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simon mcleay – a preaching pastor reflects

Tell us a bit about yourself Simon.

Tēnā koutou katoa. (Greetings to you all)
Ko Te Aroha toku maunga, (My mountain is Te Aroha)
Ko Waikato toku Awa, (My river is Waikato)
Ko Westland toku waka (My canoe is Westland)
Ko McLeay toku whanau. (My family is McLeay)
Nō Morrinsville ahau (I am from Morrinsville)

I was born in Morrinsville the 5th child of a Presbyterian minister (dad) and a primary school teacher (mum).  My ancestors came from Scotland.

I’ve been based at St Peters Presbyterian Church in Tauranga for almost 10 years.  I’m married to Karen and we have 3 children, Jonathan, William and Lucy.  I love preaching and have been preaching since I was 16 years old.  I like riding bikes and tramping and I am a Director of the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute.

Very early on in your ministry – you were the new minister of a church reeling from devastating news. Tell us about your preaching into such a context.

Soon after I arrived, in fact on the day of my induction, I found out the awful news that my immediate predecessor had abused children in the church. I think one of the themes that I preached about was ‘forgiveness as a process’, and gave people permission not to feel that they had to forgive quickly. A lot of the work was pastoral and I had a fabulous team of elders who supported Karen and me thought this time, but the sermon I most remember was about not forgiving on someone else’s behalf.  We could in time forgive the hurt caused to us, but it was not our business to forgive on behalf of the victims of the abuse; that was their journey. I was also mindful of not constantly talking about these events and so at that stage in my ministry I chose to preach from the Revised Common Lectionary which led us in many different directions.     

What is important to you in preaching?

I think it was Aristotle who talked about Logos, Pathos and Ethos – which I have made my own by thinking about.

1. Content – a good sermon has to have some content. It needs to have some biblical content some wrestling by the preacher with ideas. I like the idea of from ‘a text’ and ‘from the text’, meaning basing a sermon on a certain passage but also being mindful of all of Scripture. I am currently doing a series on the 10 commandments and so I’m very mindful of Jesus’ use of the Decalogue.

2. Pathos – it’s important to have some passion, a bit of interesting delivery – I’ve enjoyed several Korean preachers where I haven’t understood the language, but I have loved their delivery.  A sermon in a monotone is hardly a sermon at all. 

3. Ethos – to me a sermon needs to have ‘some mud on it’, meaning it needs to connect with some lived experience. I want to see the mud and feel the tears. I want to know that you have suffered or struggled before I can celebrate your soaring.

Tell us about some of the major influences that has impacted your preaching over the years.

My Dad’s preaching was always solid and warm, I remember them as being very real having that Ethos connection. My friend Andrew Norton was always good at finding an emotional connection in his preaching and so helping me with the Pathos, and my sister Vivian Coleman always has a great logical structure I can follow the Logos. The most recent impact on me was going to the Confident Christianity Conference in 2018 and hearing a bunch of excellent speakers working without any notes. I realised that their delivery significantly lifted the impact of their words.  My oldest son Jono encouraged me saying, “you could do that Dad”, and so ever since I have been trying to preach without notes. I now try to practice my script 5- 6 times out loud before I deliver the message. I really enjoy the eye contact I can now make with my listeners.

How do you see the relationship between preaching and pastoral work.

I loved something that Craig Vernal once said to the Minister’s Association in Tauranga, it was something like this. “We should think about how our messages would make people feel, whether they would help people to work through their problems, whether our messages empower people, whether they set people free or whether they set people up to be dependent and to hold unrealistic expectations.”

I so often write a message on Monday and then find during the week that the message speaks into the circumstances I encounter that week, often in a way I couldn’t have planned.  And so the message preparation helps my pastoral work in the week.

What challenges you most about preaching and what gives you joy?

I am challenged to be true to the Scriptures and not head off on my hobby horse, not to increase intolerance by what I say and to remember to try and make my sermons connect with the everyday lives of people of different generations. I love it when God speaks to people through the words that he gives me, it’s an honour to be a vessel. If someone has heard something spot on, I know it’s God and not me. I love the craft of preaching – a turn of phrase, an unexpected shout, a new perspective, and then the pleasure of sharing with a group of fellow Christians something new I have discovered in the scriptures this week.

Tell us about your practice when preaching: do you use full notes, some notes or no notes? And how did you arrive at your current practice?

I now plan an outline to my sermon, then I write a full-script and then I try to learn the message, not memorise the script, but know what I am saying.  (That was your advice Geoff, I thought it was good advice. – “You are welcome Simon – but I heard it from somewhere else myself” – Geoff 😊) When I stand up and I know what I am going to say, I know some of the words but more importantly I know my intention and that feels great.  A have discovered that delivering a good sermon comes from practice, practice, and more practice; more than we were ever taught to do.

If you had one major appeal to make to preachers in Aotearoa New Zealand – what is it?

Ask God to speak to you every week from the Scriptures and pass it on.

KMP Interview with Simon McLeay

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