Archive for the ‘Work Ethics’ Category

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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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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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Concluding Like Calvin

August 16, 2007

‘Conclusions’ are an area I need to work harder on in my preaching. Though I have heard some suggest that I should write the conclusion first in my sermon preparation, never have I found this approach workable. For me, I need the momentum of the whole sermon behind me in writing so that I can negotiate how best to conclude.

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The downside of this approach, however, is that time runs short to put together a well thought-through finale. The closing appeal can be short changed, as can the amount of thought given to the closing prayer.

As I was pondering that today, I was reminded of some comments Steve Lawson made (in the Expository Genius of John Calvin) about Calvin’s conclusions – particularly regarding his pressing appeals and climatic prayer.

“After his final summation, Calvin skillfully transitioned to a pressing appeal, one final call for a humble response. Sometimes he enjoined confession of sin and sorrowful repentance, pleading with errant sinners to cast themselves in utter dependence on God’s sovreign mercy. At other times, he felt that encouragement for continued obedience was in order. Total life transformation was his objective, so he strongly challenged the wills of his people… ‘The preacher must speak’, Calvin said, ‘in a way that shows he is not pretending.’

“Once he had made his final appeal, Calvin concluded his sermon with prayer. Having brought God’s Word to the people, he then desired to bring the people to God’s throne. His intent was to leave them in the presence of the Father. These concluding prayers were vertical in thrust, pointing his listeners up to God. They unveiled the glorious majesty of God as Calvin made a final plea for the spiritual good of his people.” (Lawson, EG, p124-126)

Tomorrow morning then, I’m going to come back and have another swing at the conclusion I just wrote before lunch. Lord, inspire me to do better!

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Exceptional Pressure, Extra Grace

August 10, 2007

Thursday (rather than Tuesday!) is an exceptionally late start for my sermon preparation. But due to a couple of days off this week, this has been my lot. While I wouldn’t want to make this my normative pattern, I am finding that the Lord’s grace has been sufficient. Should I be surprised?

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Yesterday I was able to study the passage to a reasonable degree and prepare my rough outline. Today – God willing – I am on course to write the sermon up. I would never have thought it possible!

I wonder, preachers, if you have found God’s grace to be lavish when you have been ‘up against it?’ Has there a ‘worst case scenario’ in terms of prep time that actually turned out to demonstrate God’s power in your weakness?

Or maybe you’re too busy doing last minute sermon writing…

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A Friday Quote

July 27, 2007

“The pulpit calls those who are appointed to it like the sea calls its sailor; and like the sea, it batters and bruises, and it does not rest….To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know that each time you do it, that you must do it again.” (Bruce Thielmann)

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Emotion in the Pulpit and Pew

June 22, 2007

Not very long ago, someone recounted to me the first time the current Senior Pastor in my church shed tears in the pulpit. Fifteen years ago now, this was apparently quite an event in Charlotte Chapel. Congregants were not so used to ministers expressing such emotion in the pulpit. But, the person added: “There was a hush around the whole congregation. I think people were very moved.”

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Peter is not the only one who gets emotional. On ocassion, I find that emotion ambushes me. At these times, I come back to a familiar and difficult question: what place should emotion have in the pulpit? How should we handle both the sobs and the smiles (as John Piper so amply demonstrates!)? Here are five exhortations I’ve developed for myself.

1) Remember that preaching with strong emotion has biblical precedent. Think about Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Just read through his prophecy, taking note of the emotion he displayed. As you read of his frequent tears and heart-rending pathos, you will discover that he is aptly named the “weeping” prophet (cf. Jer 31:16). Or consider the apostle Paul in the New Testament who preached the Word with “trembling” (1 Cor 2:3)? And was it not this great apostle who commanded the Ephesians elders to “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day even with tears“? (Acts 20:31)

2) Realise that people appreciate emotion today. One upside of the long discussed postmodern shift has been a growing recognition of emotion’s significance. Though heart should never bypass the head – nor take the ‘lead’ in the marriage – historically there has sometimes been a tendency to diminish the place of “religious affections.” But now cultural changes have rightly re-emphasised the importance of a head and heart Christianity. The corrolary is that today we must have “Head-and-Heart-Preachers.” After one service last year when a preacher had expressed emotion in his sermon, a non-Christian student sitting beside me was evidently challenged. “I didn’t realise before that the pastor really believes what he’s talking about”, they remarked. “Of course he does!”, I replied. Nevertheless, the preacher’s emotion had conveyed that reality.

