Workman’s Toolbox – 4.12.2012

Scottish friends, did you know that Paul Tripp is coming to Scotland?  His marriage conference (held at Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Edinburgh) can be booked through The Good Book Company .

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Speaking of Paul Tripp, here is a very convicted post by him: 5 Signs you glorify yourself.

This is helpful by Peter Mead: 10 mistakes preachers make with narrative. I’ve made more than a few of these!

I really like Thabiti Anywabwile definition of preaching:  “God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.” Here is the latest post in his excellent series.

“Who do you think he is?” (a further Christmas text)

Following on from Colin Adams’ excellent article on what to preach at Christmas, let me suggest a further passage of Scripture, and some ideas on how to preach it. “The Genealogy of Jesus” with which Matthew begins his gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) is rarely used at Christmas. “What’s the point of a list of names?” the uninitiated might ask. And “How can I pronounce all those Hebrew names?” (the only time my reading of Scripture was followed by spontaneous applause was after reading through Luke’s genealogy!)

Matthew’s purpose

Of course Matthew, writing his Gospel for a Jewish audience, gives us his reason for beginning with the genealogy in his opening statement: to demonstrate the pedigree of Jesus Christ: “the son of David” (in the royal line), “the son of Abraham” (in the patriarchal line). And the genealogy at least demonstrates that Jesus is a  real human person with named antecedents – not some mythical figure. There is a story of a team with Wycliffe Bible Translators who completed the Gospel of Luke for the first time in a language – except for the genealogy. There was minimal interest in the story from the people group in question until the missionaries finally decided (believing that all Scripture is God’s breathed”) to translate the genealogy – a fairly simple matter of adapting the names using the sound-system of the language. The response when it was read out was astounding and the key to the reception of the gospel in that community.  In a group that prized their ancestors (and could name them many generations back) they realised that this Jesus Christ was a real person – unlike the mythological figures who featured in their own religion.

Surprising people!

But there is even more in Matthew’s genealogy. Kenneth Bailey, whose book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Cultural Studies in the Gospels” (SPCK, 2008) is a must for every preacher (especially at Christmas), points out that Matthew, written for Jews, includes four women in his genealogy and asks why:

Matthew 1 contains a genealogy of Jesus that few bother to read. But a second glance reveals some meaningful surprises. Amazingly, along with the men, Matthew includes the names of four women. Middle Eastern genealogies are expected to be lists of men.  Sirach began his list by saying, “Let us now praise famous men’ (Sirach 44-50) and Luke 3:23-38 is a list of seventy-six men without the inclusion of a single female. Along with a list of forty men, why does Matthew include four women?

And not just any old women! The four listed are all of dubious reputation or background:

  • Tamar (verse 3) See Genesis 38:1-30 – pretended to be a prostitute to entice her father-in-law and got pregnant and was almost killed  by him!
  • Rahab (verse 5) See Joshua 2, 6:24-25 – a Canaanite prostitute
  • Ruth (verse 4) See the Book of Ruth – a member of the Moabite nation, excluded from worship in Israel.
  • Bathsheba (verse 6) See 2 Samuel 11:1 – 12:25 – and Matthew won’t even write her name but refers to her as “the wife of Uriah” (a Hittite!)

Yet Matthew deliberately includes them in his genealogy. Why? Bailey answers his question:

“With such a list, Matthew gives us a clue about the kinds of people that the Messiah came to save. He was to be a Saviour for women and men who were both saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles. This genealogy is truly comprehensive. Many can look at the stories of these women and men and find some reflection of themselves.”

Matthew’s Gospel continues…

Little wonder then that Matthew’s Christmas story features foreigners who come to worship Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) and concludes with the Great Commission given by Jesus to his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations (people-groups)” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Relevance

Any preacher should be able to work out the contemporary relevance of this genealogy. One of the most popular shows on British television with 8 million viewers is “Who do you think you are?” in which well-known people trace their ancestry – with many surprising discoveries.

