EMA featured books #5
PT publishes two series of books – one is the well-known Teaching series (more about that another time). But we also have a secondary series which we call, informally at least, the Practical Preacher series. These are books that are useful for preachers and churches and which address issues particular to preachers and preaching. Our latest in this series is called Ministry Medical and is by Jonathan Griffiths, one of our teaching staff. The book is based on 2 Timothy and is, in essence, a checklist for those in word ministry. It sets out Paul's priorities and in 36 short chapters encourages us to measure ourselves against the Apostle and what he says to young pastor Timothy. It's the kind of book you might read a chapter of per week or even read together with leadership teams (I'm going to suggest ours does that). It's challenging and convicting, but also hopeful in that it holds out the word of grace to us and shows that we can, prayerfully and in the power God provides, be more the men that God calls us to be.
Peter Adam wrote "This book by Jonathan Griffiths is a brilliantly effective study, which makes good use of 2 Timothy to give us a diagnostic tool to assess the health of our ministry. It would be equally productive for those starting out in ministry, those in their middle years, and those nearing the finishing line! It is simple and straightforward: the format of questions and comments works very well, and make the book very user-friendly. This book will help you fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. Highly commended"
Recharging emotional batteries
So, a few responses to my post last week about running on empty. Thank you to those who wrote. The responses all tended to ask the same question: how, recognising that we're depleted emotionally, do we recharge? We, for the most part, know how to do this spiritually and physically, but emotionally….? Short answer: I'm not too sure myself and I'm working through it. But here, for what it's worth, are my initial observations. These are not particularly biblical, or even from years of experience. They are simply things that I'm finding useful in the moment.
- I've had to recognise that the emotional is not separate from the physical, nor the spiritual. I am a whole man! Everything is connected to everything. At one level, emotional energy is spiritual energy is physical energy. So, taking care of my physical and spiritual self has vast benefits for my emtional self.
- Sleep is a remarkable restorative for every part of life. I have found CJ Mahaney's sermon on this particularly useful.
- I find that being disciplined about planning times for things I enjoy has helped me enormously. I don't know if there's any science behind this, but lack of emotional energy has meant that I have not been able to be joyful about things, so I decided to try to restore some of that energy by planning….well, enjoyable things.
- Intimacy in relationships is important. For marrieds that means sex and time with spouse (these go together!). But there is intimacy (of the right sort) in all kinds of relationships. I've planned a day at the British Museum with a good friend. I already know it will be emotionally recharging.
- A break is important. Next week is our school half term and I've planned some time away. I'm going to disconnect my iPhone's work email account. So there.
- I've tried to build in some escapism. That sounds pretty dodgy, so let me explain. Ministry is emotionally draining and all encompassing. I find it quite hard to read a Christian book, for example, without thinking about whom it might also be suitable for in the congregation or which fellow pastor might benefit. I need a break from that. So, a good fiction book I can lose myself in (or a series) or a suitable TV series (Mrs R and I have been watching Borgen) helps me switch off from emotional outgoings and, it seems, helps with the ingoings.
You'll have other ideas, and much more spiritual ones (this is deliberately not a biblical post). Just don't ignore the issue….
A mindset not a method
Expository preaching, says Dick Lucas, is a mindset not a method. That's a really helpful thought and one I've been coming back to again and again recently. Someone asked me last week at our younger ministers conference whether there is a PT approved (!!) set length of passage to preach. That's a fairly bizarre question when you stop to think of it. Every text has a context right up to the context of the whole Bible and if you never stop saying 'this portion I've got belongs in a wider context' you just end up with the Bible as your text – and therefore one (rather long) sermon! So, a bizarre question. But the right answer is that we teach a mindset not a method.
In other words, the answer to the question is no. We do encourage preachers to take whole sections that belong together, especially in OT narrative. But you can preach a text in an expository way just as you can a longer section. (Though preaching a text which is faithful to its context and setting is much harder than a longer section; even though it may appear otherwise). You can even, I believe, have a topical series which is still expository. A wedding sermon can be expository, as can a youth club talk.
All that we teach tends to focus on handling the word of God accurately. These lessons apply whether you're preaching on Acts 2 in its entirety or just verse 42. Both can be expository sermons. Because expository preaching is a mindset not a method.
EMA featured books #4
Messages that move by Tim Hawkins is another book about preaching. But don't yawn. Not until you've had a look. For sure, of the making of books about preaching, there is much. But Tim's book is different. For starters, it's written in a quirky, but engaging style that those who know Tim or have read any of his material will recognise. This means it is easily readable – a great feat for a book on the "how to" of preaching. What others preaching books can you say that about? Secondly, it is remarkably thorough and deals comprehensively and helpfully with all aspects of a message, including some of the parts of preaching that other texts leave behind – introductions, conclusions, illustrations. All very helpful comments on these from Tim.
So, it may be another book on preaching. That is fact. But it is a very welcome one.