3) Beware of emotionalism. “Turning on the waterworks” or “feigning joy” is always bad form. Sadly there remains a danger that we preachers tug the heart strings of our congregation by intentionally using our emotions as the instrument. Of course, it is a legitimate aim to touch the congregations emotions through “the word of truth.” And the fact is, people will be moved whenever we show emotion. But we must be careful that we don’t seek to do the Holy Spirit’s work for Him. Its a fine line, for sure. But I think we know the difference between emotion that is pre-meditated and that which is not.

4) Understand that fear of expressing emotion is often rooted in our pride. Sometimes when coming back from church in the car, a conversation with my wife has gone something like this: “I nearly lost it today; I could feel myself getting emotional, but I held it back.” Invariably my wife responds, “Why? Why are you so afraid of showing emotion?” Having thought about it at length, my conclusion is simply ‘pride.’ Especially for men, we hate to express emotion in public for the fear of looking weak, foolish, or just a little too passionate. However this ungrounded fear (rooted in unhelpful influences in our culture about masculinity) needs to be tackled head on, and our pride needs to be reduced. Was the Paul who endured beatings and shipwrecks and riots any less of a “man” because he “came in fear and trembling” and “tears”?

5) Realise that excessive emotion can be unhelpful. Now I need to tread carefully here: it is almost impossible to be excessive with our joy! And I don’t want to negate the last point that some of us need to be less prideful and be willing to show some emotion, some of the time. Nevertheless there can at times be such a flood of emotion that the audience begins to shift their focus off the message to the messenger. To be honest, some preachers are manic. It is one thing to preach with solemn earnest and warning, its another for people to leave the church only remembering how you kept banging the table! Similarly I recall an ocassion in my previous congregation when I was so overwhelmed by emotion that I could hardly speak a complete sentence for several minutes. Though the tears probably conveyed how much I meant what I was saying, it was probably not helpful for the message or congregation that I got so carried away.

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Preachers: Read Your Audience

June 15, 2007

Speaking personally, it’s a rare occasion when I don’t modify my written-sermon to better communicate with the audience in front of me. The reason is simple: even with message and messenger prepared I can never fully anticipate the congregation that will sit before me (And even if I know the congregation, I don’t know what condition I will find them in!). So while preachers should never depart from their essential message, they must sometimes make small adjustments in light of ‘congregational mood.’

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Let me give five examples of where some adjustment might be necessary:

1. The weary audience
It never ceases to amaze me just how much ‘physical conditions’ can negatively effect even the most attentive congregation. A few Sunday’s ago I preached on a very warm evening. As I scanned the congregation, ready to begin my introduction, several people were already asleep! To make things worse, the rest seemed destined to follow. Usually not one to skimp on length it nevertheless seemed prudent to keep up my pace, shorten a few minor points, and make sure I wasn’t ponderous. I’m glad to say that about half the audience eventually woke up!

2) The bored audience
If led poorly the opening part of the service can leave people in a very lethargic state; hardly ready to hear a sermon. Richard Bewes describes both the condition and the remedy:“Everything is sopoforic, boring and flat. A new dynamic is needed, and you are the one to provide it. Begin at once, cheerfully, buoyantly and with gusto. On ocassions I have started talking even before I had reached the speakrer’s place, so concerned was I to wake the room up!” (Speaking in Public Effectively, p86)

3. The distracted audience
It may be the sound of a siren, the cry of a young child, or the elderly gentleman fainting on the back row. Whatever the case, a whole variety of things can serve to distract our audience from the task at hand. At such moments, will it be a good idea to drop our voice and whisper our most significant point? No! We must slow our pace, patiently re-state the point at hand, waiting until the heads return to face us. Of course the distraction may be such that people cannot ignore it. In that case, our own personal intervention may be required.

4. The confused audience
It seemed so clear in our notes! But sometimes it becomes evident that our point is not so clear to our listeners. More often these days I take time to rephrase points I’m making when my audience emit the appearance of confusion. As much as is possible, we should work to work to dispel the mist, rather than leave our people in a fog of unclear ideas.

5. The sad/joyful audience
For a variety of reasons a congregation may convey a corporate sense of sadness on the one hand, or elated joy on the other. Either way, this is something we should take account of. There may be a mood of grief that we have to contend with: perhaps there has been a dreadful bereavement of a young one, the news of which has just been released minutes earlier. Or we may be visiting a church which has just gone through an agonizing departure of a pastor, or a church split. On such occassions, we wish to gently lift people’s spirits as we encourage them with the word of truth, but it is no time to be jovial. On the other hand, if it is a church anniversary, our dull tone will seem totally out of place. Though we should not be restricted by the mood of the congregation, we must nevertheless respect it in our approach.

[This is part two of a short Friday series, Expect the Unexpected. For part one.]

