Monday, October 13, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Peter Mead

This is the third in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello Peter, and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
PM: Hello Guy, thanks. I’m originally from Bristol, England. Married to an American, Melanie, and we have four children under 8 years old. We’re both committed to being involved in world missions and said we didn’t want to end up in the USA or the UK. So we’re living in Surrey! Actually, we’re working full-time with Operation Mobilisation and I have a Bible teaching role that allows me to preach and train in various settings – Bible schools, missions’ teams/conferences and local churches. An increasing proportion of my ministry is given to training preachers in full courses or church-based seminars. I could also mention that I’m a football fan, a book lover, a martial arts student, a very amateur guitar player and someone trying not to like chocolate so much. (Our family site is http://www.pouredout.org/)
GD: Your blog is called "Biblical Preaching". What made you enter the world of blogging?
PM: I have never been a great reader of blogs. At the time I started the Biblical Preaching site I was emailing with three or four friends who were asking questions related to preaching. After answering the same questions a couple of times I decided it would be better to put the answers on a site so that they could all read the same information (and save me from hunting through Sent Items!) So really I began the blog for an audience of thee or four. Once I started it, I found that others in various countries and from different churches were appreciating the site too. In those first weeks I discovered there were other preaching blogs too, although each has its unique goals and approach (before I started my site I was only aware of the Preaching Today blog).
GD: In what ways do you think that blogging can be a help or hindrance to those in preaching ministry?
PM: I want to be a lifelong student of preaching. I want to be a good steward of the ministry God has given me, so that involves learning from others. In recent years I have always been reading a book related to preaching to stimulate my thinking and challenge my ministry. I suppose good preaching blogs can serve as that brief stimulus to improve in various aspects of preaching. For some preachers, books are inaccessible, so free information on a blog is priceless. Sometimes blogs can touch on subjects generally untouched by books. The interaction of a blog allows thoughts to be sharpened or corrected. This is all helpful.
At the same time blogs can be a significant hindrance to preachers who are already over-busy. We live in a time of unprecedented distractions. I know it is easy for preachers to literally waste hours of valuable preparation time by surfing from one blog to the next. Blogrolls are an incredible resource, or a menacingly entangling web, depending on the situation!
GD: This one's for the Geeks: Why Wordpress rather than Blogger?
PM: That’s easy. A totally un-geeky answer, but I preferred the name, so I chose Wordpress!
GD: Fair enough. What does your family think about your blogging habit?
PM: My children don’t really understand it yet, too young. My wife has gone from ambivalent (“don’t let it take time from your ministry”) to gently supportive (“as long as it doesn’t take too much time from your other ministry”). I like her perspective because it reflects mine. I view blogging as a 10-15 minute per day exercise. It’s good for me to crystallize my thoughts on preaching, and if those thoughts help someone else preach biblically, great!
GD: Where did you train for the preaching ministry and what did you find most helpful about your training?
PM: I grew up in a “denomination” that encourages all most men to preach (there is good and bad in that approach). So I started preaching at 17. My father and grandfather were preachers, so it might seem an obvious thing to do, but I was very resistant (shy personality, other goals in life, etc.) I started preaching and was very encouraged to keep on doing so. Then during university I spent my placement year working on an OM Ship (see http://www.omships.org/). I had constant opportunities to preach during that year and learned a lot from the sheer diversity of opportunities. During that year I decided to go to seminary after I finished my business degree. So I went to Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, OR for a year.
After getting married we later returned to Portland so I could do another three very full years at Multnomah. This is where I got my grounding biblically and theologically. As well as enjoying hermeneutics, languages and biblical theology, I particularly appreciated the preaching classes with John Wecks and Gene Curtis. Both had learned from Haddon Robinson, so after finishing at Multnomah, I decided to study under Haddon too. So once we were in our present ministry role with OM, I also did the Doctor of Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – purely in order to study under Haddon Robinson.
It’s hard to boil my training down to one most helpful thing. A lot of people seem to delight in declaring that their seminary training didn’t really prepare them for the realities of ministry. It seems fashionable to bash your bible school! I feel for these people as they obviously chose poorly. My training at Multnomah, as it was at that time, was great preparation for ministry. It may sound a little vague, but the most helpful thing was drilled into me by numerous teachers. It was to have a very high view of the Bible. People don’t need my advice, or new instruction, or clever schemes, they need the Bible. I’ve been trained to study the Bible, seek to understand the Bible and then present the relevant message of the Bible – and I’m thankful for that training. In fact, the more I see all that is going on in churches and pulpits around the world, the more I am grateful for the privilege of the Bible training I received at Multnomah and with Haddon Robinson.
