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lessons for hearers from 1 thessalonians – mark keown

1 Thessalonians in the Bible

In my last Kiwi-Made Preaching Blog, I wrote of how 1 Thess 1–2 is a wonderful resource for preachers. Through its words, Paul gives us a smorgasbord of preaching morsels. Just as the Thessalonian letters speaks to preachers, it summons us to be good hearers of the word. Indeed, we talk a lot about preaching on these posts. Perhaps we should speak more about the posture of hearers. For indeed, we are justified by faith, and Paul tells us that “faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17, NIV). Or, as James puts, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas 1:22, NIV). 

At the time of writing, the Thessalonians had been Christians barely six months. While no doubt a few Jews, proselytes and Gentile God-worshipers from the synagogue were a part of the church, 1 Thess 1:9–10 tells us most were formerly idolatrous pagans. Among other deities, they formerly worshiped the Egyptian gods of the Serapeum and participated in the imperial cult in Roman polytheistic Thessalonica. It was into such an environment Paul, Timothy, and Silas came to Thessalonica to preach (cf. 2 Cor 1:19). They must have wondered how these pagans would receive the message.

We read in Acts 17:1–10 that Paul started in the synagogue, sharing God’s word over three Sabbaths. Some, including Greeks who worshiped Yahweh among the gathered Jews and proselytes and including some leading women, were converted. Others, especially zealous Jews, were not so open to the message. Hard of heart, they responded violently, grabbing loiterers in the agora and launching an assault on Paul and his team. Unable to find them, they took their anger out on Jason and some of the other believers. They dragged them before the authorities accusing them of violating Roman ideals and usurping the emperor’s rule. Our first lesson then is not to receive the word of God the way most of the Jews did in Thessalonica—with hard and resistant hearts. As we come to hear the word of God, no matter what we think we know, our hearts must always be open to hear a fresh word from God!

We hear about the Thessalonica receipt of the word in Chs. 1 and 2. In 1 Thess 1:6, Paul gives thanks for how, despite much affliction, they received the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s account in Acts 17 only hints at how tough it was in Thessalonica. Paul’s interest in dead Christians in 1 Thess 4:13–17 may even indicate some lost their lives in this time. Whether or not this is the case, their suffering did not inhibit their zeal. They received the word, and with the joy gifted by the Spirit of God! That is how we should receive the word! Whatever our situation, when someone stands to preach, we should always be open to the word, the Spirit, and receive it with joy.

More than this, these Thessalonians not only received the word but emulating James’ words above, the message moved to action. They became “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess 1:7). We learn more about this in 1 Thess 4:10—they did works of love throughout the region (cf. 1 Thess 1:3). Hence, they did not say, “nice sermon,” and go home to their comfy couches and Netflix. The gospel moved them into mission; active in the area we now know as modern Greece.

Even more impressively, they became preachers themselves. Some read 1 Thess 1:8 passively as if others shared the story of the Thessalonians’ conversion in the region. A better reading of the verb is that the Thessalonians themselves were the agents of the echoing forth of the gospel; it radiating from them throughout the region. Indeed, this may explain why Paul can say he has fulfilled the preaching of the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum in the western Balkans in Rom 15:19; after he left, the Thessalonians took the gospel further into their region and to the west (where Paul had never been). Anyway, what is impressive is that the hearers became witnesses themselves. We know our work is going well when we preach, and others become increasingly missional; taking the gospel with love, deed, and word into their social contexts.

We also see in 1 Thess 1:9–10 that they also renounced their idols. How thrilling is it for a preacher when the hearers are moved to turn away from the false affections to live with a passion for Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yes, the Thessalonians, baby Christians though they were at the time, show us all including grizzled old disciples like myself how we should receive the word.

