Here’s a 10/10 book by Cornelius Plantinga entitled Reading for Preaching. The nuggets of gold in this book are on almost every page. Not only are there a load of great illustrations to plagiarise, but also some excellent advice on what to read, how to read, and how to use what you read to inform your preaching. There’s also a great appendix with a recommended reading list. And Plantinga writes so beautifully you can’t but enjoy the ride. Get it on the wish list.
Yesterday saw the welcome return of Andrew Wilson to the blogosphere after a lent of virtual absence and abstinence. Andrew is a great writer and thinker, and is always stimulating and insightful. In his opening post he was offering ten reflections on his recent debates with Steve Chalke on the doctrine of Scripture. As per usual there was much good stuff in there, but his opening reflection got me thinking. His opening reflection was that Steve is a great guy who really loves Jesus and cares for people. Now I have never met Steve Chalke so this is more a hypothetical thought experiment than direct attack on someone I simply don’t know. Let’s pretend that we too are talking with someone who has some worrying views yet obviously loves Jesus. And let’s pretend that our interlocutor says things like the following:
- Jesus didn’t die a death of divine wrath bearing penal substitution as a propitiation – that would be cosmic child abuse.
- Jesus (who is fully divine and therefore works the works of the Father and Spirit in the classical Trinitarian doctrine of inseparable operation) does not actively punish Achan and his family (Josh 7) or Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5). He just doesn’t do that kind of thing!
- Jesus doesn’t worry too much about all that OT nastiness – he brings a new message of love and reconciliation.
- The Bible isn’t inspired anyway so we’ll have to pick and choose (Bultmann style) which Jesus bits we like.
At what point do you say the Jesus you so clearly love is a wax nose Jesus of your own moulding. The Jesus you love is not the Jesus of Scripture. The Jesus you love is not the same guy who is ruling and reigning today. Or at least your Jesus is a serious distortion of the reality. I guess the problem is we all have blind-spots and we’ll all hold wrong views on things (we’re not infallible) and some of those would have undesirable systematic implications if we pushed hard enough. Perhaps with our hypothetical friend we should affirm their love for Jesus in spite of their inconsistencies. But perhaps, and this is undeniably a much tougher thing to do, we have to say that that which they love is such an inadequate representation of the fullness that it is love for something else – in the case of our hypothetical friend – love for self. Thoughts?
It was encouraging to hear so many friends report ‘standing room only’ for their Easter services. It seems many people still want to remember Easter as being about more than chocolate and bunnies. And many churches are thinking evangelistically about how to make the most of this particular annual opportunity. Here’s some of my own reflections on how we could do it better next time:
- Make a weekend of it. We had a men’s prayer evening on Maundy Thursday followed by a curry. On Friday we joined the town centre service with other Bedford churches. And on Sunday we had our own Easter service. I think there’s more we could yet do but I think it’s right that churches think in terms of the whole weekend (Thurs-Sun) rather than just Easter day
- Publicize well. Get some proper design and publicity done and spread it through local papers, word of mouth, flyers, posters, social media etc. Many people still want to go to a good Easter service (as they do Christmas), they’re just not sure where to go. Make yours stand out.
- Look out, not just in. Many Christians use Easter as a time of personal meditation and reflection, which is good. But in so doing we forget that there is a good opportunity to involve and invite friends, family, neighbours, colleagues etc. The news of the risen Christ is to be shared – think about how you can use Easter evangelistically as well as personally.
- Put time and effort into your Easter services. Most do this well but I think we’ve all been to some where the pastor has been having the week off (because his kids are off) and he figures its only really for his own folk (many of whom will go and see family) so the whole thing is shabby and badly done. Spend some real time thinking about how you welcome people, how you start and close the service, how to make the most of media and music, who else to involve, and how you can prepare a stonking message.
- Use follow up cards. The jury is still out a bit for me on these. I’m not sure the response is ever quite what we’d hope for but we’re persevering and learning as we go. Having an opportunity for someone to respond, ask for more info, enquire about a course, has got to be worth a go.
- Exercise good hospitality. Put people in your car park (if necessary), have good welcomers, go out of your way to welcome visitors from the front, get some doughnuts in for after the service, and give people real coffee (for the love of humanity!). Hospitality matters. Don’t scrimp on it.
- Diarize well. As a church try to have events and courses that lead into and out of your major seasons and services. It’s no good having an Explore course two months after your Easter service. Think about it. Make sure the Explore course starts a couple of weeks after your Easter service so that people can sign up there and then.
- Invite some people for lunch. On a more personal level why don’t you invite people to come to church on Easter Sunday with you and then to come back for lunch. Makes a bit more a day of it and helps to prevent your friends feeling like you’re only interested in press ganging them into church.
- Give a gift to visitors. Doesn’t have to be anything flash. We used a £1 book we got from 10ofthose. For each and every visitor we gave a gift to thank them for coming. All of our gifts were taken and hopefully people may read and return.