GD: What is the best bit of advice that you have received on preaching?
PM: There has been lots of advice along the way, little comments here and there. I was once told, “don’t apologise for being the preacher, no-one else feels as bad as you do about it!” Or similarly, “don’t apologise for not covering everything you planned to cover – let people think they are getting the full meal deal!” But really it’s the core “advice” in seminary that has made the most difference. I suppose as a Haddon student I should say always having a big idea. I am deeply indebted to Haddon for his perspective on preaching, but actually I would point to another piece of advice which has to supersede having a big idea. In my first ever preaching class, my prof took Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:2 and drove them home – "Preach the Word!" That perspective has marked me and nothing is more important than that. (Big Idea preaching doesn’t disagree with that, it teaches the importance of getting the big idea from the text and preaching that clearly . . . so the two pieces of advice go together!)
GD: Why do you favour expository preaching?
PM: If expository preaching is defined well, I see no alternative worth considering. Expository preaching is not a matter of preaching form (3 points, verse-by-verse, etc.), but a preaching philosophy. It is an approach that seeks to explain the true meaning of a text, using effective communication skill, with applied relevance to the listeners, all under the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Since the definition allows for flexibility and creativity in form, I feel no restriction from my commitment to expository preaching. There are many who hold to a more restrictive approach to preaching and label it “expository.” Some insist that there is only one legitimate form of preaching, some even seem to think their form of sermon came down from the mount with Moses. In some ways when I teach preaching, I am advocating for greater commitment to solid Biblical understanding, but also greater flexibility in terms of selecting sermon form. So with expository preaching defined properly, and a very high view of the importance of the Bible in the life of each believer, I honestly see no alternative.
GD: Are you an extemporary preacher, or do you tend to use notes?
PM: I differentiate between preaching and teaching. When I teach (a seminar, a workshop, a full course), then I will use notes, handouts, powerpoint, etc. When I preach, I don’t use notes. I’m hesitant to use the word extemporary though. Too many people seem to take that to mean “off the cuff” or unprepared preaching.
I used to use notes. I preached with notes for a decade, until I was required in class to preach without notes (note the Robinson influence on my preaching instructor!) I was very resistant, as are all students required to do such a crazy thing. But once it was explained to me and I tried it, I have not gone back. I believe in well-prepared sermons, but I now also believe in note-free delivery. Many people have said that for the eye contact alone, a move to no-notes is worth it, but actually the benefits are numerous! As well as improving eye contact, preaching without notes can really improve the sermon: it forces you to do less jumping around in the Bible, to have a simpler and clearer sermon structure, and a more natural flow of thought. No-notes also helps the speaker in other ways: better eye contact means better connection with the listeners, a more natural manner, greater depth through encouraging study in the actual preaching passage rather than a wild ride in a concordance or a memory trip through systematic theology.
Just yesterday I was in a conversation with another preacher. He told me how he works so hard on his sermons and then doesn’t want to miss anything out in delivery. So he takes a full manuscript when he preaches, but then is never sure at the end whether he actually said what he wanted to – because in his concentration on what he sees before him, his mind is not fully on what comes out of his mouth! Ironic really, but I think many preachers would be surprised if they checked their preaching. They’d be surprised by how much their eyes go to their notes and consequently how little connection there is with the listeners. I’m sure many would be surprised by how well they would do without notes if they were well instructed in the process.
People seem to get very heated on this issue! Most seem so committed to defending another approach or insisting that their memory is not good enough to lose their notes. I don’t insist this is the only way or the right way. If I am teaching in a seminary, then I would insist on no-notes for in-class preaching. But each preacher should do what they can in their own ministry. I would only suggest that people honestly evaluate how effective they really are with their manuscript or notes . . . perhaps some video self-analysis is the way to go!
GD: I think watching myself preach on video would totally freak me out, but I agree with what you said on preaching without notes (see here for an old post on this). What, in your view is the relationship between the work of the Spirit and preaching?
PM: This is a critical question. I think every aspect of the preaching event is spiritual and should be influenced and empowered by the Spirit. When we preach, hopefully we are Spirit-filled and empowered to preach the Spirit-inspired text to Spirit-prepared people.
There are two dangers in this area. One is to assume that relying on the Spirit negates our role in the process. I come across people who hold the view that an unprepared preacher who simply speaks off the cuff is somehow more reliant on the Holy Spirit than one who has prepared carefully and sought to honour the Spirit-inspired text by actually trying to understand it first. The same Spirit who is at work in people’s lives during the sermon can also be very much involved in the preparation process. Sometimes the “Spirit-only” approach is simply due to lack of thinking through the logic of it. Other times it is due to a wrong understanding of the role of the Spirit or a key text – Matthew 10:17-20 (not surprisingly taken out of context and misunderstood!) Other times I think this approach is simply a cop out to avoid facing up to the required work in preparation or personal insecurity due to lack of training and knowledge.
