Piper – Seeing Beauty & Saying Beautifully


A friend recommended this book to me over summer, and I’ve really enjoyed reading it. The book is about the relationship between seeing the beauty of Christ and the gospel, and expressing it in poetically powerful ways.

In the first chapter of the book Piper examines Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that he did not use lofty speech or wisdom. Piper first examines the context and meaning of Paul’s statement, in particular the sort of eloquence Paul is rejecting. He then notes the many positive examples in Scripture of the poetic and rhetorically effective.

Having made a compelling case for the value of ‘poetic effort’ Piper examines three historical figures who have been particularly influential – George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis. Each man, though very different, captured human imagination with their rhetorical and poetic effort.

In Piper’s conclusion he says,

“Poetic effort is not the effort to write poems. Poetic effort is the effort to see and savor and speak the wonder – the divine glory – that is present everywhere in the world God made . . . I don’t mean flowery or ostentatious . . . I mean penetrating, creative, fresh, striking, awakening, provocative – while not being trite, cute, faddish, corny and boring . . . as you try to find words that seem worthy of the worth of what you have seen, the worth of what you have seen becomes clearer and deeper.”

It is in itself a beautiful book, and one I heartily recommend, especially to those who labour to communicate the glorious truths of God and the gospel.

Meeting and Greeting Visitors

metal_handshakeI thought I’d do a very quick post on some simple tips to meeting and greeting visitors when they come to your church. For some people this comes very naturally, but for many others it’s nerve-wracking and painful – something to be avoided at all costs. I’m often struck by how difficult many people find it to introduce themselves to someone new. So here’s a few things that may help:

  1. People like being spoken to. We tend to think, ‘Why would they want me, a stranger, to speak to them?’ But in reality most of us like it when somebody makes the effort to say ‘hi’ and welcome us into a group. It’s not weird, it’s friendly – and it’s appreciated.
  2. Start with a smile. Not a creepy weird stalker smile. Just smile, say hi, and introduce yourself – ‘hi, I’m Martin, nice to meet you.’
  3. Offer them a drink. I don’t mean invite them out on a date. I just mean, if they’re sat down or standing looking a little lost offer to either grab them a tea/coffee or take them to get one.
  4. Keep it light. Have a few questions in your mind which are good ice-breakers in any situation – things like ‘have you been before?’ ‘are you new to the area?’ ‘how did you find about the church’? It might be the same 5 questions every time that you learn by rote – that’s fine, if that’s what it takes to get you started. Avoid overly personal questions like, ‘is this fellow the father of all of your children?’ or ‘have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?’ or ‘can you subscribe to the entirety of the 1689 Baptist confession of Faith?’ Obviously no-one would do this (right?), but do just be wary of getting too personal too quick.
  5. Fill the space. Don’t make them do all the work – talk a bit (that’s a bit, not a lot!) about yourself so it’s a conversation rather than an interrogation.
  6. Keep it brief. An initial connection only needs to be a few minutes. You don’t need a huge conversation about someone’s entire family history to show you’re pleased to have met them. An overly long or intense conversation with someone you just met can often make the other person uncomfortable. So after a few minutes don’t be afraid to say ‘it’s great to have met you’ and move on. It’s not rude, it just prevents the person you’re talking to from feeling bombarded.
  7. Involve someone else. Sometimes in conversation you find a ‘connection’ – something that connects that person to someone else in the congregation – it might be a hobby, friend, relative, or work-connection. Why don’t you introduce them – ‘come and meet Paul, he also works at the hospital.’ This helps in two ways – it helps keep the conversation light and brief, and introduces your new friend to one or two others as well. win, win.
  8. Practise. The more you do it the more natural it will become. Don’t beat yourself up if you stall or put your foot in it. Love covers a multitude of sins and people really will appreciate your kindness and friendliness.

