For non UK readers of the blog, today is a bank (statutory) holiday in the UK, so there is no regular post. See you tomorrow!
I have always liked reading Themelios, both for its stretching articles and varied book reviews. Granted, without Carl Trueman's inputs it is not quite so funny as it once was, but perhaps that is not an absolute necessity in a theological journal? The latest issue is here.
The atonement… again. And church restoration.
Being back from holiday allows me to catch up on missed issues of the Church Times. I know, life's a hoot, ain't it? I flick through it every now and again just to see what is happening in the rest of the 'Christian' world. This week there are a number of letters following the fuss about Townend and Getty's refusal to allow the Presbyterian Church in the US (I hope I have the right tribe) to change the words from "wrath of God was satisfied" to "love of God was satisfied." (You can read a longer article about this at the White Horse Inn.)
First of all, good on them, of course. Second, the letters pages are a sobering reminder that what we see as biblical Christianity is largely a minority view ("really nice Christians faithfully reiterating really bad theology"!!). This does not make evangelicalism wrong, nor indefensible, nor something to be embarrassed about! Perish the thought. I cannot prove it, but I imagine there has scarcely been a time when true orthodoxy has been a heart felt majority.
But it's sobering to realise that the Bible's message we so love and believe is dismissed as ancient clap trap by those both outside and inside the church (in its broadest sense). It makes me wonder how we hope to evangelise such people? I guess there's one point of view which says we needn't bother. These are just different expressions of the same faith. I cannot follow that line of thinking. Is there a danger that our evangelism is targeted at the unchurched when there is a significant number of churched people who also need to come to faith?
Those who are working hard to recover "lost" churches (both Anglican and Free Church, even though the "lostness" might look different) deserve our support and prayers. Church planting and reaching new people is seen as sexy and is absolutely necessary. Church restoration and recovering lost ground is unglamorous but just as urgent.
Holiday reflection: the test of a good church
Just back from a couple of weeks away in the Peak District and a good mid-break visit to a local church in Buxton. It was holiday time, staff and vicar were away. But it was really quite good. It got me wondering if this is the ultimate test of a ministry: how good is the church when the main preacher/pastor/vicar and/or staff are away? It's then when you know just how much the expository teaching from the front has seeped into people's lives. Does the service and the preaching still reflect our evangelical and biblical commitments during down time?
It would be easy for a church to "revert to type" in choosing songs, the quality, style and content of preaching, what is said from the front. So, here's my thesis: it's not the outputs that mark out a faithful church (for God may cause the seed to fall on rocky ground). Rather, it's the quality of the inputs. So, what would I discover visiting your church this summer….?
Back to school
Today, as you read this, I shall be back in the office following a two week break in Derbyshire. Either
- the sun will have shone, I will have enjoyed cycling round the peaks with my middle daughter Bethan, enjoyed walking through Chatsworth grounds (where we're staying) with the family, and enjoyed a Sunday out in Buxton vesting a good church. Or,
- the rain will have come and I will be miserable.
OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I do enjoy holidays in the nice weather. Next year, France (we keep telling ourselves). Whichever it was, this week back in the office tends to be a make do and mend week when I try to fix cheaply things that are (a) broken (b) legally fixable without a special licence. It's part of the rhythm of life.
Every ministry has rhythm of this kind and I have discovered as I have moved from rural Hampshire to East London, that this rhythm changes from church to church and situation to situation. Some churches mirror school terms. Others don't. We don't have quite the mass summer exodus in East London that we had in Hampshire (it's partly a demographic thing).
As a preacher understanding your churches rhythm is essential to planning your programme and times away and so on, inasmuch as you do these things. But here's my critical observation – even though a church has a rhythm and perhaps a summer downtime, there is no preaching let up. The preaching on an August Sunday is no less important to the church (even if the church is half filled) than the preaching on the first Sunday in September. The place preaching has at the heart of church life is a reality irrespective of numbers in the pew, visitors on holiday, students (or not) and a myriad of other factors. Do people coming to your church know that?
I always enjoy the Credo magazine. It does come from my baptistic stable, I must admit. Nevertheless, that is not a badge it wears particularly strongly and, therefore, whatever your ecclesiological persuasion, you should find something stimulating here.
