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interview with viv coleman

Viv – you have been a Presbyterian minister for decades in NZ and in later years involved in a Baptist church. You were also involved for a number of years in the assessment of candidates for vocational ministry training.

What have you been doing more recently?

These days I am self-employed as a ministry coach, an all-encompassing term that covers leading services and supervising pastors, resourcing discipleship training and writing about management in the church. I’m married to Ric, an Auckland GP, and we have four children and seven grandchildren. And I am still bi-denominational!

Reflecting on that – what are your observations about the place and health of preaching in NZ?

I still passionately believe the Ministry of the Word is our key calling as pastoral leaders. If a person doesn’t want to preach, I would be reluctant to approve them for ordination studies. There needs to be that ‘fire in the belly’, even from an introvert! That said, the contexts for that ministry have changed so much that very different skills are required from when I trained in the early seventies. Ministers who receive formal training through Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (Presbyterian) or Carey Baptist College today seem to be well-equipped, although preaching is a ministry in which we are, or should be, learning all the time. (Who would have thought that we would be competing with TED Talks on YouTube? But we are). My main concern with the health of preaching in New Zealand is the fact that many small churches must rely on Local Ministry Teams of people who may or may not have any past or ongoing theological education. Some of the lay-led sermons I have heard have been under-prepared, poorly-presented or filled with cringe moments of unawareness of context.

What is important to you when you prepare and deliver a sermon?

  • First you need to be praying about what God wants this group of people to hear from him at this time. This insight is a leadership gift.  Is the congregation undergoing a change of some sort? a financial crisis? a pastoral difficulty? These may or may not be mentioned explicitly but they need to be in your mind and heart. Is the date relevant – what is the time of the church year or the ‘uncommon lectionary’? For me, as a visiting preacher these days, I need to know the expectations for length and depth; fifteen minutes will be a very different task from a 30 minute message.
  • You need a Biblical passage with a “big idea”, even if the sermon is a topical or seasonal one (eg Mother’s Day). You also need to note other relevant passages as you do your prep; in some churches these will be your second “Reading”.
  • I start prayerful creative thinking some weeks before, and take a note of ideas or illustrations that come to me on the treadmill or in the car. I might take a look at a commentator such as Tom Wright but mostly I leave that studious dimension till when I have 10 – 12 hours for hermeneutic homework available.
  • I won’t go into detail about that long hard mental and spiritual work, as it is what training is all about. I still do a literal ‘cut and paste’, starting on the floor with A3 sheets and coloured markers. And I do run the message through some filters before I feel finished. Say, is this aimed at information or transformation? Does it include something from my own journey? Does it take account of what is happening in the city or the world? Will it make sense to an unchurched person or one with English as a second language? Does it need an opportunity for personal response?

It can be notoriously difficult to gauge the effectiveness of a sermon; but what indicators do you look for to ascertain how your preaching has been received?

I agree that this is a challenge, and have noticed that I am quite vulnerable for the first 24 hours after a service. But body language, verbal comments and encouragement from colleagues are all indicators. It’s also a huge blessing when weeks later someone quotes what I said back to me! In the end its Gods message, and my contribution is only one piece of what he is speaking into people’s lives.

Do you have any favourite authors who have aided you in preaching?

The aforementioned Tom Wright, as well as Walter Brueggemann, Marva Dawn, Lynne Baab, and F. Dale Bruner. And good old Barclay. Because I never get to do a preaching series these days, it’s harder to get much mileage from recent books. Instead, I often serially blog about a book such as “Seven Practices for the Church on Mission” which I am working through presently.

What was one the most memorable sermons you preached?

Interestingly a church member told me just recently of one that has stuck in her mind for years. It was about money! I used a framework from a Lynne Baab sermon and applied an idea that I had seen at church in California. That message was about evolution and had three chairs up front signifying different valid viewpoints on Creation Science. I used three chairs to represent three Christian friends who see money in different ways.  The headings were: Money as a Blessing (generosity as worship), Money as a Danger (generosity as discipleship,) and Money as a Tool (generosity as partnership in the gospel). All are Biblical and we need to respect those different perspectives in the church. The Biblical starting point was the early church and 2 Corinthians 8/9. It was very appropriate for a time when we were asking the church for increased giving.

