Discussing Preaching: Mike Reeves & Peter Mead

It is always a pleasure to converse with my good friend, Mike Reeves.  On this occasion we just happened to be on camera as we chatted about Bible teaching and preaching. Ok, so the situation did not “just happen,” but the conversation did.  It lasts about half an hour and I hope it can be both helpful and encouraging.

Click here to go to the discussion.




7 Ways to Guard Hearts at a Christian Conference

Conference2Attending a Christian conference can be an incredible blessing.  The opportunities to learn, to network, to take a break from normal life, to enjoy abundant food and even to sing together with a large crowd of believers, this can all be wonderful.  But there are dangers too, and since I haven’t seen anybody writing about this, here is a set of points to ponder as you head for the next big event:

1. Don’t leave God out of your conversation.  This may seem bizarre when every session, every song, and almost every conversation is probably going to relate to God and ministry.  But I stand by the point – don’t leave God himself out of the conversation.  It is easy to neglect time with Him in order to stay busy talking about His things.  It is easy to stay up late, get up groggy and rush off to breakfast, conversations and plenary sessions.  What about time with God?  What about letting Him have a voice in your day by reading the Bible?  What about pausing to pray since He is important to you?  If your spouse were with you, your frantic intensity and neglect of conversation would do nothing for marital closeness.  So what about Christ?

2. Lean on God to navigate the stresses of networking.  If the conference is a gathering of people involved in ministries like yours, then it is tempting to buzz around like a manic worker bee trying to connect with every significant person in attendance.  In the few days you have, you may not get to everyone you think you should.  Instead of handling that by your own stress, talk to God about it and walk through the days with a reliance on Him.  He can orchestrate the connections that He thinks you need.  I have experienced both the manic version of conference networking, and the trusting God version of it.  The latter version is healthier, more faith-building and more effective.

3. Don’t feed the hype of a glory festival.  Probably the worst part of some Christian events is that they feed the hype of mutual glory hunting.  Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day very strongly about the danger of receiving glory from one another (see John 5:38ff) and yet we still fall into that trap so easily.  Christian events where leaders are gathered are often rife with the stench of human glory.  Determine not to feed it.  Don’t leave a conversation mid-sentence because your favourite author just entered the room.  Don’t ask for autographs (what is the point?)

4. Value every brother and sister in Christ.  Following on from the previous point, it is tempting to have your radar beeping for the famous or high profile people that may be at the conference.  But if you are trusting God to orchestrate your informal connections, then remember that He may be more excited about you loving an “insignificant” brother or sister than your need to shake hands with someone who is in demand.  The “least of these” applies at the conference, and it applies when Big Name is standing right next to you too.

5. Care for the “profile people” as people.  It is easy to elevate well-known speakers and authors as if they are super-Christians.  They are brothers and sisters in Christ.  If you have opportunity to interact, do so lovingly and with sensitivity to them as people.  Express gratitude for their ministry, but get beyond that too.  Show interest in them as people, not just as fonts of knowledge about your pet subjects.  If they have just spoken, recognize that they may be feeling discouraged or drained.  I stood by as one “fan” missed every cue from a “profile person” who was obviously drained and heading for his room.  After a while I was tempted to step in and rescue the speaker from the onslaught of questions and lack of sensitivity.

6. Don’t forget your family role too.  If you are married, but attending the conference alone, then be sure not to abdicate your responsibilities at home.  My wife does an amazing job at home when I am away for a few days, but it is a thankless task.  That is, unless I thank her.  Phone calls, texts, and notes, all show that you appreciate them.  Sometimes your spouse will just need to talk.  Sometimes you may need to comfort or discipline a child over the phone.  It may not feel as exciting as the opportunities in front of you, but it may be the most important ministry you do all week.