Some people find out that they have royal blood – others that their great-great-great-grandfather was transported to Australia for stealing a sheep! And many are moved to tears – as was even Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s “rottwelier” interviewer when he learned of the tragic background of one of his forebears.  Yet Matthew is not embarrassed to include people of dubious reputation people in the genealogy of Jesus – indeed he deliberately (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) includes them. Who do you think he (Jesus) is? Matthew tells you, beginning with the ancestry of Jesus Christ.

“Who do you think you are?”

Here is Christmas gospel/good news for everyone: no matter what your pedigree or background, no matter who you think you are. You can be included in God’s family through faith in Jesus. Here are some useful connecting Scriptures:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  (Galatians 3:26-29)

 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:11)

 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:11-13) –

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons, through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Gospel opportunity!

Surprise your congregation (who are expecting wise men after shepherds last year!). More importantly, connect with the  visitors who only attend church at Christmas and offer the gospel of hope to rootless people who are “without hope and without God in the world”.

For further ideas,  see the videoed seminar “Preaching Christ at Christmas” on http://2tim4.org/index.php/2009/11/preaching-christ-at-christmas/  and contact me if you would like any of the PowerPoint presentations at peter@2tim4.org

 

Preaching Christmas: How Shall We Package The Gospel This Time?

Suspend your disbelief, pastor. December is about to arrive on your pastoral doorstep. No, I am not “pulling your leg.” Snow will soon be falling. Advent sermons will soon need preparing. Ere long we will stand before the old and young, the believer and  skeptic, proclaiming the message that Angels once declared!

So how can we make the most of this opportunity?

1.  Be sure the incarnation is thrilling your soul.

The very repetitiveness of Christmas carries with it an obvious danger. Quite frankly, preachers can become bored with the subject matter. I have heard pastors talk of ‘advent sermons’ much as someone might speak of tax returns: a necessary chore that comes round once a year. Some of us may never have said as much, but God knows, we’ve thought it in our hearts.

Yet to groan about preaching the incarnation is to reveal darkened minds and cold hearts!  What could be more interesting, fascinating, and exciting than the Word becoming flesh?  “God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man” should fill our minds with wonder and our souls with praise!  If it doesn’t, we should get on our knees and open our bibles till our cold heart melts and our soul ignites in worship.

2.  Do not get original with your content.

Since there are a limited number texts from which we can preach Christmas, there is a temptation to become ‘creative’ in our expositions. Eisegesis is never more of a temptation than when preaching nativity narratives.

But the Christmas narratives do not need to be “jazzed up.”  Even as our hearts burn with wonder, let us keep cool heads and exegete our passage with the same careful precision as we would any other. Let us not be speculative, but exegetical. Let us not be original, but conventional. Let us preach the Word, trusting that the old, old story continues to have fresh force and impact!

3.  Keep “the packaging” of Christmas sermons fresh.

Being unoriginal in exegesis does not mean that there is no room for creativity in how we package our message. British preachers such as Rico Tice and Vaughan Roberts strike me as particularly good examples of how to be faithful with biblical texts but fresh in communicating it.

Our introductions and illustrations, particularly, should be bang up to date with the times in which we live.  We may be preaching about 6BC, but we are preaching in 2012. May we sound like it!

4.  Preach the full range of passages that address the Christmas theme

Although Nativity related texts are not numerous, pastors should utilize all that is available. Some preachers basically rotate around the shepherds, the wise men, and John chapter 1! But there are many more possibilities that we could consider. For example:

