Saturday, July 31, 2010

Effective Small Groups (2)

If a group covenant is a high priority (1) so are good group resources (2). No matter how skilled a leader or committed a group, so much depends on the study material that they use. How well does it engage group members beforehand? Is it clear and relevant? Not only for the head but for daily living? Are the questions open and lively? Does it so set imaginations alight and hearts aflame that the group has difficulty in stopping?

At the workshops next weekend I shall be meeting a group of people whose main job is writing such material based on the weekly sermons. What an important job they have! And what other important factors should we include on the list at (3) and (4)? All suggestions welcome.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Effective small groups

What are the factors that make small groups successful?

On Saturday August 7th. I am leading two workshops in Milwaukee which will focus on leading small groups as the church develops some new patterns. I hope, since they are workshops (involving others sharing in work!) that I can brainstorm with the leaders about factors that make small groups work in their own experience.

One expert claims that the number one factor is:
Do have a clear covenant or contract of purpose for a group that is accepted by all members. Agree why the group is meeting and what you want to achieve in the life of its members.

I can think of many other factors. I am not sure which are the most important and in what order I would put them. Can any of you share out of your experience of small groups?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Farewell to FBC Wheaton

Today marked the end of my eight week series, and the joy of consecutive preaching in the same pulpit. Thank you to wonderful friends at the church who supported and prayed through this time. It's only a month now until their pastor, Mike Rowe, returns from his splendid sabbatical and the church has other preachers covering through August. Now, in these next months (as my sabbatical study leave continues) I shall seek to write a book on Truth Spaces for group Bible study. Hopefully there will be a positive outcome to share with you...eventually.

One or two asked me today what was next for me! Thanks for asking. Well, Carol and I are looking forward to beginning our postponed visit to the UK in order to see family and friends. However, before then, in addition to a couple of writing projects to finish up I shall be at Northwest Baptist Church in Milwaukee on August 7th & 8th. They have received a grant from Lilly Foundation, through the Calvin Institute of Worship, to develop their Sermon-based Small Groups process (SBSG). I am leading two workshops on August 7th. one of which will engage with my preaching preparation for the following day, at the two morning services.

It sounds a very well-conceived project and I am sure that I shall learn as much as I teach! Perhaps I will have a chance to ask any of you who are small group leaders for your help on the way! Watch this space.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (25)

We are getting close to Sunday and I have been thinking about some questions to be included in the church bulletin to help us go on wrestling with issues in this next sermon. Flowing out of my preparation I have suggested these.

Q1. “Easy believism” makes you feel good because it doesn’t challenge your thinking, your culture or your relationships. What are some of the signs of falling into “easy believism”?

Q2. Christian claims do cause offence. Have you had any experiences of others being offended by Christianity?

Q3. In John 6:66, many disciples leave Jesus. When he asks “You do not want to leave too, do you?” what does that reveal about the kind of Lord he is?

Q4. How can we best help each other to remain “long-stayers” with Jesus?

I know that some of you have been stimulated by one or two of these questions in the past. They are only starters for thinking through what the Lord is saying to us today. Eventually I want to be able to include the best kind of questions in my bible study book on some of Jesus' questions! So any other ideas will be very gratefully received!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (24)

As I prepare for worship on Sunday with John 6:53-71 I have been hit by the fact there are two questions here. First - "Does this offend you?"(verse 61) and then "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (verse:67). These are very personal and challenging questions aren't they? This passage contains hard teaching - that's actually what the disciples say (verse 60). These questions need to be read carefully in context.

Though its only Tuesday and much sermon work is to be done, it seems that my sermon impact is taking shape like this:
By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Jesus is realistic about the discipleship drop-out rate.
What this sermon will DO: encourage us as disciples to stay close as we go on growing into truth spaces with him.

Let's keep reflecting and praying.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (23)

I was so glad in this morning's sermon to be able to use a story emailed to me by a member of the congregation. It referred to a particular crisis he had just gone through and his discovery of God's presence. He mentioned the help he received from his small weekly prayer group. After both services some men came up to me and said: "I know who you were talking about!" I was glad I had his permission to use his story! But one of them said: "It's just great to hear about what difference faith makes in every-day life of one of us!"

I believe there is immense power in the congregation telling up-to-the-moment faith stories. Not just the preacher constructing a set-piece sermon but hearers directly contributing the pieces. Thank you for continuing to share.

My last sermon in this series focuses on the question "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67) It's a question of loyalty. It's asked in some complex teaching on Jesus the Bread of Life, and the Scripture passage will run from John 6:53-71. However, I may also include Mark 4:13-20, the story of the sower and the seed because I see some strong connections.

I shall post some more of my preparation shortly. Thanks for preparing with me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (22)

I am so grateful to those who have responded by personal email to my worship preparation on this blog....several stories are painfully personal yet speak volumes about how Jesus Christ continues to come alongside us in the twenty-first century. And I know many others have been following progress! Thank you.

