I was first introduced to Derek Tidball’s work for pastors (as opposed to his other writing) when I read his book ‘Skilful Shepherds‘ at the beginning of my time in theological study. It takes the pastoral task way beyond the hints and tips of old-fashioined ‘pastoralia’ into a proper setting of pastoral theology, and Tidball anchors this in the distinctive contributions of each New Testament writer. More recently, I was to benefit from the way he convincingly (to me) showed the variety of approaches to ministry that every NT writer teaches and assumes in ‘Ministry By The Book‘. Not for him the nonsense that there is only one form or pattern of church leadership handed down by God.Elsewhere, he has written on sociology and the NT, but I have not read any of those titles.
Therefore it was with some expectation that I came across ‘Preacher, Keep Yourself From Idols’, which came out last year. It is the printed form of his Ockenga Lectures on Preaching that he gave at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in March 2010. Unlike the other books above, these two hundred pages are a quick read. He takes the many good things that preachers can unduly elevate and distort their ministry. So he is particularly good on ‘the idol of entertainment’, where he points out our need to be interesting, but reminds us that not all churches need to be Premier League, any more than the local football club has to be. He is excellent on ‘the idol of professionalism’, in which he draws a careful line between the need for excellence on the one hand and the danger of divorcing our work from our relationship with God. When he writes about ‘the idol of immediacy’, he strikes a particular chord in today’s instant culture and in the cult of crisis spirituality by calling for the patient on-going teaching of the word.
If I had one frustration, it was his chapter on ‘the idol of busyness’. Quite rightly he notes the importance of preaching as part of the church leader’s task. (This one of three chapters out of twelve that are clearly directed towards ministers. However, he does not generally take the line controversially espoused by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book ‘Preaching and Preachers’ that preaching should only be a ‘full-time’ occupation.) He observes how matters such as complex legislation intrude on our time these days, and pleads that we continue to give sermon preparation the priority in our diaries that it needs. Quite right, too. But I longed for him to tell me how, rather than just give me a couple of footnotes.
Beyond that, though, I thought this was an excellent addition to my preaching bookshelf. It isn’t a manual of preaching. It’s a character-building book. And it’s no good learning how to if you’re not growing in Christ as a preacher. So far as I can tell, it hasn’t been published in any ebook format, so you’ll have to go the old route as I did and pick up a paper copy. I believe you’ll be glad you did.