Not all coincidences or accidents can be taken as guidance. In fact, trying to ‘read’ guidance into dramatic physical occurrences can easily fall into the category of superstition (said Jesus in Luke 13).\r\n\r\nBut sometimes the dramas of life can lead in a clear direction.\r\n\r\nSo it was in the story of Arthur Tappan Pierson, a New Yorker, born in 1837 and named after his father’s employer. He was a bright student, language scholar and Phi Beta Kappa. He grew to be a powerful orator and was a pastor of great and large churches around America, and accidentally also in England, where he had been invited by his friend C H Spurgeon to help with preaching duties at the Metropolitan Tabernacle during the latter’s illness. A Presbyterian not a Baptist, Pierson found himself ‘in post’ when Spurgeon died.\r\n\r\nPierson was the one of the first members of the YMCA, and spoke at it’s first conference in Northfield in 1886 where he coined the phrase “the evangelisation* of the world in this generation”. From this conference 100 men dedicated themselves to overseas missions and became the founding core of the Student Volunteer Movement. By the time of Pierson’s death in 1911 over 5,000 Student Volunteers had sailed to mission fields abroad.\r\n\r\nBut what about the sign?\r\n\r\nWhen Pierson was 39 years old he was a prominent leader in his denomination, a well published writer of articles, sermons and poems, a powerful speaker, and successful parish minister. But he was dissatisfied with his successful ministry in high profile churches because he could not reach the poor in his local city, let alone the un-evangelised populations around the world.\r\n\r\nOn March 24th 1876 Pierson met with around sixty of his parishioners to pray – not in the church building – that the obstacles that held his church back from reaching the poor be removed.\r\n\r\nWhile they prayed, and without their knowing, their beautiful church building was burning down. Everything was destroyed, right down to the desk where Pierson stored his Bible notes. Only, the Bible notes survived.\r\n\r\nPierson took it as a sign. The church hired the local opera house as a meeting room and in the next fifteen months hundreds of people came to faith under his new style of preaching – simple, direct, challenging. He never looked back from his new focus on evangelism and mission theory.\r\n\r\nComfortable yet Dissatisfied? Talented, Equipped, but Ineffective? Pray. Invite others. Maybe even pray for the church to burn down! (Metaphorically)\r\n\r\nAnd if you have the chance, read the story of Arthur Tappan Pierson.\r\n\r\n* NOTE: spell checker want to put Liberalisation instead of Evangelisation … in a strange way, maybe not far from the truth?
Poetic Prophets – The Languange of Imagination
Is it worth the effort of finding fresh and imaginative ways to describe faith?\r\nRead what Eugene Peterson says about the prophet Zechariah …\r\n……………………………….
Zechariah reinvigorated imaginations with his visions and messages.
The visions provided images of a sovereign God\r\nthat worked their way into the lives of the people …
The messages forged a fresh vocabulary\r\nthat gave energy and credibility\r\nto the long-term purposes of God being worked out in their lives.
Zechariah’s enigmatic visions,\r\nworking at multiple levels,\r\nand his poetically charged messages\r\nare still at work,\r\nlike time capsules in the lives of God’s people … releasing
insight\r\nand hope\r\nand clarity
for the people whom God is using to work out his purposes\r\nin a world that has no language\r\nfor God\r\nand the purposes of God.
from Eugene Peterson’s Introduction to Zechariah, The Message
Education and the Pastor/Teacher
A head teacher was talking on the radio about the introduction of a new exam system into mainstream education. He gave a coherent and comprehensive overview of how each facet of education will be affected by the change. It was along the lines of …\r\n\r\n“This will be good for Keystage 3 which has become a poor revisiting of Keystage 2, but not so good for overall numeracy and literacy at school leaving age. The proposed scheme segregates children on grounds of ability too soon, and expects a lower standard of achievement where we should be aiming for as high a standard as possible for all children in literacy and numeracy. And employers will not be helped by having an group of lower attainment …” \r\n\r\nAnd so on, for quite some time.\r\n\r\nWhat made me pause to listen was the speaker’s obvious mastery of the issues affecting all children in that particular group of secondary school children. It was an elegantly expressed and coherent overview of the issues. What is more, he was speaking without the benefit of time for preparation.\r\n\r\nIt was what you would expect or want in a competent head teacher.\r\n\r\nWhich made me think about how vicars and pastors would compare if they were asked to give an overview of how the way they have structured their churches and in particular their teaching programmes to aid their people in maturing in their faith, from the immature early days of faith to a competency in literacy (Biblical and theological) and numeracy (lifestyle and personal management).\r\n\r\nI think I’ll start asking my vicar friends the question: “So how have you structured your teaching programme to help people to grow in their discipleship to a place of literacy and numeracy?”
Subservient to the people
I recently found myself in a discussion about preaching.\n\nThe arguments flew around – could the people in the congregation be capable of giving proper feedback to the preacher.\n\nSome said no, they weren’t capable of it.\n\nOthers said yes, of course they could.\n\nSome said to aim for the best advice possible – bishops or Americans.\n\nSome said keep it local, build the community, be vulnerable.\n\nBut on reflection,\n\nIsn’t the point of preaching that one person reaches a handful of other people in a particular context with words which could be from God and should therefore in some way change the lives of the people listening .\n\nAnd if the preacher doesn’t know if that’s actually happening, then asking a Bishop or an American for advice is … well, misguided.\n\nIn other words, the gift of the preacher is given as a gift that is subservient to the people listening.