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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.

Preaching In Dialogue With The Congregation

My current reading is ‘The Preaching Of Jesus‘ by William Brosend. I wouldn’t have come across it but for my membership of the Ministry Today board, because a copy was sent to us for review, and I volunteered.

I like reading books about preaching, but this one wasn’t a natural as the foreword is by Marcus Borg, a scholar whom I find altogether too sceptical. However, it was also commended on the back by a scholar I admire, Ben Witherington III.

In this short post, I want to highlight one early and important point in the book. Brosend uses an elaborate first chapter to argue that there were four major characteristics to the preaching of Jesus. The first of these is dialogical preaching. This is not the same as those hackneyed ‘dialogue sermons’ from thirty or forty years ago, where two people presented an artificial conversation to cover the loss of confidence in proclaiming the Word. (And in any case, ‘proclamation’ is Brosend’s second characteristic.)

No: Brosend means that when Jesus preached, he was in dialogue with Scripture, tradition, the culture and his listeners. Here I just want to highlight one important point he makes about the preacher’s dialogue with Scripture. It is this: are we in dialogue with the passage in a way that is sensitive to the way our congregations will be in dialogue with it? Will they have been wrestling with the passage all week? Most unlikely. Will they have been consulting learned exegetes? Even less likely.

It isn’t that protracted meditation and responsible exegesis are bad things. But if we only bring our own questions and/or the scholars’ questions, we are not going to connect the Word to the listeners.

I think that’s a salutary reminder when preachers are often taught (especially, in my experience, in the Methodist ‘Faith and Worship’ course) to put academic exegesis first. I’m glad for the reminder.

Are Worship Leading And Preaching Different Gifts?

Mike Bossingham thinks so. (PDF of article here; equivalent Facebook discussion here.) For my money, I think they are different, too, and I agree with Mike that the culture established in the Methodist Church where the worship leader is just Santa’s little helper to the preacher is all wrong. So too is the notion that if you can preach you can lead worship, but if you can lead worship you can’t necessarily preach. I have always thought my primary gifting was in preaching, but in Methodism that means I normally have to lead worship as well. At that point I break down for ongoing creative ideas.

The Facebook thread goes on to debate Mike’s idea of balancing contemporary and traditional elements in worship, but to me that’s a separate argument.

What are your thoughts?

The Enduring Power Of Martin Luther King

Today, I took two assemblies in a school- one for the infants (ages 4-7) and one for the juniors (7-11). I was beginning a new theme for this term: heroes. Those of us on the assembly team from local churches had decided to eschew the word ‘saints’ in favour of something more understandable.

Not remembering that next Monday is the American public holiday in his honour I chose to speak about Martin Luther King. In preparation, I found this clip of the entire ‘I have a dream’ speech on YouTube:

I downloaded this, using the free utility YouTube Downloader. As you’ll see, it’s seventeen minutes long, so then I edited it in Windows Live Movie Maker to begin at the ‘I have a dream’ passage (at 12:29, if you’re interested).

After an introduction talking about issues of fairness based on real-life examples (Rosa Parks and tbe bus seat, water fountains, different schools, slavery in the case of the juniors and so on), I showed about one and a half minutes to the infants – up to the point where King says he wants hi four little children judged not on the colour of their skin but their character. With the juniors, I played a few seconds more – to the point where he envisions black and white children playing together and treating one another as sisters and brothers.

And that was when the Interesting Thing happened: when I paused the video for the juniors, several of them broke out in spontaneous applause. How wonderful it was to see the style and substance of King’s oratory make a connection with children in a different country, forty-seven years later.

So don’t tell me preaching is dead. We can legitimately talk about style, presentation and all the rest. But when we have a message to share and can do so with passion, surely the Holy Spirit still uses it to connect. Sure, King’s crusade was about a theme that would command common assent generally today, and when I went through the examples of ‘unfairness’ the juniors roared back their disapproval of what happened. But there is something here.

And it’s also about King’s story generally. Why did I choose King? Partly for this reason. Our chidren have been introduced to one or two famous figures at school via books recently. One was Florence Nightingale. Another was Mary Seacole. As a result, we have borrowed other books in the series from the library and read them with our two. One night I read a simple biography of King to Mark for his bedtime story. Granted, it omitted things like King’s alleged infidelities, but the impact on Mark was fascinating. The next day he told us he had changed his mind about what he wanted to do with his life. Previously he has wanted to be an English teacher or an author.

“Now I want to be a minister,” he said, “And tell people not to hate each other.”

He is only five. But I was only eight when King was murdered. There is real power here.

Steve Jobs A Model For Preachers?

That headline pains me. I’m not convinced by the Apple fanboys. But … no-one can deny the effectiveness of Steve Jobs as a communicator. There is now a book out entitled ‘The Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs: How To Be Insanely Great In Front Of Any Audience‘. Now while the subtitle itself gives away some reservations I might have as a Christian – the purpose of a preacher is not to be great but to show the greatness of Christ – I read this article and thought that some of the key points might be worthwhile thinking for preachers. The author of the book, Carmine Gallo, lists five elements that are present every time Steve Jobs speaks in public. They are:

1. A headline – a short slogan present throughout the talk and the publicity.

2. A villain – from IBM in 1984 to Microsoft today, Apple sets itself up as a good guy in opposition to ‘evil’.

3. A simple slide – not wordy bullet points but a slide mixing minimal text with strong images.

4. A demo – he shows the new product working, and he has fun with it.

5. A ‘holy smokes moment’ – something incredibly memorable.

Do read the article and come back here to tell me what you think about the strengths and weaknesses of these ideas from the perspective of Christian communication.

Sermons, Worship And Stuff

My eagle-eyed reader will have noticed there was no sermon posted on the site this weekend. (My wife says you should be rejoicing. If you wondered why I posted about the dressing gown yesterday, I just wanted to get some writing out of my system.)

That’s because I wasn’t preaching today. I led some prayers in a Christingle service this morning at St Augustine’s followed by leading a short said communion, and some more intercessions tonight in a circuit service to commission three worship leaders.

The Christingle service was fun. Jane, my Anglican colleague, made a boy in the congregation into a human Christingle. I just hope he got the orange make-up off before his football game this afternoon. 

Tonight it was good to celebrate the gifts of three worship leaders. Berniece, sadly, couldn’t be with us, as she had been taken to hospital this week. But Joe and Dianne, both from churches I serve, are the sort of people any minister would want to have in their congregations.

Next week I may or may not post a new sermon. In the evening I’ll have a café church service where we discuss some clips from a DVD. In the morning I’m on a pulpit exchange to mark the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and so I shall be doing my minister stuff at a local United Reformed Church while a Catholic lay pastoral assistant fills my pulpit. It might be one of those weeks where it would be helpful to lift the pressure by repeating an old sermon, not least with assemblies at two different schools (including my children’s school for the first time), all sorts of other meetings and the minor detour of a tooth extraction tomorrow morning.

Come three weeks’ time and there will be a protracted period of there being no new sermons on the blog. It will last three months. On 1st February I start a sabbatical. Not that I’m deserting the family for long periods of times, so no burglars who know our address should contemplate an unfriendly visit. But naturally I am looking forward to it. My recent laptop purchase was ready for that experience, and hopefully when the sabbatical starts I’ll be able to blog my experiences regularly.

So that brings you up to date with things.

Eugene Peterson Interview

Read this interview with Eugene Peterson – the focus is his most recent book, but he covers the general issue of pastors and language. So there is stuff on the importance of silence, of being conversational and not controlling, yet scepticism towards dialogical preaching and retaining a place for proclamation in the pulpit.