  • Genesis 3:15 (Christmas is promised)
  • Isaiah 7:1-17 (The virgin conception)
  • Isaiah 9: 1-7 (To us a Son is given)
  • Micah 5:2-5 (The ruler from Bethlehem)
  • Matthew 1:18-25 (The birth of Jesus)
  • Matthew 2:1-10 (Visit of the wise men)
  • Luke 1:26-38 (Angel’s announcement to Mary)
  • Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat)
  • Luke 2:1-14 (The birth of Jesus and shepherds visit)
  • John 1:1-14 (The Word became flesh)
  • John 3:16 (God so loved the world that he gave)
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9 (rich and poor, poor and rich)
  •  Philippians 2:5-11 (The humility of Jesus)
  • Hebrews 1:1-3 (God’s final word)
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 (Why Christ Jesus came into the world)
  • 1 John 3:4-10 (The reason the Son of God appeared)

5.  Consider consecutive Christmas preaching

There is great benefit to be gained from preaching a series of consecutive sermons on advent themes.  I am presently preaching a series on Luke’s gospel and have deliberately started the series in November to coincide with the advent season. Similar series could be preached on the opening chapters of Matthew, Isaiah’s advent prophecies, or the various Christmas ‘hymns’ which Scripture records.

6.  Consider preaching individual texts

Despite comment number 5, I must say that some of the most powerful preaching I have heard at Christmas has handled much smaller amounts of material. The focus has fallen on a single verse which has been explained to the Christian and unbeliever alike (eg. Isa 9:6. Mat 1:21. 1 Timothy 1:15).

Consider such preaching. Especially in an evangelistic context, a single verse well explained and applied can be a powerful approach.

7.  Remember to preach the Christmas narratives as fact not fiction

Many unbelievers consider the nativity narratives on a par with fairy-tales. As Christians we know different. Yet as preachers we are presented with the difficult challenge of knowing how to preach to such a skeptical listener.  Several things must be borne in mind as we seek to speak to such skeptical listeners:

First, we must convey to such skeptics that we will not take our theological scissors to the supernatural elements of the text. We will not excise the virgin conception from the Gospels because it might make them feel more comfortable.

Second, we must preach the supernatural “Apologetically.’ This means recognizing the existence of objections, and responding to them in a reasonable manner.

Third, we should assure the skeptics that we have no time for extra biblical legends that have become attached to the Christmas story (such as the three wise men, and the doorstop drama at countless Bethlehem inns!).

Finally, and above all, we must convey an evident conviction that we believe that what we are preaching is fact.  For us –  if not for them – the Christmas narratives are to be found in the section of the library marked ‘History’.

 

 

Workman’s Toolbox

Here is a great video from Rico Tice that explains the Christmas message.

This is such a powerful article! Geoff Thomas shares seven things that are essential to any pastor’s ministry (Preaching – The Method).

1. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by unfeigned belief in the truthfulness of the Bible.

2. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by enduring tough times.

3. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by toil.

4. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

5. The work of the ministry can only be achieved in the defence of the gospel.

6. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by discriminatory preaching.

7. The work of the ministry will only be achieved by applicatory preaching.

 

Ten Questions For Expositors – Dr Harry L. Reeder

Dr Harry L. Reader III is the senior pastor of Briarswood Presbyterian Church, a 4000 member church in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of Embers to a flame; How God Can Revitalize Your Church, is a Gospel Coalition Council Member, and teaches in various theological seminaries.  Today we are delighted that Dr Reader has taken the time to answer our Ten Questions For Expositors.

 1.  Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

The ministry of prayer, preaching of the Word and worship leadership with proper administration of the sacraments are my number one and overarching priority in life and ministry.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

After my conversion I was asked to be the Lay Youth Director and the feedback from teenagers and adults was such that I was being challenged to consider if this was my calling in life, and then the growing joy in preaching and teaching God’s Word for the equipping of His people and communicating the Gospel to the lost became a consuming joy.

3.  How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

20 – 25 hours.

4.  Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?

