Thursday, March 29, 2012

Parental Advice

I'll get back to 'preaching without notes' in the next post but I must comment about a fun morning we shared at the seminary today. We celebrated a baby shower with one of our popular members of staff and her husband. After food, games and gifts, Carol and I were asked to give final words of parenting advice to the couple expecting their baby in May. We had so much enjoyment reflecting on what we might say (or not)!

Among other things, I recollected my mother earnestly entreating me: 'No matter how much I try and explain the difference this child will make to everything in your lives you will never believe me until it happens! As someone said: 'Parents are not put on earth to make adults of children; children are put on earth to make adults of parents!' And what differences lie ahead for them! Carol warned them how children imitate their parents and how careful they will need to be. She told the story about driving with our toddler son strapped in a rear child seat. When exasperated by other drivers (nothing has changed) her stock expression was: "What's that twit doing?" One day, out of the blue, to her immense surprise the very first sentence out of our son's mouth was: "Wotsthattwidoing?' Yes, we have to be careful.

I also added that the three most important words they can say are: 'We love you'. The four most important words are: 'We can't afford it'. At the end we gave thanks for the gift they are about to receive. I quoted (is it Charles Dickens?): 'It is no small thing that those who are so soon from God should love us'. To be a parent is an immense privilege - it changes everything for ever.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Preaching without notes

Last week some of my students reflected on what they had learned during their two terms of preaching courses with me. I always hope for something positive! This time there was surprisingly strong affirmation of 'preaching without notes'. I say surprising because this element of the course often provokes the most fear and resistance. Yet, several students said that this was the most valuable thing they had learned.

One very experienced preacher (with over two decades' experience) commented: ' By making me preach without notes you have totally transformed my preaching. Now the sermon comes from "inside me" and I connect with my people in completely different ways. I can never go back to where I was'.

Last term another student preached their first sermon refusing to depart from reading a full manuscript. Sadly, the sermon was delivered head-down, hesitantly and with maximum dullness. This term, the contrast was as striking as any I have ever witnessed. With radiance the same student held us captive with a thoroughly prepared biblical sermon that danced with life (and ended with singing). Instead of multiple (really multiple!) Scripture quotes and dense written material that kept tripping the student up, the sermon was prepared 'for the ear' and delivered with passion. How the whole class rejoiced!

As I was considering these comments I received a draft chapter from an academic friend that he is submitting for publication called: Preaching without notes. It's a good chapter and it has made me think some more about this subject. I shall need a couple more posts I think.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Set an extra plate

Yesterday our local church held a 'Set an extra plate' Sunday when we were encouraged to invite students into our homes for lunch. We were given two students to host. I know they enjoyed the food, not just because of their words of appreciation ('Oh to have home cooking' said one) but the rate and amount of consumption! However, it was the conversation that truly shone out most. As we listened to these two students, aged 20 and 19, we heard such high levels of thought and engagement.

One is shortly to leave for 6 months in Indonesia for an internship in his studies on world development. He spoke about his commitment to the poor and desire to work in the development field responding to physical and spiritual needs. In particular, he has passion to serve one of the neediest countries in the world - Yemen. That is where he wants to go after graduating from Wheaton College.

The other spoke about his passion for astronomy and his desire to pursue this at an advanced level as a Christian scientist using his academic gifting with Christian integrity.

How much these young men demonstrated the 'Christian mind' - looking at their lives and futures with one prime concern - to do what God seems to be calling and gifting them to do. As you can tell, I loved the hours we spent together. And listening wasn't just one way either. They wanted to know about our lives and decisions too. This was the intense stuff of 'offering bodies as living sacrifices' (Rom. 12:1).

I mention in Preaching as Worship that when we gather to worship we should be prepared for scattering as worshippers. That everything that happens after we have been in a church building is an opportunity for responding as worshippers, living sacrifices. Yes, they referred back to the church worship service but the whole conversation was continuing the big-picture theme of living for God.

