Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Helping my son

The end of last week immersed me in long international phone calls with my son, Rob, who lives in New Jersey.  Sadly, the pastor of his church had suffered a heart-attack and he was asked to step in as preacher.  This was both a surprise and an ordeal.  The last time he preached was in 1999! Rob threw himself into preparation.  He is an associate professor of radio journalism at William Paterson University, so he has plenty of creative energy and communication skill.  Looking back we went through three major phases.
  • initial surge of creativity around the text that he felt compelled to preach on - John 14: 1-6.  He poured out insights about Jesus' promise 'Let not your hearts be troubled'.  The extraordinary way he was promising this for us when he had yet to face so much trouble on our behalf.  And, in particular the metaphor of 'many rooms' wouldn't go away.  What did this mean for the future and how did it spark ideas for current 'rooms'?  It was wonderful listening to his mind and heart.
  • the next major call came as the embryo sermon was being fashioned.  Much of it was already being written out.  At great speed he dashed through the outline.  It took him nearly 20 minutes but....guess what?  it would have taken 40 plus minutes in its present form and it comprised three different sermons.   He had to begin the difficult task of editing down to the key point and ensure that it was presented clearly without clutter.
  • the next major, major call came with a completely re-written sermon.  Since his early draft Prince had died and gave him a startling opening instead of his earlier thoughts.  I marveled at the way he had cut out so many precious ideas and stories yet retained such life and passion.  He called it 'Four Rooms' with reference to a dentist's room, his standing in a demolished room hours just hours after the Indian tsunami, the church community and its pastor, and...of course, the eternal promise of God's presence. Each linked well with a glorious conclusion.
At the end he commented: 'Phew!  Preparing sermons is really hard work, Dad!  How many hours it takes! I appreciate so much more what goes on behind hearing a sermon. I really do!'   I rejoice that it appears to have helped the congregation from the many comments made, and his wife gave a positive assessment (though I guess wives generally do!)  I felt it was a privilege to help out transatlantically. The first time I  have used my teaching with my family!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Story telling

Before the week has gone I must mention an exhilarating experience in church last Sunday. The scheduled preacher was unable to preach so the music group opened up the service for anyone to speak about God-experiences in their lives.   The music leader confessed he was apprehensive about whether any would speak (and some of us wondered about length, content, etc. etc!)

To our surprise seven people spoke clearly and effectively about their lives.  One works with Street Pastors in the tough work of caring for troubled people in central Cambridge 10:00 pm - 4:00 am.  She described her work and encouraged us to join her.  Another told a remarkable story of a day when she was nearly killed by a herd of cows. Psalm 91 had begun the day in her Bible reading notes, and to her utter amazement was repeated after her ordeal by others who had no idea at all how this particular text was sharply relevant it was to her! Psalm 91 was then read: 'If you  make the most High your dwelling- then no harm will befall you'.  A couple of speakers shared particular texts which had challenged them, one was connected with a song we sang.  Another, a Malaysian academic living in Cambridge talked about the previous evening when he had difficulty finding somewhere for a quiet meal in a Chinese restaurant only to discover (to his delight) he was seated next to someone just visiting Cambridge that day. He had not seen him for 10 years since they had been in seminary together.  He marveled at a genuine God-incidence! Yet another spoke about an 83 year old lady who had just told him how she longed to know what God wanted her to do next, and how her father had been actively doing God's work well into his nineties.

With vitality and realism each story was told, honestly, eagerly and with embedded Scripture.  Afterwards at least two other people said to me that they had stories to share too. It  raised (at least) two important questions for preachers:
1) Just how many stories of God events that past week could have been told by that one congregation?  They had truly witnessed God at work in genuine life experiences.
2) How wonderful it would be to collaborate with the congregation on the way of sermon preparation so that appropriate stories would form part of the sermon?  How much would these genuine life experiences of hearers help ground the gospel.

Of course, my students know this is exactly what I push in my teaching and the new project A New Kind of Preacher!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Effective? Yes or No?

Yesterday someone talked with me about those criteria for effective preaching.  He commented that having read them he thought he ought to give up right now!  He also said that they seemed to cover everything that you could ask about effective preaching.

