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preaching and leadership – kevin ward

Leadership-Simon-Granner1

Increasingly when the challenges facing the church are discussed, leadership becomes a major focus. There are now a multitude of books on leadership in the church, but sadly if you pick up almost any I can almost guarantee you will find nothing on preaching. In the minds of many ministers preaching and leadership are two different things. So, many ministers concerned to grow their churches by providing good leadership give a small amount of time to the task of preaching so they can spend time on planning, organising, administrating, strategizing and so on.

Many of us are heirs of the Protestant reformation. A key principle of the reformers was ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, “the church reformed is always being reformed”. They didn’t just reform the church back then once and for all, but recognised it would need to be continually reformed. But the principle by which it would continue to be reformed was to be the same – in the light of the Word of God, and so Luther and Calvin primarily reformed the church through preaching.

The Church of Scotland building on this has defined the role of ordained ministry as: to represent Christ in the faithful proclaiming of the Word and the right administration of the Sacraments and so ensure the possibility of such reform and renewal. As the Church wrestles with questions of structural reform and spiritual renewal today it needs today it needs a ministry whose calling is to keep before it the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness.

Much of the talk today about the need for visionary leaders focusses on having a leader who will be able to articulate a vision for what the church should be and do. I would basically agree with that but critical question needs to be asked. Whose vision is it? What vision is it we should keep before the church? Dave Hansen writes: My ideas for the church, even those inspired by the Holy Spirit, have no place in the pulpit; they are not the material for proclamation. Preaching our visions and ideas for the church is cheap leadership and it is not preaching. Sadly I would have to say I have seen far too much visionary leadership which is merely the minister’s vision for the church and is often far removed from what that of Christ, who is its head (Ephesians 1), might be.

We who are ministers need to be constantly reminded that it is not our church but Christ’s body and therefore in our preaching it is our task to present Christ so that the people who are its members might encounter him and so be transformed by the Spirit into the kind of the community that really does reflect our being his body. When true preaching takes place the main actor is not the preacher, nor the congregation, but God. As Tom Wright puts it: Preaching is meant to be an occasion when so to speak, God happens… and we know we have been addressed, healed, confronted and kindled by the one who made us and loves us. And when that happens we are transformed into a living, breathing, visible, communal sign of the in breaking of the kingdom of God where Christ reigns.

This is preaching’s wonderful task; to evoke an alternative community that lives for a different agenda, that of God and God’s kingdom. Walter Brueggemann says that: Pastors are world makers. Like the prophets of Israel, we render a new world through our words… And if you won’t let God use you to make a new world, through faithful words, then all you can do is service the old one. The reformers were concerned with the reformation of the church not just individuals and one of the weaknesses I see in much preaching is that it is addressed purely to individuals, either addressing personal needs or calling individuals to better lives. There is an element of this but primarily in the context of the church it is addressed to the community, calling it in its life together to bear witness to the gospel and setting before it a vision of what that might look like. This is the role of leadership and so nothing is more central for leaders than giving ourselves to the task of preaching.

on preaching the lectionary text – kevin ward

SundayLectionarySidebar

Most of my Christian life and ministry has been spent in the evangelical free church tradition. In that tradition my approach to preaching was expository, working through whole books of the bible.

When I moved to the Presbyterian Church and began to teach at Knox College I encountered a whole new world for me, that of the lectionary. I had heard occasional mention of it, but never really knew much about it. Most of the people I engaged with in the Presbyterian and Anglican churches never used it. I still find many of the students who come to us at Knox do not use it either.

However it did not take long for me to become a strong supporter. For those of you who have little knowledge of it, it gives a selection of readings (usually four) for each Sunday of the year working through a three year cycle and covering most of the Bible in that time. Each week there is an OT reading, a psalm, a NT reading and a gospel. The readings follow the cycle of the Christian calendar. So why have I become such an advocate.

In Luke 4 when Jesus got up to speak he stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. There is a great value and merit in preaching from scripture as it comes to us, rather than from what we choose. It reinforces the fact that preaching is about God and scripture rather than me and my ideas.

It means that the breadth of scripture is covered rather than our own pet themes. My tradition is evangelical and we always saw ourselves as being biblical, unlike those other ‘liberal’ mainline churches. What I have come to discover though is that more of scripture is read and heard in most of those churches than most of the bible believing churches I previously belonged to.

The lectionary follows the church calendar. Again this was something I vaguely knew existed, but apart from Easter and Christmas never entered calculations. How much I have been valuing Advent over the past few weeks, and have come to understand the importance of Lent in our Christian journey. It also gives a theme each week around which the whole worship service can be shaped. Worship thus becomes a holistic formational event for the community together and our own lives.

Following on from this it enables the whole church to journey together during the week and the year, especially if all are encouraged to use the lectionary for their own devotions. It means the whole community comes to worship to God and listen to the message having already engaged with the text and what God might be saying.

Using the lectionary connects us with the church globally. I know not all churches follow the lectionary, and there are variations in different versions, but never the less many churches (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) follow it and have for centuries, and the sense that we are reading and hearing from the same scripture each week helps to encourage the sense of catholicity and unity.

Finally I have been amazed how often one of the texts for the week speaks in to the situation of the community or individuals in the place I am preaching. I must admit I found this when I was preaching regularly following a book of the bible while in local church ministry. Today most of my preaching is occasional in a variety of contexts, but my first call is always to look at the lectionary and I continued to be surprised how often I can see how appropriate it is for what I know of the situation – or discover afterwards it has been.

If you have not used the lectionary, why not at least find out what it is, and use it for a period. Perhaps begin by using it for one of the seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter or Pentecost. You may discover a whole new dimension in your preaching.

where is god in our sermons? – kevin ward

where is god

I have recently been involved in facilitating a group from a congregation endeavouring to identify what its future shape should be. As often it quickly focussed on the shape of its worship and among the proposals made was shortening the length of the sermon and having time for response in ‘which people could discuss/debate a sermon’. It immediately made me realise that this idea represented a basic misunderstanding of what we are endeavouring to do in preaching.

A recent book on preaching, drawn from feedback provided by those who listen, helped to emphasise the major concern I have about preaching. ‘I like good music and my church friends, but I come on Sunday hoping for inspiration from the sermon to encourage my spiritual growth.’ The author summarised the key finding in the feedback by saying this is often overlooked by pastors who may be focusing on explanation and exposition. She writes, ‘Please hear the affirmation of your role as a leader of a community of Christ-followers who are seeking spiritual growth through you preaching’.

One of the things I have come to realise in my journey from parish ministry, back into secondary teaching and then into theological teaching, while still regularly doing as well as teaching preaching, is that there is a difference between teaching and preaching. With a teaching bent in my makeup, by nature and grace, I obviously believe that preaching should teach but have become clear that preaching is not just teaching.

Teaching at its best provides what people need to know about God, how people have witnessed to and understood God. It gives information about God for people to make sense of their experience of God. But it does not introduce them to God. It stops short of or providing an encounter with God, although by the grace of God I find occasionally that does happen. In preaching though this should be the desired outcome. Too often when listening to sermons I find that God, who should be the main subject and actor, is missing. We might learn ‘how to manage our finances better’ or as a recent sermon I heard titled it ‘find your lifetime partner’ but do we encounter the living God.

James Torrance argues that many preachers have a view of preaching which has ‘no doctrine of Christ the mediator, is human centred, has no proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit… We sit in the pew watching the minister “doing his thing”, exhorting us “to do our thing”…’ The aim of preaching is not the sermon itself, but the one to whom it is directing those who hear it, the living Christ. Tom Wright claims that ‘Preaching is meant to be an occasion when God happens; when that strange and yet familiar moment comes upon us, and we know we have been addressed, healed, confronted and kindled by the one who made us and loves us.” For me this is the critical factor in evaluating whether preaching or mere talking has occurred. Have those present encountered the living God?

When this happens preaching is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer described it, a sacramentum verbi (sacrament of the word) which offers God to people in Christ so that they encounter God not as ideas but in the Spirit as the one who loves, forgives and transforms them. It is this encounter which shapes a ragtag group of individuals gathered in a church building into a community of faith that becomes a ‘sign, foretaste and instrument’ of what God is doing in and for the whole world.