2013/4 Resource Guide
You should by now have received your 2013/14 resource guide if you are on our UK mailing list. Please note that we don't send them overseas any more as the cost is astronomical (e,g £4.24 for each copy to Australia). If you are in the UK and have missed out on the UK mailing and wish you hadn't – then please contact the office to be included. If you are overseas and would like to browse, then you will find the guide online here in easy to read format (and also available for download). It's worth a little of your time – not only news about what we're planning for 2013/14 but some articles and other bits of useful information.
Sermon illustrations part 4
Where do you get your sermon illustrations from?
I wonder if there's a better way than either Mr A or Mr R. In reality, it's a strategy we both use. Here it is in essence:
- many passages have their own illustrations – or, at least, colour. Preachers ignore these at their peril. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray" says Isaiah. There's no need there for an illustration about lemmings (which, by the way, do not behave as the video games suggest). The simile is right there for you.
- many things that need illustrating are well illustrated by stories from the Bible. It makes me laugh that some preachers are almost evangelistic about not have any cross references but are happy to liberally quote the BBC website. The Bible is full of stories that illustrate hard things. Why not use them?
Added to this is the importance for the preacher of simply looking around. Spurgeon makes much of this in his "Lectures to my students.". For him, it was being aware of the natural world (flaura, fauna etc) and using these to illustrate. Perhaps our vista may be slightly broader, but – in essence – being a good sermon illustrator is often about just keeping your eyes open.
What is more, this kind of "look around you" illustrating will make your sermons sound more contemporary immediately. (I say "sound" advisedly, because a contemporary sermon is surely one that hits home to current listeners, rather than one which is "trendy" and "happening"). For example, I preached on Numbers 5-6 last weekend and was trying to show from Numbers 5.1-3 that God was interested in holiness because he was both holy himself and present. My illustration was that you can admire a skillful athlete from the stands, but you don't need to be skillful yourself. However, God is present with his people. You're not in the stands. You're on the track with him. I used the athletics illustration because – right around the corner from us – we'd just hosted the anniversary games at the Olympic Park.
Which brings me to one of the most important rules about illustrations which I have just broken.
Please, no sports illustrations.
Must you? Really?
Sermon illustrations part 3
Where do you get your sermon illustrations from?
If Christopher's approach is careful, then mine can only be described as anarchic. I am blessed (cursed?) with a mind which is only able to remember trivia. Exams were an ordeal for me. Anniversaries? No hope. Mrs R's phone number? Useless? Greek? Always a labour.
Trivia. Ah, that's me. I'm your man. Pub Quiz, here I come. I remember useless stuff I read, see and hear. The stories stick with me. I don't remember the details always, but the kernel of the story sticks. So, I remember a man who cheated in a half marathon and took the bus some of the way around. I remember that the French for candy floss means Grandpa's beard. I remember stuff like that.
20 years ago that would have been a curse that was without alleviation. But now, we have the internet made for trivia nerds like me. And so, with a decent news search engine (BBC or The Times), I can find the stories I remember a little about and use them as sermon illustrations. So, no word file for me. Just a decent website and a kooky memory bank.
But tomorrow, I'll show you a better way…
Sermon illustrations part 2
Where do you get your sermon illustrations from?
Christopher Ash and I are fundamentally different when it comes to storing and accessing sermon illustrations. I thought it would be useful, therefore, to explain our two strategies. The two approaches reflect our nature and the way our minds work.
So this is how it is for Mr Ash. He has a word document and every time he hears, sees or reads a story that makes him sit up and take notice he writes it out in his word file. He then searches the word file for key words when he is looking for illustrations. This word file is (I hope) backed up!
This kind of approach is methodical and anitipatory. You'll see tomorrow that my approach is very different. I doubt Christopher has some of the head scratching moments I do! It enables stories to be quickly and accurately recalled. But is has its drawbacks too. It requires a disciplined mind and care that you don't reuse illustrations too often – you need quite a big bank.
On the whole, I'm rather envious of this approach. My scattergun technique will be revealed tomorrow….