Pep up your preaching!


John Delius provides a possible checklist to scare the daylights out of those in the pulpit

pep up your preaching

If you are a preacher, the following is a checklist you may find helpful.

It is not intended to be used by the whole congregation, but to be given to a friend to check out some of the nuts and bolts of your preaching.

The key:

☺ Hearers are blessed.

😦 Hearers are bored.

@ A helpful story or illustration*.

…(to read more click here)

John Delius is a university teacher, who on retirement, with his wife spent several years as a Christian worker in an East Asian country

EDITOR’S NOTE

But remember there can be no good preaching without prayer. Acts 6.4 ‘We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’

This article was first published in the June issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Paradoxology (book review)


PARADOXOLOGYParadoxology
Why Christianity was never meant to be simple
By Krish Kandiah
Hodder & Stoughton. 308 pages. £13.99
ISBN 978 1 444 745 344

Krish Kandiah’s Paradoxology addresses some of the biggest questions Christians wrestle with – questions such as God’s sovereignty and the human will, God’s transcendence and immanence, divine compassion and judgment, and his victory in defeat at the cross.

Krish argues that the very paradoxes which seem to undermine belief actually lie at the heart of a living faith in an awesome and infinitely majestic God.

In tackling such questions Krish takes the reader through the Bible’s story to meet many of the characters who grapple with similar issues. Chapters include: ‘The Moses Paradox’ – the God who is far away, yet so close; ‘The Joshua Paradox’ – the God who is terrible yet compassionate; ‘The Job Paradox’ – the God who is actively inactive; ‘The Esther Paradox’ – the God who speaks silently; ‘The Jesus Paradox’ – the God who is divinely human; ‘The Judas Paradox’ – the God who determines our free will; and ‘The Cross Paradox’ – the God who wins as he loses. In these chapters and others, with a combination of scholarly care, potent illustration and pastoral application, Krish guides the reader to a place of humble wonder at things too wonderful for us to fully grasp or understand.

This book helpfully steers away from overly neat or glib answers to the sorts of questions people really struggle with. It’s well written, accessible and deserving of a wide audience. My guess is that this might be particularly useful for students initially engaging with these sorts of questions. Cornelius Plantinga has said ‘dogmatic myopia … subvert[s] the richer understandings of life within the gospel’. This book resists such dogmatic myopia and, as such, presents a compelling vision for the deep riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.

John Tindall,
Monyhull Church, Birmingham

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for regular updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: They held hands


Constant Gardener Trowel

(view original article here)

We were chuffed that they’d chosen our church.

A couple with good jobs, and well-behaved children, and they wanted to be part of our church. Our church?! A lovely, eager, problem-free family, landing in our pews and our lives. We all looked forward to getting to know them and enjoying helping them get stuck into the church’s work. God is good.

He is good, and he was very good in bringing us this lovely couple and their kids. They did get stuck in. My family and theirs had meals at each others’ homes, and they were some of the most vocal encouragers I had. And even I, naïve and slightly optimistic younger Pastor as I was then, knew that smiling faces can easily hide crying hearts. After a couple of years I saw the husband’s tears when he opened up to me. It was the marriage.

Opening up about marriage

Middle-aged men don’t easily share their problems. Marriage problems are some of the most painful, and the hardest to share. But he opened up. One day he told me that the marriage was little more than a convenient partnership. Loveless, sexless, grey, sad, and even tragic. The kids knew the simmering anger between the parents, the separate lives they led, the enforced smiles when at church. The dad was terrified that this strain was starting to have its effect on the children. Divorce frightened him, too, but he knew it was an option. He knew he needed to get some help.

First step

We all know that finally owning up to problems is the first step to tackling them. I felt honoured that this dear friend told me just how bad things were. We know, too, that men are particularly guilty of not recognising problems, or explaining them away, or just plain ignoring them. I believe that it was a work of God’s Holy Spirit that this man said that he needed help. He and I sat down for a couple of long conversations. I knew that he and his wife would actually talk more freely to a Christian marriage counsellor than to me, and that in this situation that was the right recommendation to make. So they set their first date for an open discussion with the counsellor, and those meetings began.

Beautiful story

What happened next, and what’s happened over the ten or so years since that conversation, is a simple but very beautiful story of healing. Slow, obviously, with fits and starts, and some relapses into old attitudes and patterns of behaviour, but the solid rebuilding of trust and love, and establishing intimacy again. I remember how he shyly smiled as he proudly told me ‘we held hands last night. We just sat on the sofa and held hands.’ I was so thrilled for them both. Today they are still at our church, seeing their children grow towards adulthood. They’re just as committed to the gospel. And their lives show those marks of Christian authenticity. The Holy Spirit’s enabling, the grace of God, faith in his promises, obedience to his Word. It’s all there. And it’s beautiful.

Encouragement

Why tell you all this? To encourage you. God works in ordinary people, taking ordinary trials and tears, and bringing new strength, and real progress. If that couple had divorced, people would have grieved for them, but then moved on. God’s Spirit brought them both to long for change, then to seek help, and to work for change. And here they are today, as real, time-tested signs of the quiet power of God.

The church is a strange coming-together of weak, struggling people. Make sure appearances otherwise don’t deceive you. Treasure your church family, they are a most precious gift of God. Pray for each other, help each other. Be honest, and pursue openness. Believe in very every-day and yet wholly supernatural grace. Celebrate those who are still pressing on in the gospel.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Hearts break


Constant Gardener Trowel

People are fragile.

Illness, depression, family tragedies, sexual temptation and sin, terminal diagnoses, adultery, mental health crises, redundancy and unemployment stalk everyone, and Christians aren’t immune from any of them.

For every ten happy faces you see on a Sunday morning, ten others come bearing the marks of stress and anxiety. Look closely enough, and at least a couple of those smiling faces are actually etched with tension. We are a great mix and all of us, at different times, feel overwhelmed or even crushed by life’s problems. Then church must stop being a club or a nice place to spend time in, and become a community where there is real care. That’s where pastors come in.

Deepest needs

Being a pastor means trying to help people in their deepest needs We deal with people when life collapses in on them. Here are some reflections on pastoral care for strugglers.

1. Pastors must be at the forefront of care. The study is not a place to hide out in while members of the body are in pain. Our sermons must have hands and feet – and at times of suffering, they’re our hands and feet!

2. Pastors mustn’t suppose that they are to give all the care. There may be others better qualified to help, in the church family or beyond it. We mustn’t be so foolish as to think that it’s all down to us.

3. Caring usually goes beyond prayer, but never goes without prayer. Pastors need to schedule extended times of prayer for people who are really going through it. As well as praying for their strengthening by God’s grace, we pray for insight into how we and the church body can care for them.

4. Pastors are often very unsure how to help, and sometimes hesitate in helping others for that reason. We’re so concerned to look as if we have all the answers and gifts, that we shy away from sufferers out of fear that we’ll look clumsy. That is sinful pride, and must be repented of and overcome.

5. Pastors have no magic wands, and no magic promises. How many Christian people have been damaged long-term by easy-breezy spiritual assurances given in the face of horror by their so-called shepherds? Sometimes suffering sticks for years and years. Hearts go on breaking. People need us not to make shallow, unbiblical promises.

6. Pastors are fellow strugglers, not action-heroes. Pastors should beware of the temptation to feel indispensable when sufferers need their care. There is only one Special One (that is Jesus, not José Mourinho!).

7. Pastors and those who try to help sufferers are fragile, too. If pastors are in a long-term and costly form of care-giving, they should make sure that others are looking out for their welfare. Churches by and large need to work a lot harder at supporting and encouraging their main care-givers.

8. Jesus wept. That means that we’re allowed to. Sometimes, that’s the very thing we should do.

9. Pastors must plan not to forget people’s suffering. We need to write down significant dates somewhere. Anniversaries of losses and tragedies stab at the heart and tear at faith. We need to reassure our people when those times come around each year that God is always good, and that his grace is sufficient.

10. Some problems never get solved. Ministry is not the inside track on miraculous grace. It is, though, God’s way of bringing strengthening grace to his people in their trials. Our willingness to visit, encourage and support those who suffer through months and years speaks volumes about the Lord’s commitment to his own, even if he doesn’t remove all their pain in this life.

