Gospel Economics

Here’s a little thought experiment I did at Grace last weekend. We were looking at the parable of the shrewd manager, thinking about how to use our money wisely in light of future realities.

I was encouraging folk to think about how to invest in eternity, specifically in their financial giving to gospel work. Lot’s of us think our little bit won’t really make any difference. But think about it this way.

Suppose someone from Grace earned an average wage across their working life. An average salary where we are (according to the last census) is around 27k.

If they gave a tenth to gospel work that’d work out as follows:

  • 200 quid a month
  • 2,5k a year
  • 25k over ten years
  • 100k over a working life
  • If 10 people did this that’d be 1 million
  • If 100 people did this that’d be 10 million
  • If 100 churches of 100 people did this that would equate to 1 bn to gospel work in a 40 years period

A little faithfulness can go a long way. We just need the vision to see it, and the determination to do it.

Spurgeon Quotes on Preaching

Here’s a few great quotes from a great man on preaching that really connects:

On introductions . . .

“I prefer to make the introduction of my sermon very like that of the town-crier, who rings his bell and cries, ‘Oh, yes! Oh, yes! This is to give notice,’ merely to let people know that he has news for them, and wants them to listen. To do that, the introduction should have something striking in it. It is well to fire a startling shot as the signal gun to clear the decks for action.”

On variety in delivery . . .

“What a pity that a man who from his heart delivered doctrines of undoubted value, in language the most appropriate, should commit ministerial suicide by harping on one string, when the Lord had given him an instrument of many strings to play upon! Alas! alas! for that dreary voice, it hummed and hummed like a mill-wheel to the same unmusical turn, whether its owner spake of heaven or hell, eternal life or everlasting wrath. It might be, by accident, a little louder or softer, according to the length of the sentence, but its tone was still the same, a dreary waste of sound, a howling wilderness of speech in which there was no possible relief, no variety, no music, nothing but horrible sameness.”

On appealing to interests . . .

“I suggest again that in order to secure attention all through a discourse we must make the people feel that they have an interest in what we are saying to them. This is, in fact, a most essential point, because nobody sleeps while he expects to hear something to his advantage. I have heard of some very strange things, but I never did hear of a person going to sleep while a will was being read in which he expected a legacy, neither have I heard of a prisoner going to sleep while the judge was summing up, and his life was hanging in jeopardy. Self-interest quickens attention. Preach upon practical themes, pressing, present, personal matters, and you will secure an earnest hearing.”

On stories . . .

“I have often seen some poor fellow standing in the aisle at the Tabernacle. Why, he looks just like a sparrow that has got into a church, and cannot get out again! He cannot make out what sort of service it is; be begins to count how many people sit in the front row in the gallery, and all kinds of ideas pass through his mind. Now I want to attract his attention; how shall I do it? If I quote a text of Scripture, he may not know what it means, and may not be interested in it. Shall I put a bit of Latin into the sermon, or quote the original Hebrew or Greek of my text? That will not do for such a man. What shall I do? Ah! I know a story that will, I believe, just fit him.”

On feedback . . .

“Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely, What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool! Correct yourself diligently and frequently, or you will fall into errors unawares, false tones will grow, and slovenly habits will form insensibly; therefore criticize yourself with unceasing care. Think nothing little by which you may be even a little more useful. But, gentlemen, never degenerate in this business into pulpit fops, who think gesture and voice to be everything.”

On preaching Christ . . .

“Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, PREACH CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him… We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.”

On brevity . . .

“Brevity is a virtue within the reach of all of us; do not let us lose the opportunity of gaining the credit which it brings. If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better. Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit. We are generally longest when we have least to say.”

On character . . .

“We have all heard the story of the man who preached so well and lived so badly, that when he was in the pulpit everybody said he ought never to come out again, and when he was out of it they all declared he never ought to enter it again… We do not trust those persons who have two faces, nor will men believe in those whose verbal and practical testimonies are contradictory. As actions, according to the proverb, speak louder than words, so an ill life will effectually drown the voice of the most eloquent ministry.”

On prayer . . .

“Prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon; in fact, nothing can so gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God to speak with men. None are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf.”

Disciplines necessary to good hermeneutics

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Grant Osborne in his The Hermeneutical Spiral outlines four disciplines necessary to good exegesis. These are:

  • Exegetical theology – understanding of biblical languages, semantics, grammar, structure, backgrounds etc etc.
  • Biblical theology – understanding the wider narrative arc, and the progression of themes and ideas through the canon of Scripture. It won’t necessarily make it any easier to answer questions regarding the place of the law in the Christian life – but it will at least make you aware of trajectories and fulfilments.
  • Systematic theology – understanding the overall relationships and syntheses of ideas and doctrines across the entirety of Scripture. Systematics helps you exercise proper caution when you read, for example, ‘you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.’ (Jam 2:24)
  • Historical theology – understanding of the ways in which the church has understood passages and ideas throughout history. If you’re the first person to ever see something that should at least encourage you to pause for thought.

Osborne’s little grid is a really helpful reminder of the various disciplines we need to keep working on – particularly those of us who are pastor-generalists. It encourages us to engage in the various areas regularly and often, and it warns us against dismissing one or other, or becoming fixated on one as the most important thing.

A gently growing understanding across these four areas will help the pastor-theologian grow in wise and faithful handling of Scripture in public and private.

Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple: Where Wrath and Mercy Meet

Part of my PhD work has been in the Major Prophets and Luke-Acts. In revising I came across something mind-blowingly cool in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in Luke 19:45-46.

As he drives out the traders, he combines quotations from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. To anyone familiar with those texts we’d have to say, on the face of it, those two texts don’t belong together.

Isaiah 56:1-8 speaks to a day of restoration, when foreigners will be welcomed into God’s temple and given an enduring name. They will be brought to God’s holy mountain, and there will be great joy as God’s house is called a ‘house of prayer for all nations.’ It speaks of a great joyous restorative in-gathering.

Jeremiah 7 on the other hand is a word of judgement. The people are called to reform their ways, to put away their oppression, and to stop basing their security on the fact the temple exists. God’s anger and wrath will be poured out because of the people’s idolatry and injustice. This is a judgement text.

So, back to Luke 19:45-46, we find Jesus announcing that the temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but instead it stands as a den of robbers. Jesus’ triumphal entry brings together a word of salvation and a word of judgement in the same breath. As we anticipate where this story is heading we may ask the question, ‘how will Jesus bring salvation through judgement? How can wrath and mercy meet?’ And for those of us who know where the story is headed we know that the cross will provide the answer to this apparent riddle.

Cool, no!?

Notes from Andrew Heard on the Importance of Clarity in Leadership

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I was fortunate enough to be at a conference last week listening to Andrew Heard on leadership. He has loads of great practical wisdom and insights, and I thought I’d share some rough notes from his first session, in the hope they may be of some benefit to someone somewhere. Here are his seven areas in which clarity is important for good leadership:

  1. Be clear on our role as heralds. First and foremost we are heralds of a message of good news. Never let that become secondary.
  2. Be clear on the priority of ministering for response. Numbers matter. Metrics matter (see early chapters of Acts). Numbers represent people, and people’s lives and eternities matter enormously. It’s not ungodly or unfaithful to think numbers, because numbers represent souls.
  3. Be clear on our role in growth. We’re not hyper-Calvinists. Our inputs do correlate to outputs. In Acts 13:48 we’re told, ‘all who were appointed for eternal life believed.’ In Acts 14:1 we’re told that Paul and Barnabas ‘spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.’ Both-and not either-or. We need to take much more seriously our part in the results (or lack of) we’re seeing. Hiding behind God’s sovereignty and just ‘being faithful’ isn’t actually being faithful.
  4. Be clear on our role as pastors. Pastors aren’t primarily chaplains. The end of Psalm 77 and Psalm 78 tell us that Moses and David were shepherds of the people. Therefore shepherding isn’t just about the one-to-one. It’s also about large scale organising.
  5. Be clear on what the church is. It’s both organism (Acts 2) and organisation (Acts 6). To provide well for sheep requires a fair degree of organising, management, and leadership. Don’t neglect this aspect.
  6. Be clear on discipleship. This isn’t just for gifted Bible-teachers. Everything we do in church should be helping people learn, grow, and develop more and more into the likeness of Christ. The whole church should be a disciple-making ecosystem. It shouldn’t be seen as the preserve of those who are good at intensive one-to-one work.
  7. Be clear on outcomes. Most of think about the inputs – the things we want to do. We need to be much clearer on outcomes – why are we doing these things? What are we aiming for? How do we get there? Don’t fire an arrow and paint the target afterwards!

