What to look for in a training course
This week I've been doing some recording with the FIEC for some video shorts. My own slot was on "what to look for in a training course" and here's my text. I happen to think that PT Cornhill fits this set of criteria very indeed – well, I would, wouldn't I!! But even if that's not your chosen route or the route of those you're training in your church (and I'm big enough to realise that there are lots of good options), I hope there's some wisdom here. Please note that this was written for a free church audience. Nevertheless, I hope there's lots of help here whatever your background.
One of the great things about preparing for free-church ministry is that there is no one set route to follow. That means that you can carefully choose a training route which suits you best. However, perhaps most importantly of all, remember that any training you undertake needs to be part of a mindset of ongoing training. It’s not: train, qualify and then you’re done. Ministry is a lifetime of learning, growing and serving.
Nevertheless, a good training period going into ministry can set you up well for a lifetime of service. It’s brilliant that here in the UK there are lots of different options that you can pursue. But how on earth can you choose between them? Well, here are a few pointers.
First, don’t make the choice on your own. You belong to a local church and, even if your church is not in a position to fund all your training, you should be making decisions with them. And this strong doctrine of the local church is also important when it comes to choosing a particular college or course.
Make sure that the place you select has a robust and healthy theology of the local church. Do they see their role as serving the local church – or as setting the agenda? How will you (especially if you go away to study) maintain this local church involvement?
The second tip is this. Choose training which reflects the nature of real church work. Make sure it majors on the things that feature most in ministry. For starters, that means preaching and pastoral work. Don’t choose somewhere which sees those things as nice-to-have. They need to be at the core of your training because they’re at the core of your ministry.
Then a word about breadth. You need to be trained by those who respect your particular theological position. I think it’s a fool’s errand to think you can convert a liberal establishment. Don’t even try! Find out what the course beliefs are. Make sure you’re happy with them.
But equally, go for somewhere where there is some stretching breadth so that you will be challenged, always assuming that the breadth comes from secondary issues. In other words, you’re looking for somewhere that accepts and rejoices in your boundaries but includes others who will get you thinking outside of the box. That balance needs wise thinking, but is worth considering.
Then there are some practical considerations, of course. These include cost, location, full time versus part time, whether you have a family (it may be difficult to move them all), length of course, how it will fit with church or work life, whether it leads to a recognised qualification and so on.
All those need to be part of your decision. Find people who have done the course and ask them questions. How did it work? How did life shape up? How did the family cope? What would they do differently?
But above all, plan to enjoy it. Even though ministry is a lifetime of learning, this opportunity to train now is almost certainly a one off. So, plan to get the most out of it. And plan to enjoy it.
I’ve done three lots of training in my career. The first two were business related and necessary. They were, to be honest, a bit of a chore. But I loved training for ministry and would not have swapped it for anything. I hope you feel the same.
EMA evangelistic event
Here's an idea. Next year is Passion for Life and though lots of churches will be organising events at Easter, there will be some momentum. So we wondered if we can't make use of the Barbican as a professional concert venue and put on an event one of the evenings at the EMA. The idea would be, broadly speaking, a classical music event with performance and testimony using well known professional musicians who are also Christians with a clear testimony. It would be a great event to bring friends to if you live in and around London. But before we push the button we need to think whether it's viable or not. We can rent the Barbican for the evening at a lower cost during the EMA than at other times, but it's still not cheap. We'd love to hear from you if you think this is something your church would support (we're not asking for financial support – just an indication of whether you think it's a good idea and would promote it in your fellowship). If so, please could you email us and make some encouraging noises? Thanks – we look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to host a visiting speaker #2
Introduce the visitor properly at the meeting
Because you have invited the visiting speaker, you probably know them, or at least know about them. This may be true for some others. But we ought never to assume it is true for all. If we just say, ‘Well, we all know Ebenezer so he needs no introduction and I’ll just hand over to him’, nothing is so calculated to make the newcomer feel an outsider. ‘Ah,’ she thinks, ‘I and I alone don’t know him; how could I be so ignorant? I wish I hadn’t come.’
Here are some practical tips about welcoming and introducing speakers in a way that is courteous and helpful to the hearers.
