Wives’ conferences just around the corner
It’s just a short while until our summer wives conference (4-7 July) and we’ve still got some spaces left (though, sadly, no room in the crèche). If you’re in the first few years of ministry, or at college, your wife may well be very thankful Mr Preacher, if you were to enable her to come along. There are many reasons for coming to a PT wives conference and encouraging your wife to come, but surely earning your wife’s thanks is a win-win! We’ve got an experienced set of wives, both Anglican and Free Church, to help things along. There are not many better places than Hothorpe Hall in the sun. What about it?
Perhaps Monday-Thursday is a difficult stretch because of work, family or church commitments? If so, then you may be interested in our weekend wives conference. Held over the weekend of 7-9 October at the luxury Ettington Chase hotel near Stratford-upon-Avon we’ve condensed our standard programme into something that will work over a weekend break. Don’t worry – there’s still space to relax and unwind (and swim and sauna!) with our normal mix of Bible input, seminars and fellowship. It may be just what you’ve been waiting for…
Thanks for praying
Some of you were praying about our Home Office inspection which we needed to pass in order to be able to sponsor visa students. Thank you so much. We have to whisper it, at the moment, but suffice it to say your prayers were answered. There was a hilarious moment where the Inspector, checking that we encourage students to be law-abiding, sat in a lecture on Galatians 2 and heard that those in Christ were not under law, definitely not so. It required a bit of explaining. 😉
Why I’m not planning my funeral
“So, I’ve chosen all my funeral songs already” is a pretty standard refrain these days from believers. To which I always respond with the same question, “Why?”
I haven’t planned my funeral and will not and here’s why: it’s not for me.
You will realise, I trust, that I will not be there at my funeral. Others will be and they will be grieving, but they must do so as those who have hope, not as those who do not have hope. And the funeral must serve them, not me. It must help them grieve appropriately. It is not a tribute concert to the departed. If they want to sing a song I really hate and it helps, let them sing it. I will be joining in, in my glorified sinless state, from heaven (so to speak!).
Of course, the best way for them to grieve might well be for them to sing something that I loved. They may want a Bible reading that was particularly precious to me in my last days. All well and good. But the service serves the living not the dead. And as pastors and preachers we have to keep reminding those who grieve about this truth.
Perhaps this is for another day, but it also shapes the tone of the funeral. There’s a bit too much laughing and dancing at funerals these days, and not enough tears, if you ask me. But seeing as you didn’t, I’ll stick with what I know: if you are preaching at my funeral, don’t you dare ask my family “what would Adrian have wanted?” Because you know the answer already: whatever, within Biblical bounds, will help them grieve with hope.
Teaching 123 John
The first of our two new titles is now available. Mervyn Eloff has written a superb volume for us on Teaching the epistles of John. These are a rich seam for preachers (although 2 and 3 John are normally overlooked). Mervyn steers a careful course and helps preachers and teachers grapple with the text.
As with all these volumes, these are not full commentaries, but neither are they books of sermons. Rather they are books written by preachers and for preachers to help those whose task is preaching and teaching the “wonderful word of the Lord” as the hymn writer puts it. They’re written at a level that will serve you as a preacher, but also be accessible for, say, small group leaders if you’re doing a Bible study series.
Marriage and ministry
The more I speak to married ministers and their wives, the more I realise that marriage and ministry is not the glorious union that it ought to be. Rather, for many, it is a painful, tense set of pressures that are often unresolved and unmentioned. If preaching is to flourish, then it’s critical that ministry marriages flourish. We asked what we could do to help, and alongside some input at our key conferences, we now also run a 24 hour getaway for couples.
This year, Wallace and Lindsay Benn are hosting one at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire and Mrs R and I are hosting one at Malmesbury in Wiltshire. They are both on 24/25 October. That’s half term, you cry! You’re right – deliberately so as couples with kids told us it was easier to organise child care in holiday time than in term time. Spaces are very limited. One husband last year surprised his wife by bringing her along as an anniversary present. We don’t recommend this approach for most people – but we do think it’s worth coming. Here’s some feedback from Malmesbury last year:
“Absolutely brilliant schedule”
“We enjoyed how much time together we had as a couple”
“Please keep on doing this – so helpful”
“Too much food”
I couldn’t resist that last one! Book now, while there’s space and you’re fired up!
The preacher’s praying agenda
What’s on your prayer list? Who’s on your prayer list? And – just as importantly – how do you pray for them? I’ve been thinking about this all this week as I prepare a sermon on 1 Timothy 2.1-7. I’ve been using Angus MacLeay’s excellent volume in our Teaching series, Teaching 1 Timothy. It’s been a real help. However, along the way, I’ve found lots to challenge me about my own prayer agenda.
Paul – fighting against a legalistic and Judaistic false teaching – urges the church back to gospel order (not to be despised, by the way). In order to do that he encourages the church away from its inward looking attitude (which, incidentally, false teaching nearly always promotes) to a more gospel focused outwardness.