I appreciate we may not all agree with everything here, and may want to add nuance to this or that, but I find Andrew Heard immensely stimulating, and I think in the main I agree with his basic theses. If you get chance to check out some of his stuff online its well worth your time.

Good Advice For Younger Leaders

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I recently finished reading How to Break Growth Barriers by Carl George and Warren Bird. There’s lots of helpful material in the book, and I certainly recommend it. There was one particular section I found especially helpful on how to care for different types of folks in your church. Here’s a diagram:

older longer younger newer

George and Bird identify the four groups, then advise how to wisely care for the different groups as follows:

  1. Those who are younger than you, and have been around the church for less time. These are the easiest to lead in some ways. They recognise you as their leader and are willing to submit to your leadership. They like the more ‘pioneering’ and ‘visionary’ voice and positively want you to stretch and challenge them.
  2. Those who are younger than you, but have been around longer. They too will be open to your leadership. They may be more attached to the ideas of those who’ve been around longer; they may not. You need to take them with you, but generally they’re willing to be led.
  3. Those who are older than you, but are newer to the church. These people come with experience (good and bad) and may be slightly suspicious of the younger leader with their dreams and schemes. That said, they come into something already existing (and hopefully with some momentum), and provided you don’t patronise them, they will be glad to lend a hand and get involved.
  4. Those who are older than you, and have been around longer than you. George and Bird suggest that these may be the hardest group to lead. They may be resistant to change and new ideas. They’ve seen dreamers and schemers come and go, and they may remember the past with rose-tinted specs. The leader needs to appreciate not only what these folks can offer now, but all the work they’ve done before you were a twinkle in your daddy’s eye. They value being consulted, listened to, conversed with, and genuine appreciation. The great danger (according to George and Bird) is because these folk can sometimes be difficult the young leader ignores them, and focuses all their attention on the younger generation. This further alienates and discourages the older wiser group.

There’s much else in the book that is worthy of your attention, so why don’t you buy a few copies and read it with your team.

 

Politics and Social Media

With a General Election just weeks away, it’s that time again when all sorts of inflammatory political posts fill up TwitFace, and I’d like to take a minute (just sit right there) to urge us toward thoughtfulness, clarity, charity, and civility. So here’s a few thoughts:

  • Consider your words (Prov 12:18) – words have power to build up and encourage, or tear down and destroy.
  • Consider what you re-post – not every wit out there deserves more air time (Eph 5:4)
  • Consider the best case of those with whom you disagree (Jam 1:19)
  • Put yourself in their shoes – how difficult must it be to try and represent diverse groups and view-points?
  • Consider their aims and motives – I suspect (maybe I’m naive) that most MPs and political parties want to see people flourish, but they will have different visions of how that may be achieved in the short, medium, and long-term
  • Think the best, not the worst of others (1 Pet 3:8)
  • Exercise caution. Get informed before you hit ‘share’ – it is possible that what you’re about to share is libellous – therefore illegal as well as immoral (Prov 18:7)
  • Represent the best case of those with whom you disagree – don’t fall into the promotion of cheap-shot caricatures (Exod 23:1)
  • Don’t believe everything that’s on Facebook! (Prov 14:15)
  • Add value – contribute something positive – don’t just rant and rave (Eph 4:29)
  • If you’re unsure, don’t post it – your moment of doubt probably exists for a reason (Prov 21:23)
  • Think about arguments – which ones are good and bad – and why?
  • Talk about these things more than you post – it’ll make you think more carefully about your arguments and how you express them
  • Pray more than you post! (1 Tim 2:1-4) – nuff said!
  • Trust that God is control (Rom 13:1)
  • Go back and read the above Bible verses if you decided to skip them

What other principles would you include in thinking about our engagement with politics on social media?