Once I was in their shoes aged 19 and 20 and I remember the exhilaration (and apprehension) of thinking through what God wanted me to do next. But, a few years on (!) I know I still need to keep asking. We are never finished responding as worshippers.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Week 20

This week marks the end of two terms' teaching as students preach their final sermons. In my last session I try to make room for personal reflection on the issues they have learned the previous twenty weeks and, of course, they have to make their evaluations of me as professor! But as a valediction I like to picture some key qualities that I yearn for them to possess after having passed through these preaching classes.

Naturally there are specifics that I hope they will remember. Like the curse of being 'sermony' and its antidote of pursuing the meaning and purpose of the text - what God is saying and doing through this particular Scripture passage. I shall hope that what they learned about structure and delivery will continue to bear fruit. Oh, and that they will always be interesting good news tellers for God's sake, building up people by God's grace not pulling them down by graceless to-do lists. No teacher wants to think they are responsible for others inflicting more boredom on (often long-suffering) people of God!

If I might sum up my prayer about students coming out of my class it is that these are preachers who:
· Love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and really love their hearers too.
· Love God’s Word with transparent affection, serious study and razor-sharp application.
· Remain humbly open to the Holy Spirit’s direction and creativity.
· Prepare well and give their best within the sermon with not a word wasted.
· Live out the consequences as worshippers alive to God's big-picture purposes.

May they be people of love, of the Word, spiritually alive, wonderfully prepared and willing to live out the startling, counter-cultural claims of the Kingdom of God, assured of Jesus Christ's eternally significant promises and power for their ministries and their people.

I am sure some aspects could be better expressed and I may have missed out things you see as important. I'd love your comments. But I really value your prayer for this next generation of preachers out of Northern Seminary.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

2011 Preaching Book of the Year

Wow! I learned just a few minutes ago from the comment on my last posting that my book: Preaching as Worship has been chosen as the Preaching Book of the Year 2011. To say I am surprised is an understatement. Surprised by the honor and surprised at discovering it by way of a kindly comment on my blog. (I have, of course, thanked Michael Duduit, the Editor of Preaching, for his effort to let me know in this unusual way).

For me this is no lightweight honor. It not only means that others have read the book and deem it worthy of note (and every author is grateful to be noticed); I am one of those who always wants to see what Preaching selects out of the tens of volumes produced each year. But it also means that the whole subject of integrating preaching and worship will be put on the map (at least for a brief time as readers of the March/April issue have a chance to see why my book was chosen!)

In recent weeks I have heard some enthusiastic stories from readers who say the book has revolutionized their thinking about worship. One or two have generously blogged about its impact on their ministries. But I also know the book asks a great deal (one or two preachers have bluntly said 'too much') and I hope this honor will give preachers pause to wonder whether they should take a second look.

Thank you Preaching for choosing me and elevating the subject of Preaching as Worship! Now that I am making progress in health we hope to celebrate the book with an open evening at the seminary - perhaps on Friday April 20th. I shall keep you posted about the date because everyone in the area will be most welcome to attend. Thanks for reading. You can understand my excitement!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chugging Along

I fear that this blog has become too enmeshed in my medical exploits and post-operative weakness. Forgive me. I am definitely on an upward path but each day continues to focus rather narrowly on (sometimes) very small achievements. This one-day-at-a-time-keep-resting-intensively state of mind has inevitably caused tensions.

Just last week an email came in inviting me to teach an intensive week down in Tennessee in June. Frankly, as I read the details (which normally would have excited me) I found it extraordinarily difficult imagining how I could actually say 'yes'. I try to think and pray carefully before making future commitments, but it was surprisingly difficult thinking beyond my one-day focus into a few months ahead. Probably it is necessary for the recuperating soul not to rush forward too quickly. But when you are chugging along it is not easy envisaging full health and energy back in force. Yes, I have faith this will happen but it is not straight forward putting a big commitment in the calendar!

Interestingly, the same morning as the email my Scripture readings included Psalm 131 (which neatly follows the anguish of Ps. 130). It struck me forcibly how careful I have to be about the whole business of 'thinking big'!

My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quietened my soul; like a weaned child with its

It's not that I should ever lose the wonder about God's great purposes but that I should know the importance of small matters and ordinary things when I am chugging along. Too often pride rushes ahead when humility before God keeps a quieter focus. This is a word to me. And maybe to some of my readers!