Yes. I attempt to wordsmith it and then find ways to communicate it throughout the sermon.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

God’s Word should be preached with reverence, permeated by joy, expressed through amazement from the heart of the preacher to the heart of the people with utter dependence on the Holy Spirit. A preacher must avoid plagiarism and lecturing, while embracing clarity and, conviction, expressed through passion, pleading and persuasion with full reliance upon the Holy Spirit

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

One page of notes but I attempt to only use the notes if necessary for preciseness or as a reminder.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

See the above…#5 The only addition is a preacher must avoid indolence, immorality and insubordination of any valid authority especially ecclesiastical authority while maintaining his focus, joy and passion for the preeminence of Christ to the Glory of the Triune God.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

Continue to be aware of the need for prioritization, discipline and intentionality of redeeming the time to do what makes one most effective in their calling.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?    

Preaching and Preachers by Martin Lloyd-Jones.  Between Two Worlds by John Stott.  Find Biographies i.e. the Life of George Whitfield and read three to five biographies a year of great preachers/pastors.

I would suggest that pastors find five mentors whom you respect and can learn from.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

  • I teach in four Seminaries
  • I have a mentoring group of 10 men pursuing ministry
  • Developing a Pastor’s Fellows Program
  • Available for counsel and encouragement for those who seek it.

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You can listen to Dr Reeder’s sermons on the Briarswood website.

Starter For Ten

Tim Chester was our 27th edition of Ten Questions For Expositors, and one of my favorites in the series.  Thought I would list all the past interviews for you so you can check out any you’ve missed.

Tim Chester

Tim Keller

Matt Chandler (pt 1) and (pt 2)

Josh Moody

Conrad Mbewe

Thabiti Anyabwile

Vaughan Roberts

Liam Goligher

Voddie Baucham

Philip Ryken

Steven Lawson

Brian Croft

Frank Retief

Christopher Ash

Robin Weekes

John Shearer

Julian Hardyman

Liam Garvie

Melvin Tinker

10 Question For Expositors – Tim Chester

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Dr Tim Chester is a pastor of The Crowded House in Sheffield and director of Porterbrook Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including The Message of Prayer (IVP), The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness (IVP), You Can Change (IVP/Crossway), From Creation to New Creation (The Good Book Company), Delighting in the Trinity (The Good Book Company), The Ordinary Hero: Living the Cross and Resurrection (IVP), A Meal with Jesus (Crossway/IVP), and co-author of Total Church and Everyday Church (IVP/Crossway). He is married with two daughters.

Today, Tim Chester answers our Ten Questions For Expositors.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

I believe it’s vital for every church to be word-centred. From creation onwards throughout the Bible story we see God giving life through his word and ruling through his word. And from Eden onwards, when God’s word is doubted or ignored, death and chaos follow.

The difficulty with the question is that we have various definitions of preaching doing the rounds. Your ten questions, for example, use ‘preaching’ and ‘sermons’ interchangeably. I believe preaching in the New Testament is to proclaim the gospel, urging people to faith and repentance, with the aim of capturing their hearts for Christ. The New Testament describes a variety of forms in which this can take place including sermons, debates  and conversations.

I say this not to devalue sermons  (which I love), but to ‘revalue’ other forms of word ministry. The measure of whether a church is word-centred is not simply whether there’s a good sermon each Sunday morning. The measure of being word-centred is that the word is being learnt, lived and loved throughout the life of the church. Our aim should not be to have good Bible teaching churches, but to have good Bible doing churches (James 1:22)!

Please don’t mistake what I’m saying. I realise there are plenty of postmoderns and postevangelicals who want to replace the sermon with some relativistic engagement with the Bible. I don’t want that! My concern in fact is to be more word-centred. I don’t want less than the sermon. I want more than the sermon.

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=4e632b01dd&view=att&th=13b0342c3e5a5912&attid=0.1.5&disp=inline&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P_LpRd4jnjMa7JTWnIuN3rr&sadet=1352972980116&sads=jUMsCzzo6KrSLIljCAoxfZ8f1vUIn our situation the Sunday sermon sets the agenda for the church each week and we then follow this up in our gospel communities where we work out together how to apply that word to our lives, our life together and the world around us. We also put a big emphasis on creating a culture in which people ‘gospel’ one another (that is, preach the gospel to one another) in the context of everyday life.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

It started with leading Bible studies when I was a student. I actually preached my first sermon in a Pentecostal church. It was 55 minutes on the theme of redemption. I’m sure it was very boring! I really learnt to preach when I was church planting in Staines with a man called John Miller. He taught me to preach to make an impact rather than simply lecture people.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

It probably takes me about a day to get the bulk of sermon preparation done.

