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what we might be missing in our preaching – geoff new

(A version of this blog first appeared on Candour)

Allow me several lead-ins to the one topic. I am still collecting my thoughts on the subject and so to help clarify my thoughts, I need to meander through some doorways.

The first is from Jeremiah 4:16:

This is what the Lord says:

‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.’

Here is a message to the people of Jerusalem who were fast losing the plot. In context, it is a divine plea for them to heed God’s voice. As a text before us in this blog it is an invitation for spiritual reflection. What constitutes “ancient paths” for us? Where is the “good way” that we might walk in them and experience rest for our soul?

The second doorway is a story told by Marsha Witten at the beginning of her book All is Forgiven. One Good Friday she is listening to a broadcast of classical music centred on the passion of Christ when she hears the snail-mail arrive. In the mail is a flyer from a local church advertising what they have on offer. The experience is jarring:[1]

On the one hand, a radio station . . . dramatizes the meaning of Good Friday by airing Bach’s intensely spiritual rendition of the suffering and fallen Jesus, drawn in the stark words of Matthew’s Gospel. On the other hand, [a local church mimics] the slick direct-mail solicitation of a credit card or insurance company, the letter contains a cheerful, practical list of the social and psychological pleasures one might receive from affiliation within its church – with no mention whatsoever of faith or God, let alone of suffering or spiritual striving.

The third doorway is like the previous one. It is a quote at the beginning of one of the chapters in Witten’s book:[2]

Secularization presents Christianity with a nasty choice between being relevant but undistinctive, or distinctive but irrelevant (David Lyon, “The Steeple’s Shadow”)

In short, in the pursuit of relevance we run the risk of losing our distinctiveness.

The fourth doorway is Paul’s “yes, but . . .” presentation of the Cross (1 Cor 1:22-25):

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

There is a point in the presentation of the Gospel where we hit limitations. Regardless of our eloquence, intellect, wisdom, skill with PowerPoint and even our faith – there still is that point whereby the Cross remains a “stumbling block and foolishness” humanly speaking.

So, for all those doorways, exactly where have we arrived?

The sum of these quotes speaks to me of the challenge of preaching the Scriptures and making them understandable to people (at best) 2000 years removed from the time they were first penned. The sum of these quotes speaks to me of the kind of ministry modelled by the preachers in Nehemiah’s day (Neh 8:8):

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

We stand at a crossroads looking for ancient paths (Jer 6) attempting to reach the world today (relevance vs distinctiveness) by proclaiming a message with a shameful and glorious image at its centre (the Cross).

Consequently, at risk of making the task seem even more difficult, I suggest there are some Biblical images/titles/vocabulary which need to be retained when preaching the Scriptures. Even though they do not translate easily into 21st Century life. I suggest that retaining them goes some way of redefining 21st Century life. I suggest that in the preaching of Biblical passages where these words appear, to airbrush them out of the story in the name of “relevance”, is to run the risk of consigning that passage to being indistinct and irrelevant.

To retain these words requires more effort to explain them in a sermon but the effort is better than replacing them. In fact, I think that to remove some of these words is to lose a sense of mystery and majesty in what God has done through the Son by the power of the Spirit.

So, my list (in no particular order and not comprehensive let alone complete):

Selah

We don’t know quite what this word really means. But there it is punctuating the Psalms time and again. The best guesstimate is that it relates to stillness/quietness/silence. I was at a seminar once run by a staff member from Regent College (Vancouver). She claimed she had overheard Eugene Peterson at lunch translate it: “shut up!” The latest NIV translation has dropped the word. I’m not.

 

Son of Man

Another tricky one. The origins appear to be in Daniel 7:9-14 whereby “one like a Son of Man” is led into the presence of the Ancient of Days. This description culminates in the declaration that (Daniel 7:14):

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

In the Gospels, this title is the most frequent self-reference by Jesus. It crops up in some very important places such as in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:10).

