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lest we forget – reuben munn

I’m writing this around the time of Anzac Day, an important day on our national calendar for remembering those in New Zealand and Australia who have been killed in war, particularly the Gallipoli campaign. Through dawn services, tributes and personal reflections on this day, we honour the fallen, we keep their memory alive, and we learn to embody the spirit of courage and sacrifice they showed.

This theme of remembering also intersects with a book I’m currently reading called Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness, by Jeffrey Arthurs. The idea of the book is that a central task of preaching is to stir memory—memory of who God is and what he has done, in order that these memories may come alive for us in the present and shape our lives in the future. Arthurs describes preachers as ‘The Lord’s Remembrancers.’ The title is taken from the role of the Queen’s (or King’s) remembrancer, the oldest judicial position in continual existence in Great Britain (still around today). The remembrancer’s job is to put the Lord Treasurer and the Barons of the Court in remembrance of pending business, taxes paid and unpaid, and other things that pertained to the benefit of the crown. In a similar way, preachers are the Lord’s remembrancers in the sense that “we remind God’s subjects of their covenant with the king of heaven.”

The role of remembracing is more than just recalling past events for our hearers. Think of what is happening when we remember our fallen soldiers on Anzac Day. By remembering their past actions, we are allowing those memories to shape us as a nation, to define who we are and who we want to be. These memories bind us together and form our identity. In the same way, when we remind our hearers of God’s mighty acts in redemptive history, we are allowing them to participate in those events afresh in the present. This is not about empty repetition, but a drawing on biblical memory in order to foster thankfulness, humility and wisdom in our lives. Our task is to draw people into the stories of what God has done long ago in Scripture so that they might find their place in that story and see how that story continues to be outworked in their own lives today.

Remembracing also binds us to one another. In stirring memory, the body of Christ is ‘re-membered’ so that the fragmented pieces of the church are put back together again. The stories of Scripture are our shared possession. Dwelling on God’s redemptive work in Scripture shapes our collective identity as the people of God and reunites us with one another through shared memory. Remembering binds us to one another as well as to God.

Maybe thinking about ourselves as ‘the Lord’s Remembrancers’ can give us a bigger vision for our role as preachers?  

preaching with cultural intelligence – reuben munn

I read an interesting book recently called Preaching With Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons. Written by Matthew Kim, it’s a helpful guide to reflecting on how well our preaching is connecting with those who don’t share our cultural context—not only in terms of ethnicity but also gender, socio-economic context, religious background, demographics, geographic location, and so on. It has reminded me how much I instinctively preach to people like myself, especially in the illustrations and applications I use in sermons. Being mindful of the ‘Other’ (even that term is problematic) doesn’t come naturally to me in preaching, and this book has been useful in that regard.

In particular, Kim takes a theory of cultural intelligence developed by David Livermore and applies it to preaching. He describes a model of cultural intelligence (described as QC—cultural quotient) in preaching that involves four steps:

  1. QC Drive. This is “The motivational dimension of CQ, [which] is the leader’s level of interest, drive, and energy to adapt cross-culturally.” In other words, do we even care about communicating cross-culturally, or only homogeneously? Cultivating QC drive is about developing the motivation to expand our cultural horizons and connect more deeply with those unlike ourselves.


  1. QC Knowledge. This is “the cognitive dimension of the CQ research, [and] refers to the leader’s knowledge about culture and its role in shaping how business [or preaching] is done.” This means getting to know our congregational context better. Even in churches that is not very ethnically diverse, there is still diversity along many other cultural axes—age range, denominational background, political affiliation, etc. How well do we understand our hearers and the specific factors that make them tick?


  1. QC strategy. This is “the leader’s ability to strategise when crossing cultures.” In other words, make a plan. Reading this book became part of the plan for me and gave me some concrete tools.


  1. QC action. This is “the behavioural dimension of CQ…the leader’s ability to act appropriately in a range of cross-cultural situations.” Learning about cultural intelligence in preaching means nothing if we don’t put it into practice. As a small example, in a sermon a few weeks back on anger I gave a range of examples of situations that make us angry. Because I had just read this book, the idea of cultural intelligence was in my head, and I included an example of someone from a minority culture becoming angry because of a subtly racist comment made by someone from a majority culture. A person in the church commented later on that she appreciated that example because it made our church seem less ‘white’!

