Workman’s Toolbox – 23.4.13

Saving Eutychus

A lot of people I respect are talking highly of the book Saving Eutychus, written by Gary Miller and Phil Campbell. Here, for example, is Don Carson’s glowing recommendation:

I have read books on how to make sure your sermon is interesting, and I have read books on how to make sure your sermon is faithful to the text, but this book wants your sermon to be both. If I could, I would make this little book mandatory reading for seminarians everywhere, and then urge them to read it a couple more times during the course of their ministry. It avoids cutesy and manipulative suggestions, and makes its practical points while urging integrity, faithfulness, and imagination. Many books on preaching are published every year; this one is a “must.” (D.A.Carson)

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Some voices from the past warn us about “over-polishing” our sermons. Plainness, men!

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Mitch Chase shares 14 lessons he has learned from 14 years of preaching (pt 1, pt 2) . I found his reflections helpful. His 14 lessons are:

1. Listen to Great Preaching
2. Be Receptive to Feedback from Trusted People
3. Learn, Read About, and Grow in the Craft
4. Pray for Yourself, Sermon, and Hearers
5. Don’t Fret Over Fancy Outlines
6. Preach Tough Texts
7. Preach Controversial Texts
8. Preach from the Old Testament
9. Don’t Cling to a Certain Genre of Passages
10. Don’t Preach Everything You Learned about the Passage
11. At Least for Yourself, Summarize Your Sermon in a Simple Sentence
12. Rehearse Illustrations Before the Sermon
13. Sit Under Your Own Preaching
14. Get to the Gospel

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A post on a subject not often addressed, yet of great relevance to pastors:  Pastoring the Idle.

Lost in Translation?

I had never preached with a translator before. But during my time in Portugal last month, I had the  experience of preaching four times through a translator. What did I learn from this new experience?

The best translator is a fellow preacher

When choosing a translator, it would be tempting to simply opt for the best linguist one could find. That would be a mistake. Certainly, adeptness with languages is important, but my time in the Iberian peninsula showed me the immense value of having a translator whose ‘day job’ is preaching. Rogerio Ramos didn’t simply translate my words; he preached my sermon!

Sermon preview is vital

A few days before preaching together I gave Rogerio my sermon notes. Rogerio was able to query any words he was unsure of; he was also able to advise me where my ideas wouldn’t “come across” in a Portuguese context. This meant I could make adjustments to my sermon if necessary. It also meant that Rogerio was better prepared for the forthcoming translation.

Use short but complete sentences

This was new to me. I discovered that there are two pitfalls to be avoided in constructing sentences for translation. One danger is lengthy sentences. The problem with this is obvious. When sentences are overly-long, the translator has difficulty remembering all that you have said. But there can also be a difficulty when one’s sentences are short but incomplete. When I preach only half a sentence then pause, I may not be helping the translator. Preaching a complete idea makes it easier for your partner to translate the sentence. The best practice is to preach in complete sentences but keep them short.

Keep the pace up

Translation can become slow and ponderous. It is vital that both preacher and translator keep the pace up. I was ready to come in immediately after Rogerio had completed his translation. Together we managed to establish a certain “rhythm” to our collaborative preaching. Surprisingly, the overall length of the sermon was not much longer than I would normally preach.

Depend more on God than oratory

You realise how truly powerless your own oratory is when you cannot speak a local language. You are entirely dependent on the translator. You are even more dependent on God.  Preaching with translation raised significant and helpful questions for me. Do I overrate the importance of eloquence in preaching? Do I have confidence in the bare Word of God? Do I believe that the Scriptures are sufficient to make a saving and sanctifying impact across linguistic and cultural borders?

The Boston Bombings: What Can We Preach?

Our hearts ache for the victims of the Boston bombings.

No words can describe such an act of barbarous cruelty. No language can express the sympathy we feel for those suffering its consequences. Our mouths are, quite paradoxically, gaping and speechless.

Yet pastors need to find words. Sunday is coming and the pastor will need to have something to say. Some will choose to address the Boston bombings directly.  Others will simply mention the disaster in passing. Whatever path is chosen, pastors will wrestle with the question: what can I preach?

1. We can preach that even when hell breaks out on earth, God reigns in heaven and earth.

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. (Psalm 2:1-4. Cf Psalm 96:10, Matthew 28:18)

2. We can preach that God comforts those who mourn.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4. Cf  Psalm 147:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13)

3. We can preach that human beings have a profoundly sinful nature. 

“Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5. Cf Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-18)

4. We can preach that everyone needs to repent, not just terrorists.

“Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4-5. Cf Acts 3:19, 1 John 1:8-9)

5. We can preach that only God can keep us ultimately safe.

“God is our refuge and strength,an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3. Cf Psalm 146:3, Romans 8:31-39)

6. We can preach that Jesus’ life was violently taken in an act of human barbarism, but it was part of God’s plan.

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:23-24, Cf Isaiah 53:1-6)

7. We can preach that God will one day renew and remake this fallen, sin-sick world.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1, 4. Cf Isaiah 25:8, 1 Corinthians 15:54)