Later in 1 Thess 2:13–14, this is reinforced as Paul reiterates their warm welcome of the word. They did not receive the word as the word of people alone, but as it really is, the word of God! Like those first Judean Christians we read of in Acts 1–12, the Thessalonians refused to be put off or inhibited by intense persecution (see esp. Acts 4:19–20; 5:29–32, 41). They received the word with open hearts and joy. They responded by living by it and sharing it to others with loving hearts. This is our challenge: to be open-hearted hearers, to be transformed by the word, and with love, take it to the world.

lessons for preachers from 1 thessalonians – mark keown

1 Thessalonians in the Bible

As I was teaching a course on the Thessalonian letters recently, I was struck by how 1 Thessalonians 1–2 is a veritable feast of insights for preachers. Paul and his team wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth within six months of the initial planting of the church. As they wrote, the preaching of the Pauline team was fresh in their collective memory. As we read it, the letters equally instruct concerning important aspects of sharing Christ in our contexts. 

First, there are the different ways he describes the gospel. It is “our gospel” (1 Thess 1:5), “the word” (1 Thess 1:6), “the word of the Lord” (1 Thess 1:8), “the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:2, 8, 9), “the gospel” (1 Thess 2:4), and “the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13). Just from these appellations, we discern that our preaching is the good news. More than that, it is our good news—we are saved into it, have stewardship of it, and must preserve it as we preach. It is also God’s word or message to the world—what a thought! When we stand (or sit, as did Jesus and Paul in the synagogue) and preach, God is speaking, wow. Knowing that the genitive “of the Lord” in Thessalonians refers to Jesus, it is the good news and word that originates in God and Christ, is authored by them, is about them, is empowered by them, and leads people to them. He literally inhabits our inadequate words beckoning men and women into his love.

Secondly, the gospel is not presented just in words, but with power, in the Spirit, and with full conviction (1 Thess 1:4). We are summoned to speak well, with conviction, confident in the gospel’s content and power. Yet, this verse tells us that as good as words and delivery may be, it is God who empowers the message. As we stand before the people of God, we are merely messengers through whom God speaks. He speaks! And when God speaks, he creates. He calls. He renews. He convicts. He invites. Paul received harsh criticism as a rubbish speaker (2 Cor 10:10), yet even his words had power to convert. That is because it is about God and His Son and not us. May God speak through us.

Third, Paul recalls their suffering in Philippi in 1 Thess 2:2. Mention of affliction takes us to Acts 16, where the Roman citizens, Paul and Silas, are illegally flogged and imprisoned—doesn’t this speak to the historicity of the NT and its amazing intertextuality! Anyway, while we may not experience the kind of violence those first preachers suffered, those of us who have been at this a while know that preaching always carries with it suffering and pain. It may be just the struggle to prepare well. Or, it is just the exhaustion that comes for preaching or a critical listener who takes us on when we are most vulnerable after pouring our heart out in the pulpit. Whatever we face, rest assured, we will suffer. Paul did. Like him, those who preach need soft hearts, endurance, and hides of steel.

Third, in what is clearly a defence against detractors, Paul gives us a lesson on the ethics of preaching. He teaches us that while we all want to be more effective in our communication, we must never resort to duplicitous measures to impress our listeners. We do not use error, impurity, or deception. We refuse to be people-pleasers or use flattery. Our motive is never money, no matter how much we struggle. We do not seek glory from people. Even if we are ordained, have doctorates, or carry apostolic authority, we do not demand response. Rather, we are as gentle as a mother nursing her child (what a surprising and warm image!). Or, to keep the gender balance, like loving Dads, we exhort, encourage, and charge our people to live to please God.

Fourth, perhaps most powerfully, we do not merely share the word with people; we share our lives with them (1 Thess 2:8). We labour and toil among the people to whom we preach, being prepared to work day and night—the call of all those pastor churches across this nation. In 1 Thess 3:10, we realise that Paul did not merely labour among them day and night when among them, he prayed day and night for the Thessalonians from Athens and Corinth. Our job is not done when we say the Amen. It goes on as we pray for those who heard the word, that the implanted seed of his word would bear fruit. May it be. Amen.

john 9 and the tribes of india – mark keown

I have just read an essay by a student who ministers in India among the poor. He is involved in a mission which takes the gospel into the villages of India. In these settings, the people are poor, kilometres from any quality healthcare, making a subsistence living off the land.

