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!
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….?