1. Show them before the meeting where they are to speak from and where they can rest their notes
2. Show them any arrangements for amplification and ask them in advance if you would like to record their talk
3. Interview the speaker briefly sometime in the meeting before they speak. Discuss with them in advance what questions will help the hearers to feel they have begun to get to know them. Keep the interview crisp and light, but try to include something to identify them as a human being (rather than just the doer of a job!) and something about the work in which they are involved
4. If a speaker’s wife or husband has accompanied them to the meeting, make a point of welcoming them as well, rather than ignoring them. Perhaps get them to the front for the brief interview, if there is time.
5. Offer them the opportunity to tell people a little about the work they are doing
6. If they have written a book or published a booklet or article that might be of interest to those at the meeting, take the trouble to have a copy to hand and mention it; unless the visitor is into self-promotion he may be reluctant to draw attention to it himself.
7. If you have a bookstall, get some copies ordered in good time for this
8. Say clearly what subject or passage you have asked them to speak on
9. Pray for the speaker, the hearers and the grace of God to be at work in the meeting
10. Hand over to them
11. Thank them briefly at the end, but avoid capping what they have said with lengthy extra observations of your own. Remember the aim is not to leave people thinking how well or badly the speaker has spoken, but rather going away to do the word of God.
Thank them afterwards
There are two things to remember afterwards.
1. Send them enough to cover their expenses. They won’t expect anything more than this (and if they do, then you probably don’t want to invite them!) But if you want to give them some kind of thank you gift, think about what will be most appropriate. Book Tokens are less welcome than they once used to be, because it forces people to buy expensive books in bookshops when they can usually get them a fair bit more cheaply on the Internet. How about an Amazon token?
2. Write to thank them for their teaching or preaching. Even if you can’t think of much good to say about it, try to say something. And if you say it in writing they can share the thanks to encourage those who have been left behind, perhaps coping with children.
How to host a visiting speaker #1
Some time ago I put together a few pointers for those who host visiting speakers. This is hardly the last word on the matter, but I thought it may be worth a couple of posts. You will see it rather quaintly refers to the now obsolete OHP. You need to update this in your mind for more modern technologies (WiFi passwords, proper connectors for laptops, USB sticks etc).
Brief the visiting speaker properly in advance
If the event is extra to your usual programme, perhaps an evangelistic breakfast or a day conference, we can be so busy organising and publicising the event that we neglect to brief the speaker. If it is a regular event, such as a Sunday sermon, we may assume they just know what happens; they may not. Here are some tips.
- Brief them in plenty of time. Don’t assume they are magicians who can conjure fresh high-quality new material out of nothing at a moment’s notice!
- Give them clear instructions about the date, place, start and end time (include the end time so that they can plan their journey home)
- If it is an event that covers more than one session, tell them well in advance the detailed timings for the day(s) (or invite them to join you in planning it)
- Tell them clearly how long you would like them to speak for, and whether or not it will be helpful to have a time for questions at the end
- Explain clearly to them the aim of the event. Is it to reach non-Christians, to build up Christians, to train workers, or what?
- Tell them what has come before and what will come afterwards. If it is a Sunday sermon, give them the full sermon series planner sheet or programme card. If it is a regular event such as a monthly evangelistic breakfast, tell them who has spoken before and what they have spoken about, and who is planned to speak later
- Tell them if you are planning some particular follow-up. Is there perhaps an enquirers’ course or follow-up literature?
- Give them some indication about the likely number of people attending, and what sort of people they are – Christians and non-Christians, well-taught or untaught, hungry or proud, younger or older, men or women, more or less educated, races, nationalities, regulars at these events or newcomers…
- Tell them if there is a preferred dress code, so that they don’t have to guess and risk embarrassment by turning up over or under-dressed
- Tell them if there will be bibles provided, and – if so – what version
- Send them a copy of all the publicity you have used for the event, so that they know what those attending will expect
- Tell them what teaching resources will (or can) be made available (e.g. projector, OHP, white-board)
- Invite them to send through any handouts and offer to run off the appropriate number of copies for them
Just a thought…
I wonder if churches should celebrate significant birthdays of congregation members less and notable marriage anniversaries more?
I know there is the risk of offending the singles, but think about it. As long as you are alive, a birthday comes around. That's worth thanking God for. Of course it is. But marriage is an altogether different order. Not only is it a covenant relationship, reflecting Christ and the church. But long marriages are increasingly counter cultural and any marriage which lasts the distance is evidence of God's continued sustaining goodness over and above simply keeping us alive.