I have to ask 😊 – what was one of the most forgettable?

I have of course forgotten! But in the early days of data technology I prepared a renewal sermon based around photos of an earthquake and a volcano recovering their flora and fauna. The projector didn’t work and I learned the hard way never to write a sermon that extensively relies on digital images.

What is some of the best advice you would give to preachers?

Love God, love people,  love study.

the journalist and the preacher – viv coleman

Recently I’ve been reading Janet Malcolm’s little book The Journalist and the Murderer and it has sparked some reflection on ethics and my preaching. The book is about a grievance between a (now-convicted) murderer and a journalist he invited to write a book about his case. The author was admitted into the circle of trusted friends and lawyers, and when the published book concluded the man was guilty, the subject sued him. Malcolm says the journalist’s “indefensible” act was to pretend to a belief in the man’s innocence, long after he’d decided the conviction was sound. But she also cites many journalists who make it a rule never to disclose their views to an interview subject, because “that may close off communication.” She takes the opposite view, that such “wooing” inevitably leads to betrayal, and is unethical because they “craft the facts to fit their opinion”. The book sparked outrage in 1993, and is still controversial in journalism schools.

Self-disclosure is a challenge for preachers too. Does our rhetoric risk drifting into a “crafting of the facts” when we use personal stories to illustrate truth? Or is it that we craft our self-disclosure to fit the message we want to communicate? Perhaps we do both. I have certainly seen examples where a preacher woos and perhaps deceives their listeners, in order to have more impact. I suspect we will find the boundary pegs are laid down in different places according to the situation, and that is the way it should be, for awareness of context is a key competency for preachers. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

Telling an outright lie is always unethical, whether its “I read my Bible every day” if you don’t or “I studied at Harvard” if you didn’t. Putting a spin on the truth is more murky. Presenting yourself as a caring spouse for example, even though you had a fight on the way to church. I felt deeply discomfited by a presenter at a leadership event saying “You must never show your youth group your human side. They need to see you as inspiring and worthy.” Authenticity and even vulnerability have a place when building relationships, especially with people who will see you at unguarded moments.

There is a fine line though between being yourself and giving too much away. One minister used to stand up in the pulpit and say he’d had a hard week, so he didn’t feel like writing a sermon, and another spent the first five minutes of many sermons updating us on a drawn-out family crisis which was not of great interest to tired listeners with their own challenges. Another NoNo is having a theological hobby horse like tithing, same-sex marriage or party politics; there should be no predictable theme that emerges in your preaching every week (unless it’s Jesus!)

There are times though when an appropriately-edited personal story can be an effective hook to start a message, or a dramatic way to land the homiletical plane at the end. You may need to change some details such as geography or chronology, for the sake of keeping the story at arms-length from recognisable subjects. And if you are using your kids as examples – get their permission or you will rue the day!

At times this may be “wooing” our listeners but hopefully not by “crafting the facts to fit” the story; more a matter of crafting your story to fit your big idea, without self-adulation or misrepresentation. Because to engage in self-adulation or misrepresentation would be a form of betrayal of your task to present truth through personality.

preaching on the past in the present; an interview – viv coleman

An Interview with Viv Coleman about using History in preaching:

What made you decide to focus on characters from Christian history this summer?

I was slated to preach twice at a small parish near where we holiday. For the first one I repackaged my Why Luther Matters sermon from October; we had been on a Reformation tour in July that had resourced that. But we had covered many other key movements in church history and I felt I could get more mileage out of what I had learned.  The season was moving into Epiphany, which prompted me to think about Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf and the Moravians, whose contribution to global mission was significant long before William Carey.  My working title was Why Zinzendorf Matters but because of the New Year application the message morphed into “A Moravian Manifesto”.

How did you decide the level of detail to include in the message?

