter. We're enjoying looking at it at the Spring Ministers' conferences. But, suggests, John Woodhouse, our problems with the passage generally seem to be problems that we have with the kingdom of God. For example, God's righteous anger against Uzzah is sobering, as it should be be when we consider the extraordinary holiness of our sovereign Lord.
But even more specifically, we have no warrant to go anywhere other than to and through Christ in these chapters:
the earthly reign of David is a token in which we must contemplate the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation of his Church to the end of the world.
Calvin by the way (sermons on 2 Samuel).
Oh, and Amen!
Store it up
Mike Bullmore on preaching: "the sermon is not a container to contain everything you have discovered about the text."
Preachers would do well to remember this. And by the way, the lamp post comment that was retweeted the other day was not mine, but David Helm's. Credit where it's due – or at least when he puts a little (c) on the diagram…..
I heard a wonderful story this week at our ministers conference. Our Australian visitors were on holiday staying in a small village in Dorset and went out for a walk. They walked through the graveyard and stopped to glance at a memorial stone: and it turned out to be that of Augustus Toplady (he's actually buried in Whitefield's Tabernacle in London), one of our finest hymnwriters. I love his strongly Calvinistic hymns, and am always glad when one is resurrected well. That's what I think about Sojourn's reworking of one of the best hymns that encourages us to talk to ourselves: Now why this fear and unbelief. Helpfully, it's part of Sovereign Grace's Gathering album which means it's available on video. But it also means that we have free sheet and piano music here. However, here's the thing: we learnt this yesterday at the ministers' conference and it was very easy to learn. That's a great bonus because so much of modern music is, frankly, unsingable. Not this one. Definitely worth learning and – for the record – we'll be singing it at this year's EMA. So learn it and come along and sing with us.
Preaching and painting
The impressionists transformed the painting world. Instead of concentrating hard on what they saw and trying to reproduce it, they looked at the world then painted 10 strokes for every glance at the world. The result?
The picture has some connection with the reality, but it is relatively loose. It is obviously from the original, but that is about it. So, is much evangelical preaching says David Helm, speaking at our senior ministers conference this week to me and 79 other guys. Much of our preaching can be like this. We make some connection but that is about it. The preacher uses the text like a drunk uses a lamp-post, more for support than for illumination. It is especially easy to do this with narrative.
Two new editions of journals
Two new editions of journals worth your time. First, the new edition of Credo is out. It's notable this month for a very short piece on baptism containing short explanations of various views. Not sure what happened in the edit, but Archbishop of Sydney's description of baptism doesn't sound very Anglican to me, which is a shame, because it would have been nice to see a pithy, well-articulated explanation of paedo-baptism. Though I am a convinced credo-baptist, I like to see the other side argued well. More significantly, there is an important article on how the prosperity gospel (or a form of it) creeps into the evangelical church. Perhaps not such a temptation this side of the pond, but worth reading.
Also out (ready, engage brain!) is the new issue of Themelios. Always sharpening and stretching, I particularly enjoyed Don Carson's characteristic challenge to orthodoxy (that will get you reading!) regarding "do the work of an evangelist." I can't help thinking his short article needed to interact with Eph 4 a little more. It gets mentioned in passing in his final paragraph, but if it is a separate idea there, I felt I needed to be persuaded more why it was not in 2 Tim (beyond immediate context). Stimulating,
It can still be expository preaching if….
…it’s not a sermon on in a series on a Bible book. It makes good and wise sense for a decent amount of a church’s preaching to consist of consecutive expository sermons through Bible books, whether whole or parts. Cornhill Director Christopher Ash has set some of these reasons out in his excellent booklet Listen Up. I think it also follows simply from the nature of verbal revelation as God has given it to us. The Holy Spirit inspired and has preserved for us not a set of unrelated theological and exhortatory bullet-points, but full literary pieces. Preaching that aims to be faithful to Scripture must reflect the form as well as the content, and consecutive exposition is a good way of doing that.
However… good tool, bad master. We are not first of all educationalists delivering programmes of instruction; we are first of all shepherds with a flock whom the Lord has entrusted to us, so we might shepherd them and feed them (you can see I was in 1 Peter 5 yesterday). So did three people in a church of seventy souls die in the last month? Their pastor might well scrap his planned series for a week to preach 1 Thess 4.13-18. Of course if he’s doing this kind of every other week, the agenda is probably being set by him, not the Word. But let’s not run away from that cliff-edge only to fall off the other side.
