Archive for August, 2007

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Children’s Talks – What We’re Aiming At

August 31, 2007

At a recent meeting, some members of our pastoral team had a stimulating discussion about what makes an effective children’s talk. I thought it would be worth sharing the crux of what emerged. I apologise that this may not be relevant to some of you who don’t have such things in services – maybe its mainly a Scottish thing!

So children’s talks should be…

1. Scriptural - This may be the obvious point but our goal is to teach God’s Word. Even if we only teach one verse at a time, every children’s talk should refer directly to the bible.

2. Stimulating – The children’s talk should be interesting (please note: for the children). This doesn’t mean that we resort to endless gimmicks but it does require some creativity on our part about how to grab the children’s attention. A good test of how the talk is going is simple: are the children ‘engaged’?

3. Short – The children’s talk is nothing more nor less than a thought to take away and ponder. The children’s talk is not extensive bible teaching for children. That happens in Junior Church. It is rather a brief children’s focus which should be short, sharp and punchy. Really, each kids talk should be one significant idea and no more. Once that thought has been made clear, its time to sing!

4. Simple – Sentences should be short. Big words should be avoided or at least explained. Children at the lower end of the age spectrum (5-7) should ‘get it.’ This doesn’t mean that concepts should be dummed down (‘no difficult subjects’) but rather that what is said will be pitched at the children’s level.

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10 Questions – Brand

August 29, 2007

John Brand is currently the Vice Principal of Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh and has previously served with AIM International. He has also served as a pastor. John ‘blogs’ on preaching over at A Steward of the Secret Things and today we are priviledged to put our 10 Questions to him.

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
I am utterly and increasingly convinced it has to be the heartbeat and central focus. There are many hallmarks of a true church and many things churches should be doing but none more vital and strategic than the faithful preaching of the Word of God.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I was born into a Manse, the son and grandson of missionary preachers, and I think to start with it was almost a natural ting to do – to try my hand at preaching. My father’s church – who were not, it has to said, the most discerning of folk – gave me opportunity in my mid-teens and I was encouraged to persevere as well as sensing a growing burden and joy in my own spirit for this great work.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
To be honest, it takes me longer now than when I started out more than 30 years ago and in the Lords goodness I think that is partly because I take the responsibility much more seriously now than at any other time in my life. I guess these day it takes me anywhere between 12 and 15 hours on average.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I wish I had realised the importance of this in my early days of preaching because I have come to realise how vital this issue is for effective communication. There is a tendency, especially when you are younger, to try and cram too much into one sermon and generally speaking, not only can most folk not cope with that but it can so easily blur the God-intended focus of the passage. In some way I find this the hardest and often most time-consuming aspect of preparation and yet you can’t move forward until you have identified it. For me, I just try writing out ‘the big idea’ again and again and again; restating it until I feel I am doing justice to the Scripture I am working.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
Firstly, it is vital that we are truly ourselves in the pulpit and not try to be somebody or something we are not. Affected tones of voice and imitation of others is for the stage and not the pulpit. Sincerity and integrity are key. Two other vital ingredients for me are earnestness and passion. We live in a day and age of all too often lifeless, take-it-or-leave-it preaching and it’s inconsistent with the message we preach or the one in whose name we claim to speak.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
These days, my notes are much fuller than they used to be, though I have gone through different stages in my ministry. It varies too depending on the nature of the sermon. A more closely reasoned exposition, working through the logic of a passage, for example, will demand more notes than a study in one of the parables. For me, it’s not so much the quantity of the notes but the familiarity with the text and notes and though my notes are fuller I probably refer to them less than I used to.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
I have already referred to things like affectation. We must also studiously avoid disclosing confidences, even by allusion. We must avoid ‘showing off’ the work done in preparation. Perhaps the greatest sin to avoid is saying any less or any more than the text we are preaching says.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
In recent years this has been a special challenge for me, heading up a Mission agency, rather than in church-based pastoral ministry. However, I always sought to guard preparation time and it has, thankfully, been in my Job Description. It’s really a case of identifying and protecting priorities. I have had to ring fence time slots and tell my colleagues that I am unavailable except in emergencies. It has been particularly hard with the huge amounts of travelling that I have been doing, but journeys can be useful times for reading and reflection which are vital parts of the preparation process.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
During my student days I read through Lloyd-Jones sermons on Romans and Ephesians and, albeit largely unconsciously, imbibed a commitment to systematic, verse by verse exposition, though not at the same level of detail as the Doctor! Sinclair Ferguson taught and modelled homiletics as well as systematic theology and made a monumental impact on my life and, humanly speaking, I owe him a unique debt. Book-wise, in more recent years Bryan Chapell’s ‘Christ-centred Preaching’ made a massive impression on me as did John Piper’s The Supremacy of God in preaching’. Both should be compulsory reading for all preachers.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
This has always been a joyful privilege and responsibility for me. In my first pastorate I gather a group of 3 men and we met on a monthly basis to encourage one another and I gave them regular opportunities to cut their preaching teeth and try and help them. In my role with Aim International nothing has give me more joy than my annual Preachers’ Workshops with the leaders of our partner Church in Sudan. This autumn, in my home Church, Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Glasgow, I am involved in a monthly seminar for preachers and would-be preachers and in my new role on the staff of the Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh, one of my remits will be homiletics. I count it a real privilege to have these opportunities to encourage others.
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For some John Brand sermons, click here.

