EMA 2014: important announcement
We have had to change next year's EMA dates from those previously advertised. It's been a bit of a saga, but essentially, the dates we were promised and agreed with the Barbican have been withdrawn. This year's move was such a success that we want to continue the momentum and so we've put back the EMA by two weeks for 2014 only. That means it will take place from Tuesday 8 to Thursday 10 July. The Summer wives conference will take place 23 June. Some of us are used to the EMA being in the last week in June. But then we were used to it being at St Helen's too and we coped with that. For some people, these dates will actually be better. It will certainly be easier for us to plan leaving us a short breather between the end of Cornhill term and the EMA. So put these new dates in your diary please, and let the evangelical world know…
Life on the edge and self-neglect
I've been reflecting recently how much of pastoral life is lived on the edge. There is the routine of ministry, especially for those of us who are preachers, the regular study, prayer and preparing of sermons for the church. There is a regularity about that which is relatively easy to plan for and anticipate. But preaching does not happen in a vacuum and much of what counts as pastoral work has very little that is regular. In fact, it can be made up of emergencies, counsel that takes longer than expected, funerals and other crises.
The preacher has to accommodate these whilst maintaining the regularity of ministry. I don't think that's easy. In fact, I know it's not. So, preachers need to be good self-adminstrators (or have a good administrator) on top of everything else.
This has come home to me this last week as I've tried to prepare sermons, do office work and deal with crises that necessarily arise. And in the midst of this the greatest danger is self-neglect. You may find it is different for you. But actually, when there is so much to fit into the day, spiritual (and physical and emotional) self-neglect is a serious business and a real risk for me. So, against all earthly wisdom, today I'm taking a day off and finding time to pray, study, read and see friends. I may have been guilty of some self-neglect, but I'm asking God to help me remedy that.
Your wife is beautiful
One of the 'commands' of Scripture is to find delight in the 'wife of your youth.' It's a strange phrase to unpack. But whatever else this means (how many wives have you?) at the very least it means that you, Mr Married Preacher, are to find your wife beautiful. You should delight in her. Even if time has ravaged you both. I think this is one of the most helpful things I ever learnt giving marriage prep. We need to discipline ourselves to find our wives beautiful, whatever the cultural pressures tell us.
Driscoll, in one of the helpful things he says (!) puts it like this – men, whatever your wife looks like, that is your standard of beauty. Small breasts? Then you like small breasts. Large? Then, that's your thing. Wide hips? Then you like them. Narrow. Ditto. Short? She's the girl for you. Tall? Likewise. And so on. This is advice we need to heed and teach to men in our congregations too.
I was thinking more about this today when I read this extremely positive article on the BBC website about a US photographer who has photographed women post childbirth. Jade Beall, for that is her name, wanted to show the beauty of the normality of the post-birth woman. She's right. Her photographs are, I think, quite stunning. Eve was given the grand title – Mother of all living – and motherhood is indeed gloriously beautiful. It deserves to be celebrated and should be part of our wives beauty, not something that destroys it.
Your wife is beautiful.
It hardly seems possible to pick up a newspaper or magazine at this time of year without being confronted with a list of essential summer reading. And if you can't beat them, why not join them? Our own holiday begins in a couple of weeks and I'm starting to load up the kindle (yes, I know, I prefer real books too – but I read fast and Mrs R won't allow me to take enough books away with me to fill the time).
And here's the curious thing. I find it very difficult to read Christian books and unwind. I know that should not be the case, but it is, and has been ever since I became a pastor. Perhaps it's indicative of the fact that I'm poor at self-discipline. Maybe. But what I know is that as soon as I start reading a Christian book I start applying it to my own heart and the hearts of those I minister to. I critique it as a possible bookstall volume. And so on.
So, I've developed a defence mechanism which is I don't read Christian books on holiday. I just don't. I read plenty of them at other times, but on holiday I stack the pack with some fiction and non fiction that has been waiting in line. I also take the opportunitie to read through again and again the next book I'm preaching on – not with a view to crafting sermons, but just getting to know the book.
So here, if you're interested, is the first part of my summer list. I don't really mind whether you like it or not, but I think there is great value in using downtime to relax and if reading helps you relax, then it is worth planning properly for:
- Ecclesiastes is our autumn preaching project at church. I aim to read through this a few times. 1 Samuel is my Cornhill teaching project next spring. Ditto.
- I'm very gripped by the look of The Great Tamasha by James Astill. This is a book about cricket in India, its success, corruption, influence. It looks very interesting and satisfies two of my great loves: cricket and, er, India.
- In the past I've enjoyed some of Zadie Smith and her new novel NW is, as expected, gritty and realistic. It's also about London so has been added to the pile.
- Terra by Mitch Benn just sounds silly. But it's good to have at least one silly book to laugh at (previously this space has been filled with books by Jasper Fforde)
- A commonplace killing is a crime story with a difference – the difference being the setting of immediate post war austerity – a time which intriques me very much.
