Feeling thankful for my baptist (and other) forebears
Bear with me, if you're not a baptist. I spent an afternoon last week Dr Williams' Library as I posted here. The bulk of my time was reading about the life of Benjamin Keach and reading some of his sermons too. The library is the largest collection of non-conformist material in the world outside the statutory libraries and is a real treasure trove, even though it is run like a 1950s establishment (remember card indexes?). Wonderfully, I discovered more than Keach's sermons and writings. I found the court transcript from his indictment in 1661. He was accused of writing "A child's instructor" – a little primer in which he took objection to Cranmer's homily position that baptism washed away original sin and (I hadn't realised this) his position that lay people with gifts ought to be allowed to preach. I found reading the trial very moving. It was a kangaroo court, really, like something out of Blackadder. Keach was found guilty and pilloried, fined and imprisoned. One of his contemporaries was not so lucky. He was hanged.
Modern doctrinal differences on baptism aside (the paedo baptism of the judge was a very different kind of paedo-baptism he was arguing against, it seems to me, than modern evangelical paedo-baptist positions), I was moved to see how our forebears stuck up for the faith. This is true from every part of evangelicalism. It was true for John Rogers, Anglican minister here in the city of London and editor of the first English Bible. He became Protestantism's first martyr here in the UK. It was true for Benjamin Keach, imprisoned for what we would now call orthodoxy. They weren't fazed. And they carried on preaching.
Given our past, we can tend to be over-alarmist about the pressures we now face. Perhaps one day we will face imprisonment. But it's nothing that our forebears have not had before. And indeed, it's nothing that Christian preachers don't themselves face all around the world today. So, a little perspective please. And a little thankfulness for those brave souls who preached the gospel despite the extraordinarily high cost. And continue to do so.
Praise! Words edition
Somewhere in the dim and distant past we used to cart around words copies of Praise! hymnbook (see contents here). We project words at conferences now, but still have the words editions. We've no use for them really, so do get in touch with the office if you could use 94 (I'm sure there used to be 100!) words editions of this great hymn book.
The necessary treadmilll
For various reasons, last week was a busy week. I'm only the Associate Pastor, but occasionally (especially when Senior Bob is away) I pick up the tab. So, last week was more like a "normal" pastoral week. Spoke twice Sunday, mid-week presentation, mid-week small group leading. early morning prayer meeting, complex pastoral situation and so on.
I don't mind that. That's the nature of pastoral work. But I was reminded how serving a church as a pastor can become a bit of a treadmill. I'm not saying that negatively, that's just how it is (as with many jobs, and though more than a job being a pastor is not less than). There is a routine to life and ministry which is not to be despised but is part of the order of a God who set the sun in its place and gave us rhythm through the work six, rest one pattern.
But – like any treadmill – it can wear you down. Some preachers manage this by getting off it. Frankly, that's not an option I think we should consider except in extreme circumstances. Others manage it by having staff teams large enough to relieve the burden. Still, for most of us, that is not a reality that's going to happen anytime soon. I spent my pastoral life in a church where I was the pastor and – even though I had a good team of elders – we had neither resources nor manpower to afford other staff.
So, how do you manage the necessary treadmill. Here are one or two practical ideas:
- you don't have to preach at every service, you know. If there are those in the congregation who have gifts in this area, you should be training them up. The congregation should delight in that. Or use nearby friends who have an embarrassment of riches in this area. Anyway, the discipline for you of sitting under someone else's ministry is a good one.
- that is especially true midweek. If you've got other guys just starting out, midweek groups or meetings are a great way to encourage them and train them.
- a day off is more than a wise addition to your week: it is a divine appointment. Ministers who deliberately or willfully neglect a day of rest are worse than unwise. There is disobedience here. I come across this a lot. Let's call it what it is. Sure, there are emergencies. But what does your regular pattern look like?
- You can always work on a sermon some more, but don't feel you always have to. I'm not arguing for shortcuts or cutting corners, but I am saying that if you have a pattern of work and ministry which does not fit with your pattern of time, something needs to change. Realistically, spending more than 10 hours on a sermon when you have to preach twice and do a midweek is not a sustainable pattern. It is worth sometimes sitting down and thinking how long (roughly) a sermon takes and whether that is sustainable.
- build in breaks. Getting off the treadmill every now and then will keep you and your congregation fresh. House swap. Camp. Do something cheap if money is a problem. But make sure you add Jubilees to your Sabbaths.
- share the pastoral burden. There may not be others in the church who can preach, but there may well be others who can share some of the pastoral work. I don't think this is abrogating your responsibilities. Rather, it is an appropriate sharing of the load.
- the busier you are, the more you should pray. It may sound a little cold and calculating, but build in the time. Schedule it.
There's just a few ideas. You'll have more. Don't leave it until things are out of control.
Some introductions are just too long. They may seem worthy on the page, engaging even. They may seem important to the overall thrust. They may give you the opportunity to tell the story you've been wanting to tell. But sometimes they are just too long. If so, they end up serving the opposite purpose for which they were intended: they do not engage nor provide a hook. Too long and they – by contrast – alienate and disengage the hearer. Whilst doing some research for a forthcoming chapter I am writing at the superb Dr Williams's Library (more of that another day), I came across this excellent quote about John Howe's preaching (1630-1705). He was much loved by his congregation, but even they found his introductions difficult:
Dear good man, he spends so much time in laying the cloth that I lost my appetite for the main course.
Salutary. For some of us, at least.
