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a pandemic preacher (part 2) – geoff new

In this second reflection on the life of Gregory the Great (c.a. 540 – 604), we consider some of the messages from his preaching ministry for us in the 21st century.

“This is my unchanging conviction in changing circumstances”

The circumstances that forced Gregory into new ministry spaces and the inner conflict he experienced because of that – caused him to think through what might be the best response:

“Granted, then, that he continued to feel acutely the tension between his own desire for the contemplative life and the care for all the churches, which fell upon him daily, it is not surprising that he devoted much thought to how not only he but others as well should resolve that conflict and exercise authority in the church. An outgrowth of his thought on the subject is his conviction of the importance of preaching and his understanding of    what makes it important.”[1]

As Gregory reflected on the catastrophic events traumatizing life for people, these shaped his understanding the gospel.[2] While there were times when one particular catastrophe threatened (e.g. war), Gregory would frame it with a wider perspective from Scripture and history. This perspective leant on eschatological hope and an emphasis on the church’s primary business of salvation. Gregory called people to adjust their lives so that should even the world be destroyed, they would not be. For Gregory, all other church responsibilities that demanded attention were secondary to the proclamation of salvation.

questions for reflection

What convictions about preaching do you hold onto – that not even the threat and effect of COVID–19 can change?

What new convictions are being created for you during this time?

“Preach to the one and the many”

The fruit of Gregory’s internal struggle and his realisation of the importance of preaching resulted in his preaching ministry operating at two levels.

1.  The Importance of Preaching as a Person

Gregory was foremost a man of prayer before he was a preacher. He was foremost a child of God in deep conversation with his Creator. Hence, Gregory’s sermons were fueled by his prayerful contemplation and the individual listener was very much in view. Gregory’s personal spirituality came to bear on each person listening to his sermon. A striking example of this preaching dynamic is found in one of his sermons from his famous series on the Book of Ezekiel:[3]

“’Mortal, I have set you as a watchman to the house of Israel.’ Note that Ezekiel, the one   the Lord sent to preach the word, is called “a watchman.” A watchman or sentinel takes a post on the highest point, in order to see whoever may be coming from a distance. Similarly, anyone appointed watchman to a congregation should live a “higher” life so as to keep all things in sight.

 As I say these words, I realize I am reproaching myself. For I do not preach as I ought, nor does my personal example accord with these principles that I’m preaching even now. I can’t deny my guilt, for I’ve become lethargic and negligent in my work; though perhaps by recognizing my failure I’ll win some sympathy and pardon from the Judge. Before I started this work, while living in a religious community, I was able to refrain from talking about idle topics and to devote my mind to prayer. Since taking up this new pastoral position, I have been unable to concentrate on prayer, because I’m so distracted by my responsibilities. . . I am split and torn to pieces by the variety of weighty things on my mind. When I try to concentrate and pull myself together to preach, I feel inadequate to that sacred task. I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with worldly people, and sometimes I become casual in my speech; because if I spoke as my conscience dictates with all formality, I know some of them would simply drop me and    that I could never influence them towards the goal I desire for them. So I endure their aimless chatter in patience. Then, because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle chitchat — and I find myself saying the kind of thing that before I didn’t even want to listen to! . . . What kind of a watchman am I? Far from the heights to which I aspire, I am constrained by my weakness. And yet — the one who created me and redeemed me and all humanity can give me, even in my unworthiness, some grace to glimpse the whole of life, and the skill and ability to speak of what I see. So it is for the love of God that I do not spare myself in preaching.

Gregory bares his soul and his sermon shows evidence that he – as preacher – is the first person confronted by the Word of God. While people may have different responses to such personal disclosure and even question the wisdom of it, it is hard not to be moved by Gregory’s raw description of his spiritual struggle and to find yourself connecting with it.

Gregory advocated a preaching dynamic which was preacher–to–individual.