I’d recommend this book to any preachers desiring a greater level of connection and resonance with their audience, especially those with whom they don’t have much in common. By appreciating the complexities of our hearers, we can more effectively build bridges from the gospel to their lives.

preaching at funerals – reuben munn

Earlier this year I officiated the funeral service of a young woman in our church who had committed suicide. She was in her 20s and had a young family—a husband, a 7-month old daughter and a 2-yr old son. After the birth of both her children she had severe post-natal depression, with the second time being much worse and more prolonged. In the darkness of her depression she took her own life. It’s about the most horrendous thing you can imagine happening to a family, and our whole church community felt the heavy weight of grief.

I usually give a short message at funerals, just a few minutes. I wanted to be open about the awfulness of what had happened, and not sugar-coat the circumstances of her death. But at the same time I wanted to bring out the reality that she had a genuine faith in Christ, even though she struggled to hold on to God near the end. I latched on to Romans 8:37-39 in the Message translation: “Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Once I had that Scripture in my head, the message came together around it. I described how this woman knew Jesus and because of that, he was with her through everything. Even the darkest days of her depression couldn’t separate her from the love of Christ. Even when she couldn’t hold onto God, he was holding onto her. Even death itself couldn’t separate her from Christ because he had already died for her. In death and life she was absolutely secure in the love of Jesus because of his death and resurrection. I tried to talk positively about where she now was—in heaven—without suggesting at all that her death itself was positive. That was a difficult tightrope to walk. But people seemed encouraged by the meshing of grief and hope in the service.

Thankfully not all funerals are that hard. They can be a great opportunity to preach ‘out of season,’ beyond a church context and into a space where there are invariably non-Christians present and people are thinking about life and death more than usual. Here are a few other things I’ve learned about preaching at funerals . . .

  1. Be specific about heaven. If the person is a Christian, don’t talk about them being in a ‘better place.’ Be confident about describing them at peace and rest in heaven.
  2. Talk about ‘life after life after death’ (Tom Wright). Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world. Talk also about the future resurrection, when we will all receive our new bodies together and enter God’s new creation.
  3. If the person is a non-Christian, you can still involve God. As long as the family is comfortable, it’s still good to pray at non-Christian funerals, to commit the person to God, and to encourage the family to find strength in Christ. Just be careful with your words so you don’t say something you don’t mean!

What would you advise for preaching at funerals?

too much preaching – reuben munn


I am drowning in preaching. Way too many messages to prepare, way too little time. I’m doing sermon preparation every working morning and most evenings at the moment, which is not healthy. My normal frequency of preaching is three Sundays out of four. Even that is pretty high and I wouldn’t mind cutting it down to three out of five. But last Sunday I started a run of preaching five consecutive Sundays.  Having done that before, I know that the problem starts around week three when I run out of freshness and energy for preaching. After that week four and five are all business, no pleasure. It’s just a case of cranking out sermons, without really experiencing the joy of preaching.

On top of that I have some external preaching commitments in April-May, and some of the time I had planned to use in February preparing for those got swallowed up with some personal issues I was dealing with. That’s resulted in a compressed time-frame to prepare those messages, hence the evening work. It’s not a good situation.

I suppose this is a good time, in the middle of the homiletical storm, to reflect on all this, the effect it has, and how I can avoid this situation in the future. I see the following effects of preaching too much: 1) a lack of freshness and creativity in preaching—sermons become dry (if they weren’t already) and more exegetically than application focused. 2) A loss of interest in preaching on my part. It stops being life-giving and becomes a burden. 3) I just get tired, which is never a good space to be in when doing sermon prep. There are plenty of jobs you can still do well when you are tired, but preaching is not one of them.

So how do we avoid over-preaching? I guess it’s a case of knowing what a healthy frequency of preaching looks like for us and sticking to it. It means knowing what time of day is best for us to do sermon prep and not trying to cram too much extra prep into unfruitful time slots. And it means doing what we can to develop other preachers who can share the load. These are all lessons I am still learning! For now, I need to get back to preparing this week’s message…

driven, focused and centred – reuben munn


This year has solidified for me three simple but central convictions about preaching. I’ve carried these convictions around for a while, and they have been said many times by many people, but they have become more clearly and firmly pressed on my heart in the course of preaching through Exodus this year. For me, good preaching is three things:

  1. Text-driven

There is a real discipline to allowing the text to set the agenda for the shape, flow and content of the sermon. Even though I’m committed to this in principle, I find it a constant temptation to pull the text this way or that, depending on where I want to go (or want the congregation to go!). It’s hard to truly submit to the text as a preacher, to give it—and thereby the Spirit—real authority over the preparation of the message. I’d rather use the text to preach the latest book I’ve read, or an issue that I think is pertinent to the church. But the extent of my willingness to submit to the biblical text is a reflection of my trust in the providence of Christ to speak through Scripture.

