I belong to a charismatic Church, and one consequence of that is that there are fairly consistent reminders that we would all quite like a “revival” to happen. I dislike this sentiment, passionately.
Not that I have any problems with revivals, clearly there have been a number of clear periods in history when God has worked in a specific and powerful way which resulted in massive numbers of people coming to the Church (and many within the Church realising what it was actually about!).
The trouble is, when you keep chatting away about the next revival, you start trying to make it happen yourself. You look back at Church history and say, “well, the such and such revival happened primarily because of the 24/7 prayer they started”, and then the automatic reaction to that is “well, lets start up a 24/7 prayer movement so that revival can happen”.
Frankly, I don’t care whether another revival happens in my lifetime or not. Obviously it would be an amazing thing to be caught up in the middle of a revival, but that is not what God has called us to. There is nothing in the Bible telling us to sit around and wait for revival to happen. We have Jesus, we have the Spirit, we have the Father, we don’t need to wait to start doing what we would end up doing in the midst of a revival anyway.
Lets just get on with praying like we ought to, preaching what we ought to, and generally living out a life of obedience which results in the gospel being shared with the people we meet. And lets not do it because it might spark a revival, lets just do it because we’re Christians and there is no better reason.
I regularly read the frequently excellent Biblical Preaching blog which Peter Mead writes and have loved his insights, as a listener as well as a very occasional speaker. He has mentioned first person preaching a handful of times in the past, and in a recent post one of his readers tracked down a couple of examples of first person preaching which I have since listened to.
First person preaching fascinates me. I have never come across anyone personally who has tried it, and really have only heard of the idea from Peter. Having read a little of what he has to say on the matter, and having now actually heard some first person preaching I am even more intrigued by it.
The two examples are both from Dr. Torrey Robinson (who has written a book on the subject), and can be downloaded from his Churches website here;
http://www.fbctarrytown.org/messages.html, 01-25-2009 The Bitter Man of God (Jonah), and 03-23-2008 Fighting Against God (Acts 5:12-42)
My inclination is that the approach is valid and useful very occasionally, but only if the text you are working with very clearly allows for it. Torrey uses the story of Jonah in one case, and an invented dialogue between Caiaphus and Pilate focusing in on the events in Acts 5. There are clear weaknesses to first person preaching, primarily that if you remain in character you can’t really deal directly with a text. Of course if you are working from a piece of narrative I don’t think this matters hugely. But there are inherent strengths to the approach which it would be much more difficult to achieve in any other way, primarily that by playing a part you create an immediate connection between your character and the congregation. Listening to Jonah telling his side of the story had a far deeper impact on my understanding than listening to someone trying to explain his emotional state from a third person perspective.
I am going to try and track down some more examples, and I may well pick up Dr. Robinsons book and see what he has to say on the subject. Preaching is a far broader discipline than I often think, and I thoroughly enjoy finding out more about it!
Blogging (and similarly facebook, twitter, all of that jazz) is by it’s very nature insubstantial. I am constantly being reminded that if I want to grow, if I want to deepen my understanding of a subject, then the solution is to get hold of some decent books and read, and open my Bible up and study. Reading a blog post is good for stirring up thoughts and ideas to be chewed over later, it’s good for bringing a flash of insight into a Bible passage which you can dig into properly next week. It is never sufficient for actually growing in understanding.
A long time ago a friend stopped reading my livejournal (read: blog for angsty teenagers), and the reason she gave was simple “I am tired of reading about peoples emotional issues”. She was pretty wise, and I’m really glad she said that because it made me realise that I had been using a blog as a dumping ground for how bad I was feeling. Every time I felt a bit low, had a tough day or whatever (and I was a teenager so most of the time what I wrote about was pathetic!) it went on the blog and I felt a bit better.
Now I want to scream at myself for being so stupid! Airing a problem on the internet isn’t going to solve anything! Twittering that you just broke up with your boyfriend doesn’t do anything beyong maybe making some people feel sorry for you. Blogging about how tough work was today has no lasting impact beyong you feeling better because now everyone knows how hard your job is. The internet as an emotional dumping ground is completely useless because it gives the illusion of helping without actually changing anything.
We are suppose to work out our problems in relationship and community with the people around us. For this reason the internet is poisonous, because it looks and feels like a community, but it doesn’t actually offer the tangible help that people need. The next time I twitter/facebook/blog about a problem I have, please give me a slap and tell me to go and talk to someone in the real world!
Having just last weekend given three talks for the youth in my Church on the prodigal son, I find myself longing for some proper feedback on what I said. So far what I have managed to determine is that noone will say anything bad about the talks, and the good points are generally vague (although one really useful specific point was given). I am not so foolish to think this means my talks were perfect! Which leads me to believe that people aren’t willing to give proper feedback for some reason.
I spoke to my pastor, and it seems that there is no real feedback structure for the Sunday service preaching, although it seems he wants to set something up and has a few ideas which is great.
Feedback is essential when you’re doing pretty much any skilled work because without it we really cannot grow and improve our skills. But feedback is also really hard because it means we need to be humble and open to criticism. Feedback is also really hard to give because most of the time you aren’t really any better than the person you are feeding back to, and you must be humble and loving when you feed back or it will be ignored (and probably offend).
Feedback also needs to be balanced and consistent. It’s no good telling the preacher about all his mistakes without mentioning his successes, but equally completely positive feedback is unhelpful too. And only feeding back when a talk is brilliant or terrible isn’t helpful either, the average talks need feedback just as much!
So what are we going to do about it as a Church? Well Richard has said his plan is to arrange for regular feedback to happen among the men who preach on Sunday regularly. This is a great idea because it levels the playing field, they each know how much feedback is valued and will be aware of the dangers in being overly negative and such because they preach themselves.
I am thinking also about putting together a feedback questionnaire, basically so that if you aren’t really sure what is important to feed back on you have a series of singposts pointing you towards useful information.
What questions you would want people to answer if they were giving you feedback on your preaching?