11. Talk about heaven often with those who suffer. This is not a cop-out, it is indispensable to true Christian hope and present discipleship. Always, always, always encourage strugglers with the certainty of their future home.

12. One of the best snippets of wisdom I ever heard when it comes to caring for others is this: ‘walk towards the pain’. In other words, make people’s problems your priorities. Pastors, refuse to be indifferent, and refuse to be a coward. And church members – love your pastors.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: They held hands


Constant Gardener Trowel

(view original article here)

We were chuffed that they’d chosen our church.

A couple with good jobs, and well-behaved children, and they wanted to be part of our church. Our church?! A lovely, eager, problem-free family, landing in our pews and our lives. We all looked forward to getting to know them and enjoying helping them get stuck into the church’s work. God is good.

He is good, and he was very good in bringing us this lovely couple and their kids. They did get stuck in. My family and theirs had meals at each others’ homes, and they were some of the most vocal encouragers I had. And even I, naïve and slightly optimistic younger Pastor as I was then, knew that smiling faces can easily hide crying hearts. After a couple of years I saw the husband’s tears when he opened up to me. It was the marriage.

Opening up about marriage

Middle-aged men don’t easily share their problems. Marriage problems are some of the most painful, and the hardest to share. But he opened up. One day he told me that the marriage was little more than a convenient partnership. Loveless, sexless, grey, sad, and even tragic. The kids knew the simmering anger between the parents, the separate lives they led, the enforced smiles when at church. The dad was terrified that this strain was starting to have its effect on the children. Divorce frightened him, too, but he knew it was an option. He knew he needed to get some help.

First step

We all know that finally owning up to problems is the first step to tackling them. I felt honoured that this dear friend told me just how bad things were. We know, too, that men are particularly guilty of not recognising problems, or explaining them away, or just plain ignoring them. I believe that it was a work of God’s Holy Spirit that this man said that he needed help. He and I sat down for a couple of long conversations. I knew that he and his wife would actually talk more freely to a Christian marriage counsellor than to me, and that in this situation that was the right recommendation to make. So they set their first date for an open discussion with the counsellor, and those meetings began.

Beautiful story

What happened next, and what’s happened over the ten or so years since that conversation, is a simple but very beautiful story of healing. Slow, obviously, with fits and starts, and some relapses into old attitudes and patterns of behaviour, but the solid rebuilding of trust and love, and establishing intimacy again. I remember how he shyly smiled as he proudly told me ‘we held hands last night. We just sat on the sofa and held hands.’ I was so thrilled for them both. Today they are still at our church, seeing their children grow towards adulthood. They’re just as committed to the gospel. And their lives show those marks of Christian authenticity. The Holy Spirit’s enabling, the grace of God, faith in his promises, obedience to his Word. It’s all there. And it’s beautiful.

Encouragement

Why tell you all this? To encourage you. God works in ordinary people, taking ordinary trials and tears, and bringing new strength, and real progress. If that couple had divorced, people would have grieved for them, but then moved on. God’s Spirit brought them both to long for change, then to seek help, and to work for change. And here they are today, as real, time-tested signs of the quiet power of God.

The church is a strange coming-together of weak, struggling people. Make sure appearances otherwise don’t deceive you. Treasure your church family, they are a most precious gift of God. Pray for each other, help each other. Be honest, and pursue openness. Believe in very every-day and yet wholly supernatural grace. Celebrate those who are still pressing on in the gospel.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Man of mystery?


Constant Gardener Trowel

Here are 20 things your pastor wished you knew about him.

1. He knows and feels that ministry is a wonderful privilege (despite appearances which suggest otherwise, sometimes).

2. He is sometimes overwhelmed by a sense of failure in his ministry to you.

3. He’s not always sure if you know how much he loves and respects you.

4. He wishes you would open up to him more. He’s not a mind-reader, and he sometimes feels that you are content to keep him at arm’s length. Are you?

5. There are times when all he wants to hear from you is ‘thank you.’

6. He’s been sure that he should leave your church a few times already. He’s slogged through times of almost overwhelming darkness, as well as invitations to look at other churches. He’s stayed because he loves you.