Today, I went through the pro forma on line response that over 300 other professors of preaching will have worked though.  After each criterion they gave a box for additions, deletions, comments.  I admit that I made a few comments along the way.  But the one that really made me think was Criterion 6.

6. Effective Communication: The effective preacher preaches sermons which clearly communicate the central idea through use of simple language and illustrations so as to convince the listeners of the message. Effective preaching is “persuasive” in that it “convinces or convicts the hearer.” The effective preacher “effectively communicates a
sense of God's presence and authority.”

Those who know me will not be surprised that I want to tease this out.  So I sent a little plea:
"I am always concerned to rate effective communication in terms of its impact upon congregations - their thinking, behavior, relationships, mission etc.  I recognize it is very difficult to evaluate this but the reality of changed hearers matters. Transformed hearers even better!  This is easier to see when a preacher is in pastoral relationships beyond the itinerant.
I see the word 'effective' as key and this is the main criterion for asking the big question - what happens for the kingdom?"

Yes, what happens indeed?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Complicated communications

Someone asked me how I was going to cope with the three social media outlets I have suddenly acquired: my blog, my facebook.com/newkindofpreaching  page and facebook itself.  The answer is.....poorly!

For example, I need to ask for help regarding the criteria for the next search for the 12 most effective preachers in the English speaking world.  This project was last held in 1966 by Baylor Univ. and Truett Seminary and they are asking whether the criteria they used in 1966 (developed from 333 professors!) still apply. Since most of my blog readers will not read this on the facebook page yet I know they would have useful comments I realize that I need to post these criteria here also!  So, anyone interested, please scan the 7 criteria and let me know your views.

1. Biblical/Exegetical: “Effective preaching is based on solid biblical exegesis.”

2. Relevance: The sermon “is pertinent to their ordinary daily struggles to live the gospel.”

3. Preacher's Persona: The effective preacher preaches sermons which reflect his/her own life experiences and commitment - “passion” as well as “integrity” in his/her sermons.

4. Theological/Orthodox: The effective preacher preaches sermons which are faithful to Christian tradition - expressed doctrinally “within the parameters of the Christian faith.”

5. Sermon Structure: The effective preacher preaches sermons which are structured with a clear introduction, main body, and conclusion.

6. Effective Communication: The effective preacher preaches sermons which clearly communicate the central idea through use of simple language and illustrations so as to convince the listeners of the message.

7. Delivery/Style: The effective preacher preaches sermons which are delivered skillfully with appropriate poise, body language, gestures, eye contact, and voice quality. 

I  only have a few days left to submit my response.  Any omissions, additions?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Little details - some homecoming problems !

While away in the US we parked at the airport's long-stay car park.  Booking early greatly reduces the price and allows you to arrive and return under your own steam. So, I paid 116.38 pounds up front and put in my registration number so that entrance and exit would be straightforwardly registered on camera.

Tuesday morning, landing tired after missing a night's sleep, we happily reclaimed our car which purred into action immediately.  However, the exit barrier refused to budge unless I paid 551.72 pounds.  What?  Hurriedly I pressed the assistance button. Apparently I had given incorrect registration details: AL15 instead of AJ15.  How did I make that mistake? They are not even next to each other on the keyboard.  Carol sighed!  With considerable concern we waited until the office sorted out the truth! Fortunately, they eventually located my payment and with immense relief the barrier was raised. Carol commented that she hoped the rest of our homecoming would be trouble-free.
Entering the house all seemed normal until I opened the freezer for a dollop of ice-cream and found a tub of unpleasant liquid with black blobs floating in it!   The freezer instruction book instructs buyers to tape over the freezer plug to safeguard against accidental switching off.  In her desire to save electricity Carol had swiped our untaped over freezer out-of-play.  I sighed. The smell of decomposing goodies, including a large beef joint, was overpowering.  Refuse bins filled up with evil-smelling matter as windows remained wide open.

So far that's it! It is sometimes said that 'the devil is in the detail' - certainly it felt like it! Trying not to neglect little details we now settle down to undertake some bigger tasks....like finishing the resource book for the New Kind of Preacher project!