Sunday, March 29, 2015

28 questions

I have just filled in a questionnaire 'How I preach.'  Abe Kuruvilla has a website homiletix.com where he has published answers garnered from a variety of preachers, and he's adding me to the list.

Some of the questions are to be expected: Who or what made you want to preach in the first place?  Tell us your sermon-prep routine. Average numbers of prep hours per sermon? Who critiques your sermon, besides yourself? Use of Greek and Hebrew?  One word that best describes how you prepare to preach? And how you preach?  Any props used regularly?
 
Other questions are less likely: Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?  What do you listen to while you work?  Exercise routine? Sleep routine?  Spiritual disciplines?  Favorite food?

I liked the way that he ensured a more holistic approach by including questions about personality type and both physical and spiritual disciplines. 'How I preach' is intimately bound up with who I am and my experiences so far on my spiritual journey.  One question asked: How has your preaching improved over time?  I had to respond honestly that I couldn't be sure - I hoped that I was more mature and helpful but there's really only one Judge of whether I have been a faithful ambassador!
At the end of the questionnaire he asks if there is anything else you'd like to add. I am sure there are other issues that I should face.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Away Day (2)

I have just returned from a very lively Away Day.  The attendees included several friends from the past when I used to be minister in central Cambridge. What thrilled me most were the young people present - three from Southend and another from Woodbridge.  To see their animated faces was a delight.  Afterwards the Southend trio came up to share their excitement about preaching. 'How much we need good preaching today!' said one. Oh yes!

I had a couple of lecture slots and a sermon to preach.  In the first session I opened it up as I mentioned in my last post. I anticipated a range of concerns including:
 personal, communication, congregation and culture.  Actually, these proved to cover most comments.

A very interactive session began, unsurprisingly, with congregation - the difficulty of knowing a congregation when itinerant, or of knowing a group too well to be able to challenge small groups who need encouragement.  How do you cope with breadth when a congregation has university theology professors at one end?  (Treat them like hungry sheep, says I!)  Because lay preaching is often itinerant there must be 'research' about the congregation if at all possible.  Mind you,that's true for all of us when visiting another pulpit. Communication emerged strongly too as preachers expressed concern about being relevant, having appropriate illustrations and using technology properly.  Questions of body language when delivering sermons opened up into debate, including the value of preaching without notes with connectedness. Culture change emerged in concerns about the lack of bible literacy, the changing communication styles and emphasis among young people on authenticity.  Said one young person: 'When a preacher seems to be honest and vulnerable then it connects with us."  And that led to observations about the need for personal integrity.


Were there surprises?  We spent some time on the lectionary.  About half those present were lectionary preachers which allowed us to consider some of the pros and cons of lectionary preaching.  Of course, lectionary preaching not only keeps lay preachers fresh (preventing continual reuse of favourite sermons) but means the local church has a more balanced diet through the year.  Other issues, like biblical interpretation were also raised.

I was encouraged by the serious intent in my afternoon session as we developed issues further.  Actually, I witnessed serious intent throughout and felt much encouraged.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Away Day

My next task is to take an Away Day for area lay preachers on Saturday.  The theme is: 'Issues facing today's preachers.'  It's a very long time since I addressed such an audience.  I am trying to learn from experience how best to deal with such an opportunity.  So, guess what, I am using a flip chart at the beginning to list their issues! (My last time doing this in Devon ended up with an almost unstoppable flow of issues that went onto three pages!)

I wonder whether as lay preachers they will have some different concerns, especially if they are itinerant going from pulpit to pulpit?   Being an occasional preacher is such a contrast with those who are in pastoral charge week-in-week-out.  I expect a range of issues to emerge such as:
  • personal - confidence, building experience, developing gifting
  • communication - how best to prepare and deliver sermons
  • congregation - dealing with very different contexts with all that is involved in planning worship etc.
  • culture - are there changes that make preaching more or less difficult?
But, I could be really surprised what this group says!  If you are a lay preacher reading this I would love to hear from you. As always with any group, I expect some unlearning will have to take place as well as (hopefully) fresh understanding.  Apparently around 30 people have signed up.  I'll let you know what happens.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Herding Cats (3)

In dealing with leadership I was concerned to measure the impact of Baptist understanding of church with its emphasis on the gathered community of believers in Christ, where no one person or group can claim to be the authoritative channel of revelation.  Rather, the whole community under Christ's authority is responsible for seeking his will.  Obviously, some individuals have key roles like ministers, but all leadership forms should accompany and implement church meeting decisions that should not just be based on counting votes but seeking the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).  Spiritual discernment together.
 
