Articles for the Month of August 2011

Don’t blame the preacher?

Photo by iowa_spirit_walker

Jonathan’s doing again what he does best. Stirring! This time he tackles the myth that preaching in NZ is bad. Suggesting sensibly that Kiwi preachers are probably on average no worse that any other nationality. Which is doubtless a huge comfort to all you Kiwi preachers, but must be a real worry to the rest of the world ;)

OK, crude rude and highly unfair joke out of the way, Jonathan’s stirring slags off several groups I belong to:

  • I preach (in NZ usually) should I be offended that he has to work so hard to claim that I’m no worse than the global average?
  • I teach at a seminary, and boy did JR slag off people like me. Apparently we are forever fostering the myth that all preachers are terrible, wouldn’t know a Bible if one fell on their foot, and have an obsession with being trendy.
  • I also sit in the pew, sometimes for what seems like hours listening (or catching what last year were trendy micro-sleeps) to sermons.

JR’s practical advice in the post: The Social Location of the Preacher and the Blame Game is aimed at all three of me:

1. If you are a biblical preacher teach your congregation what biblical preaching is and how to train their preachers in it and let them train you! (and make sure you are actively training others)

Yes, yes, yes, that’s right. I’ve learnt heaps about preaching from the people at Balmoral Baptist Church over the last 18 years, and quite a bit from other people I’ve preached or ministered to elsewhere too.  I hope I’ve also (often, maybe even usually) modeled decent preaching, and faithful, sensible approaches to biblical hermeneutics also…

2. If you are an academic adopt a different preacher each year, be nice to them and encourage them in their preaching of scripture.

I am sorry, I’m not arrogant enough to go out and “adopt” a preacher, but I do try to talk (to anyone who shows the slightest evidence of interest) about what I think makes a good sermon. And over the years I’ve also written in the NZ Baptist a number of rants on the subject, from an early castigation of the blasphemy of “relevance” when it takes priority over real biblical content, to a more recent claim that I could sum up good preaching in one word: sharp.

3. If you are a frustrated congregant pray for your pastor and talk to him or her gently but matter of factly about what is missing from the sermons.

The praying and talking make sense, but “what is missing from the sermons”! You’re joking Jonathan, surely? I wouldn’t attend one of those “Christian” entertainment centres where the preacher fails to make an attempt to proclaim the word from Scripture, so nothing “is missing from the sermons”. The problem is the opposite. Almost every sermon I hear would be twice as effective if it were half as long.

To cure that problem all you need to do, preachers, is spend an extra hour preparing. And most of you can easily save several, since you spend too long already “crafting” your words. Instead cut ruthlessly till all that is left is the essential message. Done :)

Actually there is one serious confession, and one (other) serious piece of advice I’d offer:

  • The confession: far too often when I preach I am content to show people what the Bible says. That is not enough :( Tell any human a “rule” and they will almost instantly discover “good reasons” why that particular rule, though good in principle, does not apply to them.
  • The advice: is simple, apply the Scripture to a number of differing people. (These application stories can be fictitious, though true is even better.) Make the stories “real” and people will identify with the characters, and apply the “lesson” to themselves. A smart neat and effective use of human nature (we are empathic animals who love responding to stories).

Technology and generations or Sex between consenting adults

I do hope you guys are not in the same house! (Photo by Ed Yourdon)

I’m puzzled by what seems a widespread and regular pattern in our response to technology, and even more puzzled because it seems to fit the neat generation XYZ schema (which I’ve always needed more than a little pinch of added salt to swallow).The phenomenon is this:

  1. A nearly elderly (i.e. 50s-60s that is the age when you deny you are elderly, but are quite likely to be a grandparent, or if not are older than many friends who are grandparents already) couple communicate via Facebook perhaps by both commenting on a third person’s wall…
  2. A nearly middle-aged person (i.e. someone who is less fit and capable than they once were, but who has not yet admitted that they are past their absolute prime, i.e. in their late 20s-30s, they are likely to be a parent, or if not etc…) comments “I do hope you guys are not in the same place!” or some similar eruption of shock and horror at the prospect of communication between a married couple in the same house which is electronically mediated.

What’s going on? Haven’t these Gen XYZers not heard of electronic communications? Do they think that there is something less than useful in such media? Or is their shock somehow like that of a younger generation discovering that their parents actually have sex (or even once used to)?

Can someone explain this phenomenon to me? Or point me to a sensible discussion of this? I am really puzzled, what is wrong with “talking” to someone via a bunch of tame electrons if they happen to be in the same geographical location?


There’s trouble in London

The Thai websitePrachatai (English language section) often has humorous pieces on Thai political and social life by Harrison George. This time in “Frankly Sick” he has a brilliant comment that is more global in scope. Here’s the opening:

 British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to return from his Tuscan holiday a second time to deal with the widespread turmoil in the financial markets. Night after night, mobs of out-of-control investors had been roaming the markets at will, looting and pillaging with impunity.

Television viewers were horrified at the sight of bankers and hedge fund managers calmly walking away with monthly pay-packets in 6 figures, leaving derelict and moribund economies behind them.