Sunday, December 26, 2010

Liturgically Happy Christmas?

Not really! Not all bad, by any means, but not uniformly of a high standard either. Christmas is hard to get right liturgically. I myself have been vicar presiding over an attempted 'high standard' of liturgy, only to see the numbers drop in successive years. Tempting (in hindsight) to go for more non-standard items: drama, (these days) film clips (had a few at one service I went to), chirpy songs, more and more candles, etc. Rather than grizzle about what disappointed me, or compliment over what pleased me, it would be better to raise some questions of principle - questions which I find relevant to many services I have shared in over the last few years here in Kiwiland:

(1) Are the congregation spectators or participants? "Both" could be an answer, in which case the question becomes, "how much spectating is good for the health of the body of Christ?"

(2) How do we offer friendliness and warmth as worship leaders and as presiding priests?
(3) What is the role of the Sharing of the Peace? (One answer, more and more experienced all over the show, I am finding, seems to be that it is a liturgical version of half-time in a game of rugby: a chance for a break, a conversation, etc. Is that a good answer? Why, or why not? Is there a case in a special service (e.g. Christmas, Easter) for dispensing with the action of sharing the peace?)

Did you have a liturgically Happy Christmas? If so, why? If not, why not?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting the max out of the words we use

I do not think one has to shift one's personal judgements as to the faults and foibles, or successes and victories of controversial politicians such as the recent sequence of US presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, when recognising particular abilities each has. In the following citation, written after an unexpected moment in the White House press room in which Bill Clinton was at the podium in the absence of President Obama, note the astute, clever, and exemplary communication abilities of Clinton. The background story is huge controversy over whether extending tax cuts to the rich or not would be good for America mired in recession, associated with continuing concern by Democrats as to whether Obama is communicating well, his decisions and the reasons for them:

"The contrast wasn’t as great as I might have expected, because we got the wonky Clinton, who somehow wound up talking about wind turbines in Nevada, rather than the feel-your-pain Clinton. But the body language was instructive. Obama tends to stand straight, as if addressing a law school class; Clinton kept putting his hand over his heart, as if to signal he’s speaking with sincerity.

Clinton instantly personalized the debate, saying that as a rich guy, he would benefit from the GOP’s insistence on tax cuts for the wealthy. “You know how I feel,” he told reporters. “I think people who benefit the most should pay the most—not for class-warfare reasons, but for reasons of fairness and rebuilding the middle class in America.” He made the case right there, in one sentence.

Clinton thanked the Republican leaders for their concessions, appearing gracious rather than grudging. “There’s never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan,” he said." (My italics).

The exemplary notes here, in respect of preaching, are these:

(1) Finding a way to personalise doctrine.

(2) Minimising the number of words which 'make the case' for the theological argument which drives our sermon along (or, in other words, finding the shortest, most memorable way to state the message we are bringing to the congregation).

(3) Acknowledging human failings and the painful realities of life with grace (rather than, as the case may be, with complaint, condemnation, or self-pity).

(4) Doing all the above with body language that works with, not against, the tenor of what we are saying.

The preachers we judge to be 'great' will almost certainly exemplify the same great communicative traits that Bill Clinton demonstrates here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What to preach at a wedding or an ordination

This Sunday evening coming I am preaching at the ordination to the diaconate of a particularly fine set of candidates for admittance to that order of ministry: Jolyon White, James Ullrich, Chris Spark, and Spanky (Joshua) Moore. Recently I took part in a wedding at which I did not preach. Between the two events I am thinking a little about the intent and purpose of sermons at such occasions.

One line seems to be 'last minute advice'! Weddings are prepared for with marriage preparation; ordinations are preceded by training, education and, finally, a retreat. Each can have a sermone which, effectively, is 'last minute advice.'

Another line seems to be 'definition.' What is marriage all about? Why do we ordain people? What happens when we ordain someone? Some such sermons answer such questions. Quite useful this can be too, since weddings and ordinations are not regular, weekly events for the congregations, so some kind of renewal of our minds on these matters can be helpful.

What line will I take this coming weekend? I will let you know ...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Worship, Mission and Trauma

The hours are stretching into days of waiting to find out whether the 29 miners trapped in the Pike River Coal Mine following a terrific explosion are alive or dead. Interestingly one of the features of the news coverage of the situation has been the focus on the work of churches in Greymouth and the spotlight has been on one Anglican church, Holy Trinity, Greymouth. On Saturday night a special prayer service was held in the church, and prayers and lighting of candles took place yesterday as well. One media report began, 'Greymouth went to church last night'.

I congratulate Anglican leadership in Greymouth in responding sensitively and boldly to the situation. I notice that one outcome has been repeated media interviews of clergy who have become part of the community leadership giving voice to people's hopes and fears. In the midst of trauma, worship and mission are being integrated as the church seeks to serve people in the name of Christ.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preaching eternal truths

Courtesy of my colleague Brian Thomas my attention has been drawn to this old but everlasting advice re preaching, republished recently in the Guardian (UK):

"Sunk in their deep armchairs, 36 Anglican clergymen were told here today about the "weary Willies" of the pulpit by the Rev. D. W. Cleverley Ford, director of the Church of England's first college of preaching, which opened here today at Scargill House, the Anglican conference centre.

Mr Ford, who was listing his "tools of the trade" for the preacher, said a congregation first considered what the preacher was, secondly how he said it, and thirdly what he said.

A preacher was his own visual aid or hindrance. "His clothes, his hands, his hair, his beard or absence of beard, his robes ? all these are important. A man who starts preparing his sermon at 10 p.m. on Saturday and finishes it at 2 a.m. on Sunday might arrive in the pulpit looking like a weary Willie. What kind of advertisement is he for the Christian faith? Many members of our congregation are women; they see people rather differently from us. They notice that a preacher has a clean collar, or that he is wearing one that might be cleaner. They spend the rest of the sermon wondering about things that need cleaning at home."

Still talking of the "weary Willies," Mr Ford said: "At some of the sermons I have heard, I would like to throw a hymn-book at the preacher and shout 'Wake up, man!'"

There had been a decline in the amount and quality of preaching. In the Church of England, preaching could not be divorced from the pastoral office.

"Don't preach at Mrs Smith who has lost her husband," he said. "But knowing her need, and near that particular time, you could take the subject of life after death, or peace of mind." Such things should be brought in as a point in the sermon.

His other "tools of the trade" for the preacher were knowledge of the Bible ("all great preachers have been great Bible students"); theology: illustrative material ("you collect this from life"); and the use of the voice.

"Realise the difficulty of your task," he said. "It is quite wrong to imagine that most people in church are dying to listen to us." The best preachers, he thought, were those who knew what it was like to be flattened, to be hit by life: "It is disappointments, hardships, and suffering that make the man: a moved man who can move people."

From one of the deep armchairs came a question that was almost a heart cry: "All you have said presupposes a congregation?"

Mr Ford said he knew what it was like to preach to an almost empty church and to feel "all this for so few". "But we must not surrender," he said. "The increase will surely come." "

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preaching Matthew

The Gospel according to Matthew is coming up in the next RCL year (i.e. A). Over the weekend I was able to share some preparational material on Matthew's Gospel with preachers in Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury. Now I am working on a precis for Taonga's Advent edition. Here are some very, very brief observations about Matthew's Gospel:

Motivated by mission, from Jew to Gentile, from Israel to the world.

Setting out the Saviour at work, Jesus as his names says, saves people from their sin, through forgiveness and healing, and teaches a new way of life for saved people.

