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great joy – andrew picard


Luke tells us that the story of Christmas is one of great joy (Lk. 2:8-14) – good news of great joy for all people. And yet it is not the kind of joy, nor the kind of good news, that I would anticipate. I have slowly made my peace with the kind of God that Christmas proclaims; one who is unafraid of entering into the muck and mess of our lives. The Son of God born into an animal’s feeding trough, wrapped in cloth that are covered in after-birth and bile has become strangely familiar to me. However, what has struck me this year is the word joy that is set in the midst of what I thought God only put up with. Not only is God unafraid of entering into the realities of humanity that I blush at and attempt to avoid, but, the angel tells us, there is joy in it. Undoubtedly the joy is at the coming of God, but it is joy at the coming of God into, what I assumed to be, the murky realities of humanity. There is a big difference between ‘putting up with’ and ‘rejoicing’. I can cope with God putting up with the unpleasant realities of my life (if only for a short while), but the idea that joy is found in the midst of it??!! In much the same way that Good Friday reinterprets our understanding of what is good, this passage causes us to reconsider where and how God might be found and what might be the site and source of joy.

Some years ago William Willimon wrote a wonderful Christmas meditation that captures this much better than me:

A man died. He had not lived the most worthy of lives, to tell the truth. In fact, he was somewhat of a scoundrel. He therefore found himself in Hell, after his departure from this life. His friends, concerned about his sad, though well-deserved fate, went down to Hell, and moved by the man’s misery, rattled those iron gates, calling out to whomever might be listening, “Let him out! Let him out!” Alas, their entreaties accomplished nothing. The great iron doors remained locked shut.

Distinguished dignitaries were summoned, powerful people, academics, intellectuals, prominent personalities. All of them stood at the gates and put forth various reasons why the man should be let out of his place of lonely torment. Some said that due process had not been followed in the man’s eternal sentence. Others appealed to Satan’s sense of fairplay and compassion. The great iron gates refused to move.

In desperation, the man’s pastor was summoned. The pastor came down to the gates of hell, fully vested as if she were to lead a Sunday service. “Let him out! He was not such a bad chap after all. Once he contributed to the church building fund and twice he served meals at a soup kitchen for the homeless. Let him out!” Still, the gates of Hell stood fast.

Then, after all the friends and well-wishers finally departed in dejection, the man’s aged mother appeared at the gates of Hell. She stood there, stooped and weak, only able to whisper softly, in maternal love, “Let me in.”

And immediately the great gates of Hell swung open and the condemned man was free.

Something akin to that great miracle happened for us on a starry night at Bethlehem.

will she be right? – andrew picard


Kiwis are renowned, at least within NZ, for their ingenuity that “makes do” with number eight fencing wire (and a few people rattling their dags) to solve a dizzying array of problems. We are proud of our resourcefulness and enjoy declaring that, “she’ll be right,” when we have jimmied up a solution to what seemed a dead end. With this pride for our resourcefulness can come a disdain for thoughtful reflection. In fact, careful reflection is often seen as the antithesis of productivity in the Kiwi culture of anti-intellectualism. When I was a mechanic, colleagues took pride in shaming any expert who came to teach us new methods on how to repair cars a ‘better’ way. In the eyes of my colleagues, these paper mechanics spent too much time thinking up their methods and theories, which made sense in their labs, and too little time actually fixing things in the real world. Paper mechanics might be able to pass all the exams but they weren’t much use with a spanner in their hand, nor their theories useful beyond the settled conditions of the lab. What I learnt was that thinking, reflection and study were bad excuses to get out of the work we needed to get on with. I have noticed that the same pressures to get on with the real work of doing something can come to bear on preachers.