Telling a story in an engaging way grabs people by the imagination. I wanted my listeners to feel they knew what life was like for this 18th century German nobleman/pastor, but not be overwhelmed with historical minutiae. So I often left out names, dates and specific details. Telling the story of the young student’s encounter with a painting of Christ asking  “This I have done for you;  what have you done for me?” doesn’t need specificity of time and place to have an impact. However the revival among the Moravian refugees housed by Zinzendorf had taken place over a year or so, so I did need to make it clear the work of the Holy Spirit was gradual as well as decisive.

What kind of framework did you use for the memory points?

Over fifty years of preaching, I’ve tended to follow a linear outline. I find it gives coherence and memorability. I do know postmoderns don’t mind a scattergun approach to information, so I also try to use visuals that cater to the imagination in a less structured way. In this sermon I used four points, because there seemed to be four aspects of Zinzendorf’s life that have relevance to followers of Jesus today. For each point I told a story from Moravian history, explicated it with Scripture, and connected it with a contemporary parallel to that theme.

The four headings were: Welcoming the Stranger, Nurturing the Young, Upholding the Unity and Sharing the Faith. I had distilled these for myself on long walks after reading about Zinzendorf.

How did you include something from your own “corner” or experience?

The whole idea to do the sermon came from my own experience – a two-week Reformation Heritage Tour in Europe in 2017. So at a couple of points I was able to say, I’ve been to that village, or that castle, or that church, and use my own photos. But I also found that the application of each theme to our life today connected with a personal experience. The Scripture about welcoming refugees had come up in the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Vietnamese boat people, some of whom had been sponsored by our old church. And I had also recently visited Auckland’s refugee resettlement service at the Mangere campus. The point about nurturing the young is very dear to my heart as a parent and grandparent, but I was also able to use a local example of how the church at which I was preaching that day has been involved in supporting and resourcing ministry with kids. The third point about unity was one I left more open, because every congregation will be experiencing gossip, conflict and bigotry at some level in its own context – and the holiday audience represented churches in many places. However Zinzendorf’s story makes it clear that the key to overcoming these divisions was prayer, humility and the unity of brothers and sisters; the Moravian principles of living with godliness, gentleness, patience, and love for enemies have impacted church and society in amazing ways. Finally, the point about world mission was a worked example of the Epiphany theme and a good reminder of the missional imperative to all of us today.

How did you connect with the listener’s world?

After each point I asked a probing reflective question – a what, how, or where? – to connect the historical illustration with what is going on in our own life and faith. All four questions were projected on the screen during the communion that followed.

What was the feedback from the congregation?

Most people I spoke to were grateful and enthusiastic. However one listener told me in no uncertain terms that I had failed to connect with his daily life. That is always a risk with a teaching sermon, and one that has to be carefully judged in each context. That sort of response keeps me humble!


The content of the sermon is available in a series of four blog posts here.

great late expectations – viv coleman

John is a Scottish minister with whom I worked for three months when he was visiting Auckland about twenty years ago. He was acting as my “assistant,” even though he was a lot more experienced than me, and he handled the situation with grace and wisdom. I learned a lot from John, and we have since visited him and his wife back in Scotland. A particular growth moment for me was discovering his expectation that God would bring something fresh and new into a sermon that had been worked on for some days or weeks.

We had a conversation about this when John used a funny story about moving house from the previous day. I asked how he could possibly integrate a last-moment illustration into a message I knew he had worked on each morning that week. Aha, he said, I leave a space for it. I expect God to give me something fresh at the last minute.

Now Presbyterians are not, as a rule, the kind of preachers who throw away a carefully-prepared sermon at the last minute, in favour of an extempore message “the Lord gave them”.  Our tradition is to thoughtfully exegete and sensitively interpret not only the chosen Biblical text but also seasons of church life, current affairs and family events. Awareness of pastoral concerns like a crumbling marriage, a sick child or a national debate can make a difference to the emphasis one brings, and sometimes it’s only known to God why a preacher takes a certain tack.