With other believers, this student goes into these villages. They make a local connection. Where they are given the opportunity, they enter the village and minister. Amazing things happen. People are healed and believe.

After one class this semester, the student approached me to show me a photo he had just received from one of his co-workers. They had gone into a village to share Jesus. Unbeknown to them, there was a group of Mao rebels hiding the village. Hidden, the rebels observed what happened in the meeting. After the meeting, they came out of hiding and asked to speak to the missionaries. They said they wanted to lay down their arms and become followers of Jesus. The missionary said something like, “that is great, but you will have to hand yourself in.” They received Jesus, handed themselves in, and were no doubt put through the judicial process. They were prepared to give up their rights to freedom and their fight to have eternal life, even if it meant a lifetime in prison. Wow!

As the semester evolved, the student shared more of the story of his mission and its effect. Thousands are coming to Christ through such work. Most interestingly, he said that his experience and studies are showing that the primary reason they are coming to Christ is not the verbal preaching of the gospel, however brilliant or insipid. Rather, they are being converted through the power of God to do miracles among them. The miracles are real. The missionaries invite the locals for prayer and God does the sort of things we read in the book of Acts, again and again. Then, these locals go and share their testimonies to their wider social network, and people come to Christ in droves. They are baptised, taught, and grow in Christ. They know little of Christ at their conversion, and grow from there.

The student finds in John 9 an excellent example of the pattern by which the gospel spreads. In John 9, Jesus healed the blind beggar, a man of the lowest status imaginable in his social setting. The man does not even know who Jesus is and when interrogated, simply tells his story. There is no complex theology or exposition of a passage of the OT, or anything we might expect in our Sunday messages. Indeed, it is not until the end of the chapter that the healed man comes to know who Jesus is and his faith flourishes into a saving faith. The man was met by Jesus at the point of his need, received God’s touch, and became an evangelist through his testimony. Indeed, that is John’s primary understanding of gospel witness, telling one’s story. We think of Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael, the Samaritan woman, as great examples (John 1:40–51; 4:1–45).

What strikes me for preaching are these things. First, we must encounter people at their point of need and trust God to act dynamically in their lives. In our western intellectual tradition, we downplay the signs and wonders aspect of Christian ministry. The preaching of the gospel must go alongside giving space to God to do this thing. He is the evangelist. We are merely his conduits.

Second, we must encourage our people to meet people with their stories, the blend of God’s story with their own, their experiences of him, and share them as led among their friends, family, and acquaintances. We must give space in our churches for people to do this, for in this way, the gospel we preach comes alive in the present.

Third, we can be encouraged, God is doing great things in his world. We are summoned to resist becoming disillusioned by this study or that which tells us that the church is dying and God’s word is quenched. God’s word cannot be chained. In the debris of a post-Christendom setting, God is bringing his renewal to the world. Our call is to be preachers who preach from prayerful lives and give God room and space to do what he does best, seek and save the lost. We are summoned to invite people to receive God’s touch as an integral part of our preaching ministry. We are to trust him to do his thing. We can be sure he is working out his purposes on planet earth.

jazz evangelism – mark keown

I am currently researching the gospel and its proclamation in the New Testament. My enquiry is driven by a sense that many who engage in evangelistic preaching in NZ and more broadly are preaching a gospel that is reduced and formulaic. The proclamation of the gospel is also rather limited, lacking the breadth of approach seen in the ministries of Jesus and the first Christians.

One thing that stands out is that when we do have evangelism training, we are generally coached to share the gospel in one particular way, perhaps based on a tract or easy to learn pattern. We are encouraged to employ the same pattern with each person.

The gospel presentation might be something like I myself have come up with, what I call, the 5 R’s of the gospel—relationship, rupture, restoration, return, and response (What’s God Up to on Planet Earth). There are a range of others out there.

Yet, when we look at the evangelism of Jesus, the Gospels themselves, the sermons in Acts, and the ways the gospel is represented to believers in letters, we look in vain for such a construct. Jesus and the early Christians did not preach in such a way. They preached with much more imagination and creativity than one stereotypical presentation.