The other danger is to presume preparation alone is sufficient and negate the role of the Spirit. We can easily fall into the trap of professionalism when we have received good training. The solution to professionalism (in the sense of self-reliance) is not amateurism (in the sense of poor quality), but “prayerful professionalism.” This means being the best steward of the ministry opportunity by giving your best, taking advantage of good training, etc., but doing so in reliance on and in the power of the Spirit.
It may be an inadequate answer, but I think the best thing to do is maintain a prayerful conversation with God throughout the process. Pray about passage selection. Pray as you utilize good hermeneutics and exegetical skills to understand the text (that means not expecting direct revelation to do the work of understanding for you!) Pray as you formulate the main idea of the passage and then of the message. Pray as you consider who will be listening to the sermon (prayer for the listeners should also be more ongoing than merely at one stage of the preparation). Pray as you define the sermon’s specific purpose. Pray as you choose the strategy for delivery (sermon form). Pray as you search for and select support materials and design the intro and conclusion. Pray as you run through the sermon ahead of time. If the prayerful conversation with God is maintained throughout the process and before delivery, then hopefully the Spirit will be unhindered by us as He does what only He can do – drive the inspired text home into the hearts and lives of the listeners. I suppose I am saying that prayer matters!
GD: It certainly does. Care to tell us your most embarrassing experience in the pulpit?
PM: I was leading a missions team in central Panama. Sunday morning I was scheduled to preach in the local Baptist church (we were all staying with the pastor). For breakfast we were served a fried egg. I took one small bite and immediately felt my body heat up and react. The physical consequences were immediate and I didn’t know how I would manage the walk to church, let alone get through the sermon. I made it there, physically drained (literally) and still overheating! As I started to preach I asked if someone could get me a drink. Two people independently rushed out and brought back a huge glass of Sprite each. I gave the next sentence of my sermon, then as the pastor translated into Spanish, I downed the first glass of Sprite in one. I gave my next sentence, then downed the second! The faces of the congregation were priceless, they’d probably never seen a preacher with a (soft) drink problem before!
GD: They have now. If time travel were possible, which post-biblical preacher would you most like to hear and what question would you ask him?
PM: Honestly, I would choose A.W. Mead, my grandfather. He died three years before I was born, but everyone who knew him speaks so highly of his ministry. I would love to hear him and learn from him. I’m hoping we’ll be sitting near each other at the first heavenly feast! In terms of someone better known, I would choose Bernard of Clairvaux. While it is politically incorrect to want to hear someone commissioned to preach for a crusade, it seems clear that Bernard was a deep lover of God, a man of the Bible, a leader and a man of lasting influence. His critique of Abelard regarding atonement theory is highly relevant in today’s evangelical climate, but I’d be really interested in his “marital mysticism” that has influenced many down through the centuries (Luther and Calvin, for instance). I would ask him to outline his understanding of God’s love relationship with humanity through the pages of Scripture (if time travel were possible, then I’d have time to hear a long answer!) I suppose I’m drawn more to the understanding of Scripture and theology than I am to any technical preaching question (times have changed a little, after all!)
GD: Which contemporary preachers do you most admire?
PM: I have to say Haddon Robinson, but that is an honest answer. He is a wordsmith, certainly, but he is much more than that. I admire his ability to handle the Scriptures. I admire his ability to say so much, but never seem rushed. I have also appreciated the ministry of Joe Stowell, Bruce Fong and others. I also appreciate men who handle the Bible well, like David Jeremiah or Walter Kaiser (even though he is a big advocate of “keyword” preaching, I love his humour and engaging manner).
GD: If you had to recommend only one book on preaching, what would it be?
PM: I don’t want to be evasive, but it depends who wants the recommendation! Robinson’s Biblical Preaching is genuinely the core text in the field of homiletics as far as I’m concerned. But someone wanting their hand held through the process more and needing more examples would do well to go for Donald Sunukjian’s Introduction to Biblical Preaching. People who get the point of these two books might benefit more from a push toward making their preaching more engaging (Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change) or more biblically creative (Jeffrey Arthur’s Preaching With Variety). Then again, if I ever get a book published, ask me again and I will give just one answer!
GD: What? I ask you for one recommendation and you give me four, but not one of them is Preaching and Preachers by Lloyd-Jones. And, I would want a hefty fee if you were to use my blog to advertise your book! Now, what are your top three songs or pieces of music (Christian or otherwise)?
