A simple way to improve application in preaching

lifeA little while ago I heard Gordon MacDonald talk about preaching and application to people at different stages in life. Having an awareness of the unique struggles and pressures that come with these various stages can help us apply our teaching in much more helpful ways. He outlines his ‘questions of the decades’ as follows:

  • Teens – who am I? Really? I don’t want to be a clone of my parents; I want to be my own person with my own contribution to make – but what?
  • Twenties – so what do I do with my life – what counts, what matters, who will I do it with?
  • Thirties – How do I manage my life? How do I pay the bills? How do I satisfy the expectations of my boss/wife/kids etc? So many responsibilities, so little time.
  • Forties – how do I deal with success? Or failure? Things have turned out better/worse than I hoped – how do I live purposefully in that?
  • Fifties – what do I need to change to have a satisfying second half of life?
  • Sixties – what’s my legacy? What have I done that will count or last?
  • Seventies – what do I do now? Do people even remember who or what I was?
  • Eighties – I’m tired. How do I deal with the ‘d’ word?

Of course there’s much more that could be said but I think this is a helpful little check-list for preachers when thinking about their application. Print it out, stick it on the wall by your desk and start to really think and pray through your application.

5 marks of the modern mind

jewThis time last week I was at the iDisciple conference in Stafford. It’s a Willow Creek event and had speakers including Gordon MacDonald and James Emery White sharing on the topic of how to make disciples. I found James Emery White particularly stimulating – his stuff on the 5 marks of the modern mind was blistering – think Keller’s brain with Driscoll’s energy – a heady mix! Here are some highlights from his talk:

The 5 marks of the modern mind:
1. there’s a lot of truth to go round (or there are many ways up the mountain). We’ve become a marketplace consumer society and have applied that mindset to religion. Every option is equally valid. Yet if everything is true nothing is true – you make the concept meaningless. So either no one is right or someone is right but NOT everyone is right.

2. truthiness – truth is what you feel. Remember Will Ferrell’s meal time grace in Talledega Nights to the little baby Jesus – that’s just how he likes to think of Jesus. Moderns are the same – truth is what you instinctively feel to be true in your gut, and who’s to question that.

3. reality is determined by the majority mind. This is what Stephen Colbert has called “Wikiality” – if enough people agree about something then that is the nature of things. The majority rule. You’re entitled to your opinion as long as you don’t step out of the mainstream – then you’ll be silenced.

4. We’re a culture of ‘mistakers’. Karl Meninger argues that we’ve moved away from sin as evil  – we downgraded it to crime, and now simply to ‘mistake’. We’ve moved away from personal sin to personal mistakes. And who can seriously blame you or hold you accountable for the occasional innocent mistake? The Oxford junior dictionary has now removed the word ‘sin’.

5. widespread moral relativism. Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. As long as you’re not harming anyone else you’re at liberty to act as you please. The logical progression of current equality law should mean that brother and sister should be allowed to marry or brother and brother if they genuinely love one another.

There was much more that JEW said and part of his solution was for us to immerse ourselves well in literature and culture. We need to read the classics, and to listen to our culture, that we may have a robust framework with which to engage our world.

Two good illustrations of unity

mosaicI was speaking on Sunday night about the issue of unity and I came across a beautiful illustration of how this comes to pass, which I think I pinched from Erwin McManus. He talks about the idea of a mosaic – it’s a collection of broken and fragmented parts bought together into something beautiful. That’s what the gospel does – takes broken parts and brings them together to make something beautiful – the church (see Eph 2). Following that I was visiting one of our small groups last night where the leader also spoke of a time he’d used a similar illustration – this time giving every member a piece of a puzzle. Only when all the pieces come together is the wonder of the picture displayed – same idea – just as powerful. And finally the small group leader gave out the words to an old Wesley hymn – here’s a couple of verses:

The gift which He on one bestows

We all delight to prove;

The grace through every vessel flows,

In purest streams of love.


And if our fellowship below

In Jesus be so sweet,

What heights of rapture shall we know

When round His throne we meet!


So there you have it. A couple of illustrations and a beautiful hymn on what God has joined together in Christ. Let it thrill your hearts, and feel free to use yourselves.

7 principles for better team meetings

readI mentioned a while back a book by Al Pittampalli called Read This Before Our Next Meeting. It’s only 70 pages and was a kindle freebie produced and recommended by Seth Godin’s Domino Project. I got it when it was free. It’s now about £3 – maybe worth it, but having just re-skimmed it the essence of it is his 7 principles for modern meetings which are:

The Modern Meeting:
1. supports a decision that’s already been made
2. moves fast and ends on schedule
3. limits the number of attendees
4. rejects the unprepared
5. produces committed action plans
6. refuses to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory
7. works only alongside a culture of brainstorming

It’s a little bit business world and impersonal, but I think he has some helpful things to say.

Food for thought!

The most important question in moral debate

questionI listened with interest to a large chunk of the parliamentary debate on same sex marriage the other day. I was impressed with the sincerity, care and concern displayed by people (in the most part) on all sides of the debate. But nobody answered my question. Nobody addressed the thought that kept popping into my mind with almost every speech. Time and time again MP’s would stand and assert things like ‘marriage is about love’ or ‘marriage is a man-made institution’ or ‘marriage should be protected.’ And all the while I’m listening to the (often unchallenged) assertions and asking my own questions like ‘who says?’ and ‘where did you get that from?’ It seems to me that the most important and fundamental question in any moral debate is the epistemological question – ie. ‘how do you know?’ or ‘where did you get that idea from?’ or ‘who says?’ or ‘how do you know you’re opinion is the right one?’ Is it simply a case of majority rule? History has shown the majority of one generation may disagree with the majority of another. Is it reason or feeling or experience? Again one man’s reason or feeling or experience differs from another’s. So how do we tackle moral questions. Is it some form of relativism where he who shouts loudest and longest wins. Or could we use some of kind of ultimate moral authority? If so where would you find such a thing? Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect parliament to spend all their debate time in philosophy but when it gets down to it the epistemological question is surely the most fundamental when it comes to determining our answers to moral questions. Failure to address them is failure to persuade with integrity.

A little history of philosophy

philHere’s a great little bit of bed-time reading for wannabe pop-philosophers. A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton traces the development of philosophical thought from Socrates to Singer in punchy, well-written chapters, each one just half a dozen pages in length. All the big names are there and their ideas are presented using illustrations, humour, and sparkling clarity. Of course there’s the danger with such a book that a philosopher’s views aren’t presented in all their rich nuance, but what this book does is whet the appetite to go and explore for yourself some of history’s greatest thinkers. For communicators you’ll also be pleased to know there’s a wealth of good illustrations to steal (which, as a happy by-product will make you look learned!). Buy it, read it, then be sure to leave it lying round on your coffee table to show what an enlightened individual you are.

Keller on the ups and downs of relativism

I heard an interview with Tim Keller yesterday which, as per usual, was insightful, helpful, and wise. And as so often happens when I listen to Tim talking about culture and world-view he succeeded in knocking me off my chair with a brilliantly insightful and concise comment. He was being asked about post-modernism and religious relativism and he simply observed that “the upside of relativism is you get to live how you want; the downside is there’s nothing to live for.” Boom! Did you get that. On the plus side is there’s no moral absolutes so do what you like – no-one can judge or command you from a position of ultimate authority. The downside is there’s no moral absolutes because there’s no ultimate designer, organiser, controller of our universe, so really there’s no ultimate purpose to our existence. If you’re a consistent relativist you can live how you want, but there’s really nothing to live for. Stick that in your post-modern pipe and smoke it!