Let’s take Jesus for example and just focus on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Grab a red-letter Bible (they do have their uses) and skim through noting the speech of Jesus say in Matthew. Amidst healing, feeding, calling disciples, and traveling, there is some systematic evangelism—parabolic maxims addressing ethics and the Christian life (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) and parables which teach on the Kingdom of God (e.g. Matt 13). Aside from these seeming systematic moments, Jesus engages in a bit of expositional teaching (e.g. Mark 12:35–37).

What dominates is a huge number of one-off dialogues with individuals. Indeed, aside from the blocks of ethical teaching and parables (e.g. Mark 4), generally the Synoptic Jesus is in conversation with people, and the conversation is dynamic.

Track from Matthew 8:1 on. First, a leper approaches Jesus asking if he is willing to heal him. Jesus simply says, “I am willing.” He says nothing about giving his life to him, entry to the Kingdom, believing, repenting, or saying a sinner’s prayer. The healed man is simply to go and show the priest (Matt 8:1–4).

Then, a Roman centurion comes asking for healing for his servant. Jesus and a Gentile have a stunning conversation where the man refuses to allow Jesus to break social convention and come to his home and Jesus heals the man’s servant from a distance (Matt 8:5–13). There is no appeal for entry to the Kingdom, faith, propitiation, but a recognition of already existing faith. Jesus then effectively assures him of a seat at the eschatological banquet and the healing of the boy.

After further healings, Jesus is encountered by a scribe who seeks to follow him and Jesus simply quotes a maxim concerning future homelessness. Another disciple pipes up asking to go home and bury his dad, and then Jesus answers with an implicit no declaring the man’s wider family spiritually dead (Matt 8:18–22).

The pattern goes on as he encounters demoniacs, paralytics, tax-collectors, Pharisees, rich rulers, and so on. No two encounters are the same. They have the common pattern of Jesus out there in the world of sinners, available to minister to their needs, and seeking encounters. Sometimes he initiates. A lot of the time people approach him. Jesus then ad libs in the moment, speaking without any real pattern, as he heals and exorcises demons.

What does this tell us? Where sharing the Christian message in a church on a Sunday, as we evangelise unbelievers, or just hanging with other people, we can take from Jesus’ approach a challenge to be way more creative in the way verbalise the Christian message both in terms of content and delivery.

Sure, we must know the gospel, and those stereotypical patterns like the five R’s are useful to get us started. However, we can’t stop there. We have to be more creative and imaginative. We have to engage in the moment with real focus—listening to the person and understanding them. We have to have an ear out for what God might be saying and doing. We then respond. We don’t have to pack the whole gospel into every presentation, Jesus never did. We may not even say anything much at all.

I like to think of it as Jazz Evangelism. We learn the music of the gospel through the systems people have come up with. Then, just as jazz musicians might do when jamming, we put the music sheets away and jam. That is, we go out and into our churches and world and we riff off the moment. The more we do it, the better we get at it. Our NZ context has had a gutsful of listening to our boring pallid “music.” It is time to get way more creative and imaginative in sharing the gospel. Yes, it must be the gospel, but we can learn a lot from Jesus about how to make it a lot more dynamic. Keep jamming.

confronting difficult texts and issues – mark keown

 

Not for the first time, I recently had a conversation with a preacher in which that person spoke of their practice of avoiding difficult texts and questions in their preaching. So for example, this person avoids questions of sexuality, marriage, eternal destruction, and difficult controversial moral issues. I pushed back, but with little effect.

In my view, we abdicate our responsibility as preachers if we avoid difficult questions raised by the text or the world. Tough questions like God’s use of violence in the OT to affect his will, the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human volition, sexuality, marriage, money, and so on, cannot be avoided. One of the problems I have with Lectionary’s is that they often jump such texts. Put simply, if we are going to encourage our people to be avid Bible readers, we have to be prepared to go to those tough places. If not, are we worthy of standing the pulpit on behalf of our God and claiming to be his mouthpiece? It is at the tough questions that the word is most prophetic.

