Monday, May 21, 2012

40 years on

Carol and I have taken out a joyful hour today (over a Chinese lunch!) to reflect on what happened exactly 40 years ago at my ordination. It was Pentecost Sunday and my home church Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood, London, gave over the evening service.  Actually the church did far more than that.  Around 700 people attended the service and church members put on a tea beforehand for all those who had traveled to London.  These included a gang who had driven down from Blackburn, Lancashire where I was to begin ministry in September.

Carol was pregnant with our first child (to be born on July 14th 1972).  We cannot remember how we traveled from Oxford where I was finishing my studies. I only had a motorcycle and I cannot imagine Carol as pillion passenger.  Probably we hired a car for the weekend.

I asked Carol what she remembered most.   She recalled all those friends who arrived for tea beforehand in the large hall behind the church, and the tingling excitement as so many people surprised us by their presence. 'It felt like our wedding all over again,' she said.   But that was only the beginning.  The guest preacher was Dr. Barrie White and I remember him challenging me about being a transparent Christian leader so that people could see Jesus through me!   My vows to serve Christ for the whole of my future felt heavy too, and I knelt as many hands were laid on me.  We chose all the hymns and the full-throated church let rip.

Yet, Carol says perhaps for her the most overwhelming time of all was afterwards, when guests streamed back into the hall that had been replenished with food and now a long table stood against the wall laden by baby shower gifts for our new baby.  Carol says she didn't know then what a 'baby shower' was!  Such practical love in such abundance was utterly overpowering.  We were speechless.  Since Carol's single parent mother had died when she was a student the church family had always been the greatest support.   But this surprise remains unforgettable among their kindnesses.  Friends lined up to greet us (just like a wedding again) and it took the whole night to get through.   Many days later we were still catching our breath.
Chatsworth continues to have a big book on display in which all the names of those who were sent out by the church as pastors and missionaries are honored.  Each is given a page dated in sequence.   So there I am - May 21st. 1972.   What a day!

We both say thanks to our heavenly Father for his steadfast love and mercies new every day over 40 years of ministry.   And to his faithful generous people who have stood with us on the journey ever since.   Especially over my recent time with cancer our church families in Blackburn and Cambridge have been extraordinarily supportive. We are profoundly grateful.  I think you can tell that we really are!

Preaching without notes - dangers

Last week I taught in the Center for Excellence in Congregational Leadership (CECL) at Green Lake.  I greatly enjoy being with CECL pastors though one of them told me I had completely ruined his preaching (but then he thanked me for the challenge! He did smile.)  One key ingredient of my teaching (requested by the organizers)  is an issue I touched on recently in a post - preaching without notes.  As one of you responded back then - there really does seem to be a current buzz about this topic.  And controversy!

It needs to be stated bluntly that there are DANGERS attached to preaching without notes.
  • it elevates technique.  As Adrian Reynolds posted: "Authenticity in preaching does not come from the use or lack of notes, but from a preacher so engaged in the Word, so convinced of its relevance for today, so gripped by the power of the gospel that conviction is powerfully and spiritually evident - notes or no notes."  Mode of delivery should never be exalted over content.
  • it boosts ego. Because preaching without notes makes a preacher look good it can add gloss to personal performance.   Preachers shining in their own glory always diminish the Lord's glory. 
  • it capitulates to culture.  Rhetoric has consistently valued the role of memory and contemporary culture is impressed by leaders who speak well from the heart and not from paper. Impressing listeners should never be a preacher's motive.
  • it can encourage 'winging it'.  Preaching without notes may also permit habits of winging material with dangers of extempore word-wasting, dumbing down exact language and biblical doctrine.  
One CECL pastor confessed to me that he had turned to preaching without notes recently and that, while the congregation much preferred his engagement with them, he was becoming lazy in preparation and over-long with wordiness. Of course, preaching without notes properly requires more preparation than ever and works best with a carefully prepared manuscript, written for the ear, which provides disciplined structure for internalizing (not performance-based memorization) preaching without notes.

I admit at the outset that these dangers are real (and perhaps you can add some more).  YET, I strongly believe preachers should take preaching without notes seriously.  Look out for some more posts! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What does this statistic mean?

I have just been looking at May's edition of Christianity Today. Its briefing page spotlights: Pastors' Fight and Flight and gives a list of predictors of future church conflict.  The two main predictors are predictable: recent church fights and shrinking congregations.

But then they give a list of warning signs.  Look at number 1.
1. Your sermons last between 11 and 20 minutes.  Churches with that homiletic length were about twice as likely as others to have a conflict leading to a leader leaving.  Also, conflict leading to a church meeting is less likely with longer sermons.

As someone who has always been more concerned about quality than quantity I should like to know what lies behind this statistic?  That longer sermons show greater teaching depth so that congregations are more mature?  That longer sermons show preachers have taken greater care and demonstrate more pastoral awareness?  That longer sermons show more seriousness about being community?  Just what do these longer sermons have that is so different that they halve the possibility of conflict?   Surely it's not just length!

I really am puzzled. Any insights are welcome!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wonderful news!

It's Carol here!  Our Seminary President says that I write better blogs than Michael so that I should let the world know the results of today's long-awaited hospital visit!  So, good morning friends in Australia, good evening Britain, good afternoon America.  We are just back from the hospital and we come back full of praise and thanks that the doctor gave us news that tests show that the level of cancer is now undetectable.

Michael will be seen again in 6 months with another PSA test and this will go on for five years at the end of which, if the news stays good, he will declared cured of cancer.  The specialist warned that we shouldn't presume on the outcome but we are full of faith and optimism as we look to the future.

We thank God and we thank you for all your prayers on Michael's and my behalf. To say the two of us looked haggard this morning is an understatement.  We probably look a few years younger this afternoon. So, thank you for all your love and support through this journey. We cannot put into words what it has meant to us knowing that you have been praying for us and supporting us these past months. We so appreciate you all.