2. The Importance of Preaching as a People

Gregory was strong in his belief that everyone was equal.[4] Such were the times he lived and the nature of the church, these deeply held views about equality could not be easily aired and expressed.[5] The nature of how leadership was structured in the church distressed him greatly, especially given his leadership role was so elevated. His view that all were equal influenced his vision of the ministry of preaching. He considered all Christians had a responsibility to each other through the duty of preaching.[6] “As Gregory sees it, the ministry of the Word is a ministry of the whole Christian community.”[7] Gregory’s preaching ministry allowed truth to be received from members of the community to the preacher, and in turn for the community to receive truth from the community. This might appear as nothing especially extraordinary, but at that time in history with a strongly hierarchical church leadership structure this was astonishing.

It is helpful too, to see how Gregory located the preacher and community within the context of Scripture and divine revelation.

As mentioned in the previous section, one of the prominent sermon series Gregory preached was from Ezekiel. He used the vision of the four creatures in Ezekiel 1 to formulate his vision of the word of God as it related to preaching.[8] The four creatures had the face of a human, lion, ox, and eagle. In considering Gregory’s reflection, it needs to be noted that allegory was often utilized in his day and age. Gregory proposed the vision of the four creatures:

  • Speaks of Christ (Word of God)
  • Speaks of the gospel writers (writers of the Word of God)
  • Speaks of preachers (proclaimers of the Word of God)
  • Speaks of the faithful (who hear and obey the Word of God)

Such was the Word-shaped community Gregory envisaged. The immediate worshipping community to which he preached was part of a wider, historical, and timeless community formed by the giving, receiving, recording and response to the Word of God.

Gregory advocated a preaching dynamic which was community–to–preacher.

questions for reflection

What spiritual fruit is emerging from your time during the various Alert Levels that will bless individual listeners when you preach?

What opportunities are arising from the COVID–19 Alert Levels that allow you as preacher to receive truth from the community you serve?

“Preach taking seriously Christ’s declaration that ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’”

Of all the preachers the world has been blessed with, Gregory the Great is well-named. His deep love of the Scriptures and study of them birthed beautiful sermons.

He brought the sprawling and eternal message of the Scriptures to bear on the sprawling and temporal nature of the world. He is also one of the first great preachers to introduce non-scriptural illustrations and stories to illuminate the bible text.[9] Gregory’s preaching practice ranged between lectio continua (preaching through a book of the bible) and using the lectionary.

For example, when the Lombards were invading from the north, Gregory was engaged in a lectio continua sermon series in Ezekiel and was at chapter four. However when the Lombards were at the gates of Rome he jumped to Ezekiel 40 which is about the heavenly Jerusalem. Ezekiel had preached to a people invaded from the north and prophesied a heavenly kingdom; Gregory took his lead from the prophet. In this Gregory demonstrated the skill required when employing lectio continua: “Half the genius of great lectio continua preaching is selecting the right book or portion of a book at the right time.”[10]

Gregory’s extraordinary sermons on Ezekiel highlighted the everlasting glory, holiness, and majesty of God at a dark time in history when the grandeur of human achievements were fading. “Gregory’s greatest contribution was to assure an age that was at the edge of chaos that there is an ultimate order.”[11]

Also during his time, the lectionary was still being formulated and there were a number of Sunday’s and special occasions with no assigned text. Gregory populated these with selected texts and he is considered the final authority of the Roman lectionary. The tension between Gregory drawing on what had been done previously and adding to that, is contained in this observation about him: “This very creative Christian leader understood himself as a definer of the tradition rather than as an innovator.”[12] Yet perhaps defining traditions in times of great uncertainty is a crucial kind of innovation. Especially when new traditions are birthed from circumstances never before experienced. Such innovation is clothed with challenging creativity (“new”) and comforting familiarity (“tradition”).

questions for reflection

I.  If you are mostly a lectionary preacher: how has the Spirit led you in the use of the assigned Scripture during this COVID context?


II.  If you are mostly a lectio continua preacher: how has the Spirit led you to select a Scripture during this COVID context?

Then consider this:

Gregory utilised both the lectionary and lectio continua: if you favour one approach over the other – what would it mean for you to create a new tradition by trying the other approach?

(This reflection first appeared on the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership website)

[1] O.C. Edwards Jr, A History of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004), 138. Emphasis mine.

[2] Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: Volume 2, The Patristic Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 436.