- I've also got to finish off the Pulitzer winner Behind the beautiful forevers by Katherine Boo, an addictive but grimy and depressing book about a Mumbai slum. I've also already finished one of my holiday books – Forgotten Land by Max Egremont – an extremely moving book with unexpected gospel.
And what have you planned…?
Seminar files from the EMA
The audio of seminars from the 2013 EMA is now available to download for free here. Please note that this does not include the marriage and ministry stream by Mrs R and I. Due to the nature of the seminar stream, it was not possible to record the sessions. I may, when I have some time, put some of the notes online.
Marriage, ministry and priorities
One quote from a (male) speaker at last week's wives' conference. "I have always believed and said publicly that – if it came to it – I would willingly give up my ministry for the sake of my marriage."
There is a sense in which marriage and ministry cannot be compared to set off one against the other. They are of a different order. But ultimately, this speaker was right.
If you are married and in ministry, could you honestly say this? If not, why not?
I've finally finished reading Michael Wood's excellent "The story of England" – the story of the country told through the story of one village, Kibworth (very near to Market Harborough from where I'm writing this). Having re-read the chapters on the Lollards and the Reformation, I was struck once again by the link the author makes between these two events: his premise is essentially this: the strong Wycliffe heritage of the village made the Reformation changes readily welcomed. When you think that almost 150 years separated the two that's a remarkable claim. The seed sown produced a latter harvest generations on. I find that remarkably encouraging.
Who knows, under the supreme sovereignty of God, what effect your preaching may have – not just in this generation but, in God's mercy and unseen, for generations to come. So, be encouraged Mr Preacher. You may be blessed with fruit now. But even if you are not, who knows what effect your faithful hard work will have in generations to come. Keep going. Stay faithful and prayerful and believe with all your heart that God's word will not return empty.
Reflections from the EMA Bookstore
This week we are beginning our review of the EMA Bookstore with tenofthose.com. These are all anecdotal observations; nevertheless, there is some truth here that is worth reflecting on:
- 2012/13 was a good year for books with some really strong, helpful, gap-filling titles published. It's exciting to see UK publishers at the forefront of this work. It seems publishers are, on the whole, becoming smarter about their new titles. That's great news, because there is enough crud around already. We recommended some of these titles, but the truth is there were a dozen more we could have commended. I will try to blog about some of these over the summer.
- There is a discerning hunger for good books. Preachers do not, on the whole, come to the EMA (or any other conference) for the BookStore. Nevertheless, many have commented to us on the importance of a well-stocked, carefully-chosen group of titles. We were slightly unsure how space might work; in the event we brought 1,000 titles, but could have extended this (and we will in 2014) by another 25%.
- Preachers are beginning to think more broadly than books they might read themselves. They are thinking about evangelistic books, books that congregation members could read and so on. We've tried to foster that at the EMA and we're really glad to see it beginning to take hold as a culture.
- There are still significant gaps in the book market, despite the large number of books available in the UK. There are still precious few books for teenagers, for example. And there are few books dealing with the issues raised by age and dementia. One or two are appearing, but nothing compared with books on, say, youth work and marriage (please, no more books on marriage!)
- Preachers have become light readers. Some of our weightier volumes, chosen very carefully, sold very few copies. That may be a price issue, but casual conversations with preachers reveal that we are, on the whole, becoming lighter readers. Those heavier volumes require greater time and intellectual investment, but preachers, we need to be stretched!
Preachers, don’t forget to pastor your wives
Mrs R and I are away at the Summer Wives Conference – almost 100 of us, Anglican and Free Church. Great weather. Good food. Superb accommodation. A good teaching programme, I hope, but also a chance to stop, take stock, rest and recuperate from the busyness of the pastoral home. I say this every year, but it comes to me every year afresh – it's quite possible, Mr Preacher, that the pastor's wife is the least churched person in your congregation. Some of the wives here have spent the last YEAR in the creche. Others find it almost impossible to listen to their husbands ministry without doing so as a friendly critic. Others are so overwhelmed with juggling children, hospitality and church responsibilities that they find it very difficult to take anything in.
Some of these are unavoidable tensions, but they can be mitigated, if only preachers would not neglect the pastoral care of their wives. Mr Preacher, what about your wonderful helper whom God has given you. Are you pastoring her as well as the rest of the congregation?
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
This EMA past we tried something new. We wanted to acknowledge before God the great generosity he has shown us and the rich seam of resources he has provided for us. So, as you may know, we had an overseas missions project. We invited delegates to buy a book for us to send to the Johannesburg Bible College whom we were delighted to support. We were not quite sure how this was going to go. But we were praying it would go well because our own generosity is, of course, a measure of our appreciation of the generosity that God himself has shown us in Christ.
So, we delighted to announce that we're sending almost 350 print resources and 100 DVD resources to South Africa. These will be a real help to those who simply don't have access to the resources we enjoy here. Thanks to our friends at Crossway, our package will include 100 ESV study Bibles. There will be lots of PT books and other resources too. Our friends at tenofthose.com have graciously paid to post the books off. And our good friend and EMA delegate David has chipped in with some other resources.
Who knows, in God's economy, the usefulness of these resources.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.