When it comes to preaching, preachers are often pressured, either implicitly or explicitly, into making do with a DIY job on the sermon in the hope that, “she’ll be right.” After all, they need to get on with the real work of doing something. Much of the church’s ministry is driven by Kiwi pragmatism that divides doing something from reflection. The theology stuff might be interesting in the lab of theological study, but in the rough and tumble of real world ministry it regularly doesn’t cut it. Rather than wasting time in sermon preparation or cultivating the life of study and prayer, the pastor is called to do something. The result is often snatching after the next best out of the box answer and proclaiming, “this is something, let’s do it!” However, in the rough and tumble of real life, there are people who need a deeper word than this. Many in our churches crave the chance to swim at the deep end of the pool and hear a deeper word. Tom Long has argued that the greatest sin facing the modern church is the sin of superficiality. Those who are suffering are often offered band-aid theology from pulpits to heal their broken hearts or broken world, whilst a new vision is cast for the church to get on and get something done. But, what if she won’t be right? What if rattling your dags makes no difference to the bone-jarring pain or loss of hope that many in our churches face? Cultivating the life of study and reflection for the ministry of Word and prayer is not getting out of work, it’s getting into work. Serious study of the scriptures and the Christian faith is neither academic nor scholarly but churchly. It is some of the hardest and most important work preachers can do so that they give constant patient attention to Christ and his gospel. After all, it is he, not number eight fencing wire, that is the hope of the world.

preaching with or without notes – andrew picard


“You can break the rules when the rules have broken you.” This was Paul Windsor’s sage advice when he taught me how to preach. One of the rules was that you need to write full notes for your sermon. It was very good advice when I was learning to preach and it no doubt saved many people from my mindless meanderings of meaninglessness. So, as a pastor, I committed myself to writing sermons as a discipline. However, I soon found that writing sermons out became a dread for me. As Sunday loomed, the black cloud of finishing “the manuscript” would rob the weekend of all its fun and the blank screen mocked my incompetence. I loved exegeting scripture, developing ripe observations, structuring sermons for momentum and flow, and finding illustrations to extend the ripe observations. But, when it came to sitting down and writing out the full sermon my dancing turned into mourning. Whether it’s the perfectionist in me or whether it’s a lack of confidence that hears the tisk-tisking of school teachers, I don’t like writing very much – a slight problem for a PhD student!

For me, relief came only when I gave up on writing full notes. I figured that after 6 years of preaching, the rules had broken me and it was time to break them. There were a couple of reasons for this. One was reading a commentator on preaching who said, “If preaching is anything it is personal.” You need to be able to see the whites of people’s eyes as the gospel makes demands upon them, and they need to see the whites of your eyes as you place yourself under the gospel’s demands. Another big part for me was realising that my first response to new information is to want to talk about it rather than write about it. I realised that I process my thoughts more through talking than writing. The other realisation was that for whatever reason, God has given me a strong memory for ideas. I love ideas (ideation is number one for me on Strengths Finder) and I don’t have too many problems remembering them or articulating them. I’m not an amazing wordsmith, and whilst I try, I will not likely ever be a great wordsmith. I’m now ok with that. I can forgo getting every word right for the sake of greater presence and conveying the big ideas. I’m enjoying the sense of presence and partnership with the people in the room that comes with no notes, and the way that sermons often take unanticipated directions because of the partnership.

However, I’m now involved in a church that has a Deaf community, and having a full manuscript is very helpful for sign language interpreter’s to read before you preach. It’s always interesting to return to somewhere you intentionally left. What do I notice when I return to full notes? Words matter. I always use full notes for important occasions like weddings and funerals. I think one of the goals at an important occasion is to be forgettable. I don’t want to be remembered in 10 years for getting the names wrong or saying something stupid. Also, these big occasions do not give themselves to a chatty “no-notes” approach. I can’t imagine Rowan Williams wandering the stage when he gave his Royal Wedding sermon! I think full notes engage you much more deeply with the sermon and all its content. I am growing my skills as a wordsmith and a communicator. The hard toil of making words matter, economising language and making sermons memorable pays off. Nonetheless, I’m most comfortable without notes and I prefer the immediacy of the relationship with an audience. What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on using notes and what you’ve tried.

andrew picard – the royal wedding: colliding worlds

Like most people on Facebook, I have many worlds colliding. I have friends from different circles of my life all in one space. I have friends who I have made since I’ve come to Christian faith and I have friends from before I came to Christian faith.