Encouragement for preachers
I wonder if we have so over-reacted to the mystical and the subjective-emotional in preaching, that we see it now in terms of dispensing Biblical knowledge rather than pleading with God in prayer and men in proclamation to change lives in time for eternity. ‘Preach the Word’' has become ‘Explain the Bible’. There is a difference. Systematic Theology is essential. Biblical Theology in the whole sweep of the Bible's big picture from Genesis to Revelation, in Kingdom and covenant, is deeply enriching. But they are not the way God wrote the Bible and to let them govern the sermon, rather than the text of Scripture as written is to end up speaking about the Bible rather than letting the Bible speak. One is the words of men; the other the Word of God. Not observing the text, but listening to God; not cool analysts, but passionate hearers.
Encouragement for preachers
It's always good to be reminded of what is going on when we preach. Do we really grasp this enough? I'm not sure we do. For if we did, wouldn't our praying and our preparation and even (dare I say it) our preaching be different? This time it's CK Barrertt, and what a stirring and awesome thought this is as you begin your week's preparation:
With the cross, God instituted the office of reconciliation, the word of reconciliation…; in other words, the preaching itself belongs to the event of salvation. It is neither a narrative account of a past event, that once happened, nor is it instruction on philosophical questions; but in it Christ is encountered, God's own word to man is encountered…
Encouragements for preachers
Some golden nuggets this week for Bible preachers and teachers. All taken (or, rather quoted in) a forthcoming PT title on preaching to the affections. First up, Richard Baxter, himself quoted by Packer in A quest for godliness.
‘In the name of God, brethren, labour to awaken your own hearts, before you go to the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners. Remember they must be awakened or damned, and . . . a sleepy preacher will hardly awaken drowsy sinners. Though you give the holy things of God the highest praise in words, yet, if you do it coldly, you will seem by your manner to unsay what you said in the matter. . . Speak to your people as to men that must be awakened, either here or in hell. Look around upon them with the eye of faith, and with compassion, and think in what a state of joy or torment they must all be for ever; and then, methinks, it will make you earnest, and melt your heart to a sense of their condition.'
What kind of fellow are you?
Sometimes it's good to just laugh a little. Some preachers need to do this a bit more. So, what kind of fellow are you?
Just one way?
Is there just one way to preach a passage? No, says John Woodhouse:
Have you ever had the experience of working your way through a book of the Bible one year and then coming back to it another year and saying “oh, I got it all wrong.” I think it’s rarely the case that you got it all wrong. It’s that the Scriptures are so rich there is rarely one issue they’re dealing with. There isn’t one way of expounding a biblical book or a biblical passage. Any one exposition can never plumb the depths of the riches that are there. We’re not looking for the answer. But we’re also trying to avoid subjectively coming to the text. We have to let the text control us, but we have to realise that the text may lead us in several different directions and two different expositors may come up with different things. Don’t think there is just one way.
Middle of the road preaching
Helpful comments from our very own Dr Jonathan on 2 Timothy exhortations that – almost certainly – qualify the command to "preach the word"
Formally it is possible that verse two provides a list of separate and distinct instructions (preach the word, be prepared, correct rebuke and encourage) with only the final two elements of the list showing the manner in which the list of instructions (or perhaps even just the final instruction) should be carried out. This is possible, but the central importance that Paul assigns to the charge to ‘preach the word’ by placing it at the front of the list and directly after the solemn preface to the charge suggests that this instruction is indeed the central instruction, and is supported by the instructions that follow in verse 2. More than that, the charge to ‘be ready in season and out of season’ is not a an instruction that can stand alone. On its own it would beg the question, ‘Be ready to do what….?’ The answer must be, ‘To preach the Word’.
Given that this second instruction supports and modifies the central instruction to ‘preach the word’, it seems right to take the rest of the instructions of the verse as functioning in the same way. All that having been said, the final two elements of the list are not verbs, but nouns that identify characteristics that are to mark the proclamation, so there is some distinction here. It would be possible to amplify the meaning of 4:2 with the following paraphrase: ‘Preach the word; be prepared to do this in season and out of season; in your preaching ministry, correct, rebuke and encourage, and do so with patience and careful instruction.’
Paul reminds Timothy that his preaching of the word should involve three vital elements; he must ‘correct, rebuke and encourage’ (4:2). Timothy must use the word as it is designed to be used (see 3:16) to correct wrong doctrine with true doctrine and rebuke wrong behaviour. The dangerous situation currently at Ephesus (2:16-18) and on the horizon for the future (3:1-9) means that these aspects of Timothy’s preaching ministry will be of vital importance for the protection of the church. Paul takes the trouble to remind Timothy of the need to include correcting and rebuking in his preaching ministry because it would be all to easy for him to leave it out. It is, after all, personally uncomfortable to correct and rebuke others. It will not make Timothy popular. But the Bible gives him both the authority and the means of carrying out this vital aspect of his task.
Just as it would be easy in some circumstances for a preacher to neglect to correct or rebuke the people under his care, so too he could fail to ‘encourage’ (preachers will probably be naturally disposed toward either correction or encouragement and need to aim for faithful balance). The biblical language of ‘encouragement’ carries not only the nuance of comfort but also of urging and exhortation. The preacher must not only correct wrong belief and action, but must then positively spur the people on to right embrace true gospel doctrine and living.
There is both negative correction and positive encouragement. Jonathan goes on to point out that most preachers will find one of these easier than the other and this will then tend to dominate and characterise their ministry. "Oh, he's a great encourager we might say" or "He's able to nail sin and its ugliness in us." You almost certainly know which you prefer. But we need both. For the truth is there is too much preaching which is warmly useless. It encourages us all the time but lacks the punch of Scripture. And there is too much preaching which only ever beats its hearers up (such preaching requires little skill, by the way). It rebukes and corrects without every providing the necessary encouragement.
Both are needed. Middle of road.