Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A last Hurrah!

Denuded of my preaching library and with fewer outlets for research, I pondered whether I could offer any words of value to this volume. But then a thought struck me! In 2014 the US seminary where I was teaching was chosen by the Lily Foundation to contribute research to its national project titled: ‘Strengthening the Quality of Preaching.’ I seized the opportunity to design a response called ‘A New Kind of Preacher (NKP)’ which resulted in conferences, peer learning groups, two books and shared fieldwork influencing a few hundred pastors. However, owing to a change of seminary personnel, the books were never published and, sadly, the programme lost momentum with my work disappearing.  I wondered whether a compressed essay in this festschrift might give this lost work one last Hurrah!  

I admit my thinking was absurdly ambitious. Instead of concentrating on the task of preaching and the act of sermon making, I dared to question the role of sermon makers, probing theological questions about who preachers are in relationship to God, to their congregations, and to the surrounding culture. Not so much about what they preach as to how and why they preach. On the persons of preachers.

To encapsulate the project’s concept as well as its structure I proposed this definition. The Preacher thinks and feels deeply about God, has self-knowledge, and is called by God to pastor the congregation as a lead worshipper, proclaimer, collaborator, community builder and missionary.

 It begins theologically, with concern that preachers have a lively understanding of Trinitarian dynamics not only for seeing more of how God works in the world but experiencing how he is involved with them in the preaching act. Pivotal for integrating five roles, I use the term pastor to express the foundational relationship with a congregation.  The five roles define dimensions of the preacher’s ministry. Not all hold equal significance. Lead-worshipper, Proclaimer and Missionary are prime roles with Collaborator and Community Builder playing indispensable supplementary roles. Whenever any one of these roles is diminished so is preaching. 

A range of preaching genres is closely connected with these roles. Traditionally, sermon preparation concentrated mainly on words (focus) in order to retell a passage’s meaning with appropriate application.  However, more recently a revolution has occurred in biblical interpretation about how God encounters us in Scripture. He not only says words in messages but also does things (function) by those messages. Rhetorical studies of Scripture have shown how different genres move us to varying responses. Some are well known such as evangelistic, prophetic, pastoral and doctrinal.  To these I add: celebratory, liturgical (recognizing that ‘liturgy’ applies to any order of worship from highly formal to wildly informal), salvation history, and missional. Together, these eight complement each other in the five dimensions of the preacher’s ministry.

So, dear Stephen's festschrift gave me one last chance for this preaching vision to see the light of day before I ride off into the sunset.  Thank you for the opportunity Stephen!


Friday, June 7, 2024

Honouring a friend

When notable academic colleagues retire one special way of marking their contribution is to publish a festschrift (from German celebration and writing) in their honour.  Rev. Dr. Stephen Wright - a noted New Testament and Homiletics scholar - recently finished at Spurgeon's College after beginning there in 1998. He started as Director of the College of Preachers but was to continue as a vital leader of the Spurgeon's community. For over 25 years he has been such a wise, gentle, humble, gifted teacher, educator, pastor, author and friends to so many of us. So, a very worthy candidate for a festschrift.

When the editor asked me to contribute a chapter I wanted to say 'Yes'. I have contributed to others' celebration writing and since I was involved in Stephen's appointment I particularly would have liked to chip in a word. However, all my academic books had already been shipped out and familiar academic props were missing.  I felt academically bereft!  Therefore I declined to take part.

However, the Editor came back to me.  His second ask was insistent. Didn't I have special responsibility at Stephen's beginning?  Surely something could emerge!  Reluctantly, with mixed results, something did emerge and I'll post about it next. But the wonderful aspect of presenting any final publication like this is that, at its best, the whole exercise has been conducted in utmost secrecy.  When the presentation is eventually made on a public occasion, the book should be a total surprise. A shock of the best kind. 

Last week the presentation ceremony was scheduled at Spurgeon's College Chapel. It was too early for me to attend in person but fortunately it was streamed (and what a gift online service gives us)!  Though we were ready for the start at 10:30 am and the camera showed friends gathered in the chapel, Stephen was absent and blissfully unaware. He arrived some 10 minutes later and was utterly stunned .  By his wife and daughter, who had been involved in the planning, yet who had somewhat misled him about their commitments that morning! And by the group of friends and colleagues.  Beginning with lively worship and prayer we came to the moment when Stephen was handed his own festschrift.  You could see the genuine surprise and delight as he held it and as video tributes and written greetings followed.  It was a shock of the best kind.

What a great way to honour a deserving scholar. To top it all he was told that in the afternoon he would be at Lambeth Palace with the Archbishop who had written the book's foreword.  It's worthily called: Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant.