Word Alive for preachers. Or something similar.
How do you make sure your own soul is fed, Mr Preacher? How many ministries and churches suffer because the pastor-teacher does not take care of his own soul? It's an easy trap to fall into. There's so much to do, so many meetings, so many tasks – and if you don't do them, who will? So, take a moment this morning to ask yourself this question:
How do you make sure your own soul is fed?
A key way is by sitting under other people's ministry. I think the best place to do this is in your own church. It's good to go to a Bible study you're not leading. It's healthy to be in the congregation when someone else is preaching. Always assuming, of course, you can do so uncritically, listening not as a fellow preacher or leader, but as someone who needs the Spirit to apply the word of Christ to you so that you might love the Father more.
To be honest, I sometimes struggle with this. That's partly because, even if I train myself to be uncritical in this way, people always view you as the pastor, so can't leave you alone. And here is the benefit of making the most of outside conferences. I'm particularly keen on Word Alive, not because they share a building with us, but because it's something that you, Mr Preacher, can benefit from with your family or church family. Here's a chance, pacing yourself well, to sit under ministry, learn and grow. It's not the only thing you could do, go to or listen to. You may have something else. But it's a start. Have a think about it.
How do you make sure your own soul is fed?
Don’t forget the autumn ministers
We're looking forward to welcoming some of you to the autumn ministers conference. It runs from 11-14 November (Mon through Thurs) at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire and we're looking forward to having David Gibb (Leyland) preaching and teaching on Book 1 of the psalms and Wallace Benn on maintaining momentum in ministry – both personally and as church leaders. These are critical issues. We're excited about Book 1 of the psalms too because these rich songs and poems are not always straightforward to preach as Christian literature. As with all our conferences, we've also planned in time to relax and meet with friends, so we hope and trust and pray the time away will be refreshing both physically and spiritually.
I've enjoyed reading Lee Gatiss' St Antholin's lecture on Edmund Grindal recently. He was strong on preaching and defended preaching groups/conferences robustly to Queen Elizabeth. I don't think our present Elizabeth as quite the objections that her namesake did, but it amused me to see why he thought preaching conferences were such a good idea:
- Preaching conferences make ministers more skilful preachers.
- They remove preachers from 'idleness, wandering, gaming etc'
- They persuade the doctrinally dodgy to confess the truth.
- They drive ignorant ministers to study harder.
- They show lay people that the clergy are not lazy.
- The train up good preachers to 'beat down Popery.'
Paraphrased by Lee of course. I'm not sure we can say, hand on heart, that these are our six drivers behind preaching conferences, but they made us smile and have a ring of truth about what we do. We long to better handle the word of God. We long to see godliness develop in preachers whom we serve. We long that as iron sharpens iron, we would help one another to grasp, understand and believe the truth. We long to encourage good and faithful study of God's word. We long that churches would see their pastor's progress. And we long to enable preachers to refute falsehood, even though we might not express it as "beating down Popery."
So, yes, these made us smile. But they also still ring true, 450 years on. Book here for the full Grindal experience, otherwise known as the autumn ministers conference. Lee's booklet on Grindal is out shortly from the Latimer Trust.
Praying the sermon in and preaching on the first day of the week
We all know that prayer is a key component of the preachers' life – reflecting his personal walk with Christ and also the ministry that God has given him. So praying over a passage or sermon as part of the preparation is a key component of sermon work. We neglect it at our peril. Now, we all know that – even if we are not the practitioners of it that we would always like to be.
But what about praying after the sermon? I wonder if too soon the sermon becomes old news to us. Monday comes around and we're already thinking about the next passage, the next text, the next message. So, here's something I've been trying to do recently with varied success, it must be said. I've been trying to do what I encourage congregations to do – that's to pray the sermon in.
- Post preaching, I've tried to be more disciplined in bringing the sermon and its effect in my people, to my Almighty Father. I don't want to get so caught up with the next week's business that this is neglected. Strangely, one thing that has really helped me with this is thinking about Sunday as the first day of a new week rather than the last day of the old week. I think that many of us preachers are hard wired to think of Sunday as the culmination of the week's effort – everything works up to this point. It's easy to get sucked into thinking that Sunday ends the week and Monday starts the new one. But if we train ourselves to think differently about the weekly pattern we see Sunday as the beginning of the week and then it feels more natural to be praying through that week for what has gone before.
- I've also tried to continue preaching the sermon to myself in the coming week. Many of us (somewhat tritely?) observe during the sermon "of course, I've preached this to myself this week" (last week, that should be?!!) but now I'm trying to train myself to pray in the Sunday sermon into my own heart. I've written down the key application and used it in my prayer times, running through it again and again and applying it to the situations I face throughout the week.
Why not give it a go? And why not see how thinking differently about the week can help your preaching?
Setting boundaries on your time
I'm just off the back of a stupidly busy eight days. All, pretty much, self inflicted. It wasn't helped by a broken down train on Saturday night meaning it took me 6 hours to get home from just outside Leeds, before then climbing in the car again for a two hour drive to preach in Hampshire. Fool! It's the last one of these silly stretches because I've got a small group of friends whom I have to run such outside speaking engagements past. It seems to be working – it's helping me set boundaries. But I have learnt the hard way that it is important to have some mechanism in place to help with this. Exactly what depends on your nature. It also depends on your setting. Ordinarily it should be your fellow church leaders or your spouse if you are married. But however it works, I wonder how you make sure you able to set – and keep – appropriate time boundaries. You are no use to anyone if you cannot.
