Had a brief chat the other day with John Sparks who is a trustee of Parish Nursing. This is an interesting organisation which encourages the provision of nurses to churches (not just Anglican ones, despite the name). It's not going to fit into every church situation, obviously, nor is it going to be a ministry around which a church is structured or driven. Nevertheless, there may be some merit in thinking through the concept and getting in contact with them if you want to find out more. I guess the exact nature of how it works would depend on your circumstances and the particular individual you had; we'd want to make sure that gospel was central, for example.
How to be a younger minister
We've got a great tape archive that we are gradually getting around to putting online. Here's one we've been meaning to do for ages. It's Phil Jensen on "How to be a younger minister" – one talk from way back when that has some really helpful, realistic and clear guidance and advice about starting out in ministry. 15 years old but still fresh and relevant.
And don't forget the Spring younger ministers conference (8-11 May 2012), this year with David Cook and John Dickson – it promises to be a great time. There's still space available but it's going fast so book soon to reserve a place. We had an amazingly refreshing time last year and this year should be a good time of fellowship too. If you have a younger minister in your church (first six years of ministry) why not encourage them to come along? You can book online here.
Weekday evening training with David Cook
For those in or within reach of London, we've got three weekday evenings planned with the excellent David Cook. These evening lectures are an introduction to the book of Acts, especially for those who might preach or teach a book, but for everyone who wants to read the Bible better. David is an excellent communicator and is recently retired as the Principal of Sydney MIssionary Bible College. The three evenings are Mondays 16/23/30 April 2012. More details and booking here. This is the kind of evening you might want to encourage, for example, your preaching team to come along to together – or perhaps a group of younger men you are encouraging to think about being preachers or teachers in the church? Either way, it will be a great help to them.
god in a box
My favourite piece in last week's newspapers was a story about Indian airport security. There is already a list of categories of people who do not have to go through security (army chiefs, state ministers etc). Now the list of 22 has been extended by one to include some holy men.
[A] holy man has successfully contended that he should not be frisked because no human hand must touch him, after Ajay Maken, the Sports Minister, wrote to the Ministry of Civil Aviation last month.
My favourite part, though, was the story of the holy man from Ramachadrapura Mutt. a Bangalore institution. Their leader carries a box of deities with him and has had to ask special permission for it not to be opened. A spokesman said,
His Holiness has to open the small box by taking a bath and this may create embarrassment.
The Bible pours scorn on idols and invites us to do the same. However, it seems to me that sometimes they need no help whatsoever.
Yep, it’s another one
'Of making many [marriage] books there is is no end' (Ecclesiastes 12.12). Everyone seems to have to have a marriage book. The latest is Mark & Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage, the truth about sex, friendship and life together. It was launched at the beginning of this year and comes (yay!) with a tour! I've just finished reading it. I'm not sure I've got a lot to add to Tim Challies three reviews here, here and here. The latter two are a helpful deconstruction of the grid that the Driscoll's use to analyse various sexual practices based on 1 Cor 6.12.
Challies is pretty downbeat about the book and, on the whole, I feel he's right, though perhaps I need to give it a second more careful read. I don't need to repeat all his critique, though sometimes I think he goes too far. For me, I found the book pretty cringeworthy because (a) it is written in that US folksy style which grates with British readers and seems (I say, seems) to make light of things which require greater weight and sobriety and (b) it is perhaps too honest: I agree that some discussion of dealing with past hurts is necessary but I'm not sure I wanted all the graphic details that Mark and Grace give about their previous sins, nor all the details about whether anal sex is OK or not.
I would hesitate to use it then, though there is some good material here. I'm not a prude when it comes to talking about sex; indeed, as part of couple counselling we have sometimes done irreparable damage by not doing so. But this is too much. Too jokey. Too honest (!).
For my money, Piper's book of sermons This momentary marriage is a whole heap better. I've yet to read Keller so I can't comment on that, but Christopher's two volumes are also excellent. The simpler one is great for all. The 'dull' one (Christopher's words not mine) is important for pastors as it contains a lot of the background, research and theology. I prefer it, actually.
The glorious church
Here's an excerpt from PT's latest title (publication expected in the summer) – Teaching Ephesians by Simon Austen. It's strong, as you would expect, on the doctrine of the church and my heart was really stirred just by editing it!