Every pastor will also decide how much of his planned preaching ministry ought to be consecutive, and how much not. Of course, even the topical and doctrinal sermons must at heart be expository: that is, the main point of the sermon must be the main point of one passage, or a couple. Expository preaching: not a detailed set of methods, but a deep conviction that preaching must be first and last Scripture-driven.
It can still be expository preaching if….
….you just preach one verse.
Text preaching! Perish the thought.
Then again, no.
It's patently clear that some of the greats of the past did this. Their sermons were sometimes more expository than they are given credit for. In part, that is because (with preachers like Spurgeon and Archibald Brown) you never get to hear the reading comments they made which often set context and did various other things we would typically do in a sermon.
But if expository preaching is letting God say what he has said, in other words letting the main point of the text be the main point of the sermon, then a text can be expository too.
I happen to think it is harder to preach this way then with a longer passage. Nevertheless, it has its place. My esteemed colleage, RC Lucas, told me the other day that preachers have forgotten how to preach a single verse well. I think he's right. But in some places, it is called for. There's a need to preach Ephesians 1.1-14. But if you want people to drink in all the detail, sometimes you have to preach Ephesians 1.4-5 on its own too.
Many of us will do this with targeted evangelistic sermons. Why not at other times too?
It can still be expository preaching if….
…the preacher doesn’t take us explicitly through every verse in the passage. Different preachers will take different views on how often they should say “now look with me at v.15”, or “did you notice the therefore in v.1?”, or “see how those three participle clauses all depend on the same main verb” (I threw that last one in as a joke).
Just how much of that the preacher actually says in the sermon seems to me to be entirely an area for freedom of choice. It will be determined partly by the preacher’s style; it should also be significantly determined by the audience he’s speaking to: what will genuinely help these particular people open themselves to what the Holy Spirit aims to do in them by means of this Word?
Of course there are limits. On the one hand, we rejoice in the Protestant heritage that put the Bible in everyone’s hands, so that people can literally see for themselves that the minister’s authority is derived only from the Word. Therefore we will want to show them clearly that our message comes from Scripture, not from ourselves. On the other hand, we are not there to give oral commentaries in which every interesting and supporting textual feature must be mentioned.
Between these two extremes is a freedom for the preacher to explore with wisdom, as he seeks to preach to his particular flock as well as he can. As with so many things, perhaps it’s good to break a habit deliberately sometimes. Do you love mentioning Greek connectives, especially if you think your English Bible foolishly missed one out? Lighten up. The main point will still be clear enough in the English words that are there. Could someone leave your sermon not entirely clear that it was Scripture you were preaching? Get their noses in the God-breathed words that are your authority.
It can still be expository preaching if….
…in a particular week in the rough-and-tumble of pastoral ministry the preacher hasn’t been able to put in the study hours to work out all the tough bits of his preaching-text. Take the end of 1 John ch.5. Verse 15 is tricky. People have probably written whole PhDs on vs.16-17. And I have serious doubts over whether the translation ‘continue to sin’ in v.18 is right (just a simple present tense in the Greek). Also there’s that (in)famous final verse: just how has this whole letter actually been about idolatry? It may well take up all my realistically available study time working all that out. Ah, but there’s then a sermon to construct and application to work through.
But if I look again I can see, after a few hours rather than whole days, that some things are clear: whatever vs.14-15 are exactly promising, it’s an example of the extremely clear v.13. In fact the praying in vs.16-17 looks like a further outworking of v.13. Moving towards the end, v.20 is a beautifully clear and profound verse that rounds off quite a few of the themes John set out in 1.1-4. So, in and around vs.13 and 20,I have plenty to say in my sermon that I have good reason for believing is at the heart of the main point of 5.13-21. Some of the tougher things can wait for another time, if need be.
Dever and Gilbert in their recent book Preach say that expository preaching is preaching that makes the main point of your sermon the same as the main point of your passage. It’s still expository preaching this Sunday if this week you haven’t worked out every tough detail in the text and aren’t going to confuse/bore your folks with half-baked exegetical musings, but having worked to get the main point of the passage you ruthlessly put the commentaries away and gave a good chunk of your prep hours to working on application and communication.