 

Angel of the Lord

This Old Testament being/presence/appearance invariably begins ordinarily enough (as far as angelic appearances go anyway) but invariably finishes with someone covering their face crying out that they are going to die because they have seen the face of God. They don’t die because the Angel of the Lord invariably shows grace and marks a major turning point in the previously-freaked-out-person’s-life. Who is the Angel of the Lord? Opinions range but this is no garden-variety angel. Just ask Abraham, Hagar, Joshua, Balaam’s donkey, Gideon and Samson’s parents. I think many people in the Gospels would love to compare notes with these Old Testament folk (and farm animal).

 

Exodus

This is not simply the name of one of the books of the Bible; this is the name of life. We are in either one of two states: slavery or on an Exodus. This Biblical trajectory arcs throughout the entire Biblical testimony (including Luke’s account of the Mount of Transfiguration and Peter’s final counsel to the church in 2 Peter).

 

Exile

This is not an exclusive Biblical term but it in the Bible it enjoys a unique application. Exile is another word for slavery and while it is the judgement of God it is also another excuse for God to show just how great he is at leading people in an Exodus.

 

Cross

Selah

 

Resurrection

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Cor 15:4).

 

Sin

I find the image of sin at the beginning of the Bible chilling and salutary (Gen 4:6-7):

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Like a crouching animal sin lurks at our door. I find it helpful to retain the name of this animal and not because we think we can own it as a pet.

 

Repentance

See previous entry. This word is especially important when you discover people have been deluded into thinking that thing lurking at the door is the family pet.

 

Judgement

See previous two entries. This word is one no-one wants in a sentence with their own name and/or as a descriptor of our way-of-being-Christian (i.e. judgemental etc). Maybe the problem is that in examining the noun we have misused it as a verb. Jesus is the best wordsmith concerning “judgement.” He does a lot with it and does it so well. I suggest you look at Christ’s usage in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), the Gospel of John and Revelation.

 

Satan

. . . and various other names by which this “ruler of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2) goes by. I like the balance found in the Lord’s Prayer as observed by Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas; while temptation and evil are mentioned, Satan is not mentioned by name.

I realise that seems to contradict what I am advocating in this post – retain these words/titles etc. My point is, let’s retain the memory and spiritual awareness because of the existence of the next key title . . .

 

Hell

. . . the difference between the previous point and the next point . . .

 

Lord

While the Roman context in the first century gives a lot of the New Testament engagement of “Lord” its colour and complexion; there is something about “Jesus is Lord” which transcends ALL.

Phil 2:9-11

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

And here ends the sermon. For now . . .

 

[1] Marsha G. Witten, All is Forgiven: the secular message in American Protestantism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 3-4.

[2] Witten, Forgiven, 129.

yet I call this to mind – geoff new

(This post first appeared on Candour)

Lam 3:19-23

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

These words do not belong in the place we find them: The Book of Lamentations. When you consider the sweep of Lamentations, these words seem like a slip of the pen. A major slip.

Lamentations (and the hint is in the name!) is a bleak book. This is not bedtime reading for young children let alone material for another “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kind-of publication. This book is bleak, horrifying and dark.

This ancient text is five chapters of poetry telling the story of Jerusalem as it is slowly being destroyed. However, not only are brick and mortar being besieged; so is the soul. Hope and faith are bleeding out.

The first four chapters are acrostic so that every verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Maybe the writer is saying “The suffering is so terrible that I am going to use every letter in the alphabet available to me. I am going to record the A-Z of this terrible suffering.” And maybe too, in the presence of such misery, the writer is trying to create some order in the chaos. But by the fifth and last chapter, this way of writing is dispensed with. Almost as if the effort is too much anymore.

But there – nestled in the dead centre of the book are the words of Lamentations 3:19-26. They just don’t seem to belong. But there they are; hope-filled and defiant. There they are touching on a common feature of humanity generation to generation, across the nations: the hope that things will get better.

Together – the whole Book of Lamentations and these words nestled in the middle are a metaphor for life. A picture of life.