The context of words
Words always have contexts. It's absurd to strip out words from their contexts and try to make them stand on their own. I was reminded of this as I read some BBC articles about the crackdown on racist chanting (a good thing, by the way). Much of the online debate centres on the word "Yid" used by both opponents and supporters of Spurs alike. The FA have announced that using the word is inappropriate and probably illegal. Some Spurs supporters have reacted strongly, saying that "Yid army" is one of their terrace chants. Yet there is no doubt that it is also used as a term of abuse by opponents.
Should there be such blanket bans? I think the answer probably lies in the fact that the word, once stripped of its context, is very difficult to interpret. Words can be offensive in one context but not in another. That is true historically (try reading Isaiah 36.12 in the King James version!!), as well as culturally and even locationally – most couples for example have a private bedroom language that would not be appropriate for, say, the pulpit.
The bottom line is that it's naive to think that words have meanings without contexts. Of course, this is supremely true in the Scriptures. I'm acutely aware of this preaching in Ecclesiastes at the moment where context shapes much of how a word should be understood. And here's the lesson for preachers – when studying a text, look first at the context to work out the meaning of words. Don't fly to the lexicon or commentary. There's many a mistake there for the taking by pursuing that path too quickly. Rather, look around. Read the surrounding words. Re-read them. And remember every word has a context and it's that which brings meaning.
Bible centred youthwork
Of the making of many books on youthwork there is much. And of the organising of conferences on youthwork there is much. And, to be frank, not all as helpful as it might be. Incredibly, one of the missing ingredients is often….wait, for it…. the Bible. Yep, that's right. Your youthworkers, Sunday school teachers, kids workers – they all need help, right? And you're probably not in a position to give them all they need. So if you're going to invest in them, you need to invest in something which will work on their skills – including (and centrally) Bible skills. That's why a strong and biblically robust consortium of partners put on the Growing Young Disciples day conferences and the January residential. This is a key way to invest in your youth team and ensure that they get the good Bible input they need. Click on the links for more information.
- Southampton (Above Bar Church) Saturday 12th October 2013
- London (All Souls, Langham Place) Saturday 23rd November 2013
- Midlands (Cornerstone Church, Nottingham) Saturday 1st March 2014
- High Leigh Conference centre. Monday 20th-Thursday 23rd January 2014.
How to choose a training course
Here's a short video I did for the FIEC. I tried to be objective as possible – there are LOTS of good training opportunities in the UK. Praise God for that. I am biased in particularly recommending PT Cornhill, which started this week. But the course deserves my bias. Good to see so many eager students of God's word.
The theology of preaching
At a theological conference last week I asked a very knowledgeable theologian and church minister what book he would recommend on the theology of preaching. He wasn’t exactly brimming over with suggestions. The topic is on my mind because it’s an area in which we are attempting to beef up what we teach at Cornhill. Of course we will continue to teach preaching to a large extent through thorough study of books of Scripture and intensive practice, but we who teach at Cornhill also reckon that we need to strengthen our theology of preaching. By that I don’t mean the principles and practices of biblical exposition themselves, but a rich biblical and theological understanding of why we are right to do what we do when we preach, and of what preaching is in relation to other aspects of Word ministry.
So this week I have turned back to one reliable book that purports to address this topic head-on: Peter Adam’s Speaking God’s Word: A Practical Theology of Preaching. I’ve partly found what I’m looking for there, but (if I’m honest) not entirely. Yet there are many good things in the book. In one lovely section he sets out some of the reasons that Calvin gave for why God established the ministry of preaching. Here’s a taste:
- God is invisible, so he uses the mouths of preachers as his delegates.
- He shows his regard for humanity, by deigning to use some of them as his ambassadors.
- It teaches Christians humility: ‘when a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God’s name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable towards his minister although he excels us in nothing’ (a great line to remember the next time someone in church intimates that they think you’re ‘puny’ – or if I’m tempted to look down on other faithful preachers as not ‘up to my level’).
- It fosters mutual love. We all have to sit there on the same level listening to the same message.
- It is not enough to preach ‘as though a man should teach in a school’. ‘We must moreover be quickened up with good and vehement exhortations; we must be rebuked as if a man should search a wound’. Peter Adam himself gives some excellent tips on how to put the latter into practice; not least: spend at least as much prep-time thinking and praying through how to apply your exposition profoundly the body of people you’ll be speaking to, as you do working on the text. Not, of course, an excuse to reduce my text-work time! Very tough to do, as we all know – and as all really valuable things are.
PT Cornhill Teaching Days – coming your way very soon
We're on tour…! Our autumn series of training days around the country kicks off this Saturday (21st September) at Otley in Yorkshire (still time to book here), Dublin on 12th October and Colchester (East Anglia Gospel Partnership) on 9th November. Perhaps see you there? They're excellent opportunties to train your preaching and teaching teams. Thinking ahead there's also Bath on 15 Feb 2014 and Sussex Gospel Partnership on 15 March 2014.