For sure, this is not an advanced textbook. As such, it is a book that will serve two audiences. For experienced preachers there are really useful lessons and nuggets to ensure your preaching stays sharp and on track. For less experienced preachers (perhaps the primary audience?) this will serve as a really good introduction to preaching. I could easily see us getting a copy of this, for example, for each of our occasional preachers in church. Just occasionally I found myself disagreeing with Tim as did the member of our BookPanel who reviewed it: for example, we thought it is possible to preach on a passage such as Phil 4 and the end result being to stir emotions rather than being concerned that someone should do something as a result. Nevertheless, that's a minor criticism. There's much here to encourage existing preachers and build new ones. My commendation was genuinely heartfelt: "In this delightfully practical book you'll find down to earth wisdom, helpful encouragement and biblical exhortation. Read it and buy a copy for a fellow preacher."
Or, as our BookPanel member said, " I run a preaching group in the summer term, and I'll get my guys to read this as part of it." Perhaps you should do likewise?
EMA featured books #3
The God who became human by Graham Cole is the latest in IVP's New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT). This series has some really outstanding contributions in it now, and it's always a delight to stock them. This particular one is an excellent volume. I read it in one sitting and will come back to it again and again – at its most basic it is a biblical theology of the incarnation – nothing ground-breaking there, you might think. But as he goes along, Graham interacts with all kinds of viewpoints and issues, making this one of those books that is greater than the sum of its parts. Technical at times, and with lots of quotes, but clear chapters and conclusions and lots to make this preacher think about both his worship and his preaching – not least about theophanies, Blackham's OT theology, and the wonder of the incarnation. It's not out yet, but will be available at the EMA. Deeper than the average read, but worth some of your British spondoolies.
Don’t believe everything you read…
A salutary warning about our words can be misquoted – in a positive article in Monday's Times about US evangelicals, Tim Keller was quoted as saying it was possible to believe that homosexuality was a sin but still be in favour of gay marriage. This actually was lifted straight from an article at the Huffington Post (lazy journalism, one might argue, but then the writer of the article, Tim Montgomerie, found fame as a blogger). As Keller clarifies here, he did say these words, but in response to articulating what some anabaptists held as a position. In other words, as a statement of fact as to what others believe. We shouldn't be surprised that words get twisted or even misinterpreted, I suppose. Hey ho.
Waiting on God to refresh our strength
Following on from yesterday's post, I've found this little quote from Richard Sibbes (taken from The love of Christ) to be a remarkable encouragement:
If we find not our suits answered so soon as we would, remember we have made him wait for us also. Perhaps to humble us, and after that to encourage us, he will make us wait; for we have made him wait. Let us not give over, for certainly he that desires us to open, that he may pour out his grace upon us, he will not reject us when we come to him (Matt 7.7). If he answers us not at first, yet he will at last. Let us go on and wait, seeing as there is no duty pressed more in Scritpure than this. And we see it in equity, 'He waits for us' (Isaiah 30.8). It is good reason we should wait for him. If we have not comfort presently when we desire it, let us attend upon Christ as he hath attended upon us, for when he comes, he comes with advantage. So that when we wait, we lose nothing thereby, but are gainers by it, increasing our patience (James 1.4). The longer we wait, he comes with the more abundant grace and comfort in the end, and shows himself rich, and bountiful to them that wait upon him (Isaiah 40.1).
Running on empty
Ministers are not machines. Had you noticed? We therefore need to take care of ourselves (and encourage others to take care of us). Reflecting on my own weak humanity this week I wonder whether we may be inclined to only concentrate on certain aspects of our lives and therefore find ourselves, without warning perhaps, running on empty?
- We are spiritual people and therefore we need to take care over our spiritual walk. I guess most of us are aware of this. But what steps are you taking to guard your walk with Christ and make sure this element of your life is not empty.
- We are physical people and therefore we need to take care over our bodies. We simply cannot operate as ministers if our bodies are so worn down that they won't operate. So, we need to take care over the hours we are working, the sleep we are getting, the exercise we are seeking and the downtime we are building in. We can be at the heights of our spiritual prowess, but if our bodies are groaning and creaking we won't be able to sustain ministry.
- We are emotional people and therefore we need to take care over our emotions. I've worked out recently that my emotional tank is pretty near empty. There are lots of reasons for why our emotional strength may be drained; circumstances at home, church situations, pressures of other kinds. We may be in top shape physically, spiritually but be emotionally void. We are not going to be in any shape to minister to others, a ministry which is full of emotional giving out. What are you building into your timetable to recharge emotional energy?
Take a quick check. How are the fuel tanks in your ministry?
Two weeks with Peter Adam on our spring ministers conferences and there are, not surprisingly, lots of golden nuggets along the way. Here's a taster, reviewing Revelation and challenging what we worship. Our congregations and churches, suggested Peter, also have idols. We need to spot these and tackle them. The idols may be:
- the past
- the building
- the building project
- a certain model of ministry
- the last minister but one
Today is one of those most curious of British things – a bank holiday. That means, for overseas readers, that everything is closed. Banks yes (although to be fair, they're closed lots of other times too), businesses and so on. We have two of these delightful days in May, though we do gripe that we have less statutory holidays than some places (UK total 8 per year, Colombia 18, Mexico 7….). So, what to do?
Some people shop. Some people spend some time with family. Some people attend sports events. Others simply enjoy the lie-in. Some work. This can be especially true for ministers if they have a standard rythmn of which Monday is a critical part.
Others book onto the EMA. A well known evangelical leader told me that none of his staff had booked yet "because there was plenty of room." Whilst that's true – it would be nice not to leave it too late. We look forward to receiving your booking on this bank holiday booking day.