Where the world is raising questions, we simply have to go there. So, when the government is discussing gay marriage or euthanasia, we have to engage. If we do not, our people will be self-selecting in terms of the voices they listen to. They will speak to the incarnate “god” of our time, “Google,” and ask the question. Who knows what they will then read or listen to. Likely, it will be material from those who know how to manipulate Google to get their material to the head of the search list. Then, Google will feed them more of the same as their god recognizes the preferences of the listener.

If we do go into the tough spaces though, we have to do our homework. We have to watch that we ourselves are not googling to find all the answers. We have to equip ourselves by seeking out good theological material, take time to read it, and translate the ideas into the level of our communities of faith. We have to invest time into reading of the different views that exist on hot topics and meet them through the Scriptures. We have to read Scripture well, preferably ourselves equipped with the tools to exegete the Scriptures from the original languages. Where not, knowing where to go to read Scripture well.

Never in the history of the church have our people been as vulnerable to the forces of darkness which seek to subvert the truth and corrupt our thinking, conforming it to the patterns of the world rather than the voice of the Word. With everything now one click away, we have to guide our people through the maze of voices to those they can trust; those who read the world and Scripture well. So, as we go about teaching in the tough areas, we need to lead our people to good books and writings. We won’t stop them googling, but we can give them direction concerning the trustworthy voices out there.

Our preaching must be a continuous movement between the questions of the day and the written Word through which the Living Word speaks. If you are one of those “avoiders,” I urge you to think again.

objections to preaching – mark keown

Word on keyboard made in 3D

I recently heard Dr Ian Paul speak on the subject “Has Preaching Had its Day?”. It’s a really interesting listen, and I recommend you take a bit of time to listen and consider it.

In his presentation, Ian presents seven objections to the preaching as we know it. He then responded to them.

The first is the practical objection, so much preaching is as boring as! He challenged us that this is not necessarily true. He notes in the UK that where people are good, people pay come to massive Christian events to hear monological preaching. He encourages trainee preachers to develop their skill by watching comedians to enhance their ability to engage in the moment. He notes that Radio listening is on the increase as seen in BBC historical and political podcasts.

The second is what he calls the pedagogical objection; monological preaching is a poor way to disciple people. He responds that on its own, preaching is not enough. It must sit within a wider strategy to help people grow in their faith. He notes the importance of small groups and linking teaching material to the word taught. But he warned that he did find it very hard work to prepare the material.

The third is the learning-styles objection; monological preaching suits certain people, but not others. He notes that there is now a move away from learning styles as people learn from being challenged from alternative learning styles. He suggests giving appropriate opportunity for people to respond as we preach. We can also use technology and social media to encourage this.

His fourth point is the philosophical objection; monologue preaching is hierarchical in terms of power and truth. He urged preachers to preach as one without authority. We mustn’t draw on our social power based on position and expertise. He urged us to call others to test out what we say– don’t take my word for it, test it, live it, and put it into practice.

The fifth point is the cultural objection; many people are turned off by the traditional practice of preaching as it is culturally irrelevant. He met this objection by us working hard to ensure that our preaching connects with culture and everyday life. Hence, we must use jokes, the news, and current life issues. It must draw on the everyday world of our people.

The sixth objection is the theological objection. A preacher is not the only one with spiritual insight. We need to listen to all voices. He noted the gifts of 1 Cor 12–14 and the wide range of modes of preaching in the NT. His response is that while there is truth here, God calls people to be preachers and teachers of the word. He sees preaching as a prophetic ministry, God is speaking through it. He suggests that as there are different modes of preaching in the NT, we need to extend our understanding of preaching to a wider range of situations in all of life.

The final point is competence objection; preaching a good sermon is hard work and not many do it well. His response was to challenge us: are we investing personally and institutionally in preaching?