[3] – accessed 1st May 2020

[4] Whit Trumbull, “Equality and Pastoral Rule: Pope Gregory the Great’s Inner Conflict”, Priscilla Papers, Vol 22, No. 1, Winter 2008, 17-20.

[5] He also advocated against slavery but conceded the expediency of it as a social institution but called for humane treatment of slaves. Trumbull, “Equality”, 17.

[6] Edwards, Preaching, 139.

[7] Old, Preaching of the Scriptures, 441.

[8] Old, Preaching of the Scriptures, 442.

[9] Edwards, Preaching, 140.

[10] Old, Preaching of the Scriptures, 438.

[11] Old, Preaching of the Scriptures, 438.

[12] Old, Preaching of the Scriptures, 430.

a pandemic preacher (part 1) – geoff new

COVID-19 has forced people into isolation and lockdown with little notice. Suddenly the nature of Christian ministry has changed. Much of what is usually done face-to-face, such as pastoral care and preaching, now needs to be conducted at a distance.

What is the impact on the preacher and preaching at a time like this?

With the rapid impact and turmoil that COVID-19 has wrought; the preacher’s spiritual, mental and emotional strength can be profoundly affected. In the rush and pressure to decide how or even what to preach – the preacher needs to be mindful of their spirituality. For the how-and-what-of-preaching comes directly from the who-is-preaching.

Preachers in lockdown face new pressures. Such pressures are internal (e.g. confined to home and finding it difficult to find time and space to write a sermon) and external (e.g. uncertainty about financial income). These pressures take a toll. The preacher endeavouring to prepare a sermon can find themselves depleted mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. The local, national, and international news threatens to overwhelm with the latest statistics and stories about the unrelenting impact of COVID-19.

So, the “who” of preaching requires attention and auditing.

In lockdown and as a preacher, are we increasing or decreasing?

Is our vitality leaking or peaking?

One thing I love about Scripture, is how it teaches us to consider our family–in–the–faith from generation–to–generation (e.g. Heb 11). We have the opportunity to consider their way of life and faith to help us as we seek to be faithful to Christ and his call on our life. We will reflect on the life of one of the great preachers in church history.

Let us consider Gregory the Great (ca 540–604). Gregory was an outstanding preacher and leader in the sixth century church in Rome.

What would Gregory say to us today as we are confronted with the challenges and uncertainty of ministry in a pandemic?

“Listen to God’s call in the presence of change”

Gregory’s first love and call was to a life of prayer. Gregory was drawn to life in the monastery and would have happily lived and died there. However, given the huge disruptions to life and society, his extraordinary gifts (such as administration) were needed by the wider church. This caused deep inner conflict for him: whether to serve God as a monk dedicated to a life of prayer or leave that life to serve the church as her leader? Then in 590 circumstances dramatically forced Gregory into a new season of ministry. Pope Pelagius died of the plague and Gregory found himself as Pelagius’s very reluctant replacement leading the church. He remained a monk living in community and attended to the office of leading the wider church.[1]

A painting of Gregory gives us a visual aid of the inner conflict that Gregory suffered. This painting is by Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652). Ribera was known as the “Spanish Caravaggio” and his depiction of Gregory gifts us insight into what Gregory faced and how he responded.[2]

“Gregory the Great” by Jusepe de Ribera

The painting has a play of light and darkness. The darkness forms the background and spills onto Gregory. Yet the prominence of the dove speaks of the fact that Gregory is not alone in this. The presence of the dove in the painting, a regular feature in art works of Gregory, is representative of the Spirit. Like on Gregory, light, and darkness interplay on the form of the dove. In fact, the dove is even more enveloped with light and darkness than Gregory. But the flight path of the dove is from the darkness, into the light and towards Gregory and about to alight on Gregory. Beautiful! Light or darkness be assured of this: God is God. And God is with us. “Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

The painting positions Gregory so that he is half turned away from the viewer. The symbols of the office of leadership sit on the desk. His shaven (tonsure) head in the tradition of monks is emphasised. Books are stacked on the desk. He has a quill in hand and is writing. All this depicts the inner conflict for Gregory. His back is not only to the viewer but to the world. His shaven head signifies his desire to spend a life in prayerful contemplation. The books represent his monastic life and his writing which resulted in deep theological reflection for generations since.[3] But what ministry space can he occupy? The contemplative (monastic) or the active (the church)?