But that’s not the whole picture. I always prepare a series as whole up front. I want to ensure I have the big picture of the book we’ll be working through (or a good understanding of the subject if the series is topical). That big picture evolves as the series progresses because the details of each passage finesse your understanding of the book as a whole. But you need some sense of the overall picture before you can begin to make sense of the detail. It’s this iterative cycle that makes preaching through a book so exciting.

Four or five weeks before I’m preaching I’ll look at the passage for about an hour. The aim is to get the questions, issues and application bubbling around in my mind over the coming weeks.

I do the bulk of the preparation usually about a week in advance. That’s partly because I need to get a draft off to the people who are preparing the Sunday gathering and the people preparing for our children’s groups.

I was once told by a builder that plasterers spend a lot of time apparently doing nothing, just sizing up a wall. And then they leap into a whirl of activity and plaster the wall quite quickly. Increasingly, I think, this describes how I prepare my sermons. I can spend a lot of time apparently doing nothing (or just throwing a ball around the study). What I’m actually doing is meditating on the text. And then an idea will grab me and I’ll rush over to my computer and the heart of the sermon can be done quite quickly. A lot of editing follows, but the main ideas are done. It didn’t used to be like this. As a younger preacher (and I think this is a good model for new preachers) I followed a template much more. So sermons were built up piece by piece.

I always leave the final edit to the Sunday morning. I change wording during this edit, but its primary purpose is to take out any material that’s not absolutely necessary. I leave it until Sunday morning so the material is fresh in my mind when I deliver it a couple of hours later.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?

I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about having one major theme. There’s a danger that we try to squeeze everyone into one mould. Different preachers have different styles. That said, I think one of the most common mistakes of new preachers is trying to squeeze too much into their sermons. I suspect this metaphor is now out of date, but I still think about the ‘cutting room floor’. In the old days movie editors used to literally cut out sections of tape and glue the other pieces back together to create the final movie. It meant most of the footage ended up on the cutting room floor. Preachers need a similar process in which they cut out anything that doesn’t need to be there. That means a lot of good stuff on the cutting room floor! The key issue is this. The aim of a sermon is not to impart as much information as you can to the hearers. The aim of the sermon is to capture their affections for Christ and that aim should shape everything in the sermon.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

I think empathy, passion and authority (or conviction) are all important.

It’s important to empathise with the congregation. Life is hard. Following Christ can be hard. The word of God can sound weird. If you never acknowledge this then your hearers will wonder what planet you’re on. We need to show how the text connects with real life. I learnt this from David Powlison who often spends a long time describing a problem. As a result, when he brings the word to bear on that issue, it comes with real power.

I also think you need to show passion. I don’t mean some kind of affected emotionalism. But you need to show people that the word has impacted your heart. I often tell new preachers that you should meditate on the passage until it moves your heart (whether that is joy, fear, sorrow, conviction or excitement). Your aim then is to preach it so the passage evokes a similar response in your hearers.

We want our preaching to come with authority. Clearly that comes primarily from the word itself and from the Spirit. But I think we should preach with conviction. I’m not sharing my opinions or my reflections with you. I’m declaring a word from God.

I realised a few years ago that often when I stood up to preach I thought my sermon was about to be one of the best sermons in the history of the church! Yet when I read through old sermons a few months later it was agony to think that I’d inflicted this rubbish on my poor congregation. I decided this combination of attitudes is actually quite healthy as long as you hold both together. I realised my enthusiasm for my sermon was actually enthusiasm for the passage. The word of God had gripped me and I was excited about sharing its message with the congregation. That allowed me to preach with conviction. But remembering my retrospective assessment of my sermons would prevent me ever growing too proud!

