in london with langham

While I don't commence employment until 1st April the powers-that-be encouraged me to attend the annual International Council meetings of Langham Partnership International in London this past week. There were many highlights...

I loved attending All Souls, Langham Place on the Sunday (my birthday!) before the meetings started. This is where John Stott has been a minister for decades and the organisation takes its name from this 'place'. A worship-filled service sparked by a masterly biblical/topical sermon from Mark Meynell on 'What gives you a monopoly on the truth?' (ANS: A. We don't ... but B. We know Someone who does) - to which you can listen here - will live on in my memory.

Located outside All Souls was a panel advertising some upcoming evangelistic activities. I was fascinated by a "warning" right at the bottom of the panel. It looked like this:

The warning states: "Guest events contain Christian content". Interesting?! I have had an enduring concern that our community-bridging activities here in NZ can be a bit shy about having a clear evangelistic purpose guiding them. My mind goes to the research done recently exploring the perceptions of the 'unchurched' attending a selection of one of our well-attended community-bridging franchises. As I remember it, 65% of these 'unchurched' people were open and keen to hear more about why host churches were doing what they were doing - thereby opening the door to gentle, but more intentional, evangelism. That is a very high percentage. Maybe we might not lose as many people as we think...and maybe there is too much emphasis on grace and salt and not enough on truth and light...

To hear again the Langham Logic, first espoused by John Stott, was as compelling as ever. The logic moves from the Problem and the three Convictions to the Question and the three Strategies.

The Problem facing the church in the Majority World is one of growth without depth.
The three Convictions which shape a response are 1. God wants the church to grow up in maturity; 2. God's church grows through God's Word; and 3. God's Word comes primarily (but not exclusively) through preaching.
This then provokes an obvious Question: what can we do to raise the standard of biblical preaching?
The answer is found in three Strategies: 1. Langham Scholars, providing scholarships for teachers and leaders to gain doctorates before returning home to key positions in places like theological colleges; 2. Langham Literature, providing books for pastors, students and libraries - but also empowering and multiplying indigenous literature, writers, and publishers; and 3. Langham Preaching, developing biblical preaching movements in the countries of the majority world.

Other highlights revolved around these Strategies...
At one point a newsletter circulated and as I turned the pages I came across a full A5 sized spread listing all the Langham Scholars (by country) that there have ever been - 282 of them! It was breath-taking... This has been going on quietly for 30 years and now the impact is being felt. Just imagine the ripples of influence that can flow from each one of these men and women. I hope it won't be long before NZ joins the party and has some Langham Scholars studying among us.

Once back home, these Scholars have the capacity to take publishing initiatives like the remarkable Africa Bible Commentary where Africans have provided the scholarship with commentary on the text as well as articles on the context.

This has sold so well that it has enabled Langham Literature to make a splash with Hippo Books as an indigenous African publisher whose books are distributed through Zondervan. And now South Asia and Latin America are lining up to do their regional commentaries as well. Just inspirational.

Increasingly the Scholars are initiating and the Literature is resourcing the work of Langham Preaching, now active in 50 countries. This is where I will be working as Associate Director alongside Jonathan Lamb. I will have some responsibility for Asia and the Pacific (with visits to Thailand, Solomon Islands, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India... already in the diary for 2009) as well as working with the trainers worldwide to develop a consistent curriculum that can guide us all. Pretty cool, eh?!

There are huge challenges facing Langham. Using the direct link to its Founder (John Stott) becomes less useful as a generation emerges who have not heard of him. And the current global financial crisis can feel ominous in an organisation which is so dependent on the generosity of Americans. With Langham commencing in NZ just this past March, I am praying that NZers will catch a vision for this remarkable work and begin to share in the financial responsibility to keep it growing.

The meetings were held at Farnham Castle built by William the Conqueror's grandson and the oldest building in Southeast England with continuous inhabitants - and only 15mins drive to Jane Austen's home to which I made a pilgrimage and spent too much money buying gifts for the women in the family.

I did manage to read The Shack while I was away - a topic to which I will return soon I suspect! I haven't read all the reviews and blogs (although I've heard people talk about them) but I reckon a lot of Christians need to chill out, get a life and enjoy the book for what it is and not for what it isn't. I applaud our theologian at Carey, Myk Habets, for deciding to make it a required text for one of his classes in 2009. They are going to have some great debates!

