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A Book Recommendation For Preachers

Derek Tidball
, ‘Preacher, Keep Yourself From Idols

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.

Sabbatical, Day 47: How Could I Forget My Daughter?

Pressed for time in blog writing last night, I made an unwise choice. Yes, I enjoyed writing about the bozos in the High Street, but how could I overlook the achievements of our wonderful daughter?

Yesterday was a terrific day for her. We saw her take the lead when her class led school assembly, sharing on a trip they’d had to Braintree Museum to explore Victorian life a couple of weeks ago. All the class said something, but Rebekah had to kick it off. Clear voice, good projection, nicely paced. Could  make a preacher of her yet.

Later in the assembly, the Deputy Head presented her with a certificate to mark the Maths test she passed last week. She looked so proud, in the right way. At the autumn term parents’ evening, her teacher had told us that Maths was her weakness. No longer, it seems. Not only did she pass this test, we had the spring term parents’ evening on Tuesday night, and she is attaining standards in numeracy ahead of her age now. So there has been a real turnaround. She has worked hard, and the teacher has done well with her.

Meanwhiles, Mark, according to his teacher, ‘can do everything’, and she’s having to hold him back on his reading because he’s so far ahead of the others. On its own, this would have worried us, but she discussed strategies with us for making a bit more of the books they’re expecting him to read that they know are below his capabilities. The real concern is his lack of socialising with children of his own age. 

Collecting the children from school yesterday, we were greeted with a very red Mark. Not only his hair, but blotches on his skin. We kept him off his swimming lesson. This morning, he was much better and we sent him in. However, by morning break the school had phoned me and I went in armed with Piriton. That did little, and at the beginning of lunchtime came the second phone call. We brought him home, and with the school anxious that he might be infectious with something like slapped cheek, Debbie took him to the doctor, where they had to wait alone in a side room before seeing a GP who wasn’t sure what it was, but said just to keep him off school tomorrow. Poor lad, ever since going full time at school in January, he’s struggled to do a full week any week.

Meanwhile, back at yesterday afternoon, Rebekah was fit for her swimming lesson. Once a term, the swim school tests the children. Yesterday, she passed her 20 metres badge, so great elation and more reason to eat chocolate!

Today, she is happy too, because another milk tooth fell out, thanks to a cherry cake that was served for dessert at school dinners. It has been irritating her for days. Tonight, it was not difficult to persuade her to sleep, because she is anticipating a nocturnal appointment with the Tooth Fairy. And in the tradition of a children’s book we once read about the dental sprite, she is sincerely hoping this tooth was clean and sparkling enough to find a home in The Hall Of Perfect Teeth. Our next door neighbour told her there would be an extra reward for such teeth.

Fat chance. The standard £1 coin is in the envelope with the TF’s letter. We’re not getting stung again.

Meanwhile on the sabbatical front, I still haven’t ordered any more books, but having a Myers Briggs personality type that likes to keep my options open, it was fatal today to receive a catalogue for church leaders from Wesley Owen. As I flicked through, hoping not to be tempted and take it on an early trip to the paper recycling sack, I was accosted by a few titles that could have something to do with my research. Not the ministry and personality type stuff, but the dialogue between traditional understandings of ordination and our contemporary missional context. 

So step forward Ministry By The Book by Derek Tidball. Prepare for Exile: A New Spirituality and Mission for the Church by Patrick Whitworth sounded interesting. And Evaluating Fresh Expressions:explorations in emerging church: Emerging Theological and Practical Models edited by Martyn Percy and Louise Nelstrop sounded like it might be useful as a critical voice from outside my tradition to ask hard questions about new forms of church. If anyone reading this has read any of these books, please let me know what you think in the comments below.