Illustrative of the dilemma Gregory faced, scholars debate which age Gregory belongs to. Is he the evening star of the church Fathers, or is he the morning star of the great medieval theologians?[4] I like it that there is uncertainty about that. It adds a layer of meaning to the transition of ministry that we see Gregory needed to make in response to all that was happening in his world. And with reference to the painting, the posture of being half-turned away from the viewer (or is it half-turned towards) represents that Gregory’s life was marked by transition.

Yet the look on his face is enigmatic. Initially his expression, especially marked by his mouth, appears grim. Yet the longer you look at it seems the grim look becomes a gentle smile. It is as if the longer you gaze at his face, you begin see Gregory slowly surrendering to the call of God and a soft joy and peace invades his spirit.

Gregory was confronted with either/or: either monastic life or church leadership. He decided it was both/and: both monastic life and church leadership. Both contemplation and active ministry.[5] Perhaps his example laid the foundation for the spirituality that future generations termed as “contemplatives in action.”

questions for reflection

What changes in your ministry are being called for in response to COVID–19?

What inner conflict does this cause for you?

Jusepe de Ribera painted Gregory using symbols, colours and items to represent his struggles and ministry. As you preach, imagine God watching you – with paint brush in hand – painting your portrait. What symbols, colours and items would God paint to best depict this season of ministry for you?

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Around the year of Gregory’s birth (540), an outbreak of the plague killed one third of Europe’s population. For the rest of that century – and throughout Gregory’s lifetime – there were frequent outbreaks of the plague. But this was not the only pressure confronting life in the sixth century. “During his lifetime there were also famine, disease, floods of the Tiber [the river running through Rome], inflation, panic, and at times even riots.”[6] Gregory obviously had no control over the forces of life and death during the time in history he lived.

Life was tumultuous.

Death was up close and personal – constantly so.

When considering the life and ministry of Gregory the Great, two biblical examples come to mind: Esther and Jeremiah.

Like the young Jewish queen Esther – Gregory found himself in a position of great influence at time of great national difficulty.

Like the young prophet Jeremiah – Gregory was initially very reluctant about where the call of God was leading him.

Like Esther and Jeremiah – Gregory ministered at a time when the risk to human life was especially heightened. Anxiety was great.

Like Esther and Jeremiah – Gregory ministered in the midst of times when the presence of God was both opaque and obvious.

Like Esther and Jeremiah – Gregory needed to navigate events with a spirit of submission and surrender with trust in the God of all the earth.[7] A God whose “ways are just, right, wise, but neither transparent nor immune to misunderstanding. There is an unfolding and a shrouding, a concealing within a disclosing, consoling as well as confusing.”[8]

Gregory’s humanity is evident when we see him through the lens of Esther and Jeremiah: he discerns what God is asking of him and he struggles with it. Yet, he says “yes” to God and Gregory’s legacy can be summed up in the words of Acts 13:36; “After he served the purpose of God in his own generation he died.”

Gregory was a person of action who thought deeply.[9] He had a deep grounding in God and ministered profoundly from that basis. Gregory’s life is evidence he surrendered to the Potter crafting his life (Isa 64:8).

While I have taken the liberty of utilising Esther and Jeremiah as two biblical figures to describe Gregory – he chose someone else. The book from the bible which aided Gregory the most in making the transition into his new sphere of leadership was the Book of Job. The book of Job became his tutor and influenced his understanding of pastoral work and preaching.[10]

Consider events over the past year that have affected local, national, and international life (e.g. Christchurch mosque shootings, Whakaari/White Island eruption, Australian bushfires, COVID–19). Include those events which are local and personal to your immediate ministry context.

This is the context you preach out of and into.

“And who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

question for reflection

Which biblical character or book of the bible serves as a helpful companion for you at this time?

(This reflection first appeared on the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership website)

[1] O.C. Edwards Jr, A History of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004), 138.

