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.
The professionalisation of ministry
I believe the care of souls is in such a deplorable state in otherwise orthodox (and often growing) churches because of the failure to love on the part of pastors….We pastors are being killed by the professionalising of the pastoral ministry… the more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Mt 18.3); there is no professional tender-heartedness (Eph 4.32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps 42.1).
This is Jim Eliff, founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide writing in Reforming Pastoral MInistry – now a fairly old book (2001), but still worth reading. It got me thinking a little about what it is in our current climate has professionalised ministry. These are observations made without comment – in the sense that some just describe the world we live in. We can't get rid of them, necessarily. But we need to recognise them if we are to avoid our own ministries becoming professionalised. Why does it happen?
- It is the general pattern of the world to professionalise. We live in a qualification culture where training needs to be undertaken for everything. This brings a focus on qualifications above all else.
- We are reductionistic about ministry. Preaching is key, it may even be the pinnacle of pastoral ministry, but it is not everything that pastoral ministry is.
- We increasingly work in team environments. As such senior ministers become team leaders rather than shepherds of the flock.
- Because of church size, pastoral work is often delegated downwards to, say, small groups. This may be practical but distances the pastor from the sheep.
- We've seen the resurgence of the alpha-male pastor. Perhaps this needed to be addressed, but we may have swung too far the other way.
- We've embraced the notion that bigger is better when it comes to church life. For all kinds of reasons this is sometimes the case. But not always, and never in some areas. Pastors are often now CEOs
We're always tempted to bring the world into the church, of course. And so we embrace professionalism without even noticing it. Heaven help us.
Woodhouse on 2 Sam 6
There's no denying that 2 Sam 6 is a hard chapter. We're enjoying looking at it at the Spring Ministers' conferences. But, suggests, John Woodhouse, our problems with the passage generally seem to be problems that we have with the kingdom of God. For example, God's righteous anger against Uzzah is sobering, as it should be be when we consider the extraordinary holiness of our sovereign Lord.
But even more specifically, we have no warrant to go anywhere other than to and through Christ in these chapters:
the earthly reign of David is a token in which we must contemplate the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation of his Church to the end of the world.
Calvin by the way (sermons on 2 Samuel).
Oh, and Amen!