Skip to content



UPDATE: Just to be clear... this is a parody. The intended target is revealed at the end

Prayer in church has long been considered painfully dull, but new research suggests it's also "largely ineffective." The study of 300 intercessors from 14 denominations found that the majority of church pray-ers performed poorly across a range of indicators. More than 80% of congregants reported moderate to severe mind-wandering, with 47% of all church-goers unable to recall more than one prayer-point from the Sunday service.

"This trend of high-distraction / low-retention is obviously unacceptable in today's information age", so said Dag Branstrom a process analyst from KPMG and the report's author. "In terms of participation rates and in terms of the clarity and brevity of communication, church prayers compare unfavourably to other forms of data transfer."

The report advocates for a major overhaul of church services, even mooting the complete elimination of prayers from the worship service.

"Clearly there are more efficient ways of generating prayer" said Branstrom. "For too long churches have invested in methods which evidence disappointing consumer buy-in."

Nigel Fairweather, the Archbishop's Cultural Engagement and Faith Journeys Advisor, embraced the findings. "These are exciting times for missional communities. For too long we have been in thrall to oppressive and monological methods of prayer - no doubt a hangover from Constantinian power-plays. Finally the research proves what we've suspected all along: prayer isn't working, we need to try something new. I can't wait to see where the Spirit leads next."

For similar analysis of church practices, see SERMONS - NOT HOW WE LEARN BEST?

In this episode we talk about Easter. In particular we spotlight our latest spoken word video: "Bread of Heaven."

We also speak about Easter preaching.



In the podcast I mention 8 Easter sermons I've given in other settings.

Easter songs and resources - especially for all-age services



10 commandments

This week Andy and I talk about delivering an evangelistic talk.

We discuss my (tongue-in-cheek) 10 commandments for evangelistic preaching (below):




  1. Thou shalt worship Christ from the pulpit.
  2. Thou shalt communicate the newness of God’s revelation.
  3. Thy tone shalt be declarative and devotional.
  4. Thy method shalt be expositional and christocentric.
  5. Thou shalt not preach “the passage” thou shalt preach Christ from the passage.
  6. Thy fevered entreaty shall not be ‘DO’ so much as ‘LOOK’.
  7. Thou shalt not apologize for the word
  8. Thou shalt not be clever
  9. Thou shalt not go searching for illustrations.
  10. Thou shalt not go searching for jokes.

And how can you tell if you’ve done a good job? Ask yourself these questions:

Have I communicated JESUS - has He been the centre of it all?

Have I used or abused the passage?

Have I encouraged confidence in the flesh or faith in Christ?

Have I taken people on a journey from Adam to Christ?

Have I offered promises or simply stated truths? (In other words, Have I offered Christ?)



We've been thinking about the nature of preaching and the tone of it. Here we get more practical with ten steps to preparing a talk...



STEP ONE: Read, Read and Read again.

STEP TWO: Write an initial SUMMARY
STEP THREE: Make NOTES on each and every verse.
STEP FOUR: Consult the WISDOM of others.
STEP FIVE: Return to the SUMMARY
STEP SIX: SHAPE it for your audience


If proclaiming Christ means bringing God's word to bear - with all His authority and life-giving power - how should that shape our tone?

Andy and I continue looking to 2 Corinthians 3-5 for answers...




Luther Preaching

Over Christmas I eagerly clicked on a link warning all preachers: "Don't teach the Bible!" Good title. But the article disappointed. To summarize, it said:

Don't teach the Bible... teach people the Bible.

Oh, ok. Fine. A decent point as far as it goes. But I was hoping for something more along the lines of:

Don't teach the Bible... herald the living Word of God.

If you want to add "to people" to that sentiment, that's helpful. But the dominant thought should be the heralding of the Word of God. Yet this is a thought that is very muted, if not absent, in the preaching advice I hear.