[2] My reflection is informed and guided by Father Justin Huber, “Art Reflection: Pope St Gregory the Great”, Priest, 8-9. [Publication year unknown]

[3] His most significant work was entitled Pastoral Care in which he developed so much of his thinking about preaching, leadership and the pastoral responsibilities of leaders.

[4] Edwards, History, 426.

[5] Edwards, History, 139.

[6] Edwards, Preaching,136.

[7] F. Lionel Young III, “Caring for your Inner Life while Caring for the Church: the Counsel of Gregory the Great”, The Clergy Journal, 10.

[8] Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962/2001), 224.

[9] Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: Volume 2, The Patristic Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 426.

[10] Edwards, Preaching, 138 & 142.

john the baptist’s covid-19 call to you – geoff new

Mark 1:1-4

1The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John the Baptist was a preacher in an isolated place (the wilderness) and proclaiming from that place.

Let’s listen to his words as we seek to preach in a COVID–19 world which can force preachers into “wilderness” and isolated places.

“I am not the Messiah” (John 1:19–23)

With lockdown measures, you are in a new space marked by restrictions. You might be fielding and feeling expectations from others that you ought to be immediately effective in this new preaching space. The sub-text of these expectations is that you ought to have more answers than you are offering.

In the face of anxiety-ridden expectations -– you find you don’t have a lot of answers.

A reminder then for you.

From the wilderness, John the Baptist calls: you are not the Messiah.

“A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1:29–31)

This is worthy of careful and prayerful consideration – your preaching never begins with you. You preach concerning the One Who has already gone before you and surpasses you.

As a preacher, you are not in a position of supremacy or primacy: Christ is (Col 1:15–20).

The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the rapid response has caught us all off-guard to varying degrees. Yet we preach Christ who is not surprised or caught off-guard. He is the Lamb of God slain before the creation of the world (John 1:29; Rev 13:8) because of his love for the world for the salvation of the world.

A truth then for you.

From the wilderness, John the Baptist calls: Christ surpasses you because he was before you.

“I baptise you with water . . . He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Mark 3:11)

The promises of God about the Spirit’s work among us abound. At a time when you experience weariness and worry about families – the family of God, the families of the world, and your own family – the Spirit is with you.

At a time when your energy is depleted and your mind and heart is racing with everything that needs to be done . . .

A gift then for you.

From the wilderness, John the Baptist calls: Jesus baptises you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

“He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:26–30)

Your reputation and skill as a preacher could be enhanced in this COVID-19 crisis. It may be that you adapt quickly and proclaim the gospel beautifully and wisely. Deep blessings to you in this.

Yet your proclamation and reflection rests on discerning the work and ways of God in the midst of what the world is confronted with. Who is being elevated in your preaching? Truly.

In an ancient work of art, Mathias Grüenwald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (painted in 1512–1516), the depiction of the suffering and crucified Christ is horrific and gruesome. His body is afflicted with sores and worms. Very Job-like. The original placement of this work was in the chapel of a monastery dedicated to the care of victims of a terrible plague-like sickness in the Middle-Ages. At the foot of the cross stands John the Baptist with an open Bible pointing at Jesus. The Baptist’s words “He must increase but I must decrease” are quoted. He bears witness.

Mathias Grüenwald’s Isenheim Altarpiece

A challenge then for you.

From the wilderness, John the Baptist calls: Jesus must become greater and you must become less.

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered . . . (Luke 3:1–14)

Preaching leads to response. A sense of urgency marks our craft. In Luke 3 the crowds, tax collectors and soldiers responded to the message by asking “What should we do?” The three groups are representative of the life and times of 1st century Palestine. John the Baptist’s replies were specific and grounded in the essence of the Torah and writing of the prophets. John the Baptist’s response is an early version of Jesus’ later summary of the law and prophets:

Matt 22

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

A preaching ministry continues to open up for you.

From the wilderness, you call . . .

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):


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).



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).



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.






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



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.



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.



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.



. . . 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 . . .



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



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 ($NZ10 + postage) or from Langham Literature


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!!

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 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.

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