And just a final word on returning visitors – perhaps those who haven’t been around a while. They’ll be especially sensitive to the jokes or questions around where they’ve been and why they haven’t been around. For these people just a friendly welcome, and some normal conversation is the best way to help them settle back in without feeling like they’re being judged.

What do you think? Other hints and tips on how we can do this better?


A Book Every Speaker Should Read


Here’s an excellent book I read recently – the outline is courtesy of friend and colleague, Simon Rowell:

Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED

The most engaging presentations are:

  1. emotional – touch my heart
  2. novel – teach me something new
  3. memorable – make it unforgettable


  • Unleash the master within – passion
    • You can’t inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself
    • What’s your motivation? [we have the greatest motivation!]
  • Master the art of story telling
    • Stories turn abstract concepts into tangible, emotional and memorable ideas
    • Aristotle – Ethos (65%), Logos (10%), Pathos (25%) – credible, persuasive, appealing
    • 3 simple effective story types
      • Personal stories – carefully chosen, esp with an unexpected outcome
      • Stories about other people –  create empathy
      • Stories about success – who has achieved what you’re describing – give people a hero
    • Lead with stories – avoid over-used clichés, metaphors and buzzwords.
    • Stories illustrate, illuminate and inspire
  • Have a conversation
    • Authenticity doesn’t happen naturally – practise and get feedback – use video
    • 10,000 hour rule – it takes 10,000 hours of practise to master a skill!!!
    • How do you sound / how do you look – rate, volume, pitch, pace, pauses – use a verbal highlighter
    • What’s your body language like?
    • Pay attention to these details and practise


  • Teach me something new
    • reveal something completely new, or re-packaged to your audience – a fresh / novel take on  something  known
    • People are natural explorers
    • Get out of the office once in a while – find a new work-space to get the creative juices flowing
    • Craft a Twitter friendly headline – 140 characters  brings clarity – helps recall
    • What’s the ‘one thing’ – we need to see the big picture before the details
  • Deliver jaw-dropping moments
    • the shocking, surprising or impressive moment that is moving & memorable – an emotionally charged event
    • Props and demos – compare things (iPad mini launch…as thin as a pencil)
    • So what – a showstopper moment…
  • Lighten up
    • Humour – don’t take yourself too seriously
    • Use humour to make it novel – the brain loves it
    • Anecdotes / observations / personal stories / analogies / metaphors
    • Quotes – think creatively – not just Goodreads!
    • Use video / images
    • Humour / shock / stats
  • Stick to the 18 minute rule
    • Optimum time – or build in soft breaks every 10 minutes – listening well is tiring
    • Listening / learning – drains the brain – mental activity rapidly depletes glucose
    • Creativity thrives under constraints
    • The rule of 3 – attitude / awareness / authenticity – it’s easy to remember 3 things – create a message map
      • Twitter headline
        • Supporting message 1 – Stories / stats / examples
        • Supporting message 2 – Stories / stats / examples
        • Supporting message 3 – Stories / stats / examples
  • Paint a mental picture with multi-sensory experiences
    • Think how to touch all 5 senses – learning is enhanced
    • Use pictures, not text wherever possible
    • Tell stories, don’t lecture – we can’t multi-task – cut the words
    • What do you want people to feel
    • Multisensory can mean multiple voices
  • Stay in your lane
    • Be authentic, open and transparent – most people can spot a phoney


Obviously some of the above is more or less relevant to preachers. For example, we’re not trying to invent a message or sell a product. Nevertheless there’s still plenty here that is helpful to reflect on if we want to improve as communicators. What do you think? Anything missing? Where do we need to do most work? Thoughts, comments etc. most welcome.

C:\Users\Martin\Desktop\message map.jpg


Heads, Hearts, Hands, and the Homeless

Here’s a guest post from a mate who’s been doing some hard thinking about how to free up and use more of his financial resources to help others. 


This is a highly unusual morning.

I find myself on a busy street with a bag full of sandwiches that I’ve just bought from the supermarket.