Adoring one who is more than a new David, Abraham, and Moses, Matthew draws his readers to worship Jesus as the Son of God.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Taking an opportunity

On Sunday evening I went to hear an advertised sermon on the theology and geology of the (Christchurch) earthquake, to be delivered by Matt Watts, Vicar of St. Timothy's, Burnside, Christchurch. Matt's first degree is in geology and second degree is in theology. Normally I do not comment directly on an identified sermon, but in this case I feel emboldened to do so for three reasons: it was a widely advertised sermon, some 120+ people responded (that's my personal estimate), many of whom were from parishes other than Burnside, and I will not be critiquing it per se (but let me assure you it was very good!)

From a general preaching perspective these learnings struck me as worth sharing here:

(1) Sometimes events provide an opportunity to do something a little different with our preaching. In this instance the difference was (a) feeling able to advertise widely (and this being an evening service, it was not particularly 'competitive' of what was happening in Christchurch parishes as most do not have an evening services), (b) transforming the sermon (as a talk within a service) into an extended talk which, with a extensive time for questions, constituted the whole of the evening programme.

(2) Some events are well worth engaging with in a direct, public, lengthy and extra well prepared manner. The content of Matt's talk clearly involved him in much more preparation than an ordinary weekly sermon: aside from the theological preparation, and the writing of a well structured, very thoughtful address, some excellent geological slides accompanied the talk. They would have taken quite a bit of time to find (I imagine) - some were taken from a recent lecture by a Canterbury University geologist, so some emailing must have gone back and forth re accessing those slides! The talk itself was some 45 minutes in duration - longer than many 'ordinary' sermons. What other events, similar in public impact to a destructive earthquake, would be worth engaging in with similar preparation and publicity?

(3) Presuming to advertise widely that one is going to preach on public matters of the day requires appropriate prior learning and/or experience. I felt drawn to attend because Matt was going to speak on geology and theology as a geologist and as a theologian. Frankly, if I had prepared such a talk (as a non-geologist), would I have bothered to go? Probably not, because the missing element of authenticity would be my inability to speak about the geology of the earthquake with authority. Ditto if say (to take another issue or two) I advertised a sermon on 'How the war in Afghanistan should be conducted' or 'What the Bible says about resolving the economic problems of the world today.' As a preacher wrestling with the meaning of the Bible today I am entitled to preach on such subjects, but I do not think I would be entitled to expect a larger than usual attendance from the wider public when I have no additional expertise to bring to the issues than any other preacher.

(4) Sometimes opportunities present themselves to say something urgent, relevant, and of great interest about a matter of the day. Let's not miss those opportunities!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A secret to great preaching

There are many secrets to great preaching. Perhaps too many to keep track of! Here is one:

Connect the details of whatever one is saying to the big picture (or, to a big picture, such as Who God Is, or Where this Parish Is Heading, or What Is the Gospel).

If we walk away from church saying, "There were lots of good things in that sermon ... but I am not sure what it was all about" then the chances are high that connection between 'the details' and the 'big picture' have not been made.

That then may provoke us to ask ourselves, 'What is my vision for this parish?' or 'What is my vision of God?'.

Preparation of sermons at that point may mean lifting our heads from the commentaries, smelling the roses, and thinking prayerfully while praying thoughtfully about what vision this sermon relates to.

Chances are then good that vision will fuel passion and passion will give the edge which means the words said will be the words heard by the congregation!

Monday, October 18, 2010

So many saints, so few days

There are only 365 days in a year, unless it is a leap year, which only adds one more day. As the calendar of Christian celebration accrues more not less saints (cf. the addition this weekend past of Mary McKillop as a saint in the Roman calendar), or, if one is an NZ Anglican, more not less worthy people from our past to remember with thanksgiving, it seems only a matter of time before one's liturgical calendar is void of days to which nothing special, other than God's grace and goodness, is attached! Alternatively, since some days already have multiple possibilities for special remembrance and celebration, we face working through calendars which give us no great guidance as to which on the list for a particular day has priority in celebration over the others!

My general sense is that no great pressure should be felt by worship organisers to celebrate saints days and the like. The days we all should celebrate are the great days of our Lord's own life, death and resurrection, as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Everything else should be optional. What do you think?

Of course even my approach leaves plenty of room for debate over certain days. Is the Annunciation (25 March) a day in the life of our Lord (i.e. his conception) or a Marian festival?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Flow, let it flow

I return to a familiar theme for the few faithful readers here! Let the components of a service of worship flow from one to the other. Find ways to ensure this happens: print the whole service plus songs on a service sheet/booklet; put the service on a screen via laptop and projector; utterly minimise gaps in the choices made in the prayer book so the use can easily follow the service from page to page with page numbers scarcely needing to be mention. Whatever way works for you, let the service flow. Flow! No staccato, stop-start or start-stop. Be continuous not discrete, smooth not rough.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

There is more to St Francis than the animals

On the plus side to the tradition of have a 'pet service' in association with St Francis is that the TV cameras love it, and we can be pretty much assured each year of some TV news focus on the church - one or other of the cathedrals usually - the more donkeys the merrier!

There is a downside to this association, I suggest: it tempts us to think of St Francis in unidimensional terms. 'He's the guy who blessed the animals, isn't he?' In fact St Francis was an extraordinary multidimensional disciple of Christ: teacher, mentor, preacher, missionary, monastic, apostle, visionary.

He did not receive the stigmata because he liked animals. He became Christ-like in ways few achieve. He was instrumental in renewal of the church. He became an inspirational figure to thousands if not millions in succeeding generations.

Hopefully our sermons each St Francis' Day acknowledge the breadth and depth of this holy one of God.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spare, constrained, concise?

What makes a 'great' worship leader? I think there is certainly a place in the life of the church for a worship leader who imbues a service with their personality (hopefully, of course, a warm, lively, loving, inspiring, God-connected and God-centred personality). I know that in some places such worship leaders - if we speak honestly and frankly - are liked for how they lead services by many of the congregation but not by all. As a Kiwi I have never quite worked out whether the 'but not by all' is largely a cultural phenomenon - something about the  reserved, serious, modest aspects of our culture resents the leadership which is overly enthusiastic!

I am also intrigued by leadership of worship which seeks to minimise the personality of the leader with a style of leadership which is spare, constrained, concise: minimal directions, for instance, offers less opportunity for the leader to impose themselves on the service. Sometimes moving in this direction is not 'great worship leadership': if so few directions are given, for instance, that people get lost in the prayer book, or, in a different kind of service, get caught out standing when everyone else is sitting, then some in the congregation may feel strongly that they have not been well led!

As we lead services, hopefully doing so often enough to get a sense of what our personal style of leading is, and then leading some more so that we can experiment with a different style, let's keep reflecting on what we are doing and why we are doing it. All with the aim of becoming a great worship leader!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Messy Church

Messy Church could refer to the state of some Christchurch churches after the earthquakes - masonry and stone chips littering the floors; or it could refer to some Sunday morning services which are not intended to be disorderly, but with sound system breaking down, and Powerpoint via projector subject to gremlins, give the impression of messiness; but here I am referring to a new(-ish) phenomenon in which churches intentionally plan a service called 'Messy Church', picking up on a UK model (see here), in which a service for all ages and stages of life, in a flexible arena (such as a church hall, or a complex in which both hall and church are utilised), takes place.