  1. Metanarrative-focussed.

While being driven by the text, I also want as much as possible to connect that text to the entire biblical narrative. I want to explore how this text fits into the overall story of Scripture, stretching from creation (and before, in the eternal life of the trinity) through to new creation. But that doesn’t mean using the text as a springboard into other passages. I think sometimes preachers assume that’s what it means to preach the big story of Scripture—fit as many biblical passages as possible into one sermon. This is where we have to hold this conviction in one hand and the conviction to be text-driven in the other. Our message must still be thoroughly grounded in the given text, but carefully place that text in the context of Scripture as a whole. This often requires a zoom-in-zoom-out approach, where we shift between a focus on the text itself and a broader focus on thematic connections to other parts of Scripture.

  1. Christ-centred.

The importance of Christ-centrality in preaching was hammered home to me by Tim Keller’s latest book, Preaching. He says, “Every time you expound a biblical text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can. That means we must preach Christ from every text.” I’ve found it particularly fruitful this year exploring the various ways that the Exodus story points to Christ. For example, in my message on the plagues of Egypt I talked about how the plagues symbolically pictured God undoing creation, pushing the world back toward darkness and chaos. This was ultimately fulfilled at the cross when Jesus took the ultimate plague of God’s judgement upon himself and this was accompanied by darkness coming over all the land (as per the ninth plague—creation undone again). This not only deepens our picture of Christ, it helps our hearers see the depth and richness of the Old Testament as a shadow of what was to come. No matter what our text, our sermon is not finished until we have preached Christ!

These three convictions are guiding beacons for me as I prepare each message. I pray they will increasingly define and shape my preaching in the years to come. What are the central convictions you have about what constitutes good preaching?


when the congregation preaches the sermon – reuben munn


Preaching is always a dialogue. Just because you may be the only one speaking, that doesn’t mean it’s a monologue. As Tom Long says: “The hearer is not at all passive in the listening process. The space between pulpit and pew bristles with energy and activity. As the preacher speaks, the hearer races ahead in anticipation of what might be said next, ranges back over what has already been said, debates with the preacher, rearranges the material, adds to the message, wanders away and returns (sometimes!). In short, the hearer is a co-creator of the sermon.”

I love the thought that as I am preaching, I am making something together with my hearers, and that the delivered sermon is the shared creation of preacher, congregation and Spirit. That also explains why sermons don’t tend to date very well. A message that seemed like a winner in one context falls flat in another. Why? Because its success depended partly on one of the co-creators of the message—the congregation.

This growing awareness of the congregation as co-creators of the sermon is leading me to place a greater emphasis on the role and responsibility of my hearers during preaching. I want them to know I’m not going to do all the hard work for them, at least not up front. A few weeks ago I did an introductory message to a series in Exodus, in which I explored how Exodus imagery is found throughout Scripture, particularly in relation to Israel’s return from exile, the life and death of Jesus, and the new creation. As we read various texts from the prophets, Psalms and gospels, I asked the congregation to listen for echoes of the Exodus story. I pointed out bits and pieces in these texts and asked (rhetorically) where they had heard these words and phrases before. Eventually I explained the various connections but first I tried to send the congregation down the path ahead of me to make these discoveries for themselves.

Emphasising the active role of the hearer in preaching lends itself to a more inductive style of preaching in which questions and tensions are raised by the text(s) and provoked by the preacher. Don’t give the answers too quickly…make your hearers answer the questions themselves first by wrestling with the text. Don’t resolve all the tension for them…let them sweat it out for a while! And don’t always give away the whole structure of your message up front…let them piece it together as you go along. Tom Long’s comment that the audience even rearranges our material in their heads can be an invitation to give our hearers ‘off-ramps’ and ‘on-ramps’ during the message where they may detour to another part of the sermon in their minds. In practical terms, this may be as simple as saying to your hearers, “let’s park that question for now and we’ll come back to it later,” or “we saw this same pattern earlier in the text.” That signals to the hearer that they might want to mentally re-organise some of the content of your message. Of course this can all become very muddy and confused if we’re not careful…there is no substitute for simplicity and clarity (and I can’t resolve that tension for you!).

I want to expect more of my hearers in preaching. I want to call them to a greater level of mental and emotional participation in the sermon and a greater level of responsibility for the final creation. In what other ways can we facilitate the role of our hearers as co-creators of our sermons?

text and table together – reuben munn


I want to pick up on a comment made by Roger Driver-Burgess in response to John Tucker’s blog post, Highways to Christ. In his comment, Roger mentioned that Christocentric preaching has been made easier in his church by the weekly observance of communion, usually after the sermon. In his words, “Every week I need to find my way from the text to the table, and there is always a way.” I thought that was really well put, a thought-provoking statement which got me thinking about other connections between the text and the table, between preaching and communion. Whether your church takes communion each week (as ours does) or less regularly, it is worth considering whether we can strengthen the relationship between text and table in our gathered worship so that Word and sacrament are more fully integrated in the life of the church.

If the heart of our preaching is the Gospel of grace, then preaching should connect naturally with communion itself. Communion is where we invite people to encounter Christ in the bread and wine and claim their belovedness in him. Rather than simply being a purely symbolic remembrance of Jesus’ death in the past, communion can become a dynamic and living means of grace in the present by which Christ meets us at the table, just as we have met him in the pages of his Word through the sermon. Communion can be a moment when it all comes together—the sermon, the congregation, the preacher, the text of Scripture, all at the foot of the cross. Although our preaching should always be Christocentric, communion can truly bathe our sermon in the death of Jesus, and seal on the hearts of our congregation what has been preached, or perhaps prepare them for what is about to be preached. Communion is a time and space for people to more fully receive the gift that God is giving them through our preaching—the assurance that in Christ they are loved and blessed even though they are broken, and that they are sent out to be given to others as a living sacrament, poured out for the sake of others. Isn’t that what our preaching is all about?

So I’m trying to create more time and space for communion in our services, often as a response to what has been preached. One practical shift this is bringing about is that the conclusion of my sermons is often less about wrapping up the sermon, and more about opening up new space for people to reflect on what God is saying to them through his Word. Communion then provides the perfect contemplative space for this, not simply as a time to meditate, but as a way of the congregation hearing God confirm his word to them, in view of what they have heard through Scripture and especially in view of the cross (which hopefully are connected!). My sermon conclusion is therefore not just looking back over the message, but looking forward to what God is about to do when we meet him in Christ at the table.

Are there other connections between text and table that could be explored?

preaching to non-christians – reuben munn


I’m currently writing a series of talks for a course our church is running called The Story of God. It’s designed for non-Christians as an introduction to the Christian worldview, journeying through the biblical story over five sessions. I’m enjoying the challenge of preparing messages especially for a non-Christian audience, which is not something I do very much. It is raising some interesting issues for me around communicating Scripture and the gospel to those outside the family of God.

Firstly, telling the story of Scripture to non-Christians is forcing me to identify what plot-points in the biblical story are important to cover in order for them to grasp the scarlet thread that weaves its way through the biblical narrative. Covering the Old Testament is particularly tricky. Is Abraham in or out? What about Noah (I figure he’s gotten enough publicity recently, so he’s out!)? How much of the story of Israel pre-Jesus is really important for non-Christians in understanding the gospel? I have used the theme of the image of God in telling the story, so I’m talking about Israel as God’s image-bearers in the world, and how they fared in that vocation. That provides a kind of macro look at Israel’s role in the story of salvation, without getting caught up in the details. I have found the image of God motif a really rich one for telling the whole story of Scripture, especially in exploring the identity of Jesus (the perfect image), the Christian life (being transformed into the image of Christ) and the future new creation (the image of God fully restored in humanity).

Then there is the challenge of defining terms and succinctly describing key moments in the biblical story. What do you do with sin? Is that word so laden with unhelpful baggage that it is best discarded when talking to non-Christians? I have chosen to keep the word ‘sin’ in use because it’s in the Bible, but I’ve defined it as human beings distorting the relationships that comprise the image of God (relationship with God, self, others and the world). Is that a legitimate way of defining sin for non-Christians, or a strained attempt to carry the image of God concept throughout the story? And what about the atonement? How do you boil that down for non-Christians without becoming it becoming cliché or cluttered? I’d like to include every model and metaphor of the atonement available in order to present the fullest possible picture, but of course that’s impossible, so which one do I choose? I’ve also chosen to use the word ‘repent’ when describing what it means to become a follower of Jesus, but again, I’ll try to define the word as carefully as I can, and name the ways in which the word has been abused.

The great thing is that trying to tell the story of Scripture as clearly and succinctly as possible for a non-Christian audience is helping clarify the shape of my own theology. And it is giving me a fresh passion for communicating the gospel (however we define it) to those who have not yet embraced it, that their eyes may be opened to see Jesus and respond to him in faith.

a preacher reflects on being in the lion’s den – reuben munn


Earlier this month the KiwiMade preaching forums were held around the country and I was privileged to participate as one of the preachers in Auckland. Our text was the temptations of Jesus in Luke 4, but given the occasion it may have been more appropriate for us to preach on Daniel in the lion’s den! It was a daunting challenge: preaching to an audience of preachers, preaching on the same text as three other preachers on the same day, and being publicly reviewed by a panel of preachers. Thankfully the panellists didn’t have buzzers so we were each able to make it through our messages uninterrupted! It was a great experience and one that I’ve drawn several reflections from on my own preaching journey.