People desperately hold onto the hope that “things will get better.” But they need help in that hope. They need examples of what that looks like. Stories which show such hope is not in vain. They need to see:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

They need to see someone standing in the dead centre of Lamentation existence centring on life. I like how one author puts it concerning King David:

“He seemed to understand something that few of even the wisest men of his day understood. Something which even in our day, when men [sic] are wiser still, fewer understand.

And what was that?

God did not have, but wanted very much to have, men and women who would live in pain. God wanted a broken vessel.” [1]

G.K. Chesterton made the point that Christians work at becoming Christ-like. Rightly so. But Chesterton goes on to make the point that as we pursue Christlikeness, we can miss something. Insofar as someone does become Christ-like (no matter how small the degree); to that extent you can then say that “Jesus is like that person.” Chesterton says such a person mirrors Christ like the moon reflects the sun. And the moon is smaller and closer, and not so blinding to look at. And therefore, if you study a person’s life who has sought to become like Jesus – it makes sense (does it not) that you might find yourself closer to Jesus than you ever realised.

I am suggesting your presence in the pulpit, embodying Lamentations 3:19-23, is akin to this dynamic amidst a life which can feel like Lamentations.

I am not suggesting that you as a preacher, embodying Lamentations 3:19-23, create a personality-cult.

I am suggesting that you as a preacher, embodying Lamentations 3:19-23, model authentic hope in Christ.

I am suggesting that insofar as people live lives which mirror the spirit of the Book of Lamentations, they need vibrant and living examples of the middle of the story; Lamentations 3:19-23.

Their lives have had those verses ripped out of their life.

Your job – and it is hard labour – is to write Lamentations 3:19-23 on the pages of their lives.

Every time you preach.

[1] Gene Edwards, A Tale of Three Kings (Tyndale: 1980, 1992), 10.

new book on preaching – “live, listen, tell: the art of preaching” by geoff new

Live, Listen, Tell: The Art of Preaching will guide readers through the process of sermon preparation and hearing God through the Scriptures. By drawing on life and Scripture, especially the road to Emmaus narrative in Luke 24, the author illustrates that preachers are living a story, listening to a story and telling a story. This book encourages you to pay particular attention, through prayer, to the story to which you are listening. Geoff New shows how to prayerfully listen to the Scriptures in preaching preparation and how the fruit of this leads to a sermon – and impacts the way we live, listen and tell.

Orders can be placed at geoffnew@xtra.co.nz ($NZ10 + postage) or from Langham Literature

Endorsements

This is a book that guides us to live, listen and tell. As we do that we ourselves as well as our listeners will experience hope and light. I have always appreciated the Ignatian gospel contemplation as a spirituality exercise but to link it with sermon preparation in such a creative way is Geoff New’s genius skill. When I was asked to write an endorsement for a manuscript on preaching I sighed and murmured to myself whether we do really need another book on preaching. Now that I have read the manuscript I have a totally different story to tell. This is a book that deserves listening and telling!

Rev Riad Kassis, PhD (Director, Langham Scholars Ministry, Langham Partnership; International Director, International Council for Evangelical Theological Education)

 

What Geoff New offers in this book is a crucial but oft-neglected step in the process of sermon preparation. Preachers first need to hear God from the text for themselves, something that many homiletic books assume but seldom give guidance on. Geoff New takes you step-by-step from listening to God through lectio divina and Ignatian Gospel Contemplation to formulating a sermon outline. This will change your sermon from merely transmitting facts to transforming lives by enabling others to listen to God as well.

Rev Maggie Low, PhD (Old Testament and Homiletics Lecturer, Trinity Theological College, Singapore)

 

Such is the effect of reading this book that I cannot now read my Bible without praying out loud. This book is unique in that it revives a long forgotten art in which believers read their Bible with a heart already surrendering to the Lord who speaks through the Bible in a living and active way throughout all the ages”

Rev Dr Ma’afu Palu (Head of Department of Biblical Studies Sia’atoutai Theological College, Tonga)

 

Geoff New has given the homiletic world a gift, a new spiritual paradigm, under which preachers can tune in to God’s voice with freshness, creativity and transforming power. Live, Listen, Tell has brought back beautiful memories of my spiritual exercises with the Jesuits. Thank you, Geoff!