Previously on 10 Questions
* Tim Keller
* Philip Ryken
* Voddie Baucham
* Liam Goligher
* Vaughan Roberts
* Thabiti Anyabwile
* Peter Grainger
* Derek Prime
* A young expositor!

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Simple Church – Review

August 28, 2007

Simple. It’s what everybody wants these days. Just ask Google with their 20-40 word homepage, Papa John’s with their streamlined menu, or Apple with their infamous single-button I-Pod. In an increasingly overcomplicated world, simple is in high demand.

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However, according to Thom H Rainer and Eric Geiger the ’simple revolution’ has also found its way into churches. Congregations once over-inflated with myriad programmes have now become streamlined disciple-making centres. At the same time, churches which are failing to make the switch are tending towards stagnation or decline.

For those who doubt the premise, the authors of Simple Church have research to prove it. Putting questions to over 400 growing and struggling churches the contrast could not be more stark. Simple churches correlate with ‘growing’, ‘vibrant’ communities that are ‘making a big impact’ and ‘expanding the kingdom’ (p 14). Complex churches, on the other hand, are found to be ‘anemic’, ‘floundering’ and “as a whole….not alive.” (p 14).

So what is this highly acclaimed ’simple church’? According to the authors: “A simple church is designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.” (p 60). ‘Process’ and ‘movement’ are key ideas for the authors. Rather than seeing programmes as ends in themselves, church leaders are encouraged to see the big picture of how disciples are moved through various stages of discipleship towards maturity.

For this to work, leaders will have to constantly monitor the effectiveness of four areas:

Clarity – ‘the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by people’
Movement – ‘the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment’
Alignment – ‘the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process’, and
Focus – ‘the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside the simple ministry process’

Intriguingly, the authors don’t want us to think about this as a model of how to do church. “Relax” they begin disarmingly, “This book is not about another church model” (p3). And yet the feel of the book is precisely that. Committing to the simple ministry ‘process’ and keeping one’s eye on four key ‘elements’ sounds suspiciously like a church-model formula.

Moreover, one fears at times that the model being presented is not only simple but superficial. What is virtually ommited from the book (for the sake of simplicity?) is any focus on the biblical means of church growth. The impression given is that if the ’simple’ process is utilized one will likely have a vibrant church, regardless of other key components.

But is this the case? Could, for example, a heterodox church who applies these principles experience divinely empowered growth? Or is the prayer-life of the church a non-contributing factor? How about the congregation’s commitment to the gospel? While these elements are given mention in places, they are at best assumed. Rainer and Geiger do concede that “Ultimately it is God who brings growth and vitality to a local church” (p 249) but next to nothing is said about God’s means of bringing that growth about (See Nine Marks of A Healthy Church, Mark Dever, for a better example)

This is not to say there is nothing helpful in the book. If your church suffers from an over-programmed, over-complicated setup, Simple Church might well be worth reading. Just be sure, however, not to believe the hype of the book itself. Church is never truly simple, and Simple Church over-reaches by claiming that it is “returning to God’s process for making disciples.” (book subtitle). Put simply? Gain insights from this book; don’t build your ecclesiology on it.

(This review was contributed to Discerning Reader)

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Praying & Planning to Prepare Preachers

August 27, 2007

On Friday I sent out 26 letters to young and middle-aged men. Following months of prayer and planning, I had written with the purpose of inviting these men to a preaching course in the New Year.

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For some time now, our pastoral team has shared a burden to better train prospective preachers. But now we’re ready to act upon our convictions. I wanted to share some of the key emphasises of the course, both for your prayers and any input you might have.

1. The course will simply be a primer in preaching. Thus it will be fortnightly and only 8 sessions long. One goal of the course then, will be to teach some of the rudimentary elements of preaching.

2. The pre-eminent goal of the course is to assess whether the course-attenders in fact posses a preaching gift. If so, this course will be but a first step in developing their skills; otherwise, it will be a helpful confirmation that this is not how God is calling them to serve.

3. There will be theoretical and practical elements. There will be some essential instruction from the front but also practical involvement from the group. For example, over the course each attendee will gradually prepare a sermon on a short passage and at the end of the course will deliver this in a real church setting (complete with evaluation). I’m writing out to other churches for this very purpose.