The greatest impression I came away with from the day was a renewed appreciation of the diversity of preaching styles and methods. It’s so easy to get blinded by our own preaching model to the broad ways in which God’s word can be effectively proclaimed by different people. Among the sermons at the Auckland forum we had deductive, narrative, contemplative and a crossbreed. We had pacers, standers and a beautifully devotional message preached from a wheelchair. Some sermons were highly illustrative, others imaginative, others more teachy. From the one passage, the four sermons travelled in four different directions, yet each of them remained faithful to the text. Jesus’ temptations produced a variety of rich reflections, ranging from comfort for those in spiritual dessert places to caution for those tempted to compromise with the world.  And through all of these ways and means, Scripture was faithfully preached and Christ was made more fully known.

I was reminded that there is not one right preaching model. Yes, there are some non-negotiables: preaching should be biblical, Christ-centred, clear and sincere. And there may be approaches to preaching that are better suited to congregations as an ongoing diet. But we each have to find our own preaching voice and become comfortable in our own skin.

Then there was the whole issue of receiving feedback. As Geoff New put it on the day, “sermons are birthed, and we treasure them like our children.” So it wasn’t easy subjecting my ‘baby’ to the critique of others, especially in front of the whole room. But it was a really valuable process. The panellists were forthright in their comments, and I had to fight the urge to become self-defensive at times, but they were genuinely helpful. It is rare to receive that calibre of feedback in preaching, beyond the one-liners you get after a church service. These were very thoughtful comments, both at an exegetical level (from the Lukan scholar on the panel—thanks Sarah Harris!) to remarks about structure, flow and delivery. At times the panellists disagreed with each other (not quite X-factor, but close), which in itself was an insight into how messages are heard. Something that jars with one person is warmly received by another.

All up I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was challenging for me personally, both leading up to and during the day, but it has been strengthening for me as a preacher. And I hope that all those of us who attended came away nourished by Scripture, encouraged by the kerygma of the gospel, and renewed in our calling as preachers.

preaching in bad head-space – reuben munn


Recently I’ve had to preach when it hasn’t been well with my soul. I had a really tough week and was experiencing major inner turmoil. It wasn’t even well with my body; I had a mild stomach bug at the end of the same week. I arrived exhausted at a weekend on which I was due to speak at a marriage conference, give a talk at a wedding ceremony and preach at our church. It was like staring up a huge mountain that I felt completely incapable of climbing.

On the Saturday morning I sent a text to my elders, asking for their prayer. They sent back assurances that they were praying for me, and off I went to speak at the marriage conference. I decided to adjust the ending of that talk in order to speak out of my own sense of physical and emotional brokenness at the time. I told the story of how earlier in the week, in the middle of the anguish I was feeling, my wife Anna had prayed for me, and what a special and powerful moment that was. I didn’t talk about the situation itself but simply how Anna had supported me through it. It seemed that people who were listening connected more to that story than anything else I said. It really seemed to resonate with them.

That experience reassured me that it’s ok at times to speak out of our brokenness and weakness. If that’s where we are at, I don’t see much point in putting on a fake happy face and pretending to be all jovial in the pulpit. I know nobody likes a sour puss, but I want to be real with people I speak to, and sometimes that’s going to mean being real in my pain. It’s encouraging that when people sense vulnerability in a preacher they often connect deeply with it and relate more emotively to what is being said. This is not an attempt to go for the sympathy vote but simply a plea for us to be a bit more raw with our lives in preaching; both in our joy and our suffering.

I got through the wedding talk that weekend as well, and the following morning’s sermon. I didn’t have my usual energy level but other than that things seemed to go ok. Even my upset stomach eased when I was speaking. I can’t remember much of what I personally prayed those days; I think it was more of a sense of just trying to rest in God’s presence and peace rather than using any particular prayer words. God was so faithful to me (and hopefully to those who listened!) and it reminded me that my preaching really is in his hands and not mine.

The next week was much brighter. It’s easy now to drift into self-reliance, but I think the experience of that dark week has left a mark on my preaching. I am more willing to be broken before those I preach to, and at the same time I’m painfully aware of the temptation to do so out of pride (false humility). I am more consciously aware of my total dependence on God throughout the whole process of preaching. And I’m encouraged by the words of Psalm 31: “I trust in you, Lord. I say, ‘you are my God.’ My times are in your hands.”