I found it a good presentation and very provocative for helping me consider my own preaching and teaching ministry. Some of the best material came as he asked what is preaching. He suggests the key question concerning preaching is this, “what is God saying to these people in this place in this time through this text?” Preaching is the liturgy of the word, “the meeting place is the training place for the market place.” He notes Darrell Johnson (The Glory of Preaching), “when God speaks, something happens. When the preacher speaks God’s word, God speaks. Therefore, when the preacher speaks God’s words, something happens.” He sees this as close to Barth who sees preaching as an event, “when the gospel is preached, that is the gospel.” It is proclaiming so that people can respond as its spoken. He goes on, “Preaching is our participation in the transformation-communication of the Trinity to the creation.” He notes Phillip Brooks great quote, “Preaching is truth expressed through personality.” Hence, we need to be people who embody the truth and really invest in preaching. He finished suggesting that “preaching deserves our best.” I say amen to this. Have a listen, he preached well.

preaching Christ and Christ crucified – mark keown

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that when he came to Corinth, he preached Christ and Christ crucified. For a long time I read this as meaning that the central content of Paul’s preaching is Christ and particularly his death and its consequences. After spending a number of months working through Philippians 2:5–11 while simultaneously teaching 1 Corinthians at Laidlaw College, I realise that Paul is saying a lot more than this in this passage.

The problem in Corinth he is addressing is a church fragmenting over their favoured preachers – Paul, Peter, and Apollos. The essential issue is stylistic. We can’t be sure of the exact styles these preachers used, but from what we know of Apollos from Acts 18, he likely preached with great rhetoric skill and flair as he preached the gospel. He was more like the Sophists and other traveling preachers who frequented Corinth. Peter perhaps appealed to the Jews, and Paul to those from the early days who remembered him with fondness. Their essential problem was cultural – they were enculturated into a proneness to judge speakers on the quality of their delivery and style. They were drawn to flamboyance and charisma. Sound familiar?

Paul argues from 1:12 on that the Corinthians need to pull their heads in and realise that there is no such thing as ‘I follow Paul … Cephas … Apollos,’ but ‘I follow Christ’ and their unity is bound up in Christ and Christ crucified. When he says he preached Christ and Christ crucified he means two things.

On the one hand, it is about content. Christ and him crucified is the basis for our unity. Whether we are rich, poor, educated, uneducated, male, female, strong, or weak (etc.) we are bound together in the one indivisible Christ. Christ did form the centre of his content, particularly his death and resurrection. The spin off for us is that, whatever our style, whatever our context, to Christ and Christ crucified we return again and again. The crucified Christ, nonsense to the world, is our salvation. The crucified Christ is also our life-example – we call people to cruciformity. Both Christ as our salvation and example must be stressed again and again and again.

The second thing he is saying is that Christ is not only his content, but he shaped his approach to preaching in emulation of Christ and Christ crucified – it is about carefully thought through delivery. Recognising that Corinthians were obsessed with rhetorical flair, he was concerned that to come at his preaching there by the style they were familiar with, many would not hear the message clearly. They would be drawn to Christ not through Christ, but through Paul and his superb rhetoric. So, he chose to do something quite extraordinary. Rather than use the approaches found in rhetorical handbooks, emulate the Sophists and traveling philosophers, he disrupted their expectations by preaching differently. While he did speak with full conviction (1 Thess 1:5), he spoke humbly, out of fear and much trembling, not seeking to persuade with dynamic words of wisdom (philosophical brilliance), but portraying publically Christ crucified clearly and without the kind of flair they were associated with. In this way, the gospel could be clearly heard uncluttered. He trusted the gospel to do the work. He was not going to let his delivery get in the way. Then, their faith will not rest on glorious rhetoric (human wisdom), but on the power of God – the power of the gospel of a crucified Christ to convert even the Corinthians. That it had is a pillar of his argument – remember the simple message that converted you!

These Corinthians had yet to grow up into Christ. They were still stuck in their pre-Christ worlds, judging the Christian preachers, instead of coming together in Christ with the attitude of Christ – humility, selflessness, sacrifice, service, and love.