Jorge Atiencia (Langham Preaching, Colombia)

 

Before you can speak God’s word, it has to speak to you. But how do you hear it speak? That is the question Geoff New answers in Live, Listen, Tell.

Jennifer Cuthbertson (Langham Preaching Coordinator for Trainer Development)

 

Geoff’s book is not a theological book we need to read with the pain. But, this book is a manual which gives the preachers the joy of ‘we can do it’.  The Asian immigrants in New Zealand are living in three worlds such as the world of their faith/tradition from Asia, the world of being immigrants in New Zealand, and the world of inter-culturalism. Honestly, it is a big burden for Asian preachers to prepare the sermon which is appropriately related to the three worlds of their church members.

It is big news for them to follow the guidelines from this book. In this book Geoff suggests a practical formula of “living a story, listening to a story and telling a story” to lighten the burden of the preachers from Asia. The Bible is full of stories of immigrants to live, to listen and to tell a story.  He reminds us that the essential skill of the preacher is “Read the bible Aloud, Think Deeply, Pray Honestly and Rest Quietly”. I strongly believe that this book is a hospitable invitation for the settlers and the immigrants of New Zealand to live a story, listen to a story and tell a story together. Let us accept it and enjoy our lives being shaped by God.

Rev Kyoung Gyun Han (Asian Ministries Coordinator of Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)

pastoral preaching – silvia purdie

Lord save us from boring sermons! Boring sermons tend to be dry or trite. Dry sermons assert ideas about God but don’t connect with real life (“So What?” sermons). Trite sermons address life’s struggles, but stay on the surface and offer easy answers (“Yeah Right!” sermons). A good sermon connects the head with the heart, and adds depth to simplicity.

Let me introduce myself. I’m Silvia Purdie, a Presbyterian Minister, these days to be found in Cashmere, Christchurch. Before that, Foxton Shannon Co-operating in the Horowhenua, then Milson Combined in Palmerston North. Before that, training in theology & Biblical studies, as you do, but far more of my life training for youth ministry, counselling, and playcentre. So I bring a people-focus to my ministry. I even managed to major in Pastoral Theology at Otago. This article invites you into an approach to crafting a sermon known as ‘pastoral preaching’.

A sermon requires a way in to a piece of scripture. Bible texts, especially familiar ones, can feel laminated, double-glazed, impenetrable. To get beneath the gloss of the obvious (i.e. boring) we need words that jump out at us, we need the text to spark interesting questions for us.

A pastoral approach makes some big assumptions about the Bible.

1) We’re not on our own here; the Holy Spirit’s job is to inspire the Scriptures, open them up and bring us fresh insights which we can share with others for the building up of the body of Christ.

2) All of Scripture is conversation, written by someone to someone. And it helps to know something about who wrote this bit, why, and to whom. A pastoral approach to preaching is interested in the people; the writer, the speaker, the actor, the observers, the hearers. You were probably taught to be cautious, to say things like “the author of”, to de-personalise scripture in case you get it wrong. Pastoral preaching pushes the other way, claiming a story-teller’s privilege to guess, to get the essence right even if you’re not 100% sure of the facts.

3) Most of Scripture is argument. It was written down because someone felt passionately enough to be bothered, because they were sufficiently opposed to other points of view. The problem for us is we only have one side of the argument. We have to imagine the opposition (why the folks in Corinth were critical of Paul, what the Pharisees would have said if you’d asked them about Jesus, what the locals would have thought of Nehemiah’s campaign). Finding the conflict in a text generates the best questions and pushes us to react.

4) Scripture is God in action. A good way to open up a text is to highlight all the verbs. Pick two verbs that clash or complement. Scripture tends to pack a lot of action into just one word; expand it in your imagination, make it into a full narrative.

5) Scripture reveals God’s heart. Centuries of male-dominated, left-brain preaching split emotion from the Word. Our job is to attend to the heart. Even the driest bits of Scripture contain emotion. Spot everything in your text that expresses feeling.