Let's have family church gatherings where we celebrate 25 year marriages, 40 year marriages, 50 years and beyond.
Summer reading review #4
Here's a roundup of what else graced my kindle this summer:
Superb. A remarkable study into something I learn for O-level history. The political and royal wheeler-dealings are overwhelmingly mesmerising. A sobering reminder that the democracy we enjoy now was not easily won, nor should it be taken for granted. And a reminder that the details are often surprising and matter – on such things the fate of nations turn. For example the arch enemy of reform who supported the bill because he thought it might somehow reverse Catholic emancipation. His vote counted. When the affairs of nations turn on such small matters, the sovereignty of God is a remarkable comfort.
Don't. Just don't. Why would you?
Silly nonsense. Barely enjoyable. An alien story with a post modern slant.
Sian died before completing this story (she was the wife of BBC editor Robert Peston). Does that make people write nice things about it when it's not a particularly good story? The trouble is this kind of mystery murder is not my normal fare and so I'm ill equipped to say whether it is a good example of the genre. I read it because it was set in post war austere London (a setting for few books) and that intrigued me. But it didn't really grip me much – just a few sordid characters making their way in North London.
This was a kind of "Bible overview" but in Naval terms – a framework into which I could put all the other naval things I have read. My grandfather was a regular in the Navy and I like to think I got my love of things nautical (though not, I guess, my colour blindness) from him. I really enjoyed this book. It was both informative, as well as setting everything I read into a larger narrative. Wilson also stops off along the way: who knew how close the Armada came to success and what a muppett Drake was?
It reminded me very much of the importance of seeing the whole story. You can take glorious battles out of context, and when you do so, you are in great danger of missing the big thing that is going on. And that, apparently, is the way to read the Bible too…
Summer reading review #3
And the mountains echoed is Khaled Hosseini's third novel – each of which is focused somehow on his native Afghanistan. The previous two (Kite Runner and A thousand splendid suns) are both moving and well written. This third is no exception. As with his previous two novels, I sometimes wonder if his early 20th Century view of Afghanistan is a bit too rosy, but who I am to say. In this novel, we find the harrowing story of a brother and sister split apart at birth and the tale of whether they will ever be reunited.
The writing is realistic without being sensationalist – good material for Christians in this sense. And the story is complex. It jumps around from person to person (with different voices narrating) and era to era. Within the main plot are a number of involving sub plots. Its testament to the writing of Hosseini that this doesn't distract from the book or reduce the enjoyment. On one level, this is a really good book.
But it is also (like his others) achingly and almost unbearably sad. It reduced me to tears and offered no real redemption. Even though there is a sort of reconciliation at the end, the circumstances surrounding it are so tinged with brokenness, that it ends up being a sad rather than uplifting experience. Like Kate Atkinson's book, here is a story that is longing for the redemptive power that only the gospel can bring. Although just a story, it leaves the reader in no doubt that unless there really is something better, life is pretty miserable.
Summer reading review #2
Life after life by Kate Atkinson was another of my holiday reads, picked (like many are) by recommendations in the Saturday paper literary supplements. I realise, as I about to explain it, it's all going to sound a little ridiculous. The story revolved around Ursula, born 1910 into a middle class family in the suburbs. The plot follows her life, but each time she dies, the story starts over – a bit like a non comic Groundhog Day. Sometimes this interludes are very short (she dies at birth, she dies shortly after birth, she dies in infancy and so on). But it's an interesting writing device that allows the author to make things right.
And basically that is what this book is about. Each time Ursula has a kind of sense she's been here before even though she doesn't realise details. So she is able to save her friend Nancy from being abducted and murdered. She is able to save herself from an abusive marriage. And ultimately she tries to eliminate the Holocaust but murdering Hitler early on his political life.
It reads better than it sounds. In fact, both Mrs R and I really enjoyed it. But there is a fundamental flaw. However much you put things right, there is always something else to go wrong. Kate Atkinson stops the story at the Holocaust, but why there? Why could she not learn Russian and do away with Stalin too? Do you see? Christianly speaking the world is broken and any amount of human intervention is not going to fix it.
