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?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Next Sunday I will focus on Jesus' disturbing question: 'What were you arguing about on the road?'(Mark 9:33) I find it challenging because some Christian arguments are necessary, even unavoidable! Look at the story of the early church in Acts and you can see huge tensions in chapters 6 and 15 which could have blown the church apart.  No group of humans going through change can avoid conflict.  You know the maxim: 'Whatever your hand finds to do, others will do it differently'.   I think coping with conflict is a vital part of Christian togetherness.
However, this question  is asked disciples who are arguing about who is the greatest.  Now that's a different matter. My planning so far is summed up by a main impact:
      By the grace of God this sermon will say - that our arguments sometimes reveal our pride.
      This sermon will do - rebuke self-importance in the kingdom.
The worship service concludes with communion. Jesus provides us with the perfect way to consider who we are as a community who can have no pride in his presence.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

For reflection

I am not sure whether these will work without hearing the sermon!  But this is what is included in the worship bulletin for further reflection. 

Read Luke 6:43-49 while imagining that you are standing with Jesus’ disciples (v20) in that level place (v17).  After teaching about love for enemies (v27-36) and judging others (37-42) Jesus teaches about the trees and their fruit and the story of the two builders. Listen to the question ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do the things I say?’(verse 46) in context.
  1. Our words reveal our character.  How might good words reveal Christian character?  Can you describe a good example in your experience?  
  2. Some people have called this question ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do the things I say?’ some of the saddest words uttered by Jesus in the New Testament. The disciples do not answer him.  What sort of answers could be given today? 
  3. Consider the implications of standing before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and God’s testing of the building materials of our lives (1 Cor. 3: 10-15).  If someone asks you what it means practically to build with gold, silver and costly stones how would you answer?  And what does it mean to build with wood, hay or straw?  
  4. Are there ways in which we can encourage each other to be accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ in our daily living?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Next Sunday

I received considerable verbal feedback from last Sunday at Histon Baptist Church and am busy preparing for next Sunday.  It really helps to have engaged with my church family.

On Feb. 8th the question comes from Luke 6:43-49: "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?"(verse 46)  It is set in the middle of a block of teaching we call 'The Sermon on the Plain'.  Jesus is addressing his disciples and you cannot help but feel an immense sadness.  I see a poignant challenge for today.  I shall link Jesus' story of the two builders (rock versus sand) with Paul's contrast of building with gold, silver or wood and straw (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

So, the sermon's main impact is: By the grace of God this sermon will say that our words and deeds show who we are more than we realize;  this sermon will do - challenge hearers about how we are living our lives in Christ's way.  I also have to produce some questions for further reflection.  If they seem to make sense (and sometimes people have complained about my obtuseness!) I may post them shortly. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

A tender moment

Yesterday, I began my short sequence of sermons at Histon Baptist Church. ( I am hoping to include some of my sermon outcomes elsewhere on my web-site!)  For the first time my New Jersey family was in the congregation.  My two grandchildren usually leave with the other children part-way through.  Sophie (aged six) went off happily and later produced a brightly coloured picture of King David.  However, I saw Elliot (nearly nine) stay seated between his parents.  To their surprise as well as mine he announced that he wanted to stay in church to hear Grampy preach!

From the platform I could see him learning forward, all concentration, as I began to retell the story of Jesus stilling the storm.  It went through my mind how little of my sermon would connect with him.  Much was heavy stuff about facing the worst fears with 'the Lord Jesus in my boat.'  After twenty minutes or so, and the final song, I went to the front door in order to greet members of the congregation.  Suddenly, I felt a presence at my left hand side. Standing right close to me, not saying a word was Elliot.  I paused, looked down, and said how glad and surprised I was that he had stayed in church.  He said not a word but just remained close by.  I have no idea what was going through his mind.  But his wanting to identify with me in this way seemed very precious.  Another gloriously unlikely grandfather moment to savour.  In church too!