Tuesday, October 25, 2016

a mess, a meal, and a map

After 'making a mess in the kitchen, it is time to put a meal on the table' - a meal that is nutritious, attractive and ordered. That is how my Pakistani friends describe the journey from text to sermon. I love it. Engaging the biblical passage, using skills of observation and exegesis, does make a mess ... and then the goal is to turn that mess into a meal.

For some years I have been developing the metaphor of a map to help people make this transition. Keep tweaking it... The full notes always felt so heavy in those early years, leaving learners a bit overwhelmed. So I've been pushing the notes later and later into the session. Last week in Egypt, I never got to the notes at all...and it seemed to go well.

In their table groups I had people draw a map of their country. Then they were asked to plan a trip for Barby and I, taking us to the places they think we should experience in their homeland. The trip needed to visit different states/provinces (or governorates in Egypt - that is a mouthful, let me tell you!) and cities/towns along the way. The artists came out. The travel agents emerged. The group dynamic was fantastic. Showing the best features of their country (particularly when it is misrepresented in the media, which is often the case) is something people love to do.

This group from a single church in Cairo did a nice job (even though the camera setting was on 'sunset'!).

The work of a group that came across from 5ud@n was also a feature...

By the end the groups were offering us discounted travel, plenty of  'home-stays' and the best guides...

Then I teased them with the idea that what they had just been doing was a bit like preparing and preaching a sermon from a passage of the Bible. That passage is a bit like a country and in the sermon we enter it and travel through it - from state to state, city to city. We lived with this juxtaposition for a bit (in grassroots training, 'juxtaposition' is the favourite word that I can never use), drawing out their ideas about any osmosis that takes place.

This happened on Day Three of the seminar. Still no notes. The next thing to do was to return to the sermons that had been preached on the two earlier days: Nehemiah 8 and Psalm 126. Back we went to them, with new eyes, to see how they illustrated this model of using a map to move from mess to meal (oh dear, that is a lot of Ms, not to mention a few mixed metaphors ... oh no, still more Ms!). Or, if you like sporting metaphors, the preached sermon was the game - and now I was providing some commentary on what they heard.

Through the afternoon on that Day Three, they had an opportunity to have a go themselves, preparing sermon outlines on Colossians 1.28-29. Still no notes (although I urged them to read through them on their own and bring back their questions). Then, through the afternoon on Day Four, they had another opportunity to practise the process, this time with Luke 8.11-15. As the translator worked through their sheets with me, I was delighted. Rarely have I seen such an accurate grasp of the basic idea after just the second effort. Still no notes. This is the work they produced (for those of you who know Arabic, not too many, I suspect!):

Hopefully, they will keep practising over the coming months...

As a metaphor, the map becomes the scaffolding to be removed once the building has been constructed, the midwife who can leave once the baby has been born. We don't want to hear about the map in the sermon itself :).

nice chatting


Sunday, October 23, 2016

lyrics for living 10 (greater far)

The Health & Safety folks in New Zealand would have a stroke on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Fences are few and far between. Books have been written to make those Health & Safety faces nod up and down knowingly: Over the Edge: Gripping Accounts of All Known Fatal Mishaps in the Most Famous of the World's Seven Natural Wonders. That is a long title - but then it is quite a long drop, too.

At one stage I thought my friend, Victor, might add another chapter to these 'gripping accounts':

But, thankfully, Victor is still with us...

The grandeur of the Grand Canyon could never be captured in pictures. However, somewhat surprisingly, it was captured for me in words. We had walked along the edge for an hour or two, soaking it all in and watching (through my fingers) people perching themselves at impossible vantage points ... and then we came back to a museum stuck on the edge with panoramic views.

But once inside the museum I found myself looking down, not up and out, as I was captured by facts and statistics which helped me grasp how wide and long and deep this canyon actually is.

With words like these ones, I found my imagination drifting across to the love of Christ:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3. 17-19)

From the love of Christ my imagination moved on to a song from my childhood, made famous by George Beverly Shea at all those Billy Graham evangelistic meetings. On Sunday mornings in the 60s a big black disc would come out of its Sacred Songs cover and put on a thing that goes round and round. Even in the 80s, while at theological college in the USA, I'd enjoy tuning into recordings of those meetings and be moved by Billy's message and Bev Shea's songs.

With a little contextualisation to the Grand Canyon, this song goes something like this:

Could we with ink the Canyon fill,
  And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
  And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of Christ above
  Would drain the Canyon dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

  Though stretched from sky to sky.

For years I used this verse in preaching classes as an example of how words - and not just images - had the power to fire the imagination. This is the reason why the book is usually better than the movie: it leaves more space for the imagination to go to work.

