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!