Working this way with a piece of Scripture will generate lots of possibilities. Too many! The next step is to pick something. Choose a focus; maybe a verb, one aspect of the story, an emotion or contested idea.

If you’re an intuitive you might draw a mind map; put your focus in the middle of a page and draw lines, make connections. If you’re a more structured thinker, make lists. Either way, you need to ask yourself three key questions:

  1. a) personal: how does this connect with me? What memories does this trigger? What do I actually care about here?
  2. b) context: What’s going on in our world that is relevant to my focus? … local, global, historical, contemporary …
  3. c) theology: What ideas about God are relevant to my focus? … other scriptures and convictions that round out our understanding of the being, person and action of God.

Finally, give it shape. The simplest structure for a sermon is ‘Bad News-Good News’. The first half of a sermon might open up some kind of issue, problem, dilemma, question or struggle, out of a Biblical text that also connects with our lives (especially your life). The second half might explore how God is at work to bring hope, transformation, truth, love … and invites your listeners to notice this action of God in their own lives.

And style? Try writing shorter sentences than you usually do. Try adding in more evocative language, more detail for colour, texture, drama. Try sharing more intimately about yourself, especially what’s not neat and tidy. Try asking questions and inviting conversation. Try incorporating poetry, prayer, even silence.

You can’t say everything in one sermon, and the hardest thing can be choosing what to not say. Working through a theological reflection process, with a particular emphasis on the ‘pastoral’ and relational, generates a depth of engagement which is gathered around a particular focus, one particular way in which God is at work to save and restore.

Pastoral preaching, then, does not structure a sermon into 3 logical points, or finish with ‘Application’ (i.e. telling people what they ‘should’ do). It throws webs of connection between now and then, our lives and the lives of the people who wrote and received the Bible, so that their truth might become our truth. It makes space for feelings as well as beliefs, and values personal narrative as well as ideas. As we relate to the authors and actors in scripture, so our faith is enriched and points for action become clear. No chance of being boring!!

kiwimade preaching seminar – palmerston north (4th – 8th July)

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The seminar is run over four days. Our aim is to teach you to preach sermons which are:

Faithful to the text: “You’ll learn basic skills to understand the text”
Clear: “You’ll learn basic skills to present the heart of the of the text with warmth and clarity”
Relevant: “You’ll learn to apply the text to your people”

 

Mark Grace Pastor at Feilding Bible Chapel writes, “Having done the training in 2014 I can say without a doubt this is simply the best training in New Zealand for those learning to preach for the first time, those starting out and for those who have been preaching for a while”

 
In a Level 1 preaching seminar you will be exposed to modules such as:
Why preach?
Truths to hold us
Understanding and observing the text
The journey from text to sermon
Preaching the single story of the Bible
Making the connection
The life of integrity

Each morning the theory is taught; each afternoon and evening it is put into practice. You will leave with at least three sermon outlines and a new passion for preaching the Scriptures.

Geoff New (Kiwimade Preaching co-ordinator) will be teaching the seminar.

The cost is $260 (includes lunch and dinner).

If you are interested – please fill out the contact form and we will send you a registration form and information:

book launch – wednesday 25th november (auckland)

1 - Front Cover2 - Back Cover

Langham Literature has just published “Imaginative Preaching” by Geoff New (Kiwimade Preaching Co-ordinator) and we’re having a book launch. We’d love to see you there.

The book will be on sale for $20. (Click on image above to read the book description and endorsements)

 

The event begins at 6:30 pm on Wednesday 25 November 2015 in the main lounge, Grafton Hall, 40 Seafield View Road, Grafton, Auckland.

Rt Rev Andrew Norton (Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ) will be speaking.

Andrew will also be displaying some of his photographic work. It has to be seen to be believed! Also – the “Luke: Illustrated Gospel Project” will also be launched. This is a book and CD and is a wonderful resource of art work, paraphrases and poetry from some of the main stories from Luke. The book will be available for $23 and the Book/CD combo for $30.

Food and drink will be provided. Please RSVP to geoffnew@xtra.co.nz by 20th November.

