Thursday, 27 September 2007

Not a Post

A busy week this - so not so much a post as an excuse for not posting. And a heads up for the next few weeks. My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. I don't reckon I'm up to both a weekly newspaper article and a weekly blog post so I'm copping out. With the agreement of the editor I'm going double up and post my BT article. This means that the blog will have a slightly different feel. To chek out the Baptist times as a whole click here

The weekly poll will continue as usual.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

10 Commandments for Preachers

This week I’m going to be shouting my mouth off about preaching again. We have a bunch of newly accredited ministers at Luther King House and I’m doing some stuff with them. This set me thinking: what would be my ten commandments for preachers? Here’s what I came up with.

1. Eyeball people - really, really eyeball them. If preaching is anything it’s personal.
2. Never leave them asking, “Say’s who?” A preacher is called to minister God’s word, not to act as a guru.
3. Always raise the question, “So what?” Sermons should have implications. This doesn’t mean that you always have to spell out the answer.
4. Be yourself. There’s no need to hide who you are. When God called you to preach he called YOU to preach.
5. Put your heart into it. If it doesn’t clearly matter to you, why should it matter to them?
6. Free yourself from notes as much as possible. A sermon is meant to be an event; a manuscript is a report on an event that happened last week in the study.
7. Love words. Words are a preacher’s tool. If you can’t use words – with flair, with creativity - find something else to do.
8. Forget the adage, “Tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em.” Sure you’ll be clear … and boring as hell.
9. Make sure you preach to the people in front of you. You may not have many advantages over the apostle Paul but you are here and now and he’s not.
10. Remember you are not shutting down a conversation. If you are lucky you though you might start one. You are only a preacher after all.

Let’s be clear these make no pretension to be THE ten commandments for preachers. They are not even all mine – Clyde Fant deserves a credit for at least two of them. They may not still be the ten I’d chose in a few years time. But they’ll do for now.

I’d be interested to know what you make of them, Any other suggestions? I’d be particularly keen to hear from any who listen to sermons more often than preaching them; what would be your ten commandments for preachers?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Kaleidoscopes, Denominations, Urinals and Emerging Church

Isn’t it difficult not to compare sizes?

Last week I was in Oxford meeting with members of staff from Baptist colleges across the country. This week we’ve been inducting the new batch of ministerial students here at Luther-King House as well as starting the foundation module for all new students – Baptist, Methodist, URC, Unitarian, Pentecostal and few others - on our BA and MA programmes. In both settings it became apparent that size does matter. At least we found ourselves talking about it quite a bit.

It looks like all the Baptist colleges have reasonably healthy intakes of new students (ours is particularly big – for us anyway) but while peering over the urinal wall here in Manchester it became apparent that one of our partners is not especially well endowed. We only have one URC ministerial student starting training this year.

In fact it turns out that Nationally the URC have only six new ministerial students (four in England and two in Scotland). Now – and I know this is a big jump – this set me thinking about the viability of some of our historic denominations and indeed the desirability of a denominational future for the Church in this country.

How do emergent types feel about denominations? There would appear to be a bit of a tension here. On the one hand it almost goes without saying that there is a (sometimes naïve) anti-institutional stripe to most emergent attitudes to church. This would seem to put denominations beyond the pale. On the other hand a big part of the emergent psyche is an antipathy towards all things Modern. This comes with an attendant desire to reach back to the pre-modern and mine (or skim the surface more likely) the wisdom, resources and practices to be found in pre-enlightenment Christianity. However, it is precisely the denominations that have been the custodians of these treasures. How is this tension to likely be resolved?

It seems to me probable that emergent Anglicans will become more and more Anglican (as did many Evangelical Anglicans did in the last quarter of the 20C). But will they be able to negotiate their relationship with the denomination in a way that keeps the institutional feel to minimum so as not to alienate pm’s? Also will people continue to confuse the Fresh Expressions movement with the genuinely emergent so that many an Anglican feels they are being much more radical than in fact they are, resulting in a veneer of reform on a fundamentally modernist substructure?