For the record - from another time and place, as I hear the groanings of a younger generation or two - here is 'Bev Shea' singing this hymn (this particular verse starts at about 1.18):

nice chatting


PS: While I've got your attention, there is another two signature songs from Bev Shea that I've always loved - ahh, the gentle, tender assurance and simplicity in the words: It is No Secret What God Can Do and I'd Rather Have Jesus. You can do it! It will do your soul good...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

training preachers: formal & non-formal

It is 'literally like food for me ... like someone put batteries in my heart.' This is how a young Bosnian woman, Mirjana, reflects on the impact on her of the biblical preaching to which she was listening.

How do you train preachers to have that kind of impact?
Food and batteries? Yes, please!

Increasingly, educators speak about formal and non-formal ways of teaching. I was in Taiwan a couple of weeks ago - and this issue emerged in the discussions. It got me thinking about it again. Examples of the 'formal' would be the seminary, or theological college - for me, a bit like the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) where I have taught MA & MTh & DMin modules in Homiletics (Preaching). Examples of the 'non-formal' would be the training offered by the Langham Preaching ministry in which I have been involved as well.

So, yes, I have been in the privileged position of being involved, at the same time, in the formal and non-formal training of preachers. I believe in both approaches. But the two approaches are so different from each other. Thinking specifically of the SAIACS and the Langham models of these recent years - and intentionally over-generalising in order to make my point and to invite helpful critique - here are some of the contrasts (with a little help from my Langham friends):

The formal builds on a class every morning for a month.
The non-formal builds on an intensive week every year for three years.

The formal covers lots of material, moving through it quickly.
The non-formal covers less material, returning to it repeatedly.

The formal works with graduate students in the English language, facilitating a fuller engagement for me.
The non-formal works with 'grassroots' practitioners in local languages, limiting that engagement for me.

The formal is motivated by compulsion, as students are required to take the module.
The non-formal is motivated by choice, as learners choose to participate in the training.

The formal sees the allocated learning time weighted towards theory, with plenty of written assessment.
The non-formal sees the allocated learning time weighted towards practice, with no written assessment.

The formal has an eye on accreditation agencies.
The non-formal has neither eye on accreditation agencies.

The formal sits among multiple, successive, intensive learning foci (modules) spread over two years.
The non-formal tends to be a single learning focus spread over numerous years.

The formal has a more static vision: train the preacher as one skill among many, with little follow-up.
The non-formal has a more dynamic vision: train the preacher to be trainers of others, with follow-up.

The formal has the teacher working with new students every year.
The non-formal has the trainer working with the same preachers every year.

The formal often finds students to have had little preaching experience, offering before-the-job training.
The non-formal often finds participants to be immersed in weekly preaching, looking for on-the-job training.

The formal can create a continuous learning context that helps learners remain engaged.
The non-formal can create a discontinuous learning context that leaves learners disengaged.

The formal can engage a wow: 'this specialist expertise is so amazing, I could never pass it on to others.'
The non-formal can engage a wow: 'this accessible learning is so amazing, I could pass it on to others.'

In this way the formal and the non-formal can both complement and compliment each other.

Bottom line?! Growing as a preacher - be it through formal or non-formal means - involves more than mere participation in a course or seminar. It requires the practicing of what is learned and is assisted further when that learning is reflected upon and then passed-on to others. However all this is kindling for the inner fire. The spark is provided by listening to good preaching ... preaching that does more than provide mere inspiration - it fans aspiration.

nice chatting


Sunday, October 09, 2016

monument valley

I am trying to do it more often.

On those occasions when Barby is able to travel with me, we are stealing a few days and going off together to enjoy the sights a bit. Earlier this week, after arriving in Phoenix, we headed up to Flagstaff ('up' is the operative word - 7230 feet up!). I had been there 38 years earlier when I took my $99 Greyhound Bus from Chicago to LA, after saying good-bye to Barby. This time she was with me. A welcome change.

After a day in nearby Sedona, we set off on the 3 hour drive up to Monument Valley, just inside the Utah border (where the first thing to be seen, almost, was a Mormon church). It is famous for providing movies and commercials with a memorable backdrop - but it is also a centerpiece of the Navajo nation.

My, oh my?! Reminiscent of the visit to Scotland last year (photos here and here), I couldn't soak up the scenery enough. A visual buffet of substantial proportions. I gorged myself on what filled the horizon - and have spent a fair bit of time proseltyzing Americans ever since - because so many have never been there!

Each rock-mountain is named. This one is 'the mittens'. I thought a little juxtaposition might help...

This is 'totem pole'. [Check out Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction].
This is something like 'snoopy-on-his-back'.

nice chatting