This is the street I usually walk along to get to and from work – have done for the last few years. And it is lined with homeless people.

As I walk, I hand a sandwich to the first homeless person I see, then the next, and the next, until I’m out of sandwiches.

Definitely not something I’d usually do.

See, I walk this street twice a day, to the salaried job that pays the bills for the house that I live in and the car that I drive. The pavement is a bit cracked but that’s fine because I have shoes on my feet. I’m not cold from the waist down because (you’ll be pleased to hear) I’m wearing a quality pair of jeans. In the pocket of my jeans is my iPhone. On my iPhone I’m listening to music on Spotify, for which I pay £10 a month.

But because of some things I’ve been learning and thinking about recently, I can no longer walk past the people who have nothing but the cardboard they’re sitting on, and the clothes they’re wearing, without doing SOMETHING. Anything.

Do I think I can change the world with five quid’s worth of sandwiches? Absolutely not.

Do I think I can change my own heart for the homeless with it? Absolutely.

This unusual walk to work – which I end up repeating on the same day the following week, and the next – is not a one-man crusade against hunger and homelessness in the UK. It is the first step of responding to part of Jesus’ message I’ve been learning about, something I believe God is specifically putting on my heart right now.

It feels like everywhere I turn, everything I read, every sermon or podcast I listen to at the moment, they all seem to be talking about loving God by loving the needy. I don’t think this is the only way to love God, and our salvation is by grace and not by works. But everything I’m learning and absorbing at the minute is echoing the same message, referring to the same verses in the Bible, the same teachings of Jesus.

Proverbs 31 talks about speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defending the rights of the poor.

In Matthew 25 Jesus said that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick and visit the prisoner, we do it for him. He’s saying that to love the poor is to love God Himself. And God is interested in our very real, very physical, very human experience.

For too long, I’ve looked at these things as cosy metaphors for feeding the ‘spiritually hungry’ with the ‘bread of life’, giving the ‘spiritually thirsty’ a drink from the ‘living water’, clothing the ‘spiritually naked’ with ‘royal robes we don’t deserve’. Whilst I think this is all true and good (this is a ‘both/ and’ situation), the reality is that we live in a world where people have very real, desperate physical needs.

1.75 billion people are desperately poor. 1 billion are hungry. 80% of the world’s wealth belongs to 20% of the world’s population. There’s enough food in the world for every single human to never be hungry. The Earth is doing its job (God is providing through the produce of the land). The problem is with our distribution.

We are the wealthiest generation of Christians ever. And we have the opportunity and resources to do something. Anything.

Three questions I came across in Max Lucado’s book ‘Out Live Your Life’:

  1. Had you been a German Christian during World War II, would you have taken a stand against Hitler?
  2. Had you lived during the Civil Rights movement in the South [of America], would you have taken a stand against racism?
  3. When your grandchildren discover that you lived in a day in which 1 billion people were hungry, how will they judge your response?

Max goes on to say “I don’t mind first two questions, they’re hypothetical and I like to think I’d have done the right thing. But those days are gone and those choices weren’t mine. But the third question has kept me awake at night.”

Here’s a short sentence that is transforming every part of my day right now: We can bring some of the Kingdom of Heaven to people who are experiencing Hell on Earth. Read it again. Then get a tattoo of it.

So we’re taking baby steps, and we’re listening, and we’re responding, in whatever small way we can to start using our resources, our time and our finances.

It’s the same reason I’ve decided to volunteer with my local Street Pastors, and give time to a local soup kitchen run by a neighbouring church.

It’s the same reason that we’ve recently started to sponsor a child in Africa through a charity. (Although, side note – once you’ve made what you think is a big bold move by signing up with your however-many-pounds per month to sponsor one child, you INSTANTLY realise you could have afforded a second. And what about a third? “Cold my warmest thoughts” as Newton’s hymn says).

Even if I never ever do the sandwich thing again, it’s dragged me out of myself and pointed my heart in the direction of empathy and generosity, so God has been at work.

I don’t think we’ve got the whole way forward sussed out. There may be more effective ways of using our resources that I’m going to learn about in the coming weeks and months. There’s definitely more we could be doing. But if we are hearing from God then I need to respond. I need to throw my actions out ahead, and let my heart catch up, let God teach me through it, lead me through it, open me up to new things, new perspectives, let him speak and teach through the experiences.

Andy Stanley’s Top 5 Leadership Lessons

andy stanley

I regularly listen to Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast. Each one is short (20 mins), pithy, and packed full of practical wisdom. A little while ago he did a two-parter on leadership lessons learned in the first 20 years of North Point Community Church (the church he pastors). I listened to it yesterday and thought his five insights were worth sharing – so here it is, along with a hearty recommendation you subscribe to his podcast:

  1. A quality product is essential. [Here a caveat is necessary . . . Andy’s podcast is aimed much wider than just church leaders so he’ll often use more corporate business language – don’t get hung up on it – sift the gold]. In essence he’s saying doing things really well matters. Giving your best to all you do is crucial if you want to see the thing you’re involved with flourish. [And to anticipate more objections, more caveats – of course the gospel doesn’t need us to ‘make it’ a quality product, and God is sovereign in building his church. He’s just saying let’s take our responsibility to steward God’s gifts seriously. Unless you’re a hyper-Calvinist this shouldn’t trouble you]. Pursue excellence – it honours God and inspires people.
  2. Build a culture of continual improvement. One of the mantras around North Point is ‘make it better.’ How can you keep developing and improving what you do. Without this a culture of complacency and mediocrity can quickly set in.
  3. Have a clear statement of your mission. Everyone in your team should be able to articulate it quickly and easily. You should be able to print it on a T-shirt. Andy argues that there is a real power in a clear mission statement. Knowing what you’re about liberates people to know what to get on with, and also what not to be doing.
  4. Develop a culture of learning. This is linked to number 2 above, but this one is more concerned with things like reading, conferences, webinars etc etc. Andy argues that one of the ways you keep people inspired, motivated, and improving is to be constantly curious. Keep handing out things to read, and make time as a team to talk through what you’re learning. Not all of it will be useful, but you’re training a mindset which in the long-term will pay dividends.
  5. Assemble to best team you can. As Jim Collins would say, ‘Get the right people in the right seats on the bus.’ Andy’s memorable phrase for this is ‘the people you choose are more important than the system you use.’ And we know it’s not always possible (or even desirable) in volunteer organisations to be overly picky – but the principle is good I think. Where you can, get the right people in the right places and lots of other things take care of themselves.

So there you have it – Andy Stanley’s 5 most important lessons from 20 years of leadership. I think these are helpful because they apply broadly – whether you’re in business, para-church, local church, leading a team or small group. Whatever you’re doing there’s something here to reflect on and apply. So grab a coffee, and a pen and paper, and think about how you might put some of these into practise in your sphere of responsibility.

A Really Helpful Tool For Your Small Group


So here’s a little tool we’ve used for a while which I think, though small, can be really helpful. Brace yourselves . . . It is . . . The weekly notice sheet. Exciting eh! Not what you were hoping for? Bear with! Here’s some ways you can make it work for you:

  • If you include some kind of ‘what’s on’ section you can pray through that in your small group.
  • As well as praying through the ‘what’s on’ you could use it as a little reminder/encouragement where you want people to respond to something.
  • If your small groups use their time to talk about Sunday’s sermon then you can include things like the passage, a few questions to be thinking about, and a big blank space for notes. People can then bring that to your small group as an aide-memoir.
  • If you print song words in your notice sheet/meeting guide you could use some of those to fuel your prayers at different points in your time together.
  • During your small group session people could annotate their notice sheet with further reflections/prayer requests to take into the rest of the week.
  • You could encourage people to file their notice sheets somewhere, perhaps just for a couple of months, and then pick out an old one to see the ways in which God has answered prayers.
  • Once all this is done you could have a paper-aeroplane competition to bring a little crazy to your tea and hob-nobs sesh.