This manifests itself in prayer: deep, rich, varied, consistent and continued prayer. Prayer, in fact, for all people – including those in authority and for the church (by implication in v2). His agenda is challenging. This is what our prayer agenda tends to look like:
Praying for rulers: we tend to be focused on particular laws or issues: abortion, marriage and so on. These are important, but not the burden of Paul’s focus.
Praying for believers: we tend to be focused on people’s needs: work, health, education, that kind of thing.
Praying for unbelievers: I hope we do this, but pastors can get caught up with people in the church to the expense of those outside we are calling to come in.
Our prayer, to put it bluntly, scores at best 1 out of 3. 33%. Possibly less. Fail.
Paul’s agenda is more gospel focused.
Pray for rulers: for regimes that will allow the church to flourish. This may mean that we are more exercised about the free speech regulations than we are about a number of key moral issues.
Pray for believers: for godly living that will not shame the gospel (a key theme throughout 1 Timothy).
Pray for unbelievers: to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
That’s the preacher at prayer. And it is also the church at prayer. Is this you?
Will you pray for us this week?
This week we have a visa inspection, not unlike an Ofsted with bells on, which determines whether we can continue to sponsor student visas. We’re thanking God for recent confirmation of continued accreditation which makes this possible in part. But we still need to pass this onerous inspection which, in broad terms, treats us like we employ unlimited personnel and have unlimited resources. So we have to be careful to tick all the boxes whilst not being overwhelmed.
It’s important for us to pass, so please do remember us on Tuesday and Wednesday (24 and 25 May). Thank you so much.
So, you’re a church planter…?
I have great admiration for those who undertake the work of church planting. It requires a certain set of gifts and skills, plus the ability to forage and scavenge which many of us in ministry simply don’t have. But I sometimes worry about the nomenclature. It’s there in 1 Corinthians 3, of course, although (arguably) that is a slightly different thing – Paul’s planting is not in its entirety what we would call church planting – his apostolic mission is even more pioneering.
I guess I worry that those who plant churches might be tempted to reduce their work down to “quick in, quick out”, like a commando raid. For the record – please hear this carefully – most church planters I know don’t take this view. All of the best are generally in it for the longer term. But I come across young guys starting out who are excited just about the planting and nothing else. That is more worrying.
I’ve been meeting up with a church planter regularly and we wondered whether the description “start-up pastor” is a better one. It describes the planting and the pastoring component. Some of these gifted guys will only be with the church a few years before moving on and starting over, but they’re still pastors and they should be thinking as pastors, not just those who kick start a movement.
There’s an obvious danger to missing this boat. Churches will be started but not pastored from the outset. That’s a disaster. As I say, all the best church planters I know do this. Some of them do it really, really well. But I believe we’ve got to stand against the commando type church planter who doesn’t want to be a pastor in any way. Perhaps changing the nomenclature is unlikely or even ill-advised. But when we talk about church planting to the young guys beginning in ministry, we’ve got to be clear what we mean.
Application – a question of quantity
One of the most interesting and thought-provoking things to come out of our Spring Ministers conference with Bryan Chappell was about the quantity of application. How much application, in other words, does your sermon need? He suggested that this varied considerably depending on the nature of the congregation. For example, at one extreme, city businessmen, used to being presented with the facts and making decisions, need very little application. They don’t need to be spoon fed and need to be able to work things out for themselves in order for them to sink in. At the other extreme, kids need everything presented to them. Lots of application in other words. And then you can do the maths for all the groups in between.
This has a number of implications for us as preachers.
First, we must not assume that a model of preaching which (in crude terms) has x% application in Place A is necessarily transferable to Place B or establishes a pattern for ministry which is universal. I’m sure we’re all guilty of that thinking at some level! We tend to look down on others because they have more/less application than we do. Surely I’m right!, we say. I know I’ve done this.
Secondly, there is simply no substitute for knowing our people. We cannot assume what they need, we need to sharing their lives with them in order to be able to know whether our sermons are hitting the mark in a way that is helpful and applicable.
Thirdly, preaching to multi-social, mixed congregations is always harder than monochromatic ones. I think most of us in ministry actually realise this already! But here is another reason why it is so. We can react two ways to this. One is to build monochromatic churches. The other is to realise that preaching is hard work, and there is no substitute for careful thinking when it comes to application.
It won’t surprise you to know that I’m in favour of the second of these, not least because of the theological issues at stake (Eph 2/3). I’m not particularly a pragmatist. But I am a realist, and so I know that in my preaching I need to incorporate variety into my sermons and develop strategies for hearing back how my preaching is connecting with those I’ve been called to serve.
Application – a question of quality
Have a think back to your sermon last weekend. What was your application? Here are some questions to help you do some evaluation.
1. Did your application come from the text and the flow of the text? In other words, was it NATURAL?
2. Did your application go beyond the standard stuff – read your Bible more, pray more? In other words, was it THOUGHTFUL?
3. Was your application rich enough to connect with different groups of people? In other words, was it BROAD?
4. Was your application worked out (at least in a few cases) so that you joined the dots for people? In other words, was it NARROW?
5. Was your application grace-filled, rather than legalistic or duty-bound? In other words, was it full of the GOSPEL?
Or, to put it another way, was it QUALITY?