7. He longs that you would say something (anything!) to him about the sermon on Sunday, or what you’re learning in the Bible.

8. He goes home from Sunday services thinking about you. Sometimes he even dreams about you. You are on his heart and mind far more than you realise.

9. He actually doesn’t care if you or anyone else in the church forgets him when he’s retired or gone to glory. As long as you’re safe in heaven, he’ll be more than happy.

10. He (mostly) loves preaching. He would hate you to think that it’s a burden to him.

11. He knows that no one in the church, not even his Elders, knows how difficult it is to preach, week in, week out.

12. Even when you’re at your most spiritually cold and fault-finding, he genuinely longs for a deepening spiritual friendship with you.

13. He puzzles over how much you think about your salary, but never think about how much your church salaries him.

14. He prays for you regularly. This is a heart, will and time commitment.

15. He needs your prayers and your encouragements. Pastors are in the devil’s firing-line.

16. Nothing thrills him more than finding out that you’ve been busy in gospel work, without advertising your work to others.

17. He loves being a part of the church family, as a regular member, as well as the pastor. He loves eating, laughing and sharing life with his Christian family.

18. He deeply respects your complicated,busy life. When he’s calling for commitment to the church, he’s not forgotten all that you’re already juggling.

19. He remembers your acts of kindness to him, probably long after you’ve forgotten them.

20. He loves Jesus. Even when he gets it wrong as he pastors you, he’s trying to work out his love for the Lord to you.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!

This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Editors commentary: Time travelling prayers


timetravelWEBBeing the pastor of the same church for a long time is great.

One of the benefits is that you get to see the end of some stories which pastors who only dodge into a place for five or six years and then move on would never see. Recently I had just such an experience. Hopefully it will encourage you.

When I first came to the church over 30 years ago there was a lovely young family – a mum and dad plus three children. The younger two children became Christians but the older girl, Eleanor, did not. She was a delightful girl, bright and knowing her own mind, with the strength of character to stand alone as the unbeliever in a believing family. Many were the prayers to God of both individuals and the gathered church for her conversion. But nothing at all seemed to happen.

Tragedies

The years moved on and tragedy struck the family. The father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Then, after what seemed to be a successful operation, came the onset of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. I visited him a number of times in the hospital and prayed – he, probably, unconscious of my presence. Sadly he died. The family was devastated. However, the effect was to confirm the Christians in their clinging to Christ and looking to his promise of eternal life, whereas Eleanor seemed confirmed in her scepticism and unbelief. Once again there were many prayers for the family.

Years passed. All the children had grown up and the mother remarried to a good Christian man. By now the two Christian children had married and moved away, but Eleanor remained single. After university she got a good job and had her own home in our town. Some of the church involved in one of the local choirs would see her there. She was friendly, but spiritually there was no change.

Then tragedy struck again. With her new marriage just a few years old, the mother was diagnosed with cancer and later died. Her new husband was heartbroken. Once again the children found themselves bereaved. Once again many prayers were offered by the church and other friends. That was around five years ago. That’s how things were.

Joyful rumour

But just a few months ago a rumour was whispered. After all these years, over 30 of them, Eleanor had become a Christian. She had a Christian friend at choir from an Anglican church who invited her along to an Alpha Course. There everything had fallen into place for her. We were overjoyed. But was the rumour true? Her stepfather, who had kept very much in touch, went to see her. She had indeed been saved. One of the first things she said to him I found very moving: ‘Do you think my mum and dad know?’.

Woman at peace

Then, this Easter, I was asked to go and preach a short message to an ecumenical walk of witness in the town. As a church we tend to steer clear of ecumenical stuff, but I’ll preach to anyone – so I took up the opportunity. There, as 400 or 500 people gathered on Good Friday morning, among the crowd I spotted Eleanor. I was thrilled. I was able to speak to her briefly. Her conversion was written all over her face. She was a woman at peace – at peace with God and at peace with herself.

Prayers of many years ago, prayers long forgotten, God had answered. Jesus taught his disciples that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18.1).


John Benton

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057