There is so much for us to think of here. Of particular note is that we need to be sensitive to our context and adapt our delivery carefully to ensure that the message is being heard and that people are being drawn by Christ to Christ and not to the preacher because of his/her skill. I am profoundly challenged by this every time I get up to preach. I have always been concerned for dynamic delivery. I am rethinking this, as I want the message to be heard not the medium to be admired. Something to work toward.

multiple voices – mark keown

voices

One of the key texts in the NT for understanding how the early church did its worship is 1 Cor 14:26. Paul is dealing with the problems at their worship gatherings—an obsession with flamboyant rhetoric (1 Cor 2), inappropriate dress and abuses of the Last Supper (1 Cor 11), a fixation on tongues, and more. He advocates less concern for rhetoric and tongues, and a desire for prophetic proclamation – proclamation that is encouraging, comforting, and strengthening. Preaching that is Christ-focussed and speaks God’s word with future consequence into the present life of the community.

In 1 Cor 14:26 Paul urges the all the Corinthians to bring to their gatherings something to share – a veritable pot-faith spiritual smorgasbord. He includes a list of five specific gifts: a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a message in tongues, or and interpretation. He then states, ‘let all things be done for building up’ the church. As with all lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12–14 and elsewhere (e.g. Rom 12:4–8; Eph 4:11), these are not to be read as exhaustive of what people are to bring. They are to bring such things – in other words, the full range of God’s gifts are to be bought to the gatherings and shared. Individualising this – every one of you bring something to share. This builds on 1 Cor 11 where they bring food to share – also bring something from your spiritual giftedness. We then have a picture of the early Christian gatherings in the Pauline churches as more akin to a homegroup where everyone brings food, spiritual and actual, to share, and space is given for all. It is highly participative.

Such a vision has led some to set up micro-church enterprises which mirror this. This is not a bad idea, and will no doubt be part of our church’s future. However, it can tend to forget that there were as many sociological reasons as spiritual for the church being as it was in Paul’s day. They met in small groups because they had to. When the persecution of the church ended in later generations, they took over the Basilicas and gathered in larger groups. There are multiple ways of doing church.

That said, I think there is something important to gain from Paul’s injunction here. One thing is that we need to move away from the dominance of one voice in the Christian gathering. Our contemporary services tend to have one key leader/preacher who week in week out, preaches God’s word (we can discuss music here too, but not in this blog). Having one voice has some real advantages. Assuming that person is a good preacher, the church can really grow under such a ministry. It also can maintain continuity and a level of quality control. If that person is the core visionary for the community, the vision can be upheld loud and clear.

However, I wonder whether the weaknesses outweigh the gains? What if they are not that good? Further, even the best preachers can get over-exposed – fresh voices are required in the dressing room. All preachers have blind spots and hobby horses. What about the other aspects of the gospel being overlooked, albeit inadvertently. What if that preacher is male, when do people hear a woman’s perspective? If a Pakeha, when another culture? If young, how can they relate to the older? If they have grown up in a Christian home, can they connect with the lost? Etc.

One thing this text tells me is that while our best preachers need to be given opportunity to preach, we need a multiplicity of voices from the front of our churches bringing the word through lives shaped differently? This then challenges us to find those budding preachers and train them. This means humbling ourselves and giving up the pulpit. This means allowing quality to at times be sacrificed for the bigger picture of growing others in the task. This means the preaching guns humbling themselves and realising that they aren’t Jesus – let his body speak.

While in a large gathering it is implausible to live out 1 Cor 14:26 literally (we will be there all day), I think we need to hear more voices in our churches and from our pulpits. They don’t have to be sermons, they can be sharing times, testimonies, interviews, etc. This is certainly something I am pondering.

engaging the text in preaching – mark keown

bible-digging

In my experience in the church and with fresh students to Laidlaw College, in the main, Christians today are not engaging sufficiently with the text of Scripture. So, I consider one of my primary tasks as a preacher today is to get them to do so; at least for the 20-30 minutes I have opportunity to address them. I have thought a lot about how to do this and am working with a method in many of my sermons which I am finding is yielding positive results.

