caught and taught

They say preaching needs to be both caught and taught. Both are needed and both have been integral to my story in preaching. I have wondered if the British preaching tradition leans me towards being 'caught', while the American tradition has been built more around 'taught'.

The first preacher to engage me, in my early teens, was Charles Warren. I remember him at Union Church in Mussoorie and when the Warrens moved to New Delhi (at roughly the same time as we did), I remember him at Delhi Bible Fellowship. From the same Wheaton College vintage as Ruth and Billy Graham and Jim and Elizabeth Elliot. It is one thing to love preaching; it is quite another to love the people to whom you preach. This preacher demonstrated this truth to me. The quintessential shepherd. No one would say he was spectacular, but the unspectacular preaching of an authentic shepherd pays dividends within God's economy. Yes, I caught something from Charles Warren - and then I married his daughter (Barby).

The second preacher to engage me, in my late teens, was Bill McGregor. I had returned to NZ for my final year at high school - and then university - and in those crucial years I sat under Bill's ministry at Mt Albert Baptist Church. Bill is a Scot. The Scots seem to have a head start on the rest of us. Not just the accent - but there tends to be a power and a presence and a warmth in their preaching. The 'Big Mac' (as I affectionately refer to him) is no exception. It was while seated by one of the purple pillars at Mt Albert - ironically, on a night when the Big Mac was not preaching - that God arrested me and called me to be a pastor. Yes, I caught something from Bill McGregor - and then my brother (Mark) married his daughter (Anne).

Barely twenty years of age and a third preacher captivated me. I was off to the States to discover whether the many letters to and from Barby were going somewhere. At the airport I was nervous (not helped by the Erebus disaster happening the night before!). Barby and I went together to the Urbana Mission Convention - with 17,000 other students. For 50 minutes each morning I found myself spellbound by the Spirit as I listened to a talking head way down there where the basketball rim usually was in that cavernous arena. John Stott was expounding Romans 1-5. The clarity. The simplicity. The memorability. Yes, I caught something from John Stott - and he had no daughters!

It is caught. Warren. McGregor. Stott. All before my 21st birthday. There is an aspirational ingredient in preaching. You see it in someone and you are compelled to cut and paste it into in your own life.

[A little hiatus follows. Three years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) building convictions were followed by five years at Georgetown Baptist Church testing convictions. None of the convictions needed to be discarded, although finding ways to contextualise them without compromising them was the great challenge. Then in March 1989 things shifted. Not only did JO Sanders visit me in my study, unannounced, with a message from God that it was 'time to paint on a broader canvas' - but I attended a seminar by OMF's Denis Lane based on his book, Preach the Word. It was a seminar on learning how to preach].

Preaching is taught and I benefited from the teachers at TEDS. The Carsons and the Larsens were Gamaliels for me. However teaching the subject myself is what proved crucial in my own development.

By the 1 January 1990 I found myself on the staff at the Bible College of New Zealand (now, Laidlaw College). Within a few months I was facilitating a simple 12 week TEE course, affectionately known as POP (Principles of Preaching). Within a couple of years I found myself inheriting Ian Kemp's preaching class. POP evolved into a two year journey through two separate 36-hour courses. They were remarkable times. In one year 92 students were enrolled in the two courses - both of which were electives in the curriculum. Laidlaw's current NT specialist, Dr Mark Keown, was in my very first faltering class and he wrote me a letter of encouragement at the end of the year which still proves precious to me.

Then at Carey Baptist College, the journey in teaching preaching continued. I inherited a University of Auckland homiletics course before developing twin courses in the college's new BAppTheol curriculum. As I taught I began to think my own thoughts and develop my own convictions. Like Philips Brooks' 'truth through personality' no longer being sufficient in the twentieth century. Brooks suggests there to be just two horizons in preaching - text and preacher - when we really need to reckon with 'listener' and 'world' as well. The preacher has four horizons to explore, not two. Or, like the view that biblical exposition is all we need. It is most certainly the staple diet - but is it all we need? No, there is a place to develop a tool-kit for biblical preachers which enables them to be flexible as they preach in different contexts with different listeners and working with different genres.

These college-based teaching experiences - together with dozens of church-based weekend seminars over the years - proved to be the delight in my working life. I had discovered my sweet spot under God's good hand. When I trained preachers I felt God's pleasure.

Later this week it will be four years since I joined Langham Preaching. I have had the privilege of being involved in more than forty training events in twelve countries, mostly at the grassroots among people with limited education and resources. It is a whole new world for me. Crossing cultures. Changing languages. Shaping a training programme that is not just understood by these people, it must be able to be passed on by them to others. And in it all the convictions remain constant, even as the skills continue to develop.

It is taught. BCNZ. Carey. Langham. But the point is that it is as I teach it myself that I am learning how to preach.

nice chatting



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