So (and I suspect this is the opposite intent of the author), the reader is left exasperated by the constant ability to finally fix things. It's all rather draining. Presumably the book could have gone on for another 1,500 pages – in fact on into infinity. And so, like a book I will review tomorrow, the Christian reader is ultimately left gasping for the gospel which does change things for good, for ever.
As an aside, the sections when Ursula serves as an Air Raid Warden during the Blitz are extremely well written. I love was history and though I recall reading about war leaders (Churchill, Bradley, Brooke), battle histories (D Day, Stalingrad), life at home (land girls, life in Britain), naval history (U boat battle) and soldierly camaraderie (Band of Brothers), I don't ever recall reading about such a grim but necessary job as the wardens had in Blitz torn London. Recommendations, anyone….?
Summer reading review #1
Back here I explained some of my summer reading habits and have already reviewed Katherine Boo's book which was on my summer list. I find it a good discipline to think about the books I read in a Christian way, even though many (most) of them are not explicitly Christian. So here goes for a few I devoured this summer.
First up (and this will get the most comprehensive review) is Alister McGrath's new biography of CS Lewis. This has got some startling commendations, so I delved into it eagerly. I have to say, however, that I found it all a bit underwhelming. There are a number of reasons for this:
- first, I'm not one of those who owes a great debt in my Christian life to the writing of CS Lewis. I just don't. I was given his The Pilgrim's Regress (McGrath: his most difficult book) as a confirmation gift (I know, I know – but I later saw the light) by the Bishop of Bradwell. It did very little for me. Unlike, say, Tim Keller, who publicly confesses a great debt to the man, I have no such account.
- second, although I like trivia, I get unexcited about the fact that we may have dated Lewis' conversion wrongly by six months or so. This, perhaps, is linked to point 1 above. But you would need to be a Lewis scholar to appreciate this point.
- third, he can hardly be described to have lived a wholesome life, even post conversion. I found all that deeply unsettling, although I knew much of it already and was aware that the Shadowlands story was something of a gloss.
- there were times when the book didn't feel quite that well edited – one or two stories that recurred, quite a lot built on speculation…
Nevertheless, there were a few golden insights.
- First, it was a good reminder that Lewis is not the evangelical hero we often make him. As much as someone like Lewis belongs to any tribe, it most certainly is not ours. Like Bonhoeffer, we must be careful into making him into something he never was.
- Second, I was reminded of the great usefulness of writing things down. This is often a great discipline in times of crisis. Indeed, there have been times in the last twelve months where keeping a journal has been a more regular and helpful discipline than at any time in my Christian life.
Faced with these unsettling and disquieting challenges, Lewis coped using the method he had recommended to his confidant Arthur Greeves in 1916: "Whenever you feel you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago." In the days following Davidman's death in July 1960, Lewis began to write down his thoughts, not troubling to conceal his own doubts and spiritual agony….he found liberty and release in being able to write what he actually thought, rather than what his friends and admirers believed he ought to think. (p342)
- Third, I was particularly struck by Lewis' hermeneutical method – in his case, as it related to English Literature. But what struck me about it was that is essentially an evangelical hermenutical method.
Lewis insists that to understand the literature of the classical or Renaissance periods, it is necessary to "suspend most of the responses and unlearn most of the habits" that result in reading modern literature – such as an unquestioning assumption of the innate superiority of our own situation. Lewis uses a familiar cultural stereotype to help make his point – the English tourist abroad, so heavily pilloried in works such as EM Forster's Room with a view (1908). Lewis asks us to imagine an Englishman travelling abroad, fully persuaded of the English cultural values to those of the savages of the Western Europe. Instead of seeking out the local culture, enjoying the local food and allowing his own presuppositions to be challenged, he mixes only with with other English tourists, insists on seeking out English food, and sees his Englishness as something to be preserved at all costs. He thus takes his Englishness that he brought with him and "brings it home unchanged."
There is another way of visiting a foreign country and a correspondingly different way of reading an older text. Here, the tourist eats the local food and drinks the local wine, seeing "the foreign country as it looks, not to the tourist, but the inhabitants." As a result, Lewis argues, the English tourist comes home "modified, thinking and feeling" in different ways. (p188).
This is a good metaphor for how we should read the Bible today!
This book was relatively easy to read, it gave a useful introduction to some of Lewis' books. But though I would class it as "good" the problem was that it was just not that good. Probably ideal for Lewis fans.
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!