Just this weekend past I was involved with the first NZ national conference on Messy Church, held at St John's Woolston in Christchurch. Interest in Messy Church is picking up. We even had two attending from Oz!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Balanced preaching

Recently an observation was made to me which suggested that preachers often do not get the timing of sermons right - specifically, not knowing when to stop. In other words, do preachers say too much? This issue is the same whether one is preaching short, medium or long sermons. Let me explain: suppose that the timing of a particular service (e.g. an 8 am service which needs to finish around 8.45 am - 8.50 am because another service begins at 9.15 am) requires the sermon to be of 6 - 8 minutes duration. If, under these circumstances, the preacher has delivered the message (introduction, argument, illustration, application) in 5 minutes but continues talking for another 90 seconds, even though the whole falls within the accepted time limit, the congregation has heard the message-plus-flim-and-flam! Ditto a service in which it is accepted that a longer, expository sermon will be delivered between 30 and 40 minutes in length: if the message with all its points, illustrations, exegetical wrestling with the passage, and applications has been delivered in 32 minutes, but continues for another 3 minutes, the congregation may have drifted well away from the sermon by the time of its conclusion!

Balanced preaching from this perspective is getting the balance between content, duration, and expectation of duration re the character of the service. In particular it means both knowing when to stop and have the discipline to actually stop.

Some say it is good to leave the congregation wishing to hear more from the preacher ...

Monday, September 6, 2010

When all are shaken

Normally I am not a fan of the preacher asking people to turn to those nearest to them and discuss matter X or question Y. But yesterday, 24 hours or so after 'the earthquake' here in Christchurch, with after shocks still happening, including two during the service itself, the preacher began the sermon by asking us to turn to one another and share our experiences of the earthquake. I think that in this instance the preacher did the right thing. As he himself explained, a previous experience of a different disaster had taught him that in the immediate aftermath of trauma, people do not remember what you say to them!

I also thought it was a good idea because talking with each other is therapeutic, and I found talking at this time was a good thing.

One of the reasons why I am not a fan of this being done 'normally' is that it makes lots of presumptions. One presumption is that everyone in the conversational group has something to say about X or Y. Often this is not the case. But yesterday was different. The preacher rightly presumed that everyone having shared the experience of the earthquake had something to say.

Abnormal times can call for abnormal methods of communication!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It can be done

If there is one thing I really admire about the Roman Catholic church it is the ability to have a full mass with hundreds of people present and participating in under an hour. Having experienced this on different occasions in different parishes in different dioceses I assume this is not merely about the efficiency of one or two priests but about a culture and a custom. True, the brevity of such services, relative to Anglican/Protestant equivalents, owes much to brief homilies, and another occasion could discuss the merits of short versus longer sermons. But brief homilies is not the only explanation. It is rare, in my experience, to sing long songs/hymns (let alone turgid ones) in Roman services. We Anglicans could consider whether we are insufficiently vigilant about the length of songs/hymns, especially ones set to unattractive tunes. Prayers of the faithful are normally pretty crisp too. And, not to put too fine a point on the matter, there is rarely fluffing about with flicking through pages of prayer books and the like, or longish directions about this or that.

It is not so much that I think God is better served by shorter worship services than longer ones: one day the whole of everlasting life will be a (timeless) worship service! And I have experienced plenty of great services that last longer than an hour but which are superbly led on the basis of great preparation. But having also participated in some services which seem to 'drag' as they 'meander' through bits and bobs of service items, I do wonder if God is better served by his people being able to attend fully to all that constitutes a worship service because nothing makes our finite, all too earthbound bodies and brains tired, wearied, or simply distracted.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Repeat After Me

Only preach one sermon at a time. Never preach two sermons at one sitting. Repeat after me ...

Why state this? I think a temptation in preaching to the lectionary is to preach a sermon on two or more of the readings. The challenge is to preach one sermon only. That is, to preach a sermon which majors on one reading and minors on the others; or a sermon which follows a single theme through the readings; or a sermon which combines the three readings together in one, single, pertinent message.

It is possible to preach two or more sermons within the one period of the service called, 'the sermon.' That, I suggest, is a big mistake. No matter how brilliant each of the sermons is, together they will undermine the persuasive effect of each.

Only preach one sermon at a time. Repeat after me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sharpen Up

Trying to penetrate deep into the mysteries of preaching, including reflection on most recent sermons I have heard or preached myself, I remain convinced that being able to sum up the message of the sermon in one sentence is the key to great preaching. Allied with 'one sentence' as a methodological tool to preach better sermons, I remind myself that 'simplicity' as an aim for each sermon is vital to the most effective preaching (in the sense that effective preaching, at the least, communicates a message which is remembered when the sermon is over). Simplicity includes avoiding sidetracks (interesting though they may be) and side passages (good and true though they may be), as well as returning again and again to the message being delivered.

It is possible to deliver a non-simple, multiple messages sermon which people appreciate in a variety of ways. One of the several messages 'hits home'. One of the stories told is deliciously entertaining and memorable. The deliverer may be blessed with a tone and timbre of voice which means that just about anything they say has the effect of making the congregation feel good about life. These things are not irrelevant or unimportant to congregational life!

But, in the long-term, preachers may want to be more effective than 'thankfully something I said seemed to hit home to one or two' or 'I got some nice feedback about the sermon being very nice.' And congregations, to mature in Christ, need to be taught well, accumulating depth and breadth in knowledge of God's love for them in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ's work in them through the Holy Spirit. Simple, clear messages, week by week, over time, will be the most satisfying preaching for both preacher and hearers.

So, our challenge as preachers: sharpen up. One sentence summary of what we say? Yes! Simplicity of overall content? Yes, please!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The secret of great preaching?

Less is more.

Is that the secret of great preaching?

It is an increasing conviction of mine that a sermon should be able to be summed up in one sentence, that it should have one main point, and that it should not be overloaded with points/lessons/teachings (no matter how good, wonderful and important they are).

Less is more.

Is simplicity and conciseness the key to cracking the barrier between 'good' sermons and 'great' sermons?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The edge in preaching

One of the great challenges of preaching today is preaching which is both engaging and compelling. By 'engaging' I mean 'capturing and holding the attention, interest, and heartfelt reception of the message by the hearer.' By 'compelling' I mean 'forcing the hearer to respond (at least in their heart) to the message AND pressing the hearer to choose to return for the next sermon.'

We live in a busy world, with competing demands on time, and many, many messages competing for our attention and reception. In theory Christians should come to church, week by week, save for serious illness. In practice, as many ministers observe to each other, the 'new regularity' is twice a month. (Once 'regular' was twice on Sunday!)

If this week's sermon is, "Well, okay, quite a good exposition of the readings, with some useful things to say, but, to be honest, went on a little bit long, and, if I am really honest, I kind of drifted off through the middle section, and, in the end, I am not sure how it relates to my life right now" then "Will I come back?" does not have a guaranteed affirmative answer!

Now, to head off one obvious response, there is a fine line between sermons which are entertaining in their attempt to be engaging, and unhealthily emotive in their attempt to be compelling. Nothing here is intended to direct preachers to become 'more entertaining' or 'more emotive'.

But is it too much to ask of preachers, especially of myself (!!), that in my/our preparation I keep asking myself/ourselves, what is engaging me/us? What is compelling to me/us about the message being prepared? What passionate edge do I/we bring to the importance of the message which will (to mix metaphors) both cut into the heart of its hearers and rub off from preacher to congregation?

If my review-of-progress on Friday is that the message sounds pretty ho-hum, then I need to rework it. Not inventing an 'edge' which does not exist, but finding the edge which is always in Scripture because hearing Scripture and obeying it is a matter of life and death.