But I usually planned all this at least a week out – and still do. However, ever since that conversation with John, I have been looking and listening for something relevant in the last day or two. Its not always a story; it might just be a turn of phrase, or an image from a movie, but the expectation of fresh insight is there. And that means – usually – I recognise a Holy Spirit opportunity when it presents itself.

I have even found myself able to spontaneously integrate something from the service itself. Last year I was preaching at a church outside Auckland, where I had never been before. I had been given carte blanche but it was Mother’s Day, so I decided to look at two of the amazing New Testament women who contributed to the mission of the early church. My message was about Tabitha and Lydia, whose gifts were used in ministries of leadership, hospitality, mercy and practical justice. I had used a phrase I had seen in a blog by Steve Taylor: “women’s wealth,” (see here, here and here) the valuable skills of making, of sharing knowledge, of adapting skills, and I planned then to use an application from Fresh Expressions about Knit and Natter groups in the UK. Blow me down, the service that morning included a spot honouring the leaders and hosts of a Knitting and Craft outreach at that local church in NZ! Well, Lord, you’ve got me here, I thought. I can’t use my carefully-composed phrases about Methodists in Liverpool, when there are women – and men – using their gifts for mission right here. Talk about fresh insight at the last minute – but by God’s grace this full-text preacher was able to respond to the challenge and weave the hermeneutical strands together.

Our God is a God who speaks!

custodians of the word: kaitiaki and kupu – viv coleman

(This first appeared on Viv’s blog in early March 2017)

The summer holidays are a chance to worship away from home and experience a different congregational culture and worship style. This year the services we attended offered a smorgasbord of worship and preaching, and the chance to meet some genuine and friendly people. But the variety also caused some concern. I found myself reflecting on the messages I heard – and others I have encountered in recent times. I wondered, who is responsible for ensuring the Word that is preached is authentically Christian and aligned with the gospel it represents?

Let me describe a few situations, with an attempt to anonymise where possible. The first was a service led by a lay person with considerable experience in churches and ministry. It was a busy family time, so admittedly they had not put a lot of preparation into the message, a well-known gospel story. But the caveat was offered: “We are all adults. We can read the Word for ourselves. So what I have to say is offered in humility, and if you hear God saying something different to you, that’s fine”. I actually resonated with that. It fits with my theology of preaching, and my practice of bringing in other voices from time to time so the congregation gets a varied diet.  I had often preached on that passage, so I was interested to hear another perspective. In fact, it was very acceptable sermon. It covered not only the main bases biblically and historically, but also some contemporary themes like gender. It had a clear point of application which had relevance for me personally. And it was presented in short chunks with songs in between, which lightened the cognitive load for summer holiday listeners. It’s good to listen with an openness that puts one’s own hermeneutic discoveries aside, and I have often been blessed by volunteer preachers like that. But not always.

Later in the service, we heard from another speaker. They were a visitor, but known to the leaders. Asked to bring a ‘Word from the Lord’, they shared their conviction that Donald Trump and Brexit are a sign of the imminent return of Christ, and that Jesus is on the side of the Zionists in Israel. There was no careful exegesis, just stream of consciousness prophetic announcement. Those listening seemed to embrace these ‘certain signs’ of the inbreaking kingdom, and I was thankful that no unchurched seekers were present. Sad to say this is not the only time I have inwardly cringed when visiting churches in holiday. Another lay preacher I heard scattered their sermon with gender-exclusive expressions like “God and man” and “my better half.” This irks me because I know our denomination has encouraged gender-inclusive language (for people) since 1993. Other leaders use sermon content off the internet, verbatim, without attribution or indigenisation. One preacher spoke about women in such a patronising manner that a listener said to me, I’m a mother but I’m also doing a PhD, and I don’t like being put in a motherhood box. The pulpit is not the place for political and theological partisanship, and the kind of theological naiveté that can misrepresent our faith and our heritage. However, these services are often in country parishes led by a Local Ministry Team, and there isn’t the regional leadership to assess every service. But I couldn’t help wondering how better oversight could be offered. Does the denomination know what is being said in its public services? Does it matter?

