This talk from the sermon series ‘What Matters to me’ is entitled ‘It’s all about the numbers’ and was preached as part of our Gift Day. Starting with Acts 2:37-47, this talk paints a vision of a church large enough to influence culture and transform society and what that might mean for St Peter’s.
This talk from the sermon series ‘What Matters to me’ is entitled ‘Love is all you need’. In this talk I argue that being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily about learning or doing, it’s about love. We then explore the call of Jesus from Mark 12:28-34 and John 13:34 to love God, our neighbours, our selves and one another with our minds, hearts, souls and bodies.
This talk, from the series ‘What Matters to Me’ is entitled ’Share what you love’. In this talk I look at Matthew who gets to know and love Jesus and invites people he knows and loves to meet him. We explore the idea that we share what we know not what we know about with people we already know and we share what we love with people with love.
This talk, from the series ‘What Matters to Me’ is entitled ‘Wild Goose Chase’. In this talk we look at Moses who is invited to step in to the cloud to encounter God’s tangible presence. We explore the qualities we need to step out in pursuit of that presence and the ways we can step up to play our part and host the presence for others.
This talk, from the series ‘What matters to me’ is entitled ‘Grace Changes Everything’. In this talk I contrast change from the outside in through determination and willpower with change from the inside out as God changes the heart through grace.
This talk, the second from the series ‘What matters to me’, is entitled ‘Jesus is on Every Page. In it I encourage us to encounter God on the pages of the Bible, as we come to understand that Jesus is the answer to every question and the hero of every story, and that we play our part by performing the drama of Scripture for ourselves.
This is the second talk in our vision series ‘We are SPS’. It is a vision for Connect Groups our primary vehicle for discipleship. I wanted to root it in a common experience of London life and the need for social spaces to make friends. I also wanted to clarify the vision and inspire everyone to make membership of Connect Groups a real priority.
When Jonathan Edwards, the American revivalist and theologian was 18 years old he preached his first sermon. It was called ‘Christian Happiness’ and it was based on Isaiah 3:10. “A good man is a happy man, whatever his outward condition is.”
The thesis of the sermon is simple; Christians should be happy. But the three points of the sermon are profound. Why should Christians be happy?
1. Our bad things turn out for good (Romans 8:28)
2. Our good things can’t be taken away from us
- The light of his countenance
- Pardon for sin
- Assurance of grace
- Inheritance of eternal life
3. Our best things are yet to come
Tim Keller said this outline is “the perfect sermon outline, it’s hard to beat something like that” and demonstrates, even at 18, Edwards was a “budding genius.”
I have always worried about being too dependent on my notes. When I first started preaching, I used bullet points, then I stopped for a few years due to the pressures of work before beginning to preach more regularly again. When I started preaching the second time, I found myself using a full script. I write in a fairly chatty style anyway so it never sounded too formal, but something inside me always wanted to be completely free of notes. Now I use 16 point, double spaced bullet points so there’s something there in case I get lost but I have to translate it into words on the spot which I hope gives it more immediacy and power.
I’ve just read Andy Stanley’s book ‘Communicating for a Change’ which is brilliant, but one of the challenges he makes is for the preacher to internalise the message, that’s a euphemism for memorising the message! I find this incredibly difficult on a weekly basis and I’m not convinced it’s really necessary. I have seen preachers without notes ramble on without shape or structure for a very long time, I have seen one preacher who had clearly written his sermon verbatim and then memorised it. When he preached it looked above the congregation as if he was reading from an autocue at the back!
So, I was relieved to be reminded by Josh Harris in the second round of his ‘Preaching Notes’ that there really is no right way to do it. It’s a great series of posts. He has a pdf of the actual notes as well as a podcast of the sermon itself from a wider variety of preachers. Every preacher he showcases familiarises themselves with their message. None of them are dependent on their notes, so in that sense, they’ve all internalised the message, but apart from Mark Driscoll’s post-it notes everyone uses notes of one kind or another. The other amazing thing about these preaching notes is that most of them look unwieldy and almost impossible to use. Some are in tiny script, some densely packed or condensed. Some have been scribbled over time and again!
I have found it hugely reassuring that even some of the best preachers, at least from the US, don’t follow the rules when it comes to preparing sermons and writing notes. How do you do it? Let me know.
I read this helpful article by Krish Kandiah this week on the impossibility of preaching. I had the privilege of being at vicar factory whilst Krish was on staff. I still remember his stand out carol service talk one Christmas. So, he’s a practitioner, but he’s also a thinker and his blog is certainly worth a read.
His point about the way the Internet and social media are changing the way we think and rewiring our brains is profoundly significant. Increasingly we know where to access knowledge rather than how to think for ourselves. He’s right to say that this is bound to affect the way we learn and process information. Preachers need to be aware of these wider cultural developments. We can’t bury our heads in the sand.
He’s right too when he challenges preachers to continue to learn, adapt and develop in the same way that the medical profession has to keep up to speed with the latest developments in medicine. At St Paul’s all our preachers spend some time together in a discussing ideas and thoughts and collectively creating the sermon together. This is a new discipline for all of us, but one I think we are all benefitting from. I certainly think the congregation is!
Of course, preaching isn’t purely pragmatic and responsive to the cultural trends it emerges from. We need to be constantly asking ourselves theological questions. Preaching is a distinctively Christian art form with it’s own history and theological integrity. For example, a sermon is not a lecture, neither it is a presentation. So we at least need to ask ourselves, and settle in our own minds whether, for example, Power Point or Keynote slides change the talk from a sermon into a presentation. In this technological age we need to ask other questions too. What is the relation of the sermon to the speaker? Is the sermon embodied, physical communication? If it is, does the multi site model of church, where the speaker is projected onto a screen at different venues change the form of communication or is it merely a helpful tool? What about the podcast? Martyn Lloyd Jones for years refused to allow his sermons to be recorded for this very reason. Shane Hipps in his book Flickering Pixels reiterates the well known point that the medium is the message, and its true to say that a seventeen foot tall head projected onto a screen is likely to carry more weight that the six foot preacher live on stage! For me, these are as much theological as pragmatic questions.
So, it’s right to experiment. We make regular use of props now during talks, which on the whole have proved to be memorable for the congregation and a helpful focus for the preacher. But we must be rigorously theological as we reflect on what works and what doesn’t. I’m not convinced by the idea of interactive sermons with questions before, during and after because I think there remains a sense in which the sermon is a word from the Lord that needs to be heard, but further discussion and life application through midweek small groups, has in my view got to enhance learning, transformation and discipleship.
If you have any other ideas or suggestions, or experiments you’ve seen work well, post a comment and let me know.