Monday, July 26, 2010

If only sermons were dictated from heaven

Some continuing reflection on getting sermons right.

For this Sunday past I found my sermon preparation went something like this:

Good idea for sermon re connecting it with well-known current event.

Drift through the week confident that the good idea would 'work', going over likely text in my mind from time to time.

Get to some serious writing later in the week.

Emerging feeling that the 'good idea' was not working well, but press on with draft writing.

Complete draft and feel it is not quite 'there'.

Eventually make a decision: drop 'good idea' and work the sermon in a different direction.

Incidentally, this meant allowing the text of Scripture to play a more prominent role in the content of the sermon.

Ultimately the sermon as delivered seemed to work well (praise God).

What do I learn from this?

(1) Underlining of the importance of writing down what I think I am going to say: this forces me to look at what I think is going to 'work' in a different light, to review it, and if necessary to change it.

(2) Listen to feelings sooner rather than later: on reflection my feeling that the good idea was not such a good idea could have been attended to earlier, with a decision made so that the final text was being worked on earlier in the week.

(3) The text of Scripture. The text of Scripture. The text of Scripture. Repeat after me, "the text of Scripture should drive the sermon preparation forward more than anything else!"

You can see from this that I find the greatest challenge in preaching is preparation. If only sermons were dictated from heaven ... but then, God was trying to say something to me, both through his written Word, and through prompting of the Spirit. I was not a very good listener!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bass guitar versus written liturgy

I am enjoying the opportunity Christchurch presents to participate in a large variety of evening services, something not possible in my previous diocese where (as far as I knew) only four parishes had regular evening services (though I understand the count is now up to five). Here in Christchurch city alone I have visited seven different evening services, and have at least four more to experience.

Most of the services I have been to are characterized by 'youth': youth band, youth led, even youth preachers, and lots of young people in the congregations.

It is very, very encouraging to see such a large number of young adults gathering in Christ's name to worship God and to listen to God's Word proclaimed.

Not unexpectedly most of the youth oriented services involve music bands, and the sound thumps along very nicely with bass guitar, drums, keyboard and (sometimes) an assortment of other instruments.

It may be me and the generation I grew up in, but I like this form of music, its rhythm and beat. It can transport me to heaven as well as a choir singing enchanted classical music accompanied by the organ.

Mostly, of course, the choral approach is associated with written liturgy: "Evensong" or "Choral Eucharist". Mostly the bass guitar approach is not. The songs are the liturgy. The bass guitar is the engine driving the soul heavenwards.

Ultimately the divide between the two forms can be reconciled in certain ways, not least though young people growing older and making transitions to written liturgies.

But not all make the transition. And it could be a mistake to extrapolate from "my" experience of growing older to this generation's youth and their likely future experience.

While I have argued previously here (and elsewhere) that current ACANZP's liturgical rubrics and canonical rules permits an extraordinary range of liturgical possibilities, I do continue to wonder if there is a way in which ACANZP might offer specific affirmation of the 'bass guitar' approach!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Sermons Perfect

On Saturday night past the All Blacks, for around 75% of their game against the Sringboks played as near a perfect game of rugby as can be imagined, and overall achieved the perfect result of a four try to nil tries, bonus point win in the Tri-Nations Series.

Perfection is possible.

I would like to preach perfect sermons. At the very least 'perfect' would mean 'I thought the sermon was perfect in every way: content, style, length, application, engagement with Scripture and life, centred on God in Christ, flowing with the Spirit, convicting, convincing, and coherent.'

Last Sunday my sermon was less than perfect. Preaching it twice on Sunday morning meant I was able to make some (impromptu) improvements between the first delivery and the second delivery.

What could have been better?

Here are some things:

- the whole sermon more tightly wound around the central idea of the sermon

- shorter sentences

- better connection between the biblical character I focused on (the lawyer asking the question at the beginning of Luke 10:25-37) and humanity today.

Well, it turns out that I have been asked to preach this coming Sunday as well, with the opportunity to continue the Lukan sequence, 10:38-end.

Another opportunity to improve.

The All Blacks, incidentally, play the Springboks again this Saturday evening. They may need to play a perfect game for 100% of the time in order to repeat their victory!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pertinent on Preaching

Lovely post on preaching, helpful on homilies, by Bosco Peters. Read here. One slight demur on my part is "eight minutes" for a sermon ... I think "ten minutes" would be fine for a shorter sermon! His main source is a fine RC publication. Here is a para with Bosco's own tips:

"Two hints: in my sermons I normally try to include something to think about, something that touches the heart, something to do.

If you use a full text, I once read the helpful suggestion that in rehearsing it you read the last paragraph, then the last two paragraphs, then the last three, until you reach the start of your sermon – that way as you get further into actually preaching it you reach increasingly well-rehearsed material."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

More on Effective Preaching

Thinking a bit harder this week about my sermon, and the dynamics of preparing it, in the light of my forthcoming workshop on 'effective preaching.'

Thought One: the work of the Holy Spirit enables effective preaching ... working in me the preacher ... inspiring the words I will say ... illuminating the text of Scripture in the congregation ... convicting the congregation of the truth of God's Word proclaimed through me.

Thought Two: most weeks I get so far with my sermon draft(s) and hit a kind of wall. This is not very good, I conclude. It needs improvement. Happened this week. What happened in the final revision? (1) I reread the text of Scripture (2) I let the text drive the content of my sermon more than in the drafts to date.

Summary: Word and Spirit; Spirit and Word ... ask the Holy Spirit to help, let the text speak through the sermon!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Effective Preaching in 2010

In a week or so I am leading a workshop at a conference on the title of this post. As I think in preparation I am interested in what effective means; and what it means to tackle this topic in 2010.

I am going to be thinking about effective preaching being preaching which contributes to transformation such as conversion, growing in knowledge of God, deepening confidence in God, making changes in life, and .. anything else you would care to help me with? Thanks.

On 2010, I am going to be thinking about what preaching means in this year. That it is still important (effective preaching is leading to changed lives, and changed churches) but some things are changing such as inserting video material to illustrate a point, or encouraging interaction with the congregation.

But this kind of thinking raises some questions about why we can expect preaching to be effective ... because it involves speaking God's words into people's lives and because ... well, again, any suggestions welcomed!

Actually, back to 2010: I think I will also be thinking about length of sermons and content of sermons. Things might be a bit different today than in 1990.

If you are coming to the workshop, let me assure you that it will not just be a sharing of my thoughts. Together we will think about the topic, and with each other we will share learnings from our preaching experiences.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A simple form of worship which has stood the test of time

"On Sunday all of us gather from far and near. We read from the scriptures and from the writings of the apostles for as long as possible. Then the one presiding at the service speaks to us, urging everyone to live up to what we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray. At the conclusion of our prayers, we greet one another with a sign of peace. Then bread and wine mixed with some water are brought forward. The one presiding offers a long prayer giving thanks. Everyone loudly responding “Amen” concludes this. The eucharist is distributed, and everyone present receives communion. Then deacons take communion to those who are absent.

Those who can afford to contribute financially decide how much to give, and the money is used for orphans, widows, those in distress, the sick, those in prison, or away from home, and all those in need."

For the source of this form of worship and thus some sense if its antiquity, go to Bosco Peter's post on it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


The great English novelist E. M. Forster once wrote, 'Only connect.' It is a succinct description of preaching and worship leading. Only connect. Connect with your audience - your congregation. Seems simple, but quite difficult. How does one connect with children and adults, with teenagers and grandparents, with twenty something childless couples and with fifty something children-gone couples?

In my view quite a few things make the connection, and determine whether it is a quality connection or not. Content. Conviction. Tone and volume of voice. Emphases. Humour. Timely shutting up. Pauses. But perhaps primary is our own connection with God. (How do we make a quality connection with the Unseen Presence at every service?).

Pretty much everything in the above paragraph can be 'worked on'. Improvement possible with training and with experience-from-which-we-learn-in-an-action-reflection-process. But there is another factor in making quality connection. If sticking with 'c' words then it is 'charisma'. We might also call it the 'x' factor, the factor in this context which means that we feel 'xtra' good about the way she or he leads a service or preaches a sermon compared to another leader or preacher.

Can we find the 'x' factor for ourselves if we do not already have it?

I am certainly open to arguments and evidences one way or another, but I think we can find it: seek it from God as a gift; ask God to work on things in our lives which are militating against it (such as, just one example, our insecurities); look for it to grow in us through experience; discipline ourselves to cut out what inhibits the x factor (e.g. self-put downs - a custom Kiwis acquire culturally?).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Do what you do do well

I am a great believer in doing things excellently when leading worship and preaching sermons. Excellently, at the least, means 'to the best of our ability'. Better is when it means what it says, 'excellently, to the highest standard'.

But often that is not possible: most of us have our limitations as preachers, pray-ers, pianists, singers, leaders of worship, readers, and so on.

And our facilities may have limitations in respect of being warm on a frosty day, or having excellent acoustics, or being a space suited to the expectations of a particular form of worship.

So, let's imagine we are doing everything as well as possible, utilizing resources and gifts to the best of our ability.

But here is a question: amidst our limitations, is there one thing we can do superbly, to the highest standard in the land?

We might be blessed, for instance, with a group of outstanding musicians, or have a couple of speech teachers who love to read Scripture, or an ex-national ballet company dancer who can choreograph liturgical dance. Let's maximise such talent!

Yesterday I came across an instance of outstanding ministry (amidst some very good quality aspects of the worship service): the best church morning tea I have ever been to in my life!!

Yum. :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Preaching Great Long Sermons

People who know me know that I have a bit of a 'thing' about long sermons! The thing is this: there is a general view within evangelical Anglican circles that long sermons are good ('sermonettes make Christianettes'), but in my experience few preachers are able to preach excellent long sermons, by which I mean sermons that throughout their length sustain interest in the content, and sustain an argument or arguments that engage the hearts of hearers. Better to preach an excellent short sermon than a boring long sermon, I say.

What is a long sermon chronologically speaking? I suggest 1-10 minutes is a short sermon, 11-20 minutes is a standard length sermon, 21-25 minutes is open to description, and 26 minutes or more is a long sermon!

It would be remiss of me not to make some suggestions as to how to preach a great long sermon. My 'thing' about long sermons has never been that they should not be preached; it has been that few preachers seem capable of preaching them well. So, what can we say? The following list of suggestions is not intended to be exhaustive.

(1) Expound a passage of Scripture rather than a topic or theme.

(2) Have three main headings and, if possible, subsume those three main headings into one memorable theme.

(3) Tell stories at appropriate points during the sermon, not only to illustrate the points you are making, but also to sustain interest and engagement with what you are saying.

(4) Marry your exposition of Scripture with commentary on daily life. In a word, be 'relevant'. Make daily life in Palestine, or Paul's concerns about Corinth, or Isaiah's preaching about Jerusalem connect to the daily lives of your hearers.

(5) Use some techniques to reinforce your message or messages. To give one instance, as you introduce point 3 you might restate points 1 and 2. In your prayer at the close of the sermon you might sum up the message.

(6) Be self-critical in your preparation. Revise and re-revise. It is very important to preach one sermon, not two or three. You will undermine the advantages of a long sermon if your 25+ minutes consists of a great 15 minute sermon and 10+ minutes of padding. (And, if that is the assessment of what you have got in your draft, it might be fruitful to preach a great 15 minute sermon rather than spend more time changing the 10+minutes of padding.

(7) Think about your audience and what works with them. It may work for you to spend 5-10 minutes working your way up to your main message, but it can be terribly distracting for your hearers (indicated, in all likelihood, by their restlessness and inattention through this period). Your opening joke may help settle your nerves, it may be enjoyed by the hearers, but what does it achieve?

(8) (also 1!!) Pray.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sheer diversity

Yesterday I experienced two different services. One prayer book. One not prayer book. One singing modern words to familiar older tunes. One singing new words to unfamilar tunes; and very loud, pulsating music at that. Both services were well-led, had good attendance, and an excellent spirit of fellowship. Each service had a sermon, though one was better than the other (mine was not the better!!). We are a diverse church.

Each service had its own integrity. Both services (as far as I could tell) sought to 'connect' with a particular community of worshippers (while also being accessible to potential 'outsiders' or 'newcomers' to that particular community). The respective connections were made excellently. A diagnostician of congregational life would, on closer examination, determine these congregations were healthy.

The differences in the two services raises intriguing 'bigger picture' questions about the life of our whole church, since each service was representative of wider phenomena in the NZ church (Anglican church, other churches) of great services with good attendance connecting with important particular communities.

What features of one kind of service could be grafted on to the other? (The answer might be 'none'!)

Is our aim in planning, preparing and executing worship services to reach, to connect with particular communities (the elderly, families, youth, Maori, Asians, Polynesians, South Africans, men, women, the townsfolk, the farmers (and within that community, the dairy farmers who have a different set of inflexible demands on their daily timetables), students) or with whole communities? ("Should" one or other be our aim?)

To what extent should we as a particular denomination include the wider church scene in our determinations? For instance, "all the twenties go to the Calathumpian Independent Church of Great Band Music in the next suburb, no point in trying to match what they do, our task it to connect with the older people of our suburb". Or, "Why should Anglican teenagers be lost to the Anglican church as an unchangeable characteristic of 21st century life? There should be a place for Anglicans of all ages and stages in Anglican churches!"

No simple answers to such questions appearing here. Church life is a challenge. But let's give thanks for the great services we experience and for the fact of the connections they are making with different groups of people in our society!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The splendour of worship

Last night I had the blessing of participating in a magnificent service at Christchurch Cathedral. The occasion was the annual confirmation service of Christ's College and St Margaret's College.* Why was the service magnificent? Although a special occasion not readily reproduced in parish churches (e.g. masses of young people wearing colourful uniforms) are there things we can learn from such occasions in the life of the church?

Here are my suggested learnings!

(1) However we fill the space of our church with people, a filled church itself is a major contribution to a shared sense of magnificent worship of God. I encourage parish churches to think ahead to plan special occasions when the church might be filled to overflowing.

How about a proactive invitation to local scouts and guides, or girls and boys brigades for a joint church parade service? A celebration of marriage service or a memorial service for those who have died in the past year (often held around All Souls Day, or even closer to Christmas)? Then there are family services where possibly we can draw in extra people: Harvest Thanksgiving ... Thanksgiving for local volunteer services such as fire brigades and ambulance services ... a Christmas pageant.

(2) Make sure each and every element of the occasion is appropriate to it. The hymns, anthems, and special musical items ... the content and length of the sermon ... the character of the welcome and the quality of the dismissal ... get each of these right and all will be well (as it was last night).

(3) No technical glitches: ensure the sound system is working ... ditto powerpoint if used! Repeat after me: no technical glitches!!! (There were none last night).

(4) Have a rehearsal beforehand. The larger the service and/or the more visitors and/or the more one-off participants (e.g. baptism, confirmation, ordination, church parade) and/or the more extraordinary movements (e.g. pageant), the more necessary it is to have a rehearsal of those parts of the service that are non-ordinary. For a church parade it may require the leaders and the colour party; for a baptism the family and godparents; for a confirmation the confirmands and their supporters/companions).

Finally, why might such a service be 'magnificent'? I think it felt that way because it combined a large number of people with a shared purpose in being there along with a great sense of celebration (young people making a commitment, the end of a journey of preparation). And - most importantly - it was one of those services where a significant focus on God took place. Not only was it Pentecost, but literally, and intentionally, God the Holy Spirit was invoked as well as celebrated. God was at the centre and in the foreground of this service!

*My normal policy is not to mention specific details of location of a service. One reason for that (among several reasons) is not to promote one parish over another. But in this case the service was an extra-ordinary service, so this post is not promoting the Cathedral over other parishes! And the service was well attended by a large number of people drawn from many parishes in the Diocese ... so a very public occasion!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Anything Canada can do we can do ... not yet!

The Anglican Church of Canada has just put its primary worship texts online for free download ... English and French. Links here.

Can we do better than that, Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia?

Not yet!

We are working on it. That's my 'inside information'.

But it may take some pressure and some fast talking. Our copyright difficulties pertain to a relationship we have with that little known, miniscule publishing company, HarperRow ...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Great Service Last Night!

Exigencies of family life meant I went to an evening service with one of our children. First time, for me I think, at an evening service in this particular church.

The sermon, incidentally, was very good. But here I want to talk about the service as a service.

First up, there was a band. Very good. Well led by a young man with verve, passion, ability-to-lead-with-voice-and-guitar, and, quite noticeable, discipline. By the latter I mean that some songs could have gone for longer with more repeats. The atmosphere (including lots of keen young people) could have induced a form of emotionalism from the song leader. But no. I noticed that everything went according to a clear, but unobtrusive order, including finishing on time.

Second up, there was an outstanding service leader. Blessed by a lovely voice, served well by a good sound system, and with an easygoing confidence in what he was doing.

What about content? I went to this service with no particular expectation of content beyond songs and sermon ... a lot of evening services in parishes work in this way (i.e. in the few that have them anymore), more formal structured services having been held earlier in the day. But this service proved to be an excellent blend of band-led worship, sermon and other things.

Other things? We began with a short reading from a psalm. The reading from Scripture, though but one reading, did not stint on length. What I initially thought was to be one short informal "follow up" prayer to the sermon turned out to be a well formed intercessory prayer, largely based on one of the intercessory forms found in NZPB. At the conclusion of the service was an appropriate closing reading from Scripture. Oh, and part way into the service, even though it was not a eucharist, there was opportunity to share peace with one another.

Very satisfying!

Half a lectionary loaf?

Over at Hermeneutics and Human Dignity I recently raised a question or two about the lectionary. Among responses in ensuing discussion was this question:

"is it consistent to criticise the omission of some verses within a Biblical text in the lectionary, whilst appearing perfectly comfortable to omit half of the material that the lectionary actually does provide [e.g. by having two readings instead of four=psalm, OT, Ep, G]?"

I have said I will respond to that question here.

I want to think about it for a bit.

Any thoughts from you, in the meantime?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Accessibility of Anglican worship

In my experience of Anglican worship I find most of it accessible: I am familiar with it, I understand it, and I can engage with it. But then I have the extraordinary privilege of a varied background in Anglican worship. Perhaps you do too! Like me you have been an Anglican all your life, you have worshipped in a variety of parishes, and perhaps even in your local parish you have a range of worship styles.

Today we need to ask how accessible our worship services are to folk not currently worshipping at them.

If speaking in tongues predominates, is that accessible to those who do not speak in tongues? If parts of the service are set to music which some like, but others do not (whether it is punk rock or highbrow classical), what does that mean for accessibility to Anglican worship in our patch?

To ask this question may be challenging! A large suburban parish may be able to offer three, four, even five different style services on a Sunday, but a country parish may, in an outlying centre, only be able to offer one service once a month.

What to do?

Here are three questions which may (or may not!) assist our thinking about our answer or answers to such a question.

What enables us to maintain Anglican worship for Anglicans in our parish?

What would we need to do for our worship service(s) to draw in Anglicans who currently do not participate in worship services with us?

What worship services would be appropriate for those we would like to see join our church who are not Anglican in background?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Contemporary Anglican Worship

A friend posed a question recently, in the context of a conference in which much had been said, both in plenary, group and private conversations about liturgical worship conforming more closely to a notion of common prayer. The question (in my words, should my friend be reading!) was: 'if our written prayer book liturgies are the 'standard' for Anglican worship, what does contemporary Anglican worship mean today?' ('Contemporary' meaning here, relevant, in-touch-with-post-modernity, flexible-to-wants-and-desires-of-local-faith-communities-in-which-not-all-gather-to-worship-according-to-the-prayer-books).

In this post I will not attempt a 'whole' answer, but offer a few reflections. Perhaps next week there will be more!

Contemporary Anglican Worship possibilities

(1) Has some familiar resemblance to the order of authorised written liturgies

(2) Within that familiar resemblance makes full use of all the flexibility that authorised written liturgies actually make available to the church (practical note: read the rubrics in small type, note the difference between 'may' and 'shall'!)

(3) Employs music to give full expression to 'contemporary'

(4) Works collaboratively: let me express a 'frustrated observation' ... across a number of parishes (over many years, I am not talking about my experience yesterday!!) ... 'contemporary Anglican worship' means many different things to different parishes ... what might it mean for contemporary Anglican worship to share common commitments to (e.g.) having a spoken "we" confession AND absolution, at least two readings from Scripture, always including the Lord's Prayer, always having intercessions, and always being ordered 'word' then 'sacrament' rather than some services reversing that order?

(5) Educates congregations in appropriate ways as to the 'whys' of each part of services. This could include the scriptural basis for the order and content of our worship services.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back to the Future on Liturgical Reform

I won't attempt to explain how messy, how flexible, and how far removed we are from a sound and sure notion of Anglicans being Christians who worship according to 'authorised forms of worship'. But I share here a brief paper I wrote concerning the state of things in our church.

Towards review of ACANZP’s approach to liturgy with reference to ‘common prayer’, ‘authorised forms of worship’, and theological and liturgical education of clerical and lay worship leaders:

In the mid to late 1990s our church through its ‘twice round’ procedure approved a change to the rubric on page 511 of NZPB. The effect of this was that a flexible, informal eucharistic service with minimal prescribed wording could be a regular Sunday worship service in any parish church within ACANZP without fear of incurring a charge that it was not an ‘authorised form of worship’. Later our church approved ‘the Template’ which embedded the authorisation of flexible, informal forms of worship more deeply in our legislation, notwithstanding a still later attempt by the General Synod to append some wording to the Template constraining this freedom towards conformity with the prayer book!

I was part of General Synod and a diocesan synod (Nelson) approving these changes. I welcomed the change to page 511’s rubric because at that time the Diocese of Nelson (along with many other parishes in ACANZP) was finding that a key strategy for congregational renewal (i.e. drawing in families, reducing the average age of worshippers) was the provision of a mid-morning service which was not confined to a set form of words, permitted more rather than less singing of modern songs, and enabled quick adaptation to needs of the moment (or, if you prefer, enabled worship leaders to respond to the leading of the Spirit).