I listened with interest to Carl Trueman's podcast the other day, The Mortification of Spin. He featured Martin Lloyd Jones' classic Preaching and Preachers and held it up as required reading for anyone regarding the theology and practice of preaching. I would agree 100%. And I enjoyed Carl's reflections that the preparation of preachers is often lacking  a theology of preaching.

It's been my experience that would-be preachers are taught the mechanics of going from a biblical text to a Sunday sermon but they hear little or nothing about what the sermon is.  We just take it for granted that preaching is "teaching the Bible". Oh, "to people". Don't forget the people. We need to focus on the human activity and the human recipients and that will prepare us, right?

No, no, says Trueman, there's more. And I'm really glad he regularly reminds us of the theological meaning of preaching. Pointing us to Lloyd-Jones' book, as he did in the podcast, is so necessary because, in my opinion, it is such a corrective to the John Stott approach which has dominated the kind of evangelicalism I've grown up in. (This is now my rant, not Trueman's - he recommends Stott in the podcast).

Stott's "I believe in preaching" was well summarized by its American title: "Between Two Worlds". On Stott's view the preacher valiantly stands between the world of the Bible and the world of 'the modern man'. Thus preaching is "Bridge Building" that surmounts a “Cultural Gulf”, a veritable "yawning chasm" (see I Believe in Preaching, Hodder & Stoughton, 1982, from p135ff). And Stott's great hope in the face of this gulf is: "that God will raise up a new generation of Christian communicators who are determined to bridge the chasm.” (p144)

Well if it's our job to bridge the chasm then the preacher really does need to be a communicator every bit as brilliant and insightful as John Stott. But what hope is there for the rest of us? And, let's hang on just a minute... If we begin with this "yawning chasm" and then look for a solution not in the Word itself but in us, aren't we building on a decidedly liberal foundation? With decidedly flesh-y tools?

It's the liberals who begin with the "foul wide ditch" between then and now (Lessing's famous phrase). It's just that they don't think we can bridge such a divide (hence, cultural relativism between the biblical then and the real-world now). On the other hand Stott does think we can bridge the gulf - but through the capabilities of the well-trained interpreter/communicator. All the while, Lloyd Jones is jumping up and down saying human beings have not changed, the Word is living and active and the Spirit is powerful! Lloyd Jones just has no time for the "foul wide ditch" thinking which is foundational for Stott and for those who have followed him.

But if Stott's chasm is taken for granted, then our preaching books and seminary education is going to look very different to Preaching and Preachers. Essentially we will try to equip preachers with a certain skill set, enabling them to bridge the divide. Such a paradigm will produce Bible teachers and there's every chance that not only will each sermon sound the same, but each preacher too (think sausage machine).

Don't get me wrong, there are skills for the preacher to learn. And Stott has said some incredibly helpful things about preaching and Scripture. He himself was a wonderful preacher. But this paradigm of bridge-building has been - in my opinion - a gargantuan mistake. But it's one that continues to define the way evangelicals think about preaching. I don't think we'll recover powerful preaching of the gospel in our circles without a repudiation of it and a return to something more like Lloyd-Jones' view.

Having said that, Carl Trueman mentions a word of caution about Preaching and Preachers:

"Half of it's brilliant. Half of it's bonkers."

Trueman takes issue with Lloyd-Jones'  discussion of "unction" - a special anointing by the Spirit which empowers the preacher. Rightly he points out how this teaching has been taken in unhelpful directions. Trueman points out that MLJ might well be confusing an experience of the flesh with the work of the Spirit. I think that's a perceptive caution.

His guest Jonathan Masters says that he too was perplexed about Lloyd-Jones:

"I'd gotten wrapped up in my own mind in the mystical moment that Lloyd Jones talked about."

Those who have read the book know what he means. But then Masters says he was given relief when Jim Boice told him: "I don't look on it as preaching a sermon, I just see it as teaching the Bible."

Oh. Well, we're back to that then.

So are we doomed to bounce back and forth between MLJ's mysticism (which does get to be a problem) and Stott's bridge-building techniques?

Hopefully not. And I think Trueman's brief comments about MLJ's mysticism point us in the right direction. Is it possible that the dangers of Stott involve a one kind of carnality and the dangers of MLJ involve another? Preachers trying to traverse the foul wide ditch through their scholarship and oratory could be doing so as an achievement of the flesh. But so could preachers trying to "get wrapped up in a mystical moment". Those two kinds of carnality might look different, but both are characterized by looking to the nature of the preacher rather than the nature of the Word.

So what's the answer? Well read Preachers and Preaching. Be entertained - it's a terrific read. And be challenged about the bridge-building paradigm. Techniques are fine, but they're not what crosses the divide. Christ Himself speaks in His word as we herald it. So let's preach with all the entreaty and gravity appropriate for this word of the Spirit. Let's aim for what the Spirit aims for: faith - knowing that neither our mystical nor our rhetorical skills can bring it about.

But whatever our preaching style, let's ditch the ditch.


It's time for preachers to think about the Carols services, Christingles, Nativity plays, etc.

It's also a time to miss a golden opportunity.  The golden opportunity is to preach a theology of incarnation. But, year in and year out, this chance is missed in evangelical churches.

Our mentions of incarnation boil down to the Abrupt, the Apologetic or the Anselmian.

The Abrupt:

“God in skin. Weird huh? Anyway…”

The Apologetic:

“Jesus shows up in time and space which means that we can verify the truth through historical methods, and really the New Testament documents are very reliable don’t you know…”

The Anselmian:

“God basically wants to acquit his elect and so needs a Scapegoat to take the fall. And there he is the manger. Weird huh?  Anyway…”

My twitter feed is full of encouragements to preachers to 'get beyond the manger'. Many people seem worried that preachers might focus on the wonder of the incarnation itself. At Christmas! The very idea.

I completely agree that crib and cross go together, but if that's true, where are all the Easter encouragements: "Hey preachers! Don't forget the incarnation on Good Friday!" The answer is nowhere. Which is a problem.

I'd love to hear three different 'A's this Christmas. I'd love for preachers to bring out the Athanasian, Atoning, and Abasing themes.

The Athanasian Incarnation:

“In this marvellous exchange, He becomes what we are, that we might become what He is”?

The Atoning Incarnation:

"Here is God-With-Us, come to make us at-one in His very Person!"

The Abasing Incarnation:

"My God is so small, so weak and so helpless, there's nothing that He will not do... for you!"

I wonder if we shy away from the Athanasian incarnation because we don't want to get into (or don't properly understand) the trinitarian theology that makes sense of it.

I wonder if we shy away from the Atoning incarnation because ontology has no place in our thinking about atonement. This is also why our Easter sermons contain no theology of resurrection - only a 'proof that the cross worked'.

I wonder if we shy away from the Abasing incarnation because we default to a theology of glory and are uncomfortable with the little LORD Jesus.

If any of these guesses are anywhere near the mark, let me suggest a remedy.  Read Athanasius' On the Incarnation and hear the kind of Christmas message that has warmed the hearts of millions down through the ages.  Get started here as you listen to Mike Reeves read extracts.

And for what they're worth, here are three of my own posts on incarnation:

Incarnation and Trinity

Incarnation and Creation

Incarnation and Salvation

(For good measure here’s a paper on Athanasius and Irenaeus)

These are some talks in which I've tried to preach this theology...