Parking is available in the hall carpark off Seafield View Rd (access from Carlton Gore Rd/Grafton Rd) and on the roads surrounding (Carlton Gore Rd, Grafton Rd)

sowing, reaping, preaching – geoff new

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hosea 10:12)

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”(Mark 4:3-9)

There is the ground. There is the call to prepare it. There is the seed. There is a variety of harvests. There is you; the bearer of the seed – the preacher.

There is the call to consider the soil of your own heart and the soil of the hearts of those who hear your proclamation of Jesus. It is not for the faint-hearted but it is for the good-hearted. It is for those who are called to bear the burden of preaching the Word. It is a burden because such a call involves power which can blind us to our weaknesses. “Break up your fallow ground” is a good word to ponder. Considering the four kinds of soil in Mark 4 is a healthy and humbling exercise to linger with.

This website, an expression of Kiwi-Made Preaching (KMP), exists to facilitate such reflection. It has been some time since we have posted an article. This website has lain fallow – we are ploughing again!

We have well over twenty contributors who will write for this website (you can read a short bio on each under “contributors” above). They are from across the spectrum of denominations and vocations; and are united in Christ and the ministry of preaching the Scriptures. A new article will be posted every week or two. You are invited to engage with the author by posting comments and questions.

Each of the contributions will be a reflection of what is current for that person. However, I have asked that from time to time contributors engage with a theme for 2013 – “The Year of Prayer: prayers preachers pray.” This is an invitation for readers to have a window into the soul of the preachers. What kind of prayers do they pray before, during and/or after preaching? What prayers preoccupy them?

For those who don’t know me (Geoff New) – I was approached by Langham NZ to assume the leadership of KMP. Paul Windsor’s contribution and vision for KMP has led us to a good place. Paul needed to relinquish the role as his own response to the mission of God continues to develop and a move to Asia seems likely. As I pondered and prayed about the role (and it took a LONG time), one of the key considerations was the intent of Langham to have a “practitioner” in the role. As someone charged with week-by-week preaching, that term resonated with me. I want to be part of something which will bless and enrich other preaching-practitioners. There is an overwhelming amount of how-to’s and gimmicks which promise much to preachers but ultimately are not good for the soul. Either that of the preacher or those to whom they preach to. My experience of KMP is that it is a movement that  endeavours to ground preachers in the Scriptures so that Biblical fruit can emerge. I want that and want to be a part of that.

A bit about me – I have been the minister of Papakura East Presbyterian Church since 1997 (hold off googling the church just at the moment – the website is under a major make-over). I studied at the Bible College of New Zealand in the mid-1990’s, then completed ordination studies at Knox College (Dunedin) and completed a DMin through the Australian College of Theology in 2011. Preaching forms the DNA to my sense of call.

So welcome to this website – or welcome back as the case may be.

There is the ground. There is the call to prepare it. There is the seed. There is a variety of harvests. There is you; the bearer of the seed – the preacher.

There is God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit.

There is the world.

May you know the power and peace of Christ as you preach and live according to the Scriptures.

geoff new – the rising cost of electricity

I wonder how many sermons could still be preached this week if the national power grid failed early Sunday morning. I wonder how many preachers would be wailing and gnashing their teeth because their sermon depended upon PowerPoint, YouTube or that must-see-movie-clip? But now there is no data-projector which means there is no multi-media which means there is no way the sermon can be preached. Not really.

I wonder about the anxiety-driven arguments (or are they urban myths?) which has led to an overuse of multimedia in preaching and an utter dependence upon it. Arguments (or urban myths) such as “but young people these days only relate to screens”; “but people’s attention span today is only [7/8/10] minutes”; “people have different learning styles” and the big-daddy of them all – “we need to stay relevant.”

Relevance. If staying relevant means losing the distinctiveness of the Christian heritage and faith; count me out. I wonder if the over-reliance upon multi-media when preaching the Scriptures is exacting a terrible cost. I suppose we could say that it is the terrible and hidden cost of electricity! That cost includes preachers losing their skill in being able to communicate with their people with nothing other than Bible in hand and a heart burning from loitering on the Road to Emmaus during their preparation. And now they stand before their people and, in concert with the Spirit, lead their people to an encounter with the Risen Christ. However, I wonder if fewer and fewer Kiwi preachers are able to do that. Yet I wonder if there is an even more horrendous cost than just a loss of skill: there is a loss of confidence in the Word.