I was interested to find out what people from these different worlds thought of the royal wedding, especially what they thought about the role of the church in the wedding. (more…)

andrew picard: is preaching bad for your health?

I love preaching and in pastoral ministry I gave myself to it. It is the primary sense of God’s call on my life. But having been out of weekly preaching for a little while, I’m now wondering aloud if preaching is bad for your health?


Preaching every week is a demanding calling. For me, despite my love for it, preaching was often bad for my health. At the worst of times it became a robber. I allowed it to rob me of health, sleep and sanity and I allowed it to rob my family of a husband and a dad. While some of the conspiring factors are unique to my own weaknesses, I think some of the conspiring factors are common to those engaged in weekly preaching.


My rhythms for preaching quickly became unhealthy because of my perfectionist tendencies and my need to please others. My rhythms for the preaching task fitted in around the rest of the busy ministry life. I was diligent in study during the week, giving my best time to sermon preparation. After all I had the responsibility to proclaim the Word of God. Also, preaching is a public setting, and who wants to fail in a public setting? I worked hard at exegesis. I worked hard at understanding deep culture and engaging the contemporary world in creative ways. I read widely and listened well. I was way too diligent. I love input, and was always looking for more. Books grew around me like a virus (piles found all over the house). I always thought, ‘just one more’ (book or journal article or online resource) would give me that magical insight.


By Friday I had a mountain of work I’d done on the sermon, but the clouds were always gathering. To put a spin on Campolo’s line – it might have been Friday but Sunday’s a-comin’. Saturdays were most often spent on sermons. If I wasn’t working on it, I was wishing that I could. I might have been playing with my children but I was thinking about my sermon. On the weekend I was present but not really present. We came to describe the weekend as always ‘overcast’ – the sermon hovered over my head and dominated the skyline. Out of anxiety, I’d work late into the night on Saturday tweaking, re-tweaking and re-re-tweaking (read – obsessing over it). On Sunday I’d get up early and get down to church, preach twice, linger around church until about 1pm, go home eat lunch and then the crash would come. By 2pm on Sunday afternoon the quaterzol, adrenaline and stress hormones would drop and I would hit the wall. Just when my family thought I would finally be available for them, I had to go to bed from exhaustion. I would emerge from bed by 4pm still exhausted but knowing that we needed to do something together (often attend a social church event). By now, I’d start to worry and feel guilty that I might have offended someone in my sermon – especially if someone had made a “helpful” comment. On Monday, my day off, I’d be starting to feel better (often I was still recovering) but my eldest daughter had to go to school. Then on Tuesday I’d go and do it all again.


Obviously I’m describing the worst of times, and obviously I had weaknesses to face. Nonetheless, without naming these things well and developing strategies, preaching can be hazardous to your health. I’d love to hear, has preaching been hazardous for your health? And, how do structure your preaching ministry to ensure that you care for those God has first given to you – God, self, your family and friends?


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Andrew Picard is…

andrew picard: embodied preaching

This blog, and the people connected to it, are rightly committed to biblical preaching. My question is what do we mean by ‘biblical preaching’? We all acknowledge that this means engaging seriously with scripture and allowing that engagement to shape the direction and contours of the sermon. However, is that all that constitutes biblical preaching? (more…)

andrew picard: thank you for your talk

Language is a slippery thing, often failing to capture exactly what we want to say. However, language does carry and make meaning. As I’ve preached in various churches lately, I’ve noticed a slippage in our language about preaching. We’ve become very nervous about using the word ‘preaching’. I’ve noticed more and more people speak about “talks” rather than preaching – “thank you for your talk”, “are you doing the talk today?” (more…)