Oh dear, I couldn't quite make it to TEN.
Never mind. You've done well to get this far :)

nice chatting

Paul Windsor


Christina said…
Hi Paul,
It sounds like you are having a great time at LPI and are being re-enthused and inspired which is great.
Your thoughts have provoked a recurring question for me (you may have addressed this before?). What role should preaching have in the (NZ) church as we move forward into the future?
How do we contextualize preaching (or teaching and learning) well so that a rather Western and ‘modern’ model of learning is not imposed on other cultures and other generations. Perhaps added to that is what can those in the majority world teach us in the west about the use of narrative in teaching, and how can they challenge our individualistic and power based understandings of knowledge.
I feel I need to add a word in explanation: I am very keen on good solid biblical teaching etc. What I am questioning is the model of one man (predominately) standing in front of rows of passive observers and talking at people, while they look at the back of the head in front of them.

PS I have also just finished The Shack so am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Paul said…
Good and fair questions, Christina. Thanks for taking the time to articulate them. Let me try and make some brief responses.

Preaching in the Future?
When it is properly understood - and not stereotyped by its worst exemplars - I have no doubts about the future of preaching. Sermons that open and explain and remain in the Word of God - even as they take every opportunity to open and explain listeners living in contemporary society so that the text is received in that context - will always be used by God.
Before people look to reject it (which I do not hear you suggesting) I just long for people to hear it at its most compelling...

Preaching and Majority World?
I am excited about the possibility of entering a phase of life where I can learn about preaching from people beyond-the-West. Having said this, the cry from many such pastors and churches where there is so much 'growth without depth' is for an approach to preaching that probably looks a lot like the kind that many in NZ may want to reject as something out-dated. That is the irony. These people see the relevance in that Langham Logic more clearly than we do - they see it to be what they need and that is why they are asking for it in such huge numbers. They are prioritising maturity and depth and see biblical preaching as a key means of achieving this.

Male Preachers and Passive Listening?
Yes, there are problems here. I have long agonised over the numbers of gifted women preachers I see in the classroom and then the few numbers I see later in the church. For all the advocacy that can and does come from people in colleges like Carey to change this, this is still a matter for (local) churches to address. I am not a bishop! However I do think the graph is moving in the right direction, even if it has a gradient that is more gradual than we'd all like to see. We have to keep graciously pressing forward with this one.
As far as rows of passivity and backs-of-heads ... if home groups and families are functioning as they should be then I don't find this to be such a big deal. I certainly do not want to replace the sermon with a pooling of ignorance by a whole bunch of amateurs sitting in a circle facing each other. UGH! I will continue to advocate for gifted, skilled, trained, teachers of God's word to be set apart for this crucial task - and so there maybe a few moments each week where listeners are more passive and seated in rows ... but if the preaching is any good, they won't be passive and seated for long!

Hope that helps!!
Mark Maffey said…
Hi Paul

one of the challenges we have in preaching the word today is that many people in the pews are not biblically literate. Increasingly it is becoming part of the role of preaching to either help people to engage, or re-engage with the word.
Part of the mission has to be a movement towards the narrative of the word being coloured in, to get beyond the flat text. An example of this yesterday was Luke 5 vs 12-26 where we were both pictorally and narratively bought into the story we could see how faith was shown by the four who dug through the roof and lowered the paralytic down etc..

If we can get people to visualise the scriptures and then back it up with sound exegesis of the passage people will absorb and then seek to re-read the passage.

I also agree about the need for home groups to support and deepen people's understanding of the word, having been in numerous groups over the past 25 years they are I believe a place where people can engage not only with the word, but with each other and deepen the strength of fellowship. When you consider that the early church was basically a series of home groups with strong fellowship perhaps we can re-learn what it means to engage on these levels

Paul said…
You make good points, Mark.

One of the burdens which the 'sermon slot' carries today is that for many (most?) Christians it is their only engagement with the Word of God during the week. We can no longer rely on people reading their Bibles much ... and I remain unsure about whether home groups ever really proved to be settings for Bible study together.

So you are right - illiteracy is a problem and the 'sermon' is one of the few times in the life of many local churches where this can be combatted. Let's not waste it! Let's not dilute its focus on the Bible either.
Rachael said…
Seems shallow after such thoughtful comments to say:
YAY - your response to The Shack was the same as ours. But we have only heard people panicking about the what-it-does-wrong-bits. Can't Christians grow up and get over being scared of things they don't agree with fully?
It's a great conversation-starter (and stopper - depending which circles you are in!!!!).

PS loved the answer to the truth question - I've been discussing this recently with some out-of-church friends and some never-been-to-church friends's a real question being thrown around
Anonymous said…
To all the people who Love The Shack. Paul young is coming to NZ Jan 2nd so you can hear him in person. For all the venues email mitchener@watchdog,net,nz

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