Evangelistic carols service – Four Approaches to Christmas (and to Life) Isaiah 9:2-7

Christmas is God laying hold of us - Hebrews 2:14-18

Christmas is for Dark Places

 The Coming King - Psalm 72

In the beginning… – John 1:1-2

The Word became flesh – John 1:14

Christmas brings a crisis – John 1:15-18

Student Carols – Isaiah 9  (different to the other Isaiah 9)

Luke 1:26-38

All-age: Christmas turns slaves to sons – Galatians 4:4-7

All-age Carols Talk: Christmas is weird – Phil 2:5-11


Here are some all-age songs on the same theme and our Christmas videos


What resources have you found helpful?  Please share the wealth in comments...

imageThis morning I gave my last talk at a houseparty for CUs in Edinburgh. Towards the end I gave examples of how church life is God's mission strategy for the world (none of this part of the talk was scripted). The first two examples were ways our church family has supported us (and the ways that love was a witness to unbelievers). I then thought of a third example on the spot - church members providing specific helps for a woman in our congregation. Thing is, in real life, the woman actually declined that offer, but the way I said it made it sound like it happened.

Maybe a little thing, but it struck me on the train home that manipulating the truth when you're meant to be preaching it is a slippery slope. So here's my confession, cos I don't want to do it again.

I've heard a lot of sermons on Ecclesiastes. And a lot of them preach the book as displaying the futility of atheism.  Of course when you preach it like that, what's the solution?  Good old theism.  Yay theism.

And one or two preachers then suggest that Christian theism gives the most amount of meaning.  So yay Jesus too.

But let me state something that's pretty darned obvious but it seems like it needs saying.  The Teacher is no atheist.  He's a hard-core theist.  Check it:

Ecclesiastes 1:13; 2:24-26; 3:10-22; 5:1-7, 18-20; 6:1-2; 7:13-14; 18,20; 8:2, 11-17; 9:1,9; 11:5,9; 12:1-14;

Here's just a sample of what he says:

God has set eternity in the hearts of men.... He's done it so that men will revere him... Stand in awe of God... God made mankind upright but men have gone in search of many schemes... I know that it will go better with God-fearing men who are reverent before God... God will bring you to judgement... Remember your Creator... Fear God and keep his commandments.

He's a theist right?  A pretty ardent one.

Well what do you expect from a son of David, a king of Jerusalem? (Ecclesiastes 1:1)  Here is a christ - an anointed king.  But, here's the thing, he's not the King of Heaven.  He's a king under heaven (notice how 'under heaven' and 'under the sun' are parallel 1:3; 3:1).  He's not the One full of the Spirit without measure, instead he seeks to shepherd the Spirit (or chase the wind, e.g. 1:14) while he must receive his teachings from the true Shepherd (12:11).

The teacher is self-consciously not the Messiah (he's a very naughty boy!).  He's not the Christ with a capital C certainly. But he is a christ with a small c.  And so he embarks on a sustained meditation on life in which the king is subject to all the forces that we are.  This christ is also under the sun and therefore under the powers that enslave mankind and even nature itself.  This king, for all his wealth and power and wisdom cannot pierce through the shroud of sin, law, judgement and death. (see this sermon for more)

So what hope is there?  None!  Not with this king.  Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.  And then we are judged - by the God is who is ever-present in Ecclesiastes.  But ever-present as Judge.  Who knows how we will fare under His judgement?

That's life under the sun.  Here's what we can expect if the Teacher is our christ.

But if that's the problem, what's the solution?  The glories of theism?  The truth that God knows us and has a wonderful plan for our lives?  The thought that my actions have eternal significance?  The Teacher knows all these things and declares them utterly meaningless.  Our only hope is Christ.  The true Christ.  The Christ from Heaven.  The Christ who conquers sin and law and judgement and death and bursts through into resurrection hope.  That's the answer to Ecclesiastes' meaninglessness.

Any other solution is vanity of vanities.

 A sermon on Ecclesiates 1


bibleIf you could describe God with one word, what would it be?

If you could attach any adjective to the word God, how would you characterize God?

Maybe loving? Maybe powerful? Maybe holy?

Martin Luther once said that if he had only one adjective, he might choose “SPEAKING”. God is “The Speaking God.”  Does that surprise you?...



Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer