Jack’s back again.
A few people emailed me about last week's post about long series. It's quite true, of course, that long series are not necessarily good things without qualification. What – one reader pointed out – the problem was with the recent series of 24 is that the series was unable to sustain interest from viewers because of the quality (or lack of it) and the inability to sustain a coherent plot line.
All of this should ring bells for preachers. Long series can work, I submit, but we need to make some caveats:
- long narrative series will fail if the preacher robs the divine story of its pace, colour, characterisation and detail. Too much narrative teaching does this in spades. Our people cannot cope with a 36 week series on Numbers if we reduce everything to a series of bald propositions. Dull.
- long series will fail if we preachers fail to reflect the detail of the text in the glory of the gospel we are preaching. There are only so many times we can say "…and Jesus is the king we need" when preaching 2 Samuel. David is indeed a type of Christ, but the glory is in the detail as much as it is in the big picture. We need to preach the detail in the context of the big picture. That is not the same as simply preaching the big picture.
- long series will fail if don't allow the tone of the text to drive the sermon. I've been very aware of this preaching through Ezra recently. Sometimes, the text is gloomy. There is not much light. We are so keen to bring each sermon to its own gospel climax that we can fail to do justice to the tone of the text. That's a tough tension to hold, but we must try.
In many of these cases, our people are robbed of the dynamics of the section of Scripture that God intended. Long series can really only ever work if we are true to the way things were written down by the Spirit inspired authors.
We also need to be honest about our own limitations. Some of us will struggle more than others with long series. We are not all equally gifted. In the goodness of God and his sovereign power, that is all right. Preaching is more than what we are able to put in. But we must also think of ourselves with sober judgement, and that includes our teaching gifts. Put simply: some of us are more able communicators than others. That is no justification for the status quo. We must always be working and praying on communicating more effectively. And it's in this context that we can preach long series.
Interesting to read Iain Murray's take on T4G in this month's Banner of Truth magazine:
Archibald Brown [our own church's first pastor and Spurgeon's successor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle] once told the declining congregation at the Metropolitan Tabernacle that, when God revives his work, popular solutions for a recovery would disappear: 'There will be nothing said from the pulpit or platform about "up to date", it will be Bible! Bible! Bible! And the people clamouring, "Let us have the Word of God."'
O for these days in our churches!
Jack’s back. And you can preach long series.
I've not yet watched any of the latest series of 24. To be honest, I got bored 5 series ago. It's recorded and may get watched, but I'd been too engrossed in BBC2's excellent, thought provoking and sobering German series on a group of friends in WWII. Anyhow, back to 24. I noticed one review online with the headline "I learnt so much about London from 24." Frankly, that's hard to believe. The Times reviewer said true travel in London would never be possible in MovieWorld where Jack managed to get from Whitechapel to West Ealing in just a few minutes (try a few hours anyone?). You need to suspend disbelief to enjoy these things.
And this series, I notice, is just 12 episodes instead of the usual 24. Jack's getting old. But never mind. I've heard of people who have been sitting down for marathons and watching all 372 series, each with 24 episodes. And even normal people seem to be able to cope with one hour a week over almost half the year.
And you think congregations cannot take long series?
Hmm. Let the reader understand.
Death before the fall
To be honest, many of us spend a lot of our time reading books we already agree with. That's no bad thing. Reinforcing truth already learnt is an important part of Christian growth and sometimes even familiar truths restated take our breath away once again. But I've just finished reading a book whose foundational premise I don't necessarily agree with. It's called "Death before the Fall" by Ronald Osborn.
It may surprise our brothers down the road but I am not a theistic evolutionist. So a book which seeks to justify whether animal death could occur before the fall in order to allow for an evolutionary perspective on Genesis might seem like something to avoid.
But no. It's true, of course, that having a preconditioned framework for any discussion on Genesis is going to affect your hermeneutic to some extent. I can't believe that any Christian comes to Genesis without some form of presupposition. Nevertheless, this is a book I learnt from, and I say that in the most warm hearted generous way I can think. It got me thinking about literalism as a hermeneutic and how it has dangers as well as strengths. It helped me evaluate how I myself read these exalted texts of Gen 1-3.
I can't say it changed my mind on the whole creation issue. But it got me thinking about reading Scripture in general and I found it astoundingly challenging. It's published by IVP Academic, but you should be able to get hold of it in the UK OK. You're not going to agree with all of it, or even its foundational premise. But that doesn't matter. I say again, it doesn't matter: it will still do you good, I believe.
Go on. Dare you.
There's some BBC news today about sleep – nothing particularly new if you've kept up with other sleep research (what do you mean, you haven't?). Interesting nonetheless. And completely consistent with what the Bible teaches us about the sweetness and necessity of sleep. If only there was a Christian book about sleep….. oh wait, there is. At the risk of being accused of blowing my own trumpet, I would like to point you towards this resource for two reasons. First, sleep is an issue for Christians too. I was surprised when we ran a sleep seminar at church how many people attended and for how many this was a real, live and painful issue; and thinking biblically about sleep actually helps you to sleep. Second, PT get some royalties from this book, so it's an excellent albeit indirect way of supporting our work. Thank you. Thank you.
And sleep tight.
Leather Proclamation Bible
It's even better in leather.
Links and stuff
We had a great time away at two full ministers' conferences. Never fear. Next year there's a touch more room. So we'll all squeeze happily in. This time around several of the speakers have mentioned some online resources and it's helpful to draw them all together. So here they are:
- David Helm used Penultimate on his iPad to teach. I used GoodNotes, also on iPad.
- The new Augustus Toplady hymn we sung was "Now why this fear and unbelief" – the music is here and there is a youtube video here.
- Daniel Chua's "Jesus is Lord" is here in video form – no online music I'm afraid.
- The Changing Lanes material is here with free online videos, Word 121 is here and Uncover here.
- David Helm works for the Simeon Trust whose website is here.
- Here is George Swinnock's Farewell sermon preached in 1662.
- And finally, below is Sinclair Ferguson's 20 minute lessons on being a pastor video. Gold dust.
Why we preach?
There may be many reasons why you preach? Perhaps you're good at it? Perhaps you enjoy it? Perhaps you couldn't find another job!? Perhaps you kind of fell into it by accident or circumstance? Perhaps someone pushed you into it? All of those may be true or at least have some truth in them. They be accurate descriptions of where we have come from.
Wherever you have come from, the biblical pattern is this: we preach to our people because we love our people. Go read 1 Thess 2.7-12 again. Look at the love, care and concern Paul has for the Thessalonians and how that is worked out in "encouraging, urging and comforting…" Likewise, of course, in the ministry of the Chief Shepherd who has, above all, a ministry of love.
There is no way we can train ourselves to love people because we love preaching first.
We are called to love our people. And because we love our people, we love preaching.
How preaching Christ can damage your people
Latest thoughts from David Helm at our younger ministers' conference: it's a sobering thought, Mr Preacher, that it's quite possible to preach Christ and damage your people. That statement requires some clarification, of course.
We all know we want to preach Christ. But there is a way to do it that actually ends up being destructive rather than faithful. This is the kind of preaching in the Old Testament which has little or no connection with the historicity of the text but sees a reminder or something that looks like it might be about Jesus and then runs with this. OK, you might think: not brilliant. But damaging?
Surely. For if we disconnect from the historicity of the text to proclaim Jesus, how do we connect with the historicity of any text? What next? The resurrection, disconnected? If we bypass the hard work of exegesis and theological reflection, there is always a danger we will be disconnected from the text. And we will, within a generation, empty churches of those who are convinced about the historicity of the gospel and the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the God who became man.
Sobering. And, if we didn't have enough reasons, cause for the hard work of preaching the gospel faithfully. You can read more in David's new IX Marks book Expositional Preaching.
Terminology may matter
I've been thinking a little this week about what we call ourselves. Partly that's because I'm taking a session this evening on why and how we should love our people. I guess the two key words are minister and pastor.
- Minister, I might suggest, is sometimes overused. It comes, of course, from the Greek, leitourgos. That means servant. Or diakonos. Similar idea. It's a good word for what we do. Although, as far as I can see, as a noun it nearly always used in terms of our relationship to Christ – a servant of Christ, a minister of Christ. It depends to be our default word with all its cognates – we minister to a congregation, we do ministry. I want to keep this word in our vocabulary.
- But I also want to reclaim the word pastor, that is shepherd. This is also a biblical paradigm and, I might suggest, is a more common word in terms of how we relate to our people (rather than how we relate to God). It implies a certain level of care and compassion and is modelled on the shepherding of the Chief Shepherd.
I'm certain we want to jettison neither description. But I wonder if we prefer one over the other. Why? And I wonder, further, whether we are detached from the original meaning of both words to make them biblically meaningless in our own context. "He's our minister" they say. Do they mean servant? "He's our pastor" they say. Do they mean shepherd?
Brothers, let's reflect prayerfully on what God calls us to be.