It is both humbling and exhilarating to think that the local fellowships of believers, of which we are all a part, are pictures of what God is going to do in eternity. Until that day when the new heavens and earth are created and the visible unity God purposes are seen in their fullness and glory, the only visual point of contact between the heavenly realms and the earthly realms is the church. That is why church is so important and why church is so difficult. Satan does not want the church to be what we are – for when we live rightly, then it becomes apparent to Satan that his days are numbered, and to the world that the power and purposes of God are in operation. As we love one another and live as the church, the world sees that we are disciples and the principalities and powers get a foretaste of their future destruction.
Preaching as an encounter with Christ
I am reading through 2 Corinthians very slowly in my quiet times and was struck by this (from an older commentator quoted by C.K.Barrett), commenting on 2 Corinthians 5:20 "…God… making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf…". Although spoken by Paul the apostle, there must be a sense in which everyone who speaks the apostolic gospel is the mouthpiece of God, speaking "on Christ's behalf". Here is the quote:
"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…"
It is worth remembering that as we preach at Carol Services and Christmas services; as we speak, Christ himself speaks to men and women through our mouths. In our preaching, "Christ is encountered". Amazing, but true.
The third minority
Bible preachers have probably always been in a minority. In fact, for a long time they've been in a second minority. Christians (in the most general sense) are themselves a minority in the UK and evangelicals (those who believe in an evangel, a message), a minority within this minority – a second minority, if you like. That has always been hard.
But times are changing and those who hold Bible preaching dear now find themselves in a third minority. This was brought home to me by an account of an evangelical ministers fraternal locally where a paper was presented on the nature of Christian ministry, i.e. what does a minister of the gospel do. The paper's thesis was that a gospel minister "incarnates the presence of Christ in the community" (or something very similar to that). One good man said, "whatever happened to preaching Christ crucified, proclaiming the word of God?" He was shouted down by every other minister except one (leader of the local charismatic church).
It's not that these others churches were not evangelical. If you went to them they would be able to articulate and explain the gospel to you. But they simply didn't see Bible preaching/teaching (in all sorts of contexts) as the core role of the minister. It's not just a UK phenomenon:
American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right at an alarming rate. They are not leaving churches and getting other jobs.Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sunday mornings. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of twenty centuries….The pastors of America have transformed into a company of shopkeepers and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with a shopkeeper's concerns – how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money. Some of them are very good shopkeepers…yet it is still shopkeeping. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles)
Increasingly, if you believe in proclamation, in preaching, you will not just be a minority in the country, nor even in the church, but a minority within evangelicalism. A third minority. Beware:
It is to feed the sheep on such truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and mode godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly clap-trap and thinking you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to be an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats and let them do it out in goatland. (William Still, The work of the pastor).
Being in a minority is hard. There is always pressure to conform. Being in a minority within a minority has been hard enough for the last few generations. Now, Bible preachers find themselves in a minority within a minority within a minority. Harder still. Be realistic. Be sure. Be certain.
And preach the word of God. Our key text here at the Proclamation Trust has never been so apposite:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim 2.15)
We're closing down for the Christmas season. Too many parties to attend. Sorry, that should read, too many Christmas sermons to prepare/give. So, we'll be back in the new year. With all our prayers for your gospel ministry this Christmas time and for relaxing and happy times with church families.
From the Proclamation Trust team,
Preaching into the wind
It's been a long while – too long I hear you cry! – since Cycling Confucius had anything to say, so by popular request, he is back:
Cycling Confucius, he say
If you're cycling into the wind, don't give up, just drop a gear or two
This morning was hard. Cold. Wet. Windy. Head-windy. Couldn't get into 6th/7th (my normal cycling gear) and with a touch of la grippe du mec (man flu sounds better in French, more serious somehow), getting to the office was hard, hard work. Every turn of the pedal made something ache. Sometimes, it's just like that. Everything is harder. Slower. More draining. Not unlike ministry. Preaching, even. Sometimes, it seems the wind is behind us and the sun is shining. We get right into passages. We see the theme straight away. We know instinctively what the application is going to be. We don't get any distractions when we're trying to pray.
Other times we're definitely into the wind. We wrestle with the text like a dog with a bone. We lie away mulling it over. When we have worked it out, we can't for the life of us think about how we relate it to the hearts and minds of our hearers. There are times like this.
The answer is, don't give up, just drop a gear or two. Slow down. Pray. Take things one step at a time. Just get to the next stage. You'll get there. Experience tells you that you always do. Cycling Confucius, you see, he rarely wrong.