Strictly speaking (in my view), especially where the mid-morning service was a eucharistic service, such services prior to the change to page 511 were not ‘authorised forms of worship’ save that they could have been considered ‘experimental forms’ approved by the diocesan. Thus the change offered a way for Anglican parishes to engage with life as it was rapidly changing in the 1990s according to canonical ordering rather than against it. (There were of course a variety of other kinds of regular services in the life of our church which were also helped in this way, e.g. the rising tide of regular Taize services).

While I cannot claim intimate knowledge of all that was going on with flexible, informal services in ACANZP in the mid to late 1990s, my knowledge of such services in the Diocese of Nelson suggested that these services were ‘responsible’ in various ways: e.g. main elements of Anglican services regularly used, including confession and absolution, intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer, a creedal statement or song, eucharistic prayer drawn from NZPB, and saying of the dismissal. In short, the structure and content of these services had some common, familiar elements across parishes.

Fast forward a decade: I suggest we could profitably engage in review of the present liturgical situation in ACANZP. Anecdotally, and from personal experience, I suggest that the following features of our liturgical life point to a need for review:

(1) There is less rather than more commonality across the flexible, informal services in our parishes. This has the effect of making the vicar or priest-in-charge the chief authorising agent of liturgy rather than the bishop.

(2) There is no guarantee that important Anglican liturgical elements such as a written confession prayed together by the congregation, or intercessions and thanksgivings will be part of the service. That is, taking the example of confession, flexibility has extended from using a few forms in ACANZP to using any one of a thousand forms available in print and electronic media to not having a confession at all.

(3) There is no guarantee that the content of the words used across a whole service conforms to ‘the doctrine of Christ’ as understood in ACANZP. Generally we seem to have arrived at a point where the average educational and training attainment of both clergy and laity is less high than formerly, thus where the content of words for a service are at the discretion of the clerical or lay leaders of the service (i.e. whether considering the content of prayers chosen, or self-composed, or the content of songs chosen) it is likely that the theological depth of a given service will be shallower than that invariably found in an NZPB service.

Nevertheless, there are other aspects to also weigh in review. Many parishes in our church have not followed the pathway to the ‘main’ Sunday service being flexible and informal in style and substance. They have persisted with adherence to NZPB. But here it is often observable that
(a) the congregation is generally older and over extensive periods of time fails to draw in younger families in sufficient numbers to give confidence that ‘congregational renewal’ will take place,
(b) on close inspection the content of the service bit by bit is drawn from NZPB, but such mixing and arranging of the bits has taken place that the service as a whole is not recognisable as ‘one of the services’ of NZPB, and, sometimes it is observable that
(c) the service mostly follows an NZPB service but at an important point, such as the eucharistic prayer, the presiding priest exercises the ‘right’ to substitute another prayer, perhaps drawn from another part of the Communion, or perhaps reflecting other traditions than Anglicanism! Thus I suggest also pointing to a need for review is:

(4) The general state of congregational life across our church, with special reference to aging congregations and to the prognosis for renewal of congregations.

(5) The expectations, or otherwise, that a formal service of our church will follow the order and content prescribed in NZPB for that service.

In summary: our church rightly (in my view) empowered clergy and lay worship leaders in the 1990s to respond to the needs of the time – a time which, paradoxically, began almost the moment NZPB was published – but in the process we created a situation in which the role of the bishop as authoriser of forms of worship has been greatly diminished, any sense that we might be flexible and informal according to an agreed pattern of common worship has rapidly fallen away, and any presumptions that the forms of worship composed would be to the highest Anglican doctrinal standards have been ill-founded.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Attending to what we say

Years ago I was in a well known English church and got a bit annoyed at everything in the service being introduced with 'Shall we ... pray/sing?" I felt like calling out, "No". Ever since then I have been noticing how leaders of worship introduce components of a service. Thus I hear, and you also probably hear things such as I heard that night, or,

'Would you please stand to sing ...?'

'May we pray now?'

'Could you please turn in your prayer books to page 420?'

My recommendation is that we (a) think carefully about how we will introduce 'the next thing' in the service, (b) reflect carefully on what it means to be a confident rather than a diffident leader, (c) make a decision to speak confidence rather than diffidence, and (d) do this on a group basis within a parish so that all leaders lead confidently.

Thus we should find ourselves giving a polite instruction rather than asking a question of our congregations.

"Let's stand to sing our first hymn"

"Turning in our prayerbooks to page 410, let's affirm our faith together"

"As our Lord has taught us, we pray [brief pause], 'Our Father ...'."

Note one key word is "let" in the phrase "let us" or "let's".

Monday, April 5, 2010

Baptism, eucharist, ministry and mission

As we become a member of the body of Christ through baptism so we receive the body of Christ through eucharist in order to be the body of Christ in the world.

Something I heard the other day. Simply and profound. The point of our worship services is to worship God and to serve the world God loves.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Attention to detail

At one level worship services are "products". People choose which product they prefer in the sense that, while Christians are obliged to gather for corporate worship regularly, none are obliged to attend St Ethelbert's in the Marsh rather than the New Wine New Wineskin church meeting in the warehouse. Now people make choices about which church to attend/participate in for all sorts of reasons. But they are more likely to choose a church where the worship service has relentlessly perfected itself from unnecessary faults. Over the months I have mentioned some of these. One simple one to notice, though often difficult to quickly sort out, is a faulty sound system (or faultily driven sound system). Here I simply emphasise again: attention to detail is important if we wish to draw people to our services and to see them return. Inattention to detail will not necessarily drive regular worshippers away, but it may mean we wonder why we see little or no growth in congregational numbers.

One of the great attenders to detail in modern life is Steve Jobs. He, in case you have not heard of him, is the driving force behind the Apple Computer company. So important that when he once left the company he was brought back to rescue it! The products of his company are wildly popular (iMac, iBook, iPhone, iPod, etc). Indeed many Christians freely admit their near idolatry concerning these products!! When we are using an iBook, say, to power up the powerpoints for our service, it could be worth asking whether we are as attentive to the detail of what we are doing as Steve Jobs has been to the making of that iBook.

Yet, that is not all that makes for a great service. It is just a necessary condition. Also required is a gifted leader of worship. I shall try to remember to post on that next week.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cranmer on Communion

Read a lovely and short post on Cranmer's understanding of communion here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

NZ Lectionary online

(H/T Bosco Peters, Liturgy)

Go here for the 4 Mb PDF of the 2010 NZ Lectionary.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Common Prayer as Christ's Prayer

A comment from Bosco Peters on my post below about common prayer has opened my eyes to a dimension of common prayer I had not thought of:

"the understanding that we are not merely individual humans in relation to God, but as Christians inserted, immersed, baptised into Christ and it is within Christ that we pray to God - Christ's prayer we share together."

This bears repeating ... and repeating, until we get it!

Understanding our status as Christians 'in Christ' is often overlooked but of immense importance in many aspects of Christian life, including our worship together.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Common Prayer is good

Anglicans once prayed together and alone using the Book of Common Prayer. It meant that when Anglicans prayed we expressed what we believed and what we wanted to say to God via words common to us all, so we were united in belief, thanksgiving and intercession. We were clearly and unmistakeably a Communion of believers who held things together in common!

All sorts of liturgical changes have happened in the last 50 years around the Communion - most of which has been very good, some of which has been necessary because language changes, and some of which has been an improvement on the undoubted greatness of the BCP. However we have lost the precision of our common prayers and replaced it with a fuzzier sense of commonality: our prayers as global Anglicans have a familiar resemblance in many cases (and no resemblance to each other in some cases).