I wonder if we have become so enamoured by the use of multi-media and image-driven preaching that we have lost our trust and confidence that the Word can be proclaimed  and received aurally and for the Word to achieve the purpose for which it was sent (Isa 55:11). As Eugene Peterson says, when we approach the Word of God the first human organ to be utilised ought to be the ear, not the eye. I wonder if the overuse of multi-media is causing a famine of the Word among the people of God.

I realise that throughout church history every age has had its version of multi-media – stained glass windows, icons and artwork. However I think the difference is that they did not displace the preaching of the Scriptures or lose their Biblical distinctiveness.  I wonder if Christ was to level a criticism at preaching (if not, worship) today, whether it might be in the tradition of His message to the Seven Churches (Rev 2-3). Specifically that the church has taken on so much of the surrounding culture (spirit-of-the-age) in this regard, that it is difficult to distinguish who is who.

If you do not think that your use of multi-media when preaching is an issue, go cold-turkey and preach without it for the next month. Then gauge whether you and your people need a fix of multi-media or whether the Spirit has enjoyed more space to move.

* * *

 

geoff new: the life and times of the preacher

In a sermon entitled, “The Real Point of Conflict Between Science and Religion”, Harry Emerson Fosdick said:

What areas of human need science has met in my lifetime! When I was born, Edison was thirty-one years old; Sigmund Freud was twenty-two; Henry Ford was fifteen; Charles Steinmetz, thirteen; Madam Curie, eleven; Orville Wright, seven; Marconi, four; Einstein, minus one.

(as quoted in K.L. Northcutt, Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 40-41).

Northcutt points out how Fosdick orientated his life and ministry with an awareness of these powerful personalities and their influence upon the context into which he preached. When I read this quote, I was challenged about how I view the world in which I inhabit and preach. I was reminded of two verses especially; “…of Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do”(1 Chr 12:32) and “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died” (Acts 13:36). These verses always grip me because of their sense of discernment and intentionality in living life for God with awareness and insight. Fosdick essentially paraphrases 1 Chronicles 12 and Acts 13 and his exercise inspires me to consider the times into which I preach week-by-week.

What are the influences and legacies which have shaped the world today? Am I competing against such forces or complementing them? Am I even aware of the influences, let alone whether I am for them or against them?! So, I have sat down and crafted my own Fosdick File. I have deliberately omitted theologians, preachers and influential Christian leaders – except for one. I simply could not find it within myself to leave her out!

When I was born, Mother Theresa was fifty-five years old; Nelson Mandela was forty-six; Sir Edmund Hillary, forty-six; The Beatles, generally mid-twenties; Muhammad Ali, twenty-three; Bill Clinton, nineteen; Steve Jobs, ten; Bill Gates, nine years old; Oprah Winfrey, nine; Osama Bin Laden was seven; Michael Jackson was six; Bono, four; Princess Diana, three; J.K. Rowling, minus 4 months; Tiger Woods, minus nine; Sam Morgan, minus ten; the four Facebook founders – generally minus eighteen.

No doubt I might have to justify why some have made my list and others haven’t – but why don’t you create a Fosdick File and post it here? From your pulpit, what does the world look like? What is your understanding of the times (1 Chr 12:32) so that you might serve the purposes of God in your generation (Acts 13:36)?

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Geoff New has been minister of Papakura East & Hunua Presbtyterian Church since 1997. He is currently working on a DMin thesis exploring the effect of using Ignatian Gospel Contemplation and lectio divina in sermon preparation.

geoff new: a funny thing happened on the way to the pulpit

What’s the funniest sermon you’ve heard? Who’s the funniest preacher you know? What’s the funniest thing you’ve said in a sermon? As far as sermons and humour go, I suggest there are four main types of “funnies” which emerge. (more…)