- Be there! Save the most controversial for last, but plan to be there. Bizarrely, as many people want to come to church on Easter, many Christians want to go away. They see family, take a long weekend away, or go (maybe worst of all!) to a Christian conference! You can do those things at other times of the year. Get into the field at harvest time. Now of course we’re under grace and people are at liberty to go away whenever they like but it seems to me Christians miss a trick by being away from the local church (and their local friends) at such an evangelistically strategic time of the year.
Any other top tips or thoughts?
Shameless plug alert! My boss, and Senior Pastor, here at Grace Community Church, Bedford has written a book on practical church leadership for a UK context. It’s out tomorrow and you can order yours now – best price is at 10ofthose.com. Having read the manuscript and been exposed to many of the ideas in discussion I can say that the material in the book is insightful, practical, helpful, and perhaps most important of all, doable. For the price of a pie and pint you can have three decades of practical church experience that has really worked. I don’t think there’s another book quite like it for the UK church scene so get it, read it, apply it – you’ll be glad you did.
I’ve read a number of things recently which have encouraged preachers not to ‘waggle on the tea’ but rather get on with it. Most of these comments come from bright middle class Christians who want to be fed and have little time for fluffy intros and the like. Unfortunately it’s a narcissistic approach to preaching and is no different from anyone else who wants to have their ears tickled. What the preacher has to bear in mind is that not everyone there actually wants to listen. Some will be there under duress of parents, or simply to please friends. Some of your regulars will be tired and grouchy. Some visitors will be suspicious and will suspect, before you even open your mouth, that the message will be boring, irrelevant, and untrue. The two most important questions that preachers must constantly ask in preparation are these:
- So What?
- Who Cares?
These questions are the difference between lecturing and preaching. The former seeks to convey information to an audience, and it is incumbent on the audience to pay attention. The preacher, on the other hand, expects that a number of folk will be less than ready to listen and so will work hard in the opening minutes to show people why what he has to say is massively important and relevant to those listening. If you don’t grab them in the opening couple of minutes with a mixture of ethos and pathos then the remaining 28 minutes is an opportunity lost to speak to those who were less than ready to listen. If you constantly ask the ‘so what’ and ‘who cares’ question in your preparation, not only will you communicate with those initially un-engaged, but you also communicate to your regulars that they can bring their friends because you’re interested in them and will communicate to them without ignoring or patronizing. So before you start your sermon with ‘we’re looking at Leviticus 5 this morning’ ask ‘so what’ and ‘who cares’.
This book by Gary McIntosh is one of the best books I’ve read on church life cycles and growth. McIntosh is president of the Church Growth Network in the States, and he is clearly well read and experienced – he knows his onions! This book is practical and insightful. It contains a number of helpful tools to help church leaders think wisely about where they are and where they want to go.
In Part One McIntosh examines the characteristics and needs of emerging, growing, consolidating, declining, and dying churches. He plots the life cycle of a church as the standard bell shaped curve. The time taken to travel through each stage varies but all local churches travel the same path. The key for the leader is identifying what stage you’re at, and acting to initiate that which the church needs at a particular stage of the cycle.
In Part Two McIntosh examines the characteristics and needs of different sized churches – relational (15-200), managerial (200-400), organizational (400-800), centralized (800-1500), and decentralized (1500+). Now these figures may feel like they’ve come from the other side of the Atlantic but I think his material on relational, managerial, and organizational churches is insightful and relevant for UK church culture. We do have many churches across this spectrum (not many above) and hopefully many churches who could be, or aspire to be, at to the next level.
In addition there are a number of helpful bonus pages and tools on ‘indicators for church closure’, ‘assessing your stage’, and considering staffing and structures to help growing churches. If you’re serious about seeing your church grow you can’t afford not to buy this book!
The good folks behind the YouVersion Bible app released a Bible app for kids late last year. We’ve had it on the iPad for a few months now and we (and our kids) really really like it. Here’s why:
- It’s free – yes, we’re tight and we’ll try most things that don’t cost anything
- It’s really nicely produced. The illustration and animation is great, and it’s designed to be used and accessed by kids
- It’s interactive – there are little things to do and press in the animations and there are little quiz questions running through to reinforce learning
- It’s works at different ages – little ones can have the story read to them; older ones can explore and read more on their own
- Our kids love it – they often ask ‘can we go on the bible app’ which is music to our ears.
So far there aren’t loads of stories available – creation, fall, gospel stories – but they are developing more which will be released over time. So if you want a free, well produced resource, that kids will love what have you got to lose?
Here’s a useful little tool that I stumbled across in Steve Gladen’s book Small Groups With Purpose. It’s designed to be used with small groups, and the idea is that each member fills it in on their own, and then you can discuss it together when you meet. Hopefully it might shape your small groups journey over the next 6-12 months. It’s absolutely free and only takes a few minutes to do so why not try it with your small groups and see what fruit it yields.