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I use full text with key words highlighted in bold. I print my text on A5 so it sits in my Bible as I preach. Over the last couple of years I’ve weaned myself of a lectern. I now prefer to stand with my Bible in one hand with my notes inside. I think this helps me have a more conversational feel with the congregation.

7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?

There are some technical issues (like trying to cover too much, not including application or making the process of understanding the Bible seem so esoteric that people think its beyond them). Obviously it’s also vital to always preach the gospel and always preach Christ. We must never leave people feeling condemned because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

But the greatest dangers are with our own hearts. One danger is finding identity in preaching. We can preach justification by faith even as we practice justification by preaching! A good sign that something is wrong is when your mood is affected by how your preaching went the day before or when criticism makes you despondent.

Another big danger is neglecting the important of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit who speaks God’s word into people’s hearts and uses it to bring conviction, life, love, change and so on. So we need to preach in conscious dependence on the Spirit. I’ve started using the language of the Spirit speaking through the word and through the sermon to highlight this for myself and for my congregation.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (e.g. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

I share the preaching with a small team so I preach about once every two weeks. At the moment that feels about right. Part of me would love to preach more, but I think that once every two weeks gives me time to prepare properly for each sermon. If I’m doing the bulk of a series then I try to get ahead in my preparation. I’ll often have a basic draft of each sermon done before the series starts especially if it’s a topical series.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching? 

In my younger days I basically followed the template in John Chapman’s Setting Hearts on Fire until I gradually found my own style. Tim Keller’s lectures on Preaching to the Heart (Ockenga Institute) were a great help. And David Powlison’s book Seeing with New Eyes really helped make links between truth and life. I can remember thinking, ‘This book isn’t on preaching, but it’s going to transform how I preach.’

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=4e632b01dd&view=att&th=13b0342c3e5a5912&attid=0.1.7&disp=inline&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P_LpRd4jnjMa7JTWnIuN3rr&sadet=1352972890301&sads=0ZwxlEtLOYQtMc9mNocIQ5ir3ggWe’ve done a variety of things over the years. We used to have a ‘teachers group’ in which teachers and potential teachers would study a passage together a couple of weeks in advance. This helped to model good hermeneutics as well proving a fruitful way of engaging with the text. I’ll go through a sermon with a new preacher before they preach it. We also give feedback afterwards though I’m wary of doing this in a systematic way because I need to submit myself to the word as it’s preached rather than critiquing the methodology of the preacher. We’re planning to provide regular training and to this end one of my tasks for next year is to write a workbook on Gospel-Centred Preaching for the Gospel-Centred series we’re doing with the Good Book Company. We also put our leaders through Porterbrook Learning and Porterbrook Seminary.

 

 

Stop Looking For Waldo

Yesterday was a rare pleasure indeed. For two pleasant hours, Dr Sinclair Ferguson preached to me.¹

The messages by Dr Ferguson on Romans 5 and 6, were nothing short of a theological thrill.  A stimulus for the mind and a feast for the soul, I left both full of ‘matter’ and worship.

Yet as the dust settles today, one line from Dr Ferguson seems to be lodged in my mind. I am sad to say it is not some weighty truth about the nature of justification by faith or our union with Christ!   Instead what I cannot shake is a  brief  parenthesis Dr Ferguson made. One of those “throw away” comments that is anything but throw away.

Dr Ferguson referred to the danger of the “Where’s Waldo” Hermeneutic.  And he warned of its alarming frequency in modern preaching.

Before going any further, I really should check that you know who Waldo is. Waldo is that little fella in the red striped jumper, with eyes bulging behind those thick, round glasses. In the series of “Where’s Waldo” books, he appears in scenes of massive crowds.

The aim of the game is to find Waldo somewhere among the masses. It can be struggle to locate him. It can take many minutes. But you know that somewhere in the throngs of people, Waldo must be in their somewhere!