7. Be a builder, not a destroyer.  If you put leaders together, inevitably you are creating opportunity for constructive evaluation of everything about the conference.  What did you think of his third point?  Do you like the music?  What was going on with the stewards for the main meeting?  Ministry leaders can’t help evaluating ministry when we are participating in an event, but we can help the tone of our evaluation.  The insecure will criticize and tear down.  The mature in Christ will be careful to build up others in every circumstance.  There will be avenues for constructive criticism – use them to help things improve.  But don’t use conversation to elevate yourself and tear down beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

Attending a Christian conference is an incredible privilege.  Next time you get that opportunity, why not prayerfully go through these points before you dive in to the crazy schedule?

Preach for Faith – Lennox II

Yesterday I was reflecting on Dr John Lennox’s concerns as Christians add fuel to the fire of Richard Dawkin’s faulty logic.  Faith, by his definition, is knowingly trusting in something which cannot be proven – believing against reason.  Yet Lennox yearns for people to understand that the faith is always a response to fact, and the Christian faith is firmly founded on trustworthy facts – not least the resurrection of Jesus.  Yesterday I shared his concern over the “leap in the dark” language used in some Christian circles as a very poor explanation of faith.  Today I’d like to share his second concern.

2. An over-emphasis on faith as a gift given from above.  Now it would be very easy for some readers to dismiss this, or to get into a theological slanging match.  I certainly don’t want to take sides or position this site on one side or the other of the debates this touches on.  Whether we agree with his own position or not, I think we must engage with Dr Lennox’s concern.  Could it be that an over-emphasis on faith as a gift received is inadvertently undermining the truth that Christianity is founded on fact, not least the fact of the resurrection of Jesus?  Could it be that internal theological debates undermine the presentation of the gospel to a culture now influenced by new atheism?  Could it be that irrespective of our stance on the so-called “free-will” debate, that we need to consider underlining, rather than undermining, the facts on which our faith response is built?

We preach the faith.  We preach for faith.  Obviously there is much to ponder in a world influenced by a whole smorgasbord of thinking, from the clear to the fallacious and deceptive.

Preach for Faith – Lennox

I was not alone in really appreciating John Lennox’s preaching and teaching at the recent European Leadership Forum in Hungary.  As someone who has been focused on debating Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists” in recent years, Dr Lennox has a lot to say about faith and apologetics.  He points to a foundational plank in Richard Dawkins’ logic, his erroneous definition of faith.  I’m quoting from memory, but essentially faith, according to Dawkins, is belief in something where you know there is no evidence.  Consequently it is not possible to really discuss reality with a “person of faith” since by definition they know they are committed to that for which there is no evidence.  It is sad to see the strategy Dawkins has created for his own purposes, but perhaps even sadder to see some Christians rushing headlong into the illogical snare.

The critical role of fact. Faith is a response to fact.  If the facts are shaky, so is the faith.  If the facts are the tall tales of an untrustworthy teenager, then the faith is relatively worthless.  But if the facts are genuine facts, then faith in response to those facts is not so easily dismissable.  The Christian faith is founded on fact.  The central fact is that of the resurrection of Jesus, interestingly the central feature of early apostolic preaching (when there were plenty of eye-witnesses still around to corroborate or to refute the preaching).

As preachers we have a key role in being able to help our hearers understand that their faith is founded on fact.  Yet Lennox points to two common errors, as he sees it, in contemporary Christianity:

1. The tendency to present faith as a leap in the dark.  We hear this from uninformed testimonies where the person speaking is nervous at having so many eyes trained on them and quite naturally feels unable to fully and eloquently explain the whole Christian faith and so simply pulls out the “I don’t really get it, I just took a leap in the dark and now I can testify that something has changed in me” card.  While it would be nice to hear testimonies that are somewhat better informed, there is something compelling about a testimony that is still a work in progress, someone who stands like the blind man in John 9 and cannot compete with the theologians, yet can speak with the authority of personal experience.  However, as preachers we need to make sure we are not giving more of this “leap in the dark” error through our preaching, or even implying it.  Christian faith is a response to fact.

Tomorrow I’ll share Dr Lennox’s other concern in how we preach faith today.