If you’ve other ideas on how to make the most of your weekly meeting guide/notice sheet then do please comment and share your ideas.

Six Models of Contextual Theology

bevansmodels bevans

Stephen Bevans’ book, of the above title, isn’t a new book (first published in 1992), but it is new to me and I did find it helpful in thinking through an important issue, so I thought I’d share a brief synopsis of its contents. He outlines six models of contextualisation as follows:

  1. The Translation Model – this is the attempt to take the truths of the gospel and find ways to make them understandable to a different culture (think Acts 14, 17).
  2. The Anthropological Model – this approach begins with the ‘host’ culture, and assumes its basically good. It’s the opposite of the translation model. It’s attempting to recognise the good, or the ways God is already at work, in the culture. Not so hot on seeing the places where the gospel may directly challenge a culture.
  3. The Praxis Model – essential views theology as something that needs to be practised first, reflected on later (to misuse Jam 1:22). Practice, reflection, practice in unending spiral of learning. Ditch the books; just do something. Right to emphasise the need for ortho-praxy, but how do you know what that looks like without ortho-doxy?
  4. The Synthetic Model – This model seeks to balance the insights from the first three models in synthesis. A sort of theological ‘fence-sitting.’ Always ‘both/and.’ Dialogue and openness to listen and learn are important. Humility good, but a potential danger of selling out.
  5. The Transcendental Model – this model is less interested in the theology than the theologian. The truth isn’t out there, it’s in here, and needs attending to. The emphasis is not on the object of knowledge but the knowing subject. Theology intensely private and personal. God revealed in personal experience, not Scripture or historical tradition/teaching. Navel-gazing! [This is the one model I’m struggling to see any redeeming feature in – of course self-awareness is important, but to make it the final epistemological arbiter is bonkers]
  6. The Countercultural Model – this model recognises that ‘the gospel always presents a “challenging relevance” to the human situation.’ The culture is treated with a degree of suspicion. Rightly recognises the church as resident aliens, but in danger of ignoring common grace, and even becoming ‘anti-cultural.’

Here’s a few extra things to note:

  • Bevans is writing from a Catholic perspective and argues that each model is potentially valid. With this I’d disagree (in particular on model 5). So you’ll have to do the work of evaluation yourselves.
  • These models represent a spectrum with countercultural at one end, and anthropological at the other. Neat and tidy models are always difficult, but I think Bevan’s outline is broadly illuminating.
  • Most of these models (with the exception of #5 I think) offer something positive to reflect on, given the appropriate nuance, care, and balance.
  • Perhaps the most important thing that strikes me from all this: WE ALL DO THIS! This isn’t the reserve of academics. All of us form our beliefs from somewhere, and we all think about how to live out those beliefs vis-a-vis others. Some of us will instinctively take the counter-culture, others the anthropological, others will like the balance of the synthetic, and some of us, if we’re honest do the transcendental thing – belief based on feelings or experiences. We all have theology, and we all have ways of living it out – that right there my friends is contextualisation. In fact Bevans says in his intro (rightly I think), ‘there’s no such thing as “theology”; there is only contextual theology.’ He goes on to define contextualisation as ‘the attempt to understand Christian faith in terms of a particular context.’ And who of us can say we don’t do that (or worse, aren’t interested in that). I know there’s a debate somewhere about the legitimacy of contextualisation. Seems to me we all do it. The real question is whether you’re doing it consciously and reflectively. And a consciously reflective contextual theology will be aware of other contexts as well as their own – past, present, global etc. All these things help us to be, in simple terms, responsible theologians. THAT you contextualise what you believe is beyond doubt in my view. HOW you do it is the key thing to reflect on.