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The Reformation Preacher

May 25, 2007

Perhaps its because I’m currently reading a wonderful book “The Expository Genius of John Calvin.” Or maybe its because last evening (courtesy of Conventicle’s Chris Ross) I enjoyed a lecture on the life of Martin Luther. But this week I’ve been reflecting on the benefits of preaching in the shadow of the Reformation.

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What struck me last night was the great privilege we have. We don’t live in a day when the great Reformation truths (ie. faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone, through Christ alone, to the glory of God alone) are unknown or unheralded. There remains much ignorance and confusion about many of these articles, to be sure. But we don’t live in an age without any clear articulation of these great doctrines.

Luther did. And he put his neck on the line to leave us a legacy.

Yet how often today are the redefining truths and realigning events of the Reformation taken for granted? How frequently are the great gospel truths assumed. And how increasingly common is the idea that the Reformation – even if of value back then – is now well and truly “over”?

Honest answers to these questions are sobering. So, we would do well to hear those voices which proclaim the ongoing significance of the Reformation today. Kirsten Burkitt, in her excellent study “The Essence of the Reformation”, makes one such clarion call:

“The Reformation was more than an alteration of liturgical and ceremonial practice; it was a new way of looking at the world, which invaded the parish church and the daily life of every parishioner. There was more than a change in ‘religion’; it was a change in thought, in life, and what it meant to be a human being in God’s World.

It was a world in which we can have confidence in God and hope for the future, based on his grace to us in the Christ of the Scriptures, which we receive through faith alone.

Too often since then, these certainties have been attacked and eroded, and continue to be attacked today. Indeed, many Christians are ignorant of the issues, and do not realise that the truths for which the Reformers fought and died are as much under threat now as they were then. Many errors of Roman Catholicism remain uncorrected. Mystical, magical and superstitious versions of Christianity keep re-emerging in different forms.

We do not need to copy the Reformers out of love for history or tradition. Yet we need to learn the lessons of the Reformation, and be reminded that the truth that inspired that generation to protest, and to reform, is still true today.”

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A Commentary Short?

May 11, 2007

Preaching on Jeremiah’s prophecy one week and expounding Luke’s gospel the next has been an insightful experience for me. Not only have I found the content diverse (and certainly the preaching experience!) but I’ve noticed differences in preparation. For some reason it has been much easier for me to prepare the Old Testament material.

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“I think with Luke we’re a commentary or two short”, I relayed to a colleague.

It seems that with Jeremiah we have a greater depth of more technical commentaries as well as a fair selection of books geared toward practical application. But with Luke, things are more limited. Once I’m through Marshall and Bock, Calvin and Morris, Hendricksen and Ryle, I’m there.

Yet more often than not, I still have some thinking to do. Some questions remain unanswered; or at least I’d like to hear one or two more perspectives. And since the weight of commentaries is toward the more technical end, I’ve also lacked valuable help in thinking about how to communicate the text today.

I don’t mean to suggest, of course, that commentaries are indispensable. Certainly not. But they can be a great stimulus. So, on the assumption that they can be useful, would you agree that we can read too few commentaries in sermon preparation?

Workman’s Toolbox
* Feminism in Your Church and Home with Russell Moore, Randy Stinson, and C.J. Mahaney, over at Nine Marks interviews.
* A new Puritan’s website.
* So you’re thinking of being a pastor?
* Over at Shepherd’s Scrapbook, some links to Hughes Oliphant Old’s The Reading and Preaching of Scripture in the worship of the Christian church
* I hope this kind of thing never comes to British shores: Clowns Communion
* The Faithful Preacher (by Thabiti Anyabwile) gets reviewed over at Discerning Reader
* The next generation of i-pod waits in the wings (HT: Take your Vitaminz)

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Ten Steps for Fledgling Preachers

April 27, 2007

What are some helpful steps younger preachers should take in order to grow and develop? I’ve been asked this question recently, so on the bus the other day I jotted down some suggestions. I do this, strictly speaking, as one who is himself a ‘beginner.’

1. Preach, preach, preach
2. Take on a variety of texts (psalms, prophecy, narrative, epistles), but don’t be too brave too early (eg. consecutive studies through Revelation!)
3. Continue to read formal instruction on expository preaching
4. Listen to a variety of good preachers, and learn things from each of them
5. Get feedback
6. Learn something every time, and work on that area next time
7. Pray for conversions
8. Read theology, especially biblical theology
9. Begin with the tried and tested styles of preaching, then begin to adapt to your own style
10. Guard yourself against pride and despondency, the two most common pitfalls

Perhaps you have some other suggestions to add?