Final Reflections on the European Leadership Forum (ELF)

Yesterday I was really reflecting on a couple of specific messages given.  But here are two very important overall reflections on this great event:

6. Remember that the Bible is not second class to apologetics/theology/counselling, etc. Several speakers really stood out in their emphasis on the Bible (not just in the Bible Teachers Network).  It is easy to fall into thinking that the Bible is somehow intellectually second class to top level apologetics or systematic theology or even a discipline like counselling.  In reality the Bible is at the core and these other “disciplines” should be around the edge seeking to reflect the teaching of the Bible accurately.  When they fail to do so, they surely fail, period.  Are we robustly biblical, or have we fallen for the lie that something else is superior in power and value?

7. Expository preaching feeds the soul in ways other presentations of truth do not. I was reassured to both experience and hear from others that expository preaching does a work in peoples’ lives in a way that non-expository approaches do not.  Those who were present will probably reflect on the same contrast, although perhaps in different words.  By this point I do not mean that preaching has to be done in a particular form or way.  What I do mean is that the Bible text needs to be boss of the content, rather than hand-maid; communication has to be effectively engaging, rather than agonizing; relevance to listeners needs to be demonstrated and emphasized, rather than assumed; and everything needs to be very much done in reliance on the Spirit, rather than on personal “authority” (academic, professional or experiential).

A great week, a great event, a great vision.  I’ve come home physically tired and spiritually energised.  I’m thankful for the forum and hope it goes from strength to strength.  And, on reflection, I’m thankful for expository preaching and hope it also gets stronger and stronger across Europe and the globe.  We need it, both at the forum, and in our countries.

More Reflections on the European Leadership Forum (ELF)

On Saturday I shared a couple of reflections on the ELF in Hungary as related to preaching.  Here are a few more to ponder together:

3. Watch your language for second language listeners. In some ways I’d expect this to be obvious, but obviously it wasn’t for one or two speakers.  When there are people in the audience that are listening in their second language, watch yours. While they may understand the words, they may not be familiar with local figures of speech.  What does it mean that “the apostles made a killing on the God-fearers!”?  Always be aware of who is listening when you speak.

4. Affirm as well as rebuke. Along the same lines, actually reflecting on the same message, it is important not to simply generalise and rebuke without some affirmation too.  Perhaps the majority of your congregation never witness to anyone, but be sure to recognize that some do, whether or not they feel effective in doing so.  It is much easier to blast, it stirs and maximises effect.  But with any group, and especially an international group, be sure to affirm the good that is happening today.

5. Delivery matters. You cannot turn good content into a good talk without good delivery.  (At the same time good delivery will not sanctify weak content.)

I was going to complete the list today, but actually I’ll save the last thoughts for tomorrow.  As ever, feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear the reflections of those present at the ELF too.

Reflections on the European Leadership Forum (ELF)

This week I had the privilege of attending the European Leadership Forum in Hungary.  This is an outstanding event that seeks to connect ministries and leaders across the continent via various “networks” that meet during the forum, then stay in touch in between.  The event was exceptionally well run.  A few random thoughts as far as preaching is concerned:

1. Evangelical Christianity is intellectually very robust. This is certainly not the only thing that we can or should say about the faith, but often we feel bullied into not believing this.  With strident new atheism on the march, as well as other belief systems, it is easy to slip into a fluffy Christianity that fails to stand for truth or present the evidence for the reliability of the Bible, the reality of the resurrection and so on.  I don’t want to shift this blog into an apologetic debate center (there are other sites with that focus), but as preachers it is helpful to be reminded of the robust core of the faith.

2. Leaders need to be reading at a higher level. In the busy schedule of life and ministry it is easy to slip into a low level of personal intake.  As a preacher you are an influencer, and therefore a leader, irrespective of title or position.  As a leader you need to be feeding on that which is deeply nutritious for your soul.  As a leader you need to be, wherever possible, pushing yourself beyond the level of those you influence: perhaps through your choice of reading materials, your level of sacred familiarity with the Word of God, your level of intimacy with the Lord, among other things.

I’ll keep this post short and save some other reflections on the forum for next time.  If you were there this week, please comment and share your reflections too.