Back to Dr Ferguson. His point was that many preachers use a Where’s Waldo hermeneutic. They are studying a Gospel, say, and they’re reading a passage about Jesus, the disciples and the crowds. Their immediate instinct is not to focus on Jesus. Their immediate instinct is bridge the gap to the  congregation by finding ​them ​in the text. The congregation is Waldo, and they must be in the passage somewhere!

So…

  • maybe our congregation is the disciples, 
  • or maybe our congregation is the crowd,
  • perhaps they are the rich young man, or doubting Thomas, or blundering Peter
  • surely they are not Judas,
  • but we’d better warn them in case they’re the Pharisees
  • But one things for certain, our congregation must be in the text.

The truth is, our congregation isn’t. Our congregation is nowhere in the Gospels, or anywhere else in the bible. They live 2000 years later. They are not in the 9th chapter of Luke!

This is not to say that we cannot at times carefully observe parallels between biblical characters and ourselves today. Or that we cannot correlate the words and actions of biblical characters to teaching material later in the New Testament. But we must change our assumption that our preaching goal is to find the congregation in the text.

Take the Gospels, for example. This is where we miss the most obvious point. The Gospels are telling us about Jesus. Any sermon which majors on how we are like Peter, or like the Pharisees, or like the crowds is probably missing the point. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are writing about Jesus.

So preacher, tell us about Jesus!

Tell us what we learn about Him!

Tell us about His character, His words, His deeds, His heart, and ultimately His sacrifice for sins and His resurrection from the grave!

Tell us about Jesus, and then tell us how to respond!

Don’t keep searching around for Waldo, when Jesus is so easy to find.

 

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¹ Disclaimer: Dr Sinclair Ferguson was also preaching to about 100 other pastors at the Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly, 2012.

10 Questions For Expositors – Robin Weekes

The Proclamation Trust Cornhill is a training course with the primary aim of training preachers.  Robin Weekes serves alongside Christopher Ash as a full-time member of the Cornhill teaching staff in London.

Previously Robin served with Crosslinks in India, as pastor of the English-speaking South Delhi Congregation of the Delhi Bible Fellowship. We look forward to Robin answering our 10 Questions for Expositors today!

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?

Preaching is – or at least should be – right at the heart of church life. That is because it is the word of God which creates the people of God, and the word of God which changes the people of God. If you want to think about this further, my colleague Christopher Ash’s The Priority of Preaching is excellent.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?

The chief way that I discerned that the Lord had given me the gift of preaching was by doing it and asking the wider church if they thought I was any good! Initially this was as a student, speaking at CU events and summer camps. After graduating I worked as a parish assistant at St Anne’s Church in Limehouse, where along with preaching opportunities I had the privilege of learning to preach at the PT Cornhill Training Course. Cornhill was immensely formative both in my preaching gift being identified and developed.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?

Martin Luther famously encouraged preachers to “beat your head against the text until it yields.” Some texts yield more easily than others, but I reckon on needing four mornings of 3-4 hours to prepare a sermon.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?

Here at Cornhill we encourage the students to identify a ‘theme sentence’ (or ‘big idea’) and an ‘aim sentence’ for every Bible passage they are teaching. The theme sentence is the main point of the passage. We believe that expository preaching is where the main point of the sermon is the main point of the passage. Whilst I don’t want preachers to be reductionistic or to flatten the Bible, I do think that discipline of identifying and communicating the main point is enormously helpful.

That theme then focuses the application which is what the aim sentence is all about. This is what we want people to think or feel or do as a result of this part of God’s word.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?

It is vital that preachers find their own voice, and preach naturally, clearly and passionately. He should avoid trying to please men and trying to be someone else.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?

I still use a fairly full script, although I deliberately don’t script my illustrations so as to make sure that they sound different. Early on I employed an indented manuscript which means that it doesn’t look remotely like an essay! This helps me not to read the manuscript as if it were an essay, and to know where I am in the argument. It works for me.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?