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A Systematic Approach to Sermon Listening

April 20, 2007

Like many people, I listen to a lot of sermons as I travel to work, do some exercise, or even whilst putting my back into the hoovering! But some time ago the realisation came to me that my listening habits are completely hotch-potch. Too often I download sermons on the basis of who preaches, with no concern for what they will address.

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This might be more unhelpful than I realise. If Paul’s concern was to preach “the whole counsel of God”, then the evident requirement for preachers is to grow in understanding that comprehensive counsel. Why then, did I not reflecting this through a more systematic approach to sermon listening?

So…..I started to compile a list of sermons that would take me systematically through a book. Find below what I’ve been listening to with regards Genesis (you’ll notice there’s some variety in the preachers) approximately at the rate of one sermon a day. If you can suggest any other good online sermons on Genesis – preferably in reasonable sized chunks – do let me know. From time to time, I’ll hope to publish my listening lists for your interest.

1. “Our Creator God” – Donald Whitney
2. “The Beginning of the human race” – Richard Trist (registration)
3. “Tragedy in the Garden” – David Turner (registration)
4. “The conflict” – John Stott (registration)
5. “The Reign of the Grim Reaper and the Rapture of Enoch” – Hugenberger
6. “The beginning of judgment” – Paul Williams (registration)
7. “The Great Flood and the Saving Ark” – Simon Lewis Johnson (hereafter, SLJ)
8. “Noah’s House Saved, the World Condemned” – SLJ
9. “Genesis 9” – Thabiti Anyabwile
10. “The Table of Nations; or the History of the Sons of Noah ” – SLJ
11. “All man’s Babylon” – R Kent Hughes
12. The Patriarch (Abraham and Christ) – John Stott (registration)
13. “The Land is before you” – R Kent Hughes
14. “The Faith of the Father of the Faithful: Uncompromising” – SLJ
15. “Follow the Rock” – Alex Motyer (registration)
16. “Ishmael – the Product of Doing God’s Will in the Power of the Flesh” -SLJ
17. “The seed of Abraham” – Hugenberger.
18. “Abraham Visited by His Friend; or the Intimacies of the Divine Fellowship” -SLJ
19. “Sodom, Lot and the Harvest of Sowing to the Flesh” – SLJ
20. “Old Sins” – R Kent Hughes
21. “The Promise Fulfilled in the Weaning of Abraham” – SLJ
22. “The Lord will Provide” – Steve Lawson
23. “Sarah’s Death and the Power of the Resurrection” – SLJ
24. “A Bride for Isaac” – SLJ
25. “The begining of election” – Richard Trist (registration)
26. “Isaac – the Passive and Patient Patriarch” – SLJ
27. “Pilfered Blessing” – R Kent Hughes
28. “Jacob’s Ladder: Grace Unsought, Unstinted and Unforgettable” – SLJ
29. “Deceiver Deceived” – R Kent Hughes
30. “Jacob in the Crucible of Divine Discipline” – SLJ
31. “The Stirring Up of Jacob’s Nest” – SLJ
32. “Jacob – Wrestling with God” – Peter Grainger
33. “After Peniel, God’s Fighter Retreating” – SLJ
34. “Jacob at Shechem; or Worldliness, Its Character and Cure” – SLJ
35. “Residuals” – R Kent Hughes
36. “Lessons from the Generations of Esau” -SLJ
37. “Joseph – Beloved, Hated and Sold” – SLJ
38. “Indecent Exposure” -Liam Golligher
39. “Joseph – Tested and Triumphant” – SLJ
40. “Jail House Rock” – Liam Goligher
41. “Joseph’s Exaltation; or from Prison to Prime Minister” – SLJ
42. “The Persistent Power of a Guilty Conscience” – SLJ
43. “Mercy in Egypt” – R Kent Hughes
44-45. “Consternation, Mediation, Reconciliation” – SLJ
45-46 – “Jacob – Surprised, Sustained and Satisfied by the God of Jacob” – SLJ
47. “Prospering in Egypt” – R Kent Hughes
48. “Blessing Joseph’s Sons” – SLJ
49-50. “The end of the beginning” -Paul Blackman (registration)

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Under Pressure?

April 13, 2007

I’m under the pressure of a preaching deadline today, so I’ll be brief. Its been one of those weeks for me. I lost a full day of sermon prep yesterday because of a talk last evening (“Are Miraculous gifts for today?”, no less!). Is it just me, or are there some weeks when that extra commitment makes sermon writing all the more challenging? Speaking personally, I seem to struggle in thinking and writing freely when my schedule is ‘too’ squeezed.

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