PM: I like music, but don’t listen to much these days. I tend to use car time for phone calls (hands-free!), listening to teaching or football, or praying (not necessarily for the football). When I do listen to music it can be anything from hymns or classical to rock music (especially if it evokes memories like “We are the Champions” by Queen! A song I’ve enjoyed as a football fan!) But since you want me to list my three top ones: (1) I Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by Keith Green. I love the clean sound and the simple heart stirring lyrics. (2) The Love of God is Greater Far, by whoever wrote it. I could list any number of worship songs that I appreciate, When I Survey, etc., but this one has a beautiful and powerful simplicity. (3) For something different I would add in a good guitarist playing anything. For an example, listen to Naudo (or Andy McKee) on YouTube playing something like Africa, or Clapton playing Signe.
GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because....
PM: I am enjoying The Future of Justification by John Piper, although I haven’t finished it yet. So I would say Act and Being by Colin Gunton. This is a must read because although not the easiest read, its critique of negative theology challenges so many of the core assumptions of Christian theology, but not in such a way as to undermine the Bible, but hopefully to drive us to be more biblical in our theology.
GD: You run courses and seminars on preaching. What are they all about?
PM: I enjoy teaching full courses in the area of preaching. While I would love to teach over the course of a term or a semester, I am usually limited to modular courses. In the last year I have started to run one-day training seminars in Biblical Preaching. This started almost by accident. I had run a full-week course a couple of times and a friend who had participated in that course wanted me to run a scaled-down version during a weekend in his church. This model has proved popular and I have half a dozen or so scheduled for the coming few months. Basically, after an intro to the philosophy rather than form approach to expository preaching, in the course of a few hours we work through the process of moving from text to sermon, and enjoy a fun concluding session on effective delivery. The passage that we work through during the Saturday I then preach on the Sunday morning. In an ideal world, with more time, participants would preach to the group for feedback, but at least this way they get to see the full process and hear “an” end-result (also, after going through a preaching seminar, nobody wants to be the one who preaches the next morning!)
I am also offering this seminar in two 3-hour blocks, sometimes with an extra block allowing participants to preach for the group. Then there are follow-up seminars and workshops too. I am returning to one church to run a seminar on preaching biblical narrative. I have a seminar based on my doctoral work – preaching to model and motivate personal Bible study. Also other related subjects can be taught in an evening workshop session to follow-up on the main seminar. My goal is to help equip people who are preaching, or who are interested in preaching. Many people do not have the benefit of Bible school training, and even some who have gone to Bible school still feel uncertain in their preaching.
If anyone reads this and is interested in possibly having a seminar at their church, please get in touch with me (here). I am always willing to consider travelling for even a handful of people who are committed to preaching as biblically and effectively as possible!
GD: What is the biggest problem facing Evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
PM: I see slightly different issues facing evangelicalism in different cultures. For instance, evangelicalism in the US faces different struggles than here in the UK. Next week, I’ll be in Sri Lanka and the issues there are different again. But there is one issue that I’ll mention.
I think the biggest issue we face is a sliding away from the centrality and authority of the Bible. There is an increasing and alarming biblical illiteracy among believers, including church leaders and preachers. As is usually the case, the church reflects the culture around it. Right now this includes an unwillingness to stand for much of anything and a fear of offending. An increasing number of biblical subjects are being treated as no-go areas and the church is losing out as a result.
I recently heard a helpful comment in this regard. To say, “I don’t know” is humility. To say “we don’t know” is both pushy and presumptious. To say “we just don’t know” or “we just can’t know” is supposedly definitive, end of discussion, time to change the subject. The Bible does teach about many subjects that today are simply shut down by this prevailing attitude. I’m not saying we have to all agree on secondary issues, but I don’t like the notion that anything other than an increasingly shrinking set of primary issues is off limits. Perhaps it is a reaction to past errors, divisions or unhelpful sensationalism. But the answer to error is not silence, but truth. The answer to division is not avoidance of the issue, but gracious teaching and careful interaction. The answer to sensationalism is not ignorance, but sensible teaching.
I suppose our response has a lot to do with preaching, but it goes further than that. It has to do with our expectations of ourselves and other believers, with our ability to both model and motivate personal Bible study, with our capacity to naturally present a contagious passion for God and His Word. The goal is not to have a church of filled heads, repositories of Bible trivia for church quizzes. The goal is to see believers captivated by God’s love and drawn to Him, which means knowing Him, His heart, His values, His mind, His plans . . . all of which is found in the Bible.
GD: That's a good note on which to end this conversation. Thanks for dropping by, Peter!

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