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This was the way an American visitor described to me the preaching he'd heard across many UK churches: "It cuts like a hammer."

This is not how cuts are meant to be made, nor how preaching should feel. But there was something about the description that rang true. Have you heard preaching that 'cuts like a hammer'? I have.

Cuts are meant to be precise. The preaching this visitor heard, though, was occasionally forceful but rarely targeted. There was a kind of power but it was not incisive. The Bible's commands and examples were preached but the effect was merely to convict the hearer of a generic sinfulness—an ill-defined but pressing sense of unworthiness.

I recognise the dynamic. And I think I know some of its drivers. To uncover them I need to use a few key terms over a number of posts. First we'll think about the 'law and gospel distinction', then we'll think of the different uses of the law. In a future post we'll press into a third distinction: the difference between flesh and Spirit. In short, I'll argue that cuts-like-a-hammer preaching mashes up the first distinction, fudges the second and seems oblivious to the third.

Law and Gospel

The law and gospel distinction is the sort of thing laid out in Galatians 3 or 2 Corinthians 3-4. There Paul contrasts the promise and the law; the gift and the command; the Spirit and the letter — one brings life, the other brings death. Luther summarises it in the introduction to his Romans commentary:

“The law uncovers sin; it makes the sinner guilty and sick; indeed, it proves him to be under condemnation... The gospel offers grace and forgives sin; it cures the sickness and leads to salvation."

These are different ways the word strikes us. In command-mode, God says "You must" and the aim is obedience. In promise-mode, God says "I will" and the aim is trust. Of course the two cannot be divorced (obedience arises from faith, after all, Romans 1:4), but they should not be confused either. The trouble is, they are very commonly confused. It's what Mike Horton calls "golawspel."

When the point of the sermon is simply explaining the next ten verses of Philippians everything is given the same weighting, purpose and tone. The victory of Jesus may well be referenced (or assumed, it's rarely preached), and the law is likewise brought, but not too heavily or specifically because we're aware of the dangers of legalism. Our antidote to legalism, however, is not a life-giving gospel raising us from the dead. Instead preachers give a generalised, "Gosh, it's tough isn't it? I struggle with this (in non-specific ways), don't you? Let's pray for the Spirit's help." It's golawspel. And it cuts like a hammer.

The Three Uses of the Law

Classically the three uses of the law are described as a curb (its civil use), a mirror (its theological use), and a guide (its pedagogical/teaching use).

So the law brings...

...order in the world,

...conviction to the sinner, driving them to Christ, and,

...guidance to the Christian, (though only the gospel can empower such obedience).

The preaching that 'cuts like a hammer' tends to have an ambivalent attitude to the third use of the law. It kind of believes that the law can teach us the good life. Certainly such preachers have no problem deriving 'applications' from their texts — "What this means for Monday morning, etc, etc." But these applications fall along well-worn lines (Bible reading, prayer, evangelism) that bear little relationship with the actual commands and examples of the text.

Such mid-level guilt is actually surprisingly popular. The praise of choice from congregants meeting the preacher at the door is still: "Thank you, that was faithful, clear, and challenging." That's the chilli sauce we like to have on our biblical expositions: application—challenging application. We like to put ourselves under the word, to bear its burden and accept its heavy weight, then we've done business with God.

In effect, such preaching falls between two stools. It avoids getting too specific in its 'third use'  applications and it avoids being too condemning in its 'second use' proclamations, so it ends up just making people feel quite guilty about their Bible reading, prayer and evangelism. It cuts like a hammer.

Next time we'll look at a third distinction: between the flesh and the Spirit. But for now, do you recognise the 'cuts like a hammer' stereotype? What do you think drives it?


Angry-PreacherI've come across far too many angry evangelists for this to be a coincidence. Out we go, door-knocking, flyering a uni campus or getting into conversations on the streets. (I'm a believer in first contact evangelism so I'm often doing this kind of thing (see here and here).)

Almost always these are two-by-two scenarios, so there I am with a fellow evangelist and we get chatting to someone about Jesus. Within 90 seconds my partner is agitated. This happens all the time. Maybe the non-Christian is showing scant regard for the importance of their own soul. Maybe they're denying their inherent sinfulness. Maybe they have the temerity to question certain gospel events. But pretty soon the non-Christian turns out to have actual non-Christian views and my Christian partner gets antsy.

Suddenly the Christian turns the conversation towards the conviction of sin, the inevitability of death, the judgement to come etc, etc. All of these have their place - absolutely - but I often wonder whether these are raised out of frustration and the desire to sledge-hammer a way through a conversation that hasn't gone as planned. I don't think I'm imagining it. I think that there are a lot of angry evangelists out there. And not just "out there".

I still remember (with more than a wince) a carols service I preached at 12 years ago. Workers piled into our central London church for a lunchtime sing-song and some mince pies. I vividly recall drawing attention to the carol before my talk: "Do you realise what you've just sung? O Come Let Us Adore Him. Adore Him? Such praise of Jesus! Doesn't that turn your English stomachs?" Yes I used that phrase: "Your English stomachs." *sigh* I can still picture the looks, the shifting in the pews, the ultra-awkward festive refreshments afterwards.

I was trying to draw attention to the person of Jesus - how incredible that billions would sing adoration to Him even after all these years. But what came out was anger, snarkyness, frustration, superiority. Ugly stuff.

I see this kind of thing quite a bit. Christmas and Easter services are prime examples. The preacher is often found saying: "And where have you been the other 50 Sundays of the year??" with their tone if not their words.

What's going on?

Several reasons might be given for a Christian's angry evangelism:

  • a failure to grasp the gospel (we don't see it as good news, so we put all our focus on "hard truths")
  • a failure to grasp the nature of evangelism (we think of it as delivering an ultimatum rather than the offer of Christ).
  • a failure to grasp the bondage of the will (that the unregenerate "cannot see" 2 Cor 4:4)
  • a failure to have any non-Christian friends (such that non-Christians genuinely surprise and threaten us).
  • plain old self-righteousness.

I think these are going on all the time in evangelists, in evangelical pulpits and, let's face it, in me. And it's ugly.

But let me here draw attention to something else going on. Essentially it's a view of evangelism that sees humanity as standing on either side of a "decision for Jesus."


Now there certainly is a vital distinction between those in Christ and those who are not. But this kind of evangelism revolves around, not Christ, but the decision.

On this understanding an "evangelistic sermon" is not so much a sermon full of the good news. It's a sermon imploring non-Christians to make a decision. Such preaching makes Christians feel bored (because they've already made the decision) and non-Christians feel got-at (because the preacher is clearly not addressing their own flock but taking aim at the visitors).

Let me suggest a far more important line that should define our preaching. This line is between the "life of heaven" and the "life of earth" - between God's righteousness and our sin.


Only one Person stands on the right side of this line. Only Jesus. The rest of us - Christians and non-Christians - are on the wrong side of His story. In evangelistic preaching then, we don't speak over the heads of Christians to hit our real targets - the unwashed. We speak to the children of Adam and reveal the problems of Adam. These problems are common to all, but praise God, there's a solution for all. Jesus is the "life of heaven", He is God's righteousness and He's made available to all. Christians need Him and need to look to Him constantly (not just in a one off salvation-moment). Non-Christians too need Him and need to look to Him for the first time. But the problems addressed are the problems of all and the solution proclaimed is available to all.

But what does preaching look like on that first paradigm...


Someone from the right side of the line condescends to preach to those below. And the essence of their message is an "arrow up" - it's an exhortation to make a salvation decision (the way that the preacher has already).

So preaching comes from on high and it's message is for those below to make their way up. Not so on the second model...


Here the preacher is on the side of the hearers - part of the same problem but also offered the same solution. And so this is the essence of the message: arrow-down! In the law, heaven does indeed stand above us and condemn us. What is revealed from heaven is, first, the wrath of God (Romans 1:18ff). But this wrath is revealed to all humanity and convicts all alike of sin. "But now a righteousness from God has been revealed" (Romans 3:21). Here comes the gospel and, once again, it is arrow-down as Christ is offered to lost sinners.

Christians need this gospel. Non-Christians need this gospel. No-one should feel superior. Everyone is humbled. No-one should feel uniquely "got at". Everyone is lavishly "given to." What place does anger have on this understanding.

But what understanding do we have? And how does it shape our preaching?


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...


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

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

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...



In Acts chapter 1, Jesus said “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” What happened in the 2000 years since then?

Notice how a lot of the video centred on Europe. And then from Europe the gospel went, especially from the 19th century onwards - to Africa, Asia, South America. It’s very common for people to think of Christianity as a European religion. And yet for the first thousand years there were more Christians East of Jerusalem than West. And certainly today Europe is decidedly POST-Christian. In our own denomination, the Anglican Communion, the average Anglican is a Nigerian woman who lives on $2 a day. Christianity has never belonged to Europe. And yet, notice how on the map, Europe is marked as Christian.

This is the effect of Christendom. Ever since Constantine supposedly converted in 312AD, the Roman Empire became Christian. Now it’s a very big theological question whether an empire can be Christian. Certainly we want queens and kings, and presidents and prime ministers everywhere to become Christians. Certainly we want whole populations to trust Jesus. Certainly there is no better foundation for any set of laws than the word of God. But still, the question of whether an empire can be Christian is hotly disputed. And so Christendom - having a state religion imposed from above - has been, to put it mildly, a mixed blessing.

...continue reading "How to Win Europe: By the Spirit, Herald to Hearts and Homes"

tep-podcastcover-1024x1024Previously in our "Power Evangelism" series.

The Power of Ordinary Christian Living

The Power of Church

The Power of Preaching

The Power of Words in Season

And now our two most popular episodes in the series...

The Power of Illustrations

Here we explore why illustrations are effective and I give 13 that I commonly use in evangelism.

The Power of Stories

In this episode we think about capturing hearts and imaginations through stories.

What illustrations or stories do you find yourself using most in evangelism?


Luther Preaching

Let me try out a couple of statements on you:

Church is God's mission strategy for the world.

Agree? Sure you do. Ok, what about this one - straight out of Romans 10:

Preaching is God's normal means for converting the lost.

Cool with that? Good!

So then, let's put these truths together, and let's say:

The Sunday sermon is absolutely central to our evangelistic task.

In other words, if we want to help our churches be evangelistic, the pulpit should be at the forefront of our thinking and practice.

I suggest that, often, this isn't the case because we think of Sunday preaching as "resourcing the devout" rather than "raising the dead." In this situation preaching is aimed squarely at "the saints" with the emphasis on saints (and not sinners). Preaching here easily becomes an explanation of our requisite beliefs and duties as Christians (plus some motivational prompts, perhaps). In other words our preaching is law.

Result? The congregation feels burdened, the Christians feel like church has nothing to say to their friends and if non-Christians find their way in they feel like it's not for them. Perhaps even deeper than all this, the Christians go away feeling that the good news aint so good, that they need to try harder at this Christian caper and that therefore they're not free to go out into the world because maybe this week their real job is to maintain their position on the holiness perch. All of this is deadly to evangelism - whether or not non-Christians are present on a Sunday!

How should we react to this? Well evangelism must spring from a deep love and appreciation for the evangel. So let's think more deeply about the  gospel - we'll go back to basics:

We are born in Adam according to the flesh.

We are born again in Christ by the Spirit.

Until Christ's return we have Adam's flesh and Christ's Spirit.

We are in Adam by nature and in Christ by grace.

We know our Adamic reality by sight and our Christian identity by faith.

These are the realities behind the truth that we are simultaneously righteous and a sinner.

 These twin realities remain with us until Christ's return - we will live with these tensions all our lives.

Certainly we must proclaim that Christ is stronger than Adam; the Spirit is stronger than the flesh; our righteousness determines us not our sin; grace triumphs over nature; we walk by faith not sight; etc; etc.

But even though God's grace in Christ far exceeds our sinful nature in Adam, the tension is not obliterated in this age.

Therefore I can still be called a sinner, I still have flesh, I'm still an offspring of Adam.

My Christian identity comes to me while I remain in Adam.

All of this upholds the vital truth that God's justifies the wicked. (Romans 4:5)

As Luther says:

– Martin Luther (Luther, WA, 1.183ff).

Since this is so, here's what follows...

God's grace meets us in our sinful natures.

God addresses us as sinners in Adam even as He calls us righteous in Christ.

In ourselves we have sin, only in Christ do we have righteousness.

We are called, therefore, to live not by possession but by gift.

That gift comes to us by the Spirit in the Word.


Preaching means addressing sinners and proclaiming the grace of God to them in Jesus.

This does not minimize the "how much more" of God's abundant grace, it is precisely the context for it.

Preaching is not resourcing the devout but raising the dead.

This is not simply about "evangelistic preaching" at the "revival meeting." It is the true nature of all preaching.

If this is true...

The job of the preacher is not to top up the spirituality of Christians who have righteousness in their grasp and need to beef it up a bit.

The job of the preacher is to address people sunk in sin and failure and to tell them of a Saviour who is beyond them.

Crucially therefore the audience for the sermon is "the children of Adam."

All of which means...

The Sunday preacher does not have to choose between two very different kinds of hearer for their message.

The congregation is not split between those who have made a one-off decision for Jesus and those who are yet to choose for Christ.

The Christian needs to hear of their sin and Christ's salvation. The non-Christian needs to hear of their sin and Christ's salvation.

The same gospel is for Christian and non-Christian alike.

If preachers actually believed this and actually preached like this I believe our churches would be transformed.

Christians would be saved from the hypocrisy Luther spoke of above.

Christians would know their sin and the grace of a gospel that meets them where they really are instead of their prettied-up Sunday best.

Christians would experience the grace of God more powerfully through a gospel that doesn't merely strengthen their resolve but saves their souls.

Christians would hear a gospel that applies to the children of Adam and not just to the religious - i.e. a gospel that's relevant to their Monday to Saturday existence.

Christians would get more of a vision for their vocation out in the world, realising that the Scriptures teach us how to live not just how to function as a Christian.

This will equip us for how we can address our friends with the same gospel. Because it really is the same gospel that answers our friends' problems.

It might even inspire us to think "So and so needs to come and hear about this, we were talking about anger management (or whatever) just the other day."

At the end of the service we might just "go in peace to love and serve the Lord" with gusto - not trying to top up our functional righteousness with a few more churchy practices.

Therefore, we might actually feel free to get out into the world, love our neighbours and maybe even befriend them!

And we could then feel that church is a place we could invite our friends - and maybe even do it.

Those are ten benefits of gospel preaching every Sunday and I haven't even mentioned the fact that non-Christians will very likely be present and may just get converted!

So how about it? Tim Keller gives it a go and he does alright, don't you reckon? So can we have a go too? Can we address the whole congregation as the children of Adam - every one of them needing Jesus desperately? Can we see the Scriptures as addressing the problems of life not just the difficulties of Christian piety? Can we do more than resource the devout - can we, by the Spirit's almighty power, raise the dead through the gospel word? If we don't aim for that I'm not sure we have the right to call ourselves gospel people.



We're always making a thing out of things that aren't things. There's a technical term for this but I'm just going to call it thingification. The name's not important. What is important is that it's ruining your Christian life. Let me show you how with reference to 6 things that are commonly thingified.


Grace is not a thing.

"Grace, Grace, Grace" we sing. And I think "She sounds awesome, I wish I could meet her." But I can't meet her because there's no such person. There's only Jesus who is given to me by the Father apart from any desert of my own. That's grace. But grace is not a thing. Grace is the gift of a Person and if I want to know more grace I need to train my eyes on Jesus. Then I'll see how freely He's given. At that point I have an experience of grace, but my experience won't be of a thing but of a Him. (For more see here).


Faith is not a thing.

"We've got to have more faith" we cry. And so we check the little perspex window on our heart to see if the faith pilot-light is flickering strong. Oops, looks like it's going out. Quick, turn the faith tap to maximum. But  how? What is faith? Again, it's not a thing. Faith is to recognise and receive Jesus (John 1:12-13). He has been graciously given, therefore we trustingly receive Him. But faith is not something we dredge up out of our inner spiritual life. If you want "more faith", don't look for faith - look to Jesus. That's how faith comes. (For more see here).


Prayer is not a thing.

"I need to work on my prayer life" we say. And we mean it. But so often what we mean is "I need to improve at this spiritual discipline because my lack of proficiency reflects badly on my stature as a Christian." Or maybe we want to improve because we want to "improve our relationship with God." In some ways this motivation is even worse because it pictures "my prayer life" as the thing that connects me to God, rather than Christ. Then it becomes very important to focus on "my prayer life" but as something quite separate from focusing on Christ our Mediator. So we force ourselves to go to the prayer meeting and hear someone pray: "Please may God bless this work..." And we think, "Huh? I thought we were praying to God? Are we? Or are we performing a thing called prayer in front of one another?" Perhaps the pray-er does manage to address God but then mixes up the Persons. At that point you have to ask: Has prayer become a thing that we do. Should it not be an enjoyment of our adoption before the Father through union with the Son in the joy of the Spirit? But so often, don't we find that prayer becomes a thing we must get right. And a thing that stands between ourselves and communion with God? (For more see here).


Bible Reading is not a thing.

"I must read my Bible" we vow, "every day, come rain, hail or shine." Well alright but why? Another spiritual discipline to master? A duty to tick off the list? If we manage it, is there not a sense of "Phew, job done!" But what if "Bible Reading" isn't a thing in the Christian life. What if Bible Reading is simply how the Father speaks His word to us in Christ and by the Spirit. What if Bible Reading is not a thing we need to get right but a word in our ear from our gracious God? (For more see here).


The Sermon is not a thing.

"What did you make of The Sermon" we ask each other after the service. Suddenly The Sermon is a thing - a thing in between the preacher and the congregation. It's a production that we then pass comment on. And from the preacher's point of view the same thingification can happen: "we prepare and deliver a sermon" rather than "herald God's word to a congregation." Unfortunately this thing arises in between preacher and people - a thing that will be dissected and focused upon by both sides. But really there is no such thing. There's only God's word coming down through the preacher's lips. There's only a congregation hearing the voice of the living Christ. The Sermon is an artifice. It is not a proper object of our attention - only the Christ which it proclaims. (For more see here).


Discipleship is not a thing. (Updated)

"The church has woefully neglected discipleship" they lament. We all give a hearty 'Amen' then we look in our Bibles for the word "discipleship" and, shock horror, it's not there. The word "disciple" is certainly there, but discipleship? No, the Bible is not interested in disciple-craft. Jesus does not want us to be good at the art of following Him. He just wants us to follow Him. Yet, might it be that discipleship is one more concept that takes us away from Jesus Himself and makes us dwell on a thing in abstraction from Christ? It's worth considering. (For more see here).


What do you think? And are there other aspects of the Christian life we thingify?


luther-preachingAfter Ed Milliband went note-less and forgot the main points of his Labour Party conference address, some preachers have been quick to point out a cautionary tale for preachers. Use Notes! I'm not convinced that this is the lesson. After all, Emma Watson's recent speech - completely note-less - connected powerfully across the globe.

I'm not that interested in debates about whether to use notes or not in preaching. It seems to me that those kind of "how to" questions lie on the far side of a much more urgent discussion about the "what" and the "who" of preaching. Preachers everywhere have an opinion about the "how to" but I find that far fewer of them have done much serious thinking about what preaching actually is.

For what it's worth, here is an introduction to my theology of preaching (which is heavily indebted to Luther's threefold theology of the Word.) For me, preaching is Christ Himself heralded through human lips to needy sinners.

Jim Packer put it like this: “The proper aim of preaching is to mediate meetings with God.” Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “What is the chief end of preaching?  To give men and women a sense of God and his presence.” If this is true about the "what" and the "who" let's make a tentative foray into the realm of "how to"...

Since preaching is mediating meetings with God, it seems pretty important that preaching have the quality of immediacy - that we are in the immediate presence of the living Christ whose word is being spoken as a divine summons. Would we agree?

I think most people would agree. But at that point some preachers want to say: "Exactly, therefore the preacher needs to get out of the way in the preaching process. They should put as little personality into their preaching as possible and simply let the Bible speak for itself." Here they advocate for careful preparation in the study and a fairly full script for the pulpit. I sympathise greatly with the intentions here, but there may also be a mistaken view of revelation lurking somewhere. You see it is a good thing that preaching comes through human lips because God's word is meant to meet us where we are. Human personality is not a barrier to the Word coming across - it wasn't for Jesus, it isn't for the Bible and it shouldn't be for preaching. We should never bemoan the fact that preaching is a human event. We must never try to de-personalize preaching in order to get out of the way of some pure, non-human word - there's no such thing. The humanity of the preacher is great - it's a bridge not a barrier.

But the impulse to clear away obstacles in preaching is right. We must do that. But here's a hunch, see what you think - it may just be that the school of preaching that says "let's strip things back and just give a well-prepared Bible talk" is the most guilty of erecting a barrier. You see it's possible to make the sermon itself a third thing in between the preacher and the congregation rather than it being the personal and immediate address of the preacher to the congregation. The sermon then is something the preacher brings to the service and uses on the congregation rather than being what the preacher is saying this very moment in the midst of the congregation. I remember - half a life time ago to be precise - being introduced to university lectures by a man who said "Lecturing is the process whereby facts from the lecturers notebook transfer to the student's notebook without passing through the minds of either."

Is it possible that preaching can end up like that? Preachers bring a pre-prepared sermon and ensure that it is delivered safely into the possession of the congregation - but it's possible for it to go through the minds and hearts of neither. On this understanding, the sermon is a thing passed from preacher to congregation, not the very event in which the preacher addresses the congregation with living power. Am I imagining that distinction? I don't think I am. I'm pretty sure you can sense it when the sermon is an artifice and when it is an address. I think we should do whatever it takes to make our sermons the latter and not the former.

Let me say straight away I am not advocating for preachers to make up their sermons on the spot. I do not think a "spontaneous" word is in any way more spiritual (and it's in many ways more dangerous) than a word you've laboured over for hours in the study. Work hard in the study. BUT... there are ways of communicating a carefully prepared sermon where the congregation feels addressed in the moment, and there are ways of doing it where the congregation feels like the preacher is behind double-glazing. "Notes or no-notes" is not the centre of that discussion - but it is part of it. It seems to me that moving towards greater freedom from notes is a move towards a greater sense of immediacy in preaching and therefore a move towards better preaching.

Of course "freedom from notes" doesn't mean you won't carefully craft a full sermon script nor does it mean you won't bring that to the pulpit - not necessarily. I'm not ruling out reading such a sermon word for word. My first 200 sermons were delivered in just this way. But it's interesting that I would be happy when people afterwards said they didn't notice I was reading a script. I worked very hard on making it look like I wasn't doing what I was doing. And often that effort took me out of the moment and fixed my attention on the mechanics of the preaching rather than the word being preached.

Anyway, I need to get back to my sermons for tomorrow. (See? I believe in preparation!) Let me conclude: Preacher, as you address a congregation, it matters little how full the script is in front of you - so long as you've prepared accordingly. What really does matter is that the congregation is in front of you and that you preach as though they are your focus, not some artifice called "The Sermon". Your sermon is not a tool you use to reach the congregation. Your sermon is God's word to the congregation coming through your own lips. It is the living word of God to your brothers and sisters in the here and now. Whatever you do about notes, make sure your preaching is that.




What does God's power look like? Acts 4:23-37 gives us four surprises:

We think God's power means an absence of suffering;
Actually it Embraces Easter.

We think God's power obviates the need for prayer;
Actually it Prompts Prayer.

We think God's power is all about miracles;
Actually it Makes Missionaries.

We think God's power is enjoyed privately;
Actually it Creates Community.





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?

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