These questions arise for me from this next sermon. Perhaps they will help trigger responses as we go on preparing together.

1. Our words reveal our character. Reflect on occasions when you have heard good words which showed Christian character?

2. Why do some say these words “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do the things I say?” are some of the saddest words uttered by Jesus in the New Testament?

3. Only when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) will our true character be shown. What practical difference does this truth make to our lives as individuals, and as a church community?

4. Are there ways by which we can encourage each other to be accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ in our daily living?

Looking forward to Sunday!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (21)

Someone has said that this question of Jesus in Luke 6: 46: "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?" are some of the saddest words in the New Testament. Certainly, they raise the vital issue about how disciples actually behave as Christ-followers.

As I go on preparing Luke 6:43-49 I see strong parallels between the two sorts of tree and the two builders. My sermon impact is therefore shaping up like this:

By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Jesus questions how disciples respond to his words and actions by their own words and actions. What this sermon will DO: challenge each of us about our personal and corporate accountability in words and actions. Here is a profound check to character and behavior.

This is going to be demanding. Please keep praying and preparing with me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wheaton Preaching Montage

Imagine my surprise when I received this photo montage just a few minutes ago from Jim Whitmer, who photographed a preaching sequence this morning (in the contemporary service at First Baptist Church, Wheaton). He said that he thought that showing a preacher in motion might add to the "listening experience" on-line. I am very flattered to think that he took all this trouble. I am not sure whether it will aid anyone's interaction (!) but I am so grateful to him. I have always thought that photographs of preachers standing still (with mouths open) fail to do justice to the preaching dynamic. I look forward to further motion for the last two Sundays in this sermon series.

Preaching at Wheaton (20)

Several of you have spoken about this morning's sermon - especially that the disciples were badly frightened twice. Said one of you: "I would definitely have been badly frightened by that storm, but I know I would have been even more terrified when Jesus calmed it down. Just imagine the enormity of discovering who Jesus was!" Immersing in God's inspired story enables us to glimpse through the disciples' eyes twenty centuries later. And marvel! Others shared about special need for Jesus' care as they face fears this week. God's word continues to speak.

Next Sunday (July 18th) we listen to another question - in Luke 6: 46: "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?" This occurs in some teaching of Jesus which immediately raises questions about how much of the context is needed here. The question in verse 46 clearly leads into the story of the men who built either on rock or without foundation. Yet, the preceding verses about a tree and its fruit (verses 43-45) also seem significant.

As I prepare to look at this question of Jesus I shall therefore engage with Luke 6:43-49. Perhaps there are parallels between the two sorts of tree and fruit and the two builders? The question itself seems to be a question about OBEDIENCE.

Let's spend some time listening to these words in this new week, preparing for worship, always remembering we have a Side-by-Side Lord Jesus who comes close and asks questions. Please let me know about any insights.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (19)

Each week I provide a number of questions in the church bulletin to trigger continuing response to God's word beyond the Sunday morning sermon!

This short story (Mark 4: 35-41) raises so many important questions for reflection:
1. What would you say to people who claim that God should look after believers and protect them from bad things happening?

2. What are the implications when Jesus stills the storm for us facing fears today?

3. In what ways can we “under believe” when faced by fears?

4. This story reminds us that Jesus provokes awe. How can we ensure there is awe in our worship?

5. It is part of being human that we have fears. Do you have a story about experiencing real fear recently? In what ways did the presence of Jesus make a difference?

Question 5 is particularly the one to which I hope friends will respond. Do any of you out there have a story about experiencing real fear when the presence of Jesus made a difference? Real stories make for powerful preaching - any help? If it's confidential then please use:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (18)

This week's Scripture passage (Mark 4: 35-41) is short but graphically shows the disciples are badly frightened in this storm. Even though they are with Jesus bad things still happen! His two questions "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" deserve careful attention, especially in the context of two kinds of fear we find in this text.

It is still early in my preparation but the sermon impact is shaping up like this:
By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Frightening things happen to Jesus' disciples but he is with them to calm fears, yet he provokes greater spiritual fear! And what the sermon will DO: Allow God to help us deal with our natural fears and develop our awe.

Thank you for immersing in this story with me. All your responses continue to be welcome.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (17)

Well, July 4th. turned out to be quite an occasion - even for an Englishman! After our morning service the church served about 4000 hotdogs to neighbors as we watched the Wheaton parade! Earlier, on this day for celebrating the Declaration of Independence, the questions and teaching of Jesus in Mark 8:22-9:1 challenged us to Declare Dependence on him. And this is the demanding issue of faith as Jesus asks: "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:27)

This coming Sunday we look at the questions Jesus asks in Mark 4:35-41. This story of the calming of the storm is the classic nature miracle, and raises massive issues about the kind of Lord Jesus Christ we worship. Just how much do we claim: "For by him all things were created (Col 1:16)?

Jesus' questions probe another TRUTH SPACE: "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" As we look at this short story together let's go on asking what God is saying to us and seeing to do with us! Any reflections will be welcome.