Just a Jolly Good Newbigin Quote

The debate about the nature of the Church’s mission continues . . . The concern of those who see mission primarily in terms of action for God’s justice is embodied mainly in programs carried on at a supra-congregational level by boards and committees, whether denominational or ecumenical. The concern of those who see mission primarily in terms of personal conversion is expressed mainly at the level of congregational life. The effect of this is that each is robbed of its character by its separation from the other. Christian programs for justice and compassion are severed from their proper roots in the liturgical and sacramental life of the congregation, and so lose their character as signs of the presence of Christ and risk becoming mere crusades fueled by a moralism that can become self-righteous. And the life of the worshipping congregation, severed from its proper expression in compassionate service to the secular community around it, risks becoming a self-centered existence serving only the needs and desires of its members. Thus both sides of the dichotomy find good reasons for caricaturing each other, and mutual distrust deepens.

10 Mistakes Leaders Make

mistakes

This post is really a plug for a great little book I read last week by Dave Kraft called Mistakes Leaders Make. It was published in 2012 (I’m a little behind the times!) as a follow up to his equally brilliant Leaders Who Last. Here are his ten chapter titles to whet your appetite:

  1. Allowing Ministry to Replace Jesus
  2. Allowing Comparing to Replace Contentment
  3. Allowing Pride to Replace Humility
  4. Allowing Pleasing People to Replace Pleasing God
  5. Allowing Busyness to Replace Visioning
  6. Allowing Financial Frugality to Replace Fearless Faith
  7. Allowing Artificial Harmoney to Replace Difficult Conflict
  8. Allowing Perenially Hurting People to Replace Potential Hungry Leaders
  9. Allowing Information to Replace Transformation
  10. Allowing Control to Replace Trust

I’d recommend buying the book for your team and talking about a chapter every time you meet. It’s that rare combination of being super-readable, practical, and profound. Just buy it already!

The Five Stages of Competence

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I’ve been doing a little training with our small group leaders recently. We’ve been talking about how to train and develop new leaders, and I’ve been using a well-known little matrix which related consciousness and competence. The grid identifies four stages of development as follows:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – there’s stuff out there that you don’t know how to do, and you don’t know that you don’t know how to do it. For most people who are part of teams or small groups this is where they sit. They know stuff happens but they don’t really know (or necessarily care) how it happens.
  2. Conscious incompetence – at some point you may be asked to contribute something to your small group or team. At this point you suddenly become painfully aware that you don’t know how to do what you’re being asked to do. Just the request brings on the sweats. You didn’t used to care; now you’re terrified of something that you used to take for granted when someone else did it.
  3. Conscious competence – eventually given enough support, opportunity, encouragement and practise you’ll achieve a level of competence in a task. You’ve worked out how to do something and how to make it work reasonably well. You still get nervous, but your confidence is growing.
  4. Unconscious competence – further down the track still and you’ve reached the point where performing a particular task feels straightforward and relatively simple to you. You won’t worry about doing it, and you may not have to think too hard – it’ll come almost as second nature.

Within this cycle there are a couple of danger points. The first comes between stages 2 and 3. First efforts at something are often not our best and the ‘pit of despair’ can swallow us up, never to emerge again. But there’s another danger point at stage 4. It seems to me that this shouldn’t really be the point we finish the process. If we get to the point where we are unconsciously competent, how do we train and develop others? How do we grow ourselves? If we stop at stage 4 we’ll think we’ve arrived and will stop growing. Worse, when others ask us for our help we won’t know what to say. Somebody will say to us, ‘how do you do that?’ Our answer will be, ‘mmm . . . not sure really – just sort of do.’

So I think we need a 5th stage which we might call ‘reflective competence.’ We need to be able to define why something works and where it can be improved so that we can keep developing and growing, and so that we’re able to train others. And it’s often only as we’re called to train and develop others that we really begin to learn ourselves.

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