Then what about Baptists? How significant is the (relatively) recently reawakened interest in things Anabaptist likely to be for the future shape of churches in the BUGB? Are there resources/wisdom/practices here that genuinely have the potential to help renew (or whatever re word you prefer) the denomination as a whole or is this likely to remain a rather weird interest for an unrepresentative and rather geeky section of the denomination? Are Baptists so thoroughly subdivided into either baby-boomer-modern or 1950’s-Isle-of-White-nostalgic-modern as to be beyond hope of anything other than a late modern surge and an ultimate post-modern demise?

Or are denominations as we have known them destined for such a fierce twist of the kaleidoscope that what emerges will be utterly unrecognisable? If so, what realignments and new births might we anticipate? Which pieces of the picture are likely to disappear altogether? And how will the mix of newly-minted and freshly-alloyed wisdom/values/practices be carried from generation to generation? (There surely has to be some institutional framework for values to survive beyond the generation of the charismatic pioneers. Or this just a hopelessly modernist way of seeing things?)

One final question: am I starting to ramble or is there something here that anyone fancies having their own two penn’worth on?

Monday, 10 September 2007

Edinburgh Archives

Any students of mission out there who have'nt yet heard should note that the Boston University School of Theology has now completed digitising the volumes of the 1910 Edinburgh mission conference. Find them here

Monday, 3 September 2007

Preaching and Stand Up

Been saying it for years but no one wanted to listen. Stand up comedy is one of the best analogies for preaching in today's culture. At least Sean Lock agrees with me ... sort of.

"Every year, more people go to stand up, more people enjoy stand up because they don’t go to church anymore, they don’t go to political meetings and they don’t have union meetings. And I think people like being told stuff, by people they consider to have an interesting or imaginative take on things."

Sean Lock Independent on Sunday - 5th August (Thanks to Ashley Hardingham for the tip off.)

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Stephen Fry and Evangelism

Are Christians too opinionated? Let me tell you what I think.

I’ve been reading my way through the first three volumes of IVP’s "A History of Evangelicalism" at the same time as reading Stephen Fry’s autobiography "Moab is my Washpot". Evangelicalism at heart has always been a populist movement. Stephen Fry is at his most engaging when he is at his most opinionated. His outbursts on music, sport and sex are hugely entertaining.

It tends to be true that the most popular, most arresting communicators are the most forthright. Consider Alan Green’s football commentaries, Geoffrey Boycott’s observations on English Cricket and Mark Kermode’s film reviews. (I listen to Radio 5 Live more than I should.)

Similarly the most effective at reaching the masses with the gospel have been straight talking. Consider John Wesley, George Whitfield, Charles Finney, Hannah More, Charles Spurgeon and Billy Graham. Like Green, Boycott and Kermode they were also controversial.

Trouble is lots of us are understandably uncomfortable with some expressions of Christianity (and forms of evangelicalism in particular) because they so easily shade over from being opinionated to being stridently dogmatic (consider for instance some of the pronouncements of the deeply unattractive organisation Christian Voice) and because they quickly descend from seeking to be accessible to becoming cheaply populist (consider the kind of evangelistic campaigns of the likes of Morris Cerrullo).

However, I fear that in reacting (quite rightly) against such expressions of the faith we run the risk of being far too diffident about speaking up for The Way. Many of the emergent types who get so much else right are too half-hearted when it comes to seeking to persuade others to follow Jesus. While on holiday I also got round at last to reading Rob Bell’s "Velvet Elvis". Bell is no mean populist himself and Velvet Elvis is full of straightforward, good sense and it presents an attractive picture of Christian faith. But like many of those singing from the same hymn sheet he is less than enthusiastic when it comes to (verbal) evangelism.

Are we capable of being popular with out being populist?
Can we be appropriately opinionated or is it a choice between cock-sure arrogance and mealy-mouthed equivocating?

This is where Stephen Fry gives me hope. There’s no doubt about it, he is both opinionated and popular. But, it seems to me, he’s also very attractive. He pulls this off because as well as being forthright he is vulnerable; as well as being straight-talking he is self-critical; as well as being passionate he is well-informed. Some important lessons here I reckon.

The clear expression of passionately held opinions is an effective way of provoking reaction and opening up debate which is a good thing … as long as we welcome that debate and are ready to engage in a well informed generous and open-minded manner.