Well, it does to me. Ministers of the Word are trained to be aware of the context, to take account what groups and cultures are present, and what their sensitivities might be, and what the denomination has already stated about theological or political issues. They are also attuned to the communication needs of visitors who may be unchurched, or have poor English. That’s why I appreciate Gil Rendle’s claim that clergy, or other ministers who have undertaken theological training, are ‘custodians’ of the gospel. He was writing in 2002 about the rapidly changing context of ministry, a profession whose ‘jurisdiction’ has been taken over by new health and educational consultants; he didn’t mention the impact of social media and TED talks because they weren’t around in 2002! But the trajectory of ferment and creativity he described then continues, and the vocation of ministry today is even more of a challenge to both church and individual.

Postmodern society places authority and responsibility with the individual, and the task of hermeneutic is now seen as accessible by the ordinary Bible reader, as in the sermon introduction described above. In a world where everyone’s opinion counts, congregational leaders must be quite cautious in seeking consensus, and authoritative teaching evokes charges of clericalism. But Rendle says postmodernity fails to offer answers to recurring questions about meaning and purpose, and in this changing landscape, the work of the ministry is still to speak ‘the truth of faith’ across a broad range of human experience cite. Ministers are still the custodians of meaningful tradition, and curators of good tools for finding those answers. The spiritual disciplines of the faith – prayer, forgiveness, hospitality, Sabbath, discernment – are rich resources of ultimate meaning. Ministers, he says, need to locate themselves deep in the texts and traditions of faith, and bring the alternative paradigms of the Scriptures to everyday human experience (Rendle, 2002).

So how to deal with the bourgeoning numbers of small parishes who – due to size or remoteness – do not have a professional minister to lead and teach them? I found an intriguing answer in a little book I’ve been reading about women’s roles in church. Historian John Dickson works in the context of the Sydney (Australia) Anglican church where female ordination to leadership is still questioned, and even the issue of whether a woman can preach on an occasional basis is debated. His 2014 book “Hearing her Voice” is a careful examination by a theologically-trained historian who unpacks the specific meaning of the word teach (Gr didasko) in the epistles. Dickson concludes that the word translated ‘teaching’ (as in “I do not allow women to teach” 1 Tim 2: 12)  is distinct from preaching, exhorting, or prophesying, and refers to the authoritative passing on of the oral tradition in the early church, before the New Testament was available. He parallels that teaching role – reserved at that time to male apostles – with that of the rabbis preserving the oral tradition in Judaism.

It remains to be seen what impact this work will have on evangelical Anglicans; there has been quite a backlash. But the intriguing sidebar to his (for me) compelling thesis is the question of what constitutes that authoritative role today, when we have the New Testament canon and most of us assign leadership roles to both men and women? He suggests the task of preparing the preaching roster is a good parallel to the authority given to the apostles. It’s a curator role that doesn’t require all preachers to be ordained males, and for me it offers a model for training and oversight in lay-led churches. Someone from within or beyond the local church is designated custodian – kaitiaki – of meaning (biblical and denominational), and charged with overseeing the service roster to ensure an appropriate range of Scripture is covered, that precious texts and ecumenical traditions are understood, and that the voices heard reflect a range of genders, generations and cultures.

Such a custodian role is both biblical and practical – and could safeguard both churches and individuals.

“And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News….. I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.

Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.” 

(1 Tim 1: 11 – 14)


the imaginative preacher – viv coleman

Imagination is a valuable commodity for kiwimade preachers; in fact, in my recent thesis about Ministry Review for AUT Business School, I identified “Imagination” as one of four key issues relevant to accountability and support for pastoral leaders. My inductive research project had found “collaborative planning” and “shaping missional concern” to be important areas to discuss when churches and their leaders have realistic and hopeful review conversations. Vital preaching feeds into this, and helps bridge the chasm between vision and reality.

