Thursday, September 03, 2009

Saturday Nights at Greenview 09-10

New SNAG Programme - each evening commences at 7.30pm (cafe open from 7pm).

Whatever happened to…?
The forgotten beliefs of the evangelical church.

Sat 10th October 09
Creation (‘All of Scripture is a footnote to Genesis’)
Bob Fyall

Sat 14th November 09
The Church (Bride or Bridesmaid? Getting our priorities right.)
Stephen McQuoid

Sat 12th December 09

Heaven & Hell (Metaphors or Realities?)
Jim McLatchie

Sat 16th January 10

Revival (Real renewal not ‘boom & bust’)
Ian Shaw

Sat 13th February 10

Original Sin (Real evil in a real world)
Alasdair Fyfe

Sat 20th March 10

The Second Coming (Stagnation or Expectation?)
Edward Lobb

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Danger! Ministry is too Good.

An expression I find myself using a lot in ministry is: ‘your strengths are also your weaknesses’. So, for example, someone whose great strength is getting things done and being very efficient can often have the downside of not being very sensitive to the opinions or feelings of others as they plough ahead with their projects – but if they were then they probably wouldn’t get so much done etc etc.

This is one of life’s paradoxes and dilemmas – being great in one area often comes with a cost in other areas. However, where this kind of trade-off becomes too much – is when we trade the most important thing for some secondary aspect of it. Let me try and explain….

I’m a great fan of the '5-Live Film Review' podcast with Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo. It's a popular programme due to the wit, dry banter, and eloquence of the presenters. However, despite its acclaim the presenters noted to one guest that their verdicts on films didn’t seem to affect whether listeners went to see them or not. The guest (Jeremy Isaacs) commented in response, ‘you’ve transcended your subject matter’. That is, people just listen to enjoy the chat and comment rather than to be informed by its content.

I think, as a preacher, I experienced an almost physical pang on hearing that observation. In other words the performance was so good that the content had become irrelevant. There is a big danger here for our churches – a pursuit of excellence in presentation that supercedes content. So what matters most is style, professionalism, slickness, feel and experience – and the subtlety of this danger is that whereas we think a preoccupation with ‘excellence’ faciltates the communication of truth – it actually in many cases obscures it.

I note, with some concern, a fixition in some places that preachers should preach without notes. The thinking being that the message will be communicated much more effectively by a person able to walk the platform, have uninterrupted eye contact and speak without apparent reference to memory aids. I have seen this done and then cringed when the listeners applauded at the end – clearly more impressed by his ‘no hands’ skill than challenged by the content of what was said. It was said of Jonathan Edwards that he preached holding his notes about an inch from his nose (he was short sighted) holding a candle in the other hand so as to read them in the evening gloom – but as he preached men clung to the pillars of the church such was the fear of God that came upon them.

What is a danger in preaching ministry is also true in 'praise ministry' – so that the sensation and experience of the medium becomes more important and valued than its content. A similar thing happened in some Charismatic circles where just having spiritual experiences, such as speaking in tongues, effectively became the most important factor in people’s faith. So Charismatic Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists etc could all get together irregardless of their views on justification or sanctification – because such beliefs effectively became secondary to the experience of spiritual gifts. We can see the same potential danger with music & praise in some quarters – serious doctrinal issues can be ignored because what ultimately matters is just enjoying the same worship and music ‘experience’.

But the doctrinal content of the gospel matters – as does it being understood. Great preaching or praise is not ultimately about delivery, eloquence, skill or sensation – it must be about the comprehension of truth or it is dust. So let’s be wary in all our ministries that we aren’t trying to be so good that we leave behind what matters.