4. There will be an emphasis in the course upon the character, devotional life, and work-ethic of the preacher, as opposed to merely the mechanics of sermon preparation.

5. There will be exposure to more experienced preachers. This certainly is one of the main ways I have learned how to preach: by watching, listening and imbibing the faithful ministry of older expositors. For this reason, the Senior pastor of my church will be involved regularly in the course and other experienced pastors who can answer questions and give advice.

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Related articles
“Open Pulpits?” by Jim Gardiner
“10 Steps for Fledgling Preachers” (UA)

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Good Homiletics, Good Preaching?

August 25, 2007

Whilst I’m mentioning links worth reading: Good Homiletics Doesn’t Always Lead to Good Preaching. One line reads, “The crisis of the… pulpit is not one of communication theory, but rather one of content, conviction, and consistency of theology and life…” Amen.

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Contexualized Preaching

August 25, 2007

The following article by Ed Stetzer on “Contextual Preaching” is today’s Featured Toolbox – a helpful discussion starter on what contextualisation might mean for preaching.

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Other Toolbox This Week

Kaiser – Seven Kinds of Suffering
Seven Reasons to Preach the Gospel
BibleMap.Org
Sovereign Grace Free Audio
Gospel Coalition Panel Discussion
Mohler Starts Apostle’s Creed
Baptism Debate Roundup
Riddlebarger Responds To MacArthur On Amillenialism
The Multi-Preacher Church
What to Expect From Preaching – Banner of Truth
Josh Harris On Evangelism
Paul’s Theology Of Proclamation
What Pastor’s Should Do With Monday’s

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Getting Into Genealogies

August 24, 2007

Recently, I received the following question by email:

“I am preparing to launch into a study on Sunday nights on Ezra/Nehemiah at our church and have discovered that these two books (one book in the original Hebrew Scriptures) contain 14 different genealogies or people lists! After taking a broader survey of Scripture, it appears that there are no less than 51 chapters in the Bible which contain genealogies, accounting for about 4% of the entire Bible (1189 chapters total).

My question, then, is this: In light of the fact that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable,” how do we get the most out of genealogies in our preaching? On the one hand, reading or explaining the genealogies could quickly grow tedious and confusing. On the other hand, it would seem unjust to never publicly read or explain these portions of Scripture. Are you aware of any homiletics books or articles that touch on this subject, or do you have any personal advice?

Unfortunately, my experience of preaching on genealogies is limited, so I won’t venture to draw water from my own shallow well. However I have heard effective preaching on genealogies and agree that it can be done with a little care. Moreover, surely it must be done unless if we really believe the force of 2 Timothy 3:16!

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Let me share, therefore, a couple of helpful resources I’ve come across:

1. Nothing beats listening to good examples of preaching genealogies. One of the best I’ve heard on this was Gordon Hugenberger (Park Street Boston) on Genesis 5. Similarly check out Steve Weaver on Matthew 1, or John Piper on Luke 3. MacArthur also shows us how to do it here.

2. Over at his excellent blog Biblical Preaching Peter Mead also offers seven lessons he has gleaned on the matter :

1. Study the function of the genealogy. The author included it for a reason. How does it fit with the flow of thought in the book? It is easy to get caught up in the details of the list, but miss the function of it.

2. Select the preaching passage carefully. If you are able to divide the preaching passages, do not assume lots of verses in a genealogy mean lots of preaching material. It may be that the genealogy can be summarized briefly, leaving plenty of time for an adjoining text.

3. Survey the framing of the genealogy. What does the author write as a lead in, and what are the first comments leading out of the genealogy? Consider, for example, Luke 3:21-23 and 4:1-3.

4. See if any pattern is broken. Sometimes there is a pattern in the way the text is written, which can become quite rhythmic to the ear. Be sure to check for any breaks in that pattern that might suggest a place of emphasis. For example, consider the change in pattern for Enoch in Genesis 5:24.

5. Scrutinize the places of emphasis. Be sure to consider carefully the first and last names in the list. Often a genealogy is a bridge through time linking one place in history with another. For example, see Ruth 4:18-22.

6. Scan for misfits. In light of the apparent function of the genealogy, are there individuals whose inclusion might be considered surprising? For example, the presence of, and similarities between the women, in Matthew 1:1-17. Be careful not to allow an interesting observation to overwhelm the rest of the genealogy. This example in Matthew has more than one interesting feature!

7. Search for every clue to the author’s intent. Your goal is not to preach random details from a list, nor to exhaust listeners with exhaustive historical details, but to search diligently for the author’s intent when he wrote and/or included the genealogy. This is a repeat of the first point, but this is worthy of restatement in this final position of emphasis!

The first one seems to me particularly important. Once we have an idea of the author’s purpose in utilizing the genealogy, we will have a fighting chance in identifying the purpose for our sermon. Any further thoughts?

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