Conventional business terms, like Vision, Strategy and Change Management, are all relevant to church ministry and clergy reviews. However in this study, the 15 pastor participants – all regular preachers – were acutely aware that vision is a process in which the Holy Spirit is intimately involved, so I searched for a word that embraced that mystical dimension. I decided on Imagination, often used in contemporary Christian literature to describe transformational leadership in a post-modern culture. My academic supervisors expressed consternation; what could Imagination possibly have to do with organisational leadership? I had to convince them that notions of innovation, inspiration, vision and creativity are often found in the business literature, and to point out that succession planning at Shell Oil includes ‘Imagination’ in its list of four desirable competencies for executive positions.

I discovered that clergy reviews today often address the effectiveness of the minister in stimulating the parish’s ‘missional imagination.’ This quality is a twist on Brueggeman’s 1978 notion of “prophetic imagination”, where the task of Christian ministry was described as nurturing an alternative consciousness that challenges the dominant culture. Brueggemann called on ministers to critique society, energise creativity, and construct an alternative community. Today that same imagination is needed for contemporary expressions of the gospel, in forms that connect authentically with postmodern society. Old assumptions that mission is located in buildings and programmes are being recalibrated by our growing awareness that God is already at work, in the neighbourhood. Care of our existing members must be balanced with reaching people outside the faith community, as leaders find a rhythm between transactional and transformational leadership. Canon Phil Potter likens today’s ‘fresh expressions’ to moving from an orchestra and conductor, to a jazz band improvising a new tune.

An energised pastoral imagination requires leaders and churches to challenge ecclesiastical norms and relinquish old roles, and those tasks bring emotional and ethical challenges.  When society is liquid, no longer fixed and dependable, church folk may want to “sandbag it” with custodial responses. The ministers in this study spoke of asking visionary questions, of leading collaborative discernment, and of carefully judging the pace of change; Jill Hudson calls this “dancing through minefields.” They told of facilitating strategic action in a mix of formal planning and emergent strategy, and acknowledged the power of mental models, both to free and to constrain. As leaders and preachers they aimed to clarify, articulate and implement vision, realising they have privileged access to congregational hearts and minds. Using the richness of literature, poetry and prayer in the Christian treasury, they spoke of re-presenting the future in symbols, stories and images that can powerfully shape the congregation’s culture. One minister successfully embedded a vision for indigenous change by writing a congregational narrative; another described his leadership role as one of “dreaming and steering” the congregation’s vision.

The Presbyterian and Baptist participants in this study testified that invention, imagination, innovation and hunches all have a place in Biblical preaching, as pastoral leaders seek to lead deep change marked by the Spirit’s signature.

The thesis “Realistic and Hopeful” will be posted online at AUT Library around the end of April.

preacher glasses in bali – vivian coleman


My spiritual director once told me to be alert for the “nudge of the Spirit’ when I was on holiday. Ever since, on trips away, I pay attention to heart leaps that tell me God is nudging. Sometimes there’s a pointed message for a situation at home, and sometimes it’s an idea for a sermon. This month in Bali I felt his nudge over and over, as I saw hundreds of little floral arrangements on the road, in shops or in front of statues. You see, every day in Bali, people make colourful little flower baskets to offer to their gods. 90% Balinese are Hindu, so it’s for the bigtime gods like Ganesh, but also to appease evil spirits thought to be hanging around.

Clearly I have a different world view, but every day I “wondered with God” about hand-made offerings I saw in shops and markets. Ones from the day before were trodden into the rubbish of the Indonesian streets. And every day, I felt the Spirit say, “Look at that”. It is my practice, when I feel that nudge, to prayerfully ask myself, ‘What is there about that God wants me to notice?” It became my prayer pattern as various shades of meaning came to mind. And of course I had on my preacher glasses, and noticed a heap of stuff to file away in my conceptual kete.

The rub is, I don’t know when I will use these ideas. I am no longer preaching every week, and in fact the urgency of thesis-writing means I won’t do so for months. It will take a particular context for the idea to come back into the foreground. So for this post, I crafted a list of possible contexts:

  • Balinese floral offerings are a thing of beauty. When we see and appreciate God’s work in creation, and the human capacity to also create a thing of beauty, we are called to worship. That could fit in a preaching context of praise, spiritual pathways, or our role as co-creators with God.
  • Hindus, my Indian friend tells me, make these offerings out of a motive of fear. They believe if they don’t make offerings to placate the spirits, their day, their life, won’t go right. Some of us Christians can feel that way about daily devotions, but is it fear that drives us, or love? Wondering about that could work in a sermon about grace, about motivations, even about the Exodus (where God first delivered the Hebrews, then taught them how to live his way).
  • A third tack could come from the mess the street offerings make as they get trodden underfoot by passers-by. Each time I saw one, I was reminded of my own ‘depravity’, and the emotional rubbish I pick up daily. And I was heartened by the good news of restoration Christ brings to a broken life.
  • A more obvious illustration is our own offerings to God – money, gifts or time. The Balinese include in their offerings pieces of their daily life – fruit, cookies, even cigarettes. How do we as Christians offer our daily human experiences to God? That’s a theme for many preaching occasions.
  • Fifthly, hospitality came to mind as I made one of these baskets myself, as part of a special dinner. I was ambivalent about participating, but I felt led to a spirit of grace; I wasn’t expected to offer it to any statue. And it made me wonder what it feels like when visitors to church are invited to participate in communion or some other ritual of our worship. Missional questions abound.

So in a far country, away from my normal spiritual disciplines, I had conversations with God every day. And I just know I’ll get to use that evocative image some time!

a different way of seeing – viv coleman


My daughter-in-law works for Google (see photo); she’s currently on the team that is testing Google Glass. I tried out this innovative technology – basically a head-mounted computer – when I was in California last year. It’s weird. You can ask a question, make a call, set an appointment, navigate a trip or take a photo, with a smart device on your head. The weird thing is that you have to learn to look in a different way. Sort of up and in. You can see your contacts list, your calendar or the google search engine. Weird!

Being a Christian preacher is like google glass. You look at things differently. You are aware of another whole world, one you can choose to attend to, and you learn to look at both at the same time. It’s a kind of double vision. Remember Barth’s oft-quoted epithet, about preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other? He may not have ever said that, but he did juxtapose Bible and newspaper many times, including in his commentary on Romans: “Reading of all forms of outspokenly secular literature – the newspaper above all – is urgently recommended for understanding the Epistle to the Romans.”

Today’s preachers will notice theological and worldview issues in many more media than the newspapers of Barth’s day. Just since I decided to post on this theme, I have discerned several topics worthy of note to a preacher:

  • A TED talk about curiosity and wonder that I came across researching Performance Review for my postgraduate project.
  • An article in the Listener about neuroplasticity showing that thinking about something can change the neural pathways
  • A biography of David Livingstone portraying his struggle with rigid LMS rules about polygamy that prevented his baptising a chief who had come to faith
  • A study group member asking where Jews make sacrifices today
  • Another wondering why Christians in China talk more about hell than Jesus-followers in Auckland
  • A Newstalk ZB host who declared there is no proof Jesus ever lived…

I’ll leave it to you to work out into which corner of the Paul Windsor swimming pool those themes fit (i.e. world, text, preacher, listener)! The point is you have to be constantly mining your experiences, and those of others, to find meaningful ways to communicate matters of faith. The Word of God can inform the wisdom of science, the insights of psychology and the realities of economics that surface in myriad facts and opinions that bombard my daily life, and conversely those cultural lenses can inform my grasp of God’s truth.

Settings where I have found useful topics for recent sermon preparation include my grandchildren (with whom I watched the Lego movie and noticed a Messianic trajectory), Facebook (about Christian university groups battling to have a presence on campus), my latest nonfiction reading (a book about WWII prisoners that I connected with today’s human trafficking) and a family discussion about Netflix that one informed my judgments about the eighth commandment. I even got a sermon illustration out of my addiction to an app on the iPad! It’s my Christian worldview google glasses that identify these connections, and help me as a preacher to embed the meaning of Scripture into people’s daily lives. The skills of noticing, listening and wondering help me make the best use of those glasses, which may well be what Paul was talking about when he said “we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2: 16)

What have you seen lately with that preacher’s ‘double vision’?