When I preach now, whether I am preaching topically or expositionally, and usually the latter, I will focus my attention on the passage(s) in mind. This starts with me immersing myself in the text in question. Ideally, this is done in the original language. I use Logos software for all my biblical research, and its tools are amazing (see my previous blog about Logos software here). As I do, I get excited about the text, its underlying story, its message, and how it breaks down. I want to get to the point where all I have to work with is the PowerPoint and know the text so deeply, that I can ad lib on it in the moment, speaking freely and dynamically about the text – my goal, that they get as excited about it as I do.

When it comes to the sermon itself, I know most of the congregation don’t bring a Bible (although more do now with smart phones etc.), and so prior to, or early in the sermon, I read through the passage (or we read together), so they are familiar with it. Sometimes, I will ask them to say what they see in the passage. Then, as I come to the sermon itself, aside from sharing illustrations and background material, the main content of the sermon involves putting the text up in front of them on Powerpoint, highlighting phrases or verses, and expounding it.

So, for example, recently I was preaching on Rom 8:35-39 in a series on hope, and below is a slide exposing part of Rom 8:37. I was able to speak on the great Greek word hypernikaō, “hyper-conquerors” and, while firing a few shots at prosperity teachers, explain what a cool word it is and what it means that we are conquerors in a world, where suffering is real – God is with us and loves us in our travails (you can hear the sermon here).

Mark

In taking this approach, I have moved away from clever three-point sermons and overdoing personal or other stories, which are still very important and good, and try to inspire people with the Scriptures themselves and especially the rich feast one can have when engaging with it.

I have found that this approach is yielding a very positive response as hearers are more and more deeply desirous of the word. They are coming under it, and the word is shaping them. I am going to stick with it I think.

fast preaching – mark keown

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In recent years the demography of our church has shifted radically. It is no longer primarily European as it once was, but praise God it is now a rich blend of Europeans with non-European peoples who have come to NZ to settle. While some of these people have good English, a large number struggle with English and have difficulty understanding the preaching. Not only has our church changed, but our suburb has shifted markedly. About half of the people living in it are Asians, many of whom find English a challenge. Our mission field has shifted. As such, our approach to preaching the gospel needs to adapt.

As a result of this shift, I have realised in recent times that I need to make a radical change to my preaching style. I am a naturally fast speaker—very fast in fact. I have developed a style being a child of my generation in which people tend to speak quickly. We see this in the media which is full of people who speak very quickly. Such speaking full of one liners and repartee that Kiwis get and adds dynamism and interest. Such people that come to mind are Mike Hosking, Paul Henry, Martin Devlin and others. In fact, it is astonishing how quickly the popular media presentations speak.

Until recently I have resisted the odd comment here and there about my speaking too fast thinking that my style especially suited attracting younger people of ‘my culture’. I was of the view it added dynamism and personality. That may be so, but I have to acknowledge that ‘my culture’ is now not the dominant culture which I encounter each week. The seismic shift in the demography of our church leads me to seriously begin working on changing my approach to a more methodical, simple, slower, and clearer style of proclamation (this applies at Laidlaw as well). This doesn’t come natural to me as I am a fast communicator, who throws in a whole range of kiwi humour without much thought.

One thing I am considering is how fast then should I preach? Not surprisingly, I found a whole range of material on the net about this. One analysis of six minute Ted Talks found that the range of speakers was 133-188 with an average of 163. The analyst notes that she speaks around 145–160 words a minute, while the average American English speaker speaks 110–150 wpm. Audio book publishers recommend 150–160 wpm. Auctioneers are up in the 250–400 word range. Across the discussions I found on the net, around 160 words per minute seemed normative. Considering that many in our churches in cities like Auckland are second language speakers, 160 would seem a maximum speed.

So, with this in mind I analysed six minutes of my own speech from a recent sermon on our churches sermon audio blogs. In these minutes I averaged 180 words per minute with one minute including 190 words. So, as I suspected, I speak too fast—and especially so as the demography of our church changes.

I am now committed to make a radical shift in my approach. I am determined to slow down, working on pause and emphasis to add dynamism. Such changes are critical if the gospel is to be contextualised to our shifting culture. What is appropriate in your context?