Wow, can that be complicated!  At the core of this complex authority structure is the huge claim that we are being made a new humanity in Christ, which is a work in progress.  We are a living experiment working out Ephesians 4: 1-16.  No longer as immature as we once were, pleasing ourselves, forcing our own preferences, we are growing together by the grace of Christ to become 'mature' in community.  Faith in Jesus Christ involves a calling to maturity, to shared responsibility with others in his new creation.  This is a challenge of the highest order.  God gives it and, by triune grace, he empowers it.

While speaking at the conference I realized how I could sum up the negative and positive of this way of understanding church. What is the biggest disadvantage to Baptist leadership, with the gathered church seeking God's will together?  It's IMMATURITY.  Bluntly, many of the critical problems arise because we are still 'infants tossed back and forth by the waves' (Eph. 4: 14) enslaved to selfish individualism with childish attitudes.
And what is the biggest advantage:  a gathered church's MATURITY.  When a people is growing together in unity, 'speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ.' (Eph. 4:15). More grown-up in our attitudes to each other.

Isn't Christian leadership about being more grown-up in Christ, helping a church to be more grown-up too?  So many issues on the list required learning how to be more grown-up together.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Herding Cats (2)

Just back from Devon I have to report great joy in meeting with a lively group of ministers and spouses.  I especially loved meeting friends from the past, most of whom I had not seen for over 14 years while absent in the USA.  And, as always seems to happen, I learned as much trying to lead the sessions as I gave out.  (Actually, I tried to give out too much....a classic mistake of overload.  I should know better!)

At the outset we engaged in some heart-storming about particular leadership issues they identified in their own situations.  The shared context of Baptist ministry meant many of these issues resonated widely. Carol with her highly legible poster skills wrote these up on a flip chart to summarize the range of concerns:

Authority - given to ministers yet frequently questioned.
Perceptions & Expectations of congregations - sometimes conflicting
Culture change - people don't behave like they used to
Growing people into leadership.
Coping with 'lovely' people who are not leaders and 'unlovely' people who are
Encouraging acceptance of youth in leadership
Building teams
Coping with powerful families and awkward squads
Complacency
Changing communication - sermon effectiveness?
Women in leadership
Focus on doing at expense of being
Formation of people
Developing vision
The role of the church meeting - if only there were fewer!

Sadly, having given reign to this list (and it could have been much longer) I could only respond in general terms.  As one minister said: 'We really needed a week!' Perhaps some of these issues resonate with you too.  But they grounded the sessions in greater reality and helped me realize one thing in particular.  I'll post on it shortly!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Herding Cats

Next week I am addressing the SW Baptist Ministers' Conference in Devon.  I mentioned a few posts ago that the conference title is: Herding Cats: Issues in Baptist Leadership.  It's not a very flattering description of Baptist congregations (!) but it does recognize that a strong sense of independency, reinforced by the practice of gathered church, often makes Baptists less like sheep and more like cats. In the first session we shall have some heartstorming (which I much prefer to brainstorming) about particular issues faced by conference members.

Meanwhile I asked a couple of  Baptist ministers what they would identify as key leadership issues. One thought for a minute and replied that the number one issue is 'team-building'.  'I had no idea just how much investment I had to make to build a team of leaders in my church.  The amount of time and effort to ensure team members pull together is huge.  Frankly, there's so much jealousy, lack of confidence from some, and the need for me to pre-empt problems before they explode in public'.  Another minister immediately identified 'burn-out' as his major issue and proceeded to tell me how many hours in the average week he finds himself working....and how difficult it is to find a way through.


I shall be listening carefully during the conference. I think some issues will emerge that are more difficult for Baptist ministers because of our church structures with authority residing in the church meeting and plenty of scope for immaturity.  However, I am convinced that other important issues are easier for Baptist ministers for exactly the same reason of church structure, when there is maturity.  I really hope to encourage some fellow ministers along the way.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Final Sunday

It's been a good experience preaching a sequence of sermons in a local church.  On Sunday I reach the last of the chosen questions.


Deciding which verse best begins a Scripture text (and where to end) is sometimes complicated. I am preaching the famous questions: But what about you? Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:29) yet I believe it makes sense to begin the story with the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8: 22-26).  The fact that Jesus has a two-stage healing with this man at first only able to see 'people looking like trees walking' invites us into the complex world of seeing in and out of focus.  For me, that prepares for the way in which Peter  says the right thing about who Jesus is, but his picture is way out of focus.


As I work this week my sermon's main impact will be:
By the grace of God this sermon will say - it is not straightforward seeing who the real Jesus is but he will ask us specifically;
this sermon will do - challenge hearers to commit to the real Jesus!
I think all of us can get Jesus out of focus, can't we?