There are many that I try to avoid and encourage others to avoid including:
• Teaching a passage rather than proclaiming & encountering the person of Christ (from a passage).
• Preaching to others what has not first run through my own soul.
• Being sound but dull and therefore bypassing people’s affections.
• Preaching imperatives without indicatives.
• Ignoring the Trinity.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)

Things are a little different now that I am not currently pastoring a church. Early on in ministry I got into the habit of protecting my mornings for preparation and prayer. That habit has become ingrained and I find it very useful. As far as possible, I try to leave personal work, administration and meetings to the afternoons and evenings.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?

I am greatly indebted to a number of very fine preachers who have helped and influenced me enormously including: Mark Ashton (the minister of the church I was a member of as a student), David Jackman and Dick Lucas (who taught me at Cornhill), Vaughan Roberts (the minister of the church I was a member of whilst at theological college), Jonathan Fletcher (who I worked under for four years and who was a great model as a preacher and very incisive in his feedback on my early attempts at preaching).

In terms of books, Ed Clowney’s Preaching Christ in all the Scriptures has shaped my preaching. Reading widely – especially books and sermons by John Flavel – also feeds my preaching.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?

I have the privilege of serving full time on the teaching staff of the PT Cornhill Training Course in London where nurturing and developing future preachers is what we are all about. I do think that the course is an excellent way of training preachers. Most students do the course part time and so are with us for 2 days a week and in a local church for 4 days a week. This gives them the opportunity to put into practice what they are being taught at Cornhill while they are learning it. It roots them in the local church and by focussing exclusively on one thing (preaching), we are able to do one thing well.

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For more information about the Cornhill summer school, check this out.

Repost – We Interview Tim Keller About His Preaching

Timothy J. Keller is an author, a speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, New York. Find here a more complete biography. We are looking forward to asking him a few questions about his regular preaching ministry.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
It is central, but not alone at the center. Pastoral ministry is as important as preaching ministry, and lay ‘every-member’ ministry is as crucial as ordained ministry. I wouldn’t make a heirarchy out of these things–they are interdependent. But pastoral ministry and lay ministry is no substitute for strong preaching.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I preached about 200 different expositions a year for the first nine years of my ministry (when I was age 24 through 33.) During that time I was considered interesting and good but I never got a lot of feedback that I was anything special. I’ve grown a lot through lots of practice.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I pastor a large church and have a large staff and so I give special prominence to preparing the sermon. I give it 15-20 hours a week. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot, and to spend tons of time in people work–that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh and blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff I put in 6-8 hours on a sermon.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I don’t know that I’d be so rigid as to say there has to be just one Big Idea every time. That is a good discipline for preachers in general, because it helps with clarity. Most texts have too much in them for the preacher to cover in one address. You must be selective. But sometimes a preaching-size text simply has two or three major ideas that are too good to pass up.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should combine warmth and authority/force. That is hard to do, since tempermentally we incline one way or the other. (And many, many of us show neither warmth nor force in preaching.)

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use a very detailed outline, with many key phrases in each sub-point written out word for word.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
This seems to me too big a question to tackle here. Virtually everything a preacher ought to do has an corresponding peril-to-avoid. For examples, preaching should be Biblical, clear (for the mind), practical (for the will), vivid (for the heart,) warm, forceful, and Christo-centric. You should avoid the opposites of all these things.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
See my remarks on #3 above. It is a very great mistake to pit pastoral care and leadership against preaching preparation. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be–someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership is to some degree sermon prep. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Prayer also prepares the preacher, not just the sermon.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
British preachers have had a much greater impact on me than American preachers. And the American preachers who have been most influential (e.g. Jonathan Edwards) were essentially British anyway.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I haven’t done much on that front at all, and I’m not happy about that. Currently I meet to with two other younger preachers on my staff who also preach regularly. We talk specifically about their preaching and sermon prep.