Here in ACANZP we have decided to have a prayer book from 1989 onwards which diminished our own sense of common prayer by providing multiple options for prayers, and in particular several options for our eucharistic prayers. Around 1996 or 1998 (I think it was) we made a further change and made it possible via a changed rubric on page 511 for significant flexibility in the composition of a eucharistic service to take place; even down to making the eucharistic prayer itself open to great variety in wording.

Now, it would take quite a bit of writing to weigh up the pros and cons of these developments, so, causa brevitatis, I just offer one thought today:

a great advantage of praying prayers in church such as the eucharistic prayer which are agreed texts of the church (and not compositions of individual priests or parish liturgical committees) is that the worshippers can allow the prayers to flow through their minds as an act of worship without anxiety about the veracity of the content; conversely, the disadvantage of flexibility in wording is the worshipper is drawn to wonder about the theology of the prayer rather than be lost in wonder and praise of God!

Our church has gone about as far as any Anglican church can reasonably go in the direction of diversity and flexibility. But the more I experience this diversity and flexibility the less I am pleased with it. Let's head back to greater commonality!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


As I make my life through the church I have had the privilege of being part of many and varied occasions of worship services. I am well aware that some services I have been part of would cause at least an eyebrow to be raised if one our liturgical experts were also present. A few might even lead to that expert writing to the bishop querying whether what he had experienced constituted an authorised form of service according to the canonical requirements of our church. Generally the question which would be raised by these services is whether the service included sufficient required elements, and used wording according to the specifications of our rubrics and doctrinal requirements. Flexible though these requirements are, they have limits!

In short: I have experienced plenty of services where one might fairly discuss whether things had been omitted which should not have been.

But I have also experienced services where one might fairly discuss whether things had been added which should not have been.

Liturgical sins of omission. Liturgical sins of commission. My teaser: is one worse than the other?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The golden moment in preaching

What constitutes a great sermon?

I would be interested in your answers.

It would be easy (speaking for myself) to start a list of measurements: clarity, conviction, connection with congregation; or exegetical preparation, exposition of passage, application after leaving the service. That sort of thing.

In a recent sermon something happened (at least as I discerned it) which is also part of great preaching - indeed one might need to resist describing preaching as 'great' unless this happens during the sermon.

The sermon made its way through the pathway the preacher had charted in preparation - all usual important characteristics were present (clarity, relevance, engagement with Scripture, etc). But then there came a moment when (so it seemed to me) an unusual quietness came upon the congregation, every eye and ear attentive to the preacher and what he was saying. It felt, to me, like everyone was leaning forward slightly more than usual to make sure they missed nothing of what was being said.

It was a golden moment in preaching. A moment when God and the people of God met face to face. And God was doing the talking, not God's people.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The church that has it all

I recently worshipped in a church that has it all: fantastic new building, all mod cons, huge congregation, no financial problems.

Actually, that is not true. It had none of those. But it did have these desirable characteristics:

All ages and stages of life.

Tons of enthusiasm for worshipping God.

Multi-ethnic congregation.

Brilliant use of both Maori and English.

The first of these characteristics is the thing I would most pray, work and build for if I were a vicar today.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The preacher nailed it

What might the "it" be that the preacher nailed yesterday and which preachers generally should aim to nail?

I suggest the "it" is the idea that there is a God who seeks relationship with people.

Nailing it means the preacher communicates that the idea has reality. There is a God, this God seeks relationship with people, in fact seeks relationship with each member of the congregation, and the truth of this reality is founded in the testimony of Scripture and given continuing expression in the testimony of God's people (including the testimony of the preacher).

At the heart of the gospel is encounter between God and humanity, the cross and resurrection being the work God has done in Christ to sweep away all obstacles to that encounter happening.

In our worship and preaching we seek (or should seek) to give expression to that encounter: celebrating what God has done, speaking about what God has done, praying about specific human difficulties based on the conviction that God wishes humanity well.

Whether our worship is simple or complex, short or long in time span, in Latin, Greek, Maori, English or other language, with orchestra or organ, it should have an identifiable and common centre: God in Christ has encountered humanity and continues to do so.

We should never leave a worship service without being renewed in both our conviction of and our gratitude for God's determination to meet with us!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Standard liturgy

In theory one ought to be able to go to an Anglican parish in these islands for a service advertised as 'formal liturgy' or 'traditional communion' or 'communion (NZPB)' and expect to be able to follow the service without surprises because it will be one of the three main services provided in NZPB. In practice the service could be advertised as "NZPB" and be informal in various ways, because the flexible option on Page 511 is being exercised. But even when one of the three main services is followed, all sorts of variations are possible. One can go into a new church, pick up a locally produced communion booklet and find that this prayer is different to that set down in NZPB and that set of versicles and responses is taken from ... well, one might not be sure without looking up on Google!

Here are some questions which may stir up some thinking in our minds:

How often does our congregation follow an NZPB service by the book, i.e. have (what I call) a 'standard liturgy'?

Is it uniformly, mostly, sometimes, or rarely?

Why? That is,

(1) is the pattern in our parish driven (ultimately) by the vicar, liturgy committee, perceived expectations of the congregation?

(2) is the pattern followed a matter of informed choice or laziness/lack of time and energy or (even) ignorance? 'Ignorance' here being about our understanding of the requirements of 'authorized worship', the canonically permissible diversity of worship, and the need to 'connect' well with people through the way we worship.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Christ the beginning and end of our worship

A challenge for Anglicans (and Catholics and orthodox and ...) worshipping via prayer book services is to lead-and-participate in such a manner that Christ is the beginning, centre, and end of our worship. What is the eucharist but obedience to Chrst's command to 'do this in remembrance'? Why do we gather together rather than (say) worship individually in the privacy of our own homes? We do so to give real expression to the body of Christ on earth, emboldened by the promise that where two or three gather in Christ's name he will be in our midst. Why is the Gospel read and preached in the course of the service? So that, like the disciples of old, we can sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. Why is the Lord's Prayer obligatory? Again, it is an obedience to Christ's own command (see Luke 11, 'when you pray, say').

You get the drift!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Are you a dull preacher?

By Michael Kellahan writing on Sydney Anglicans.Net

"1. Talk longer than people listen

2. Read from full script

3. Don’t speak to the world of those who listen

4. Don’t aim for transformation of self and hearers by the renewing of your mind

5. Steal from the Piper/Driscoll/Carson/Keller mp3 on the passage

6. Start your prep on Friday

7. Don’t listen (let alone watch) yourself afterwards because ‘you don’t like the sound of your own voice when its recorded’

8. Don’t ask people to open their bibles or refer them to the text

9. Work hard on making your illustrations the most engaging part of the sermon

10. Insert “Application = go & evangelize more OR feel guilty about ‘X’ “."

Read the original post plus comments to extend the list!!

Preaching is an opportunity from God to speak God's Word for today. A sermon should never ever be dull. Sadly many are. Let's lift our game!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The objectivity of liturgy

Do I want to hear what the worship leader is thinking about life, God, what I ought to do, think, or feel as a worshiper? Not really, thank you very much!! The more the worship leader speaks extempore the more subjectivity enters into the act of congregational worship. Using the prayer book liturgy of the church offers the blessing of objectivity: words, an order of words, occasions for silence, handed down through the ages to new generations of worshipers. As a worshiper I am not subject to the whims of the leader but am directed to engage with the liturgical wisdom of the ages gifted to me, to us the congregation. As I grow older I have less appreciation of subjectivity, and greater satisfaction through the objectivity of liturgy.