Thoughts on worship leading versus preaching

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Awhile back, our interim pastor asked me to have a go at preaching a Sunday morning message. It was as terrifying as it sounds, and I truly believe that God spoke His Word far more clearly than humanly possible that morning.

Even as I write this it’s a struggle. I want to draw as little attention to it because I struggle with pride and don’t want to feed this temptation. And everyone knows how annoying it is to see a young preacher “humblebrag” their own preaching… certainly couldn’t imagine Charles Spurgeon or George Whitefield getting on social media saying: “Just had the privilege of preaching sermon. Humbled. Link here. #unnecessaryhashtag”

So I hope this isn’t that kind of post. I’m really just journaling my thoughts about the difference mentally between leading a service and preaching a sermon – as a reminder to myself, but also while wondering how others who lead worship or preach regularly feel mentally in the lead-up to and following Sunday.

When worship leading

The anxiety and adrenaline accumulates during the week and peaks in the hour before the worship service. (I know this as I’m running around all stressed out 15 minutes before the service starts). This stress and tension is released song by song, element by element. As each part of the service progresses, I grow more and more relaxed knowing that my role in the service is winding up.

Once the church is dismissed, Sunday afternoons are a time to relax, unwind and share life with church family. Other than the odd comment or concern about a particular song, I’m chilled out by the end of the day.

When preaching

It’s actually reasonably relaxed during the week – sermon preparation is a self-directed, self-paced activity. Even on Sunday morning it’s not so stressful. The anxiety and adrenaline accumulate slightly later, from when the first song starts. It’s actually really difficult to focus on the sung praise, particularly in the song before the sermon “slot”. In my head I’m preoccupied with last-minute adjustments to my sermon notes. Tense and nervous. As I preach, some of that tension dissipates as God miraculously calms nerves, smooths out phrases and the Spirit works on the hearers of His message. The adrenaline flows freely.

But it’s after the service when the questions and comments come through. The stress and tension ratchets up as I think about what I didn’t say that I should have, and what I did say that I shouldn’t have. By Sunday afternoon there’s a big slump in my energy levels as the adrenaline from the morning wears off. I feel like hiding away in a room and talking to nobody else. The next few days I’m still pondering over what was preached: the content, delivery, the response, everything. Eventually the next thing comes into view and the stress of preaching dissipates.


This was all pretty new to me so I’m sure my experiences will change over time as I gain some more experience. For example, perhaps as God works on my fear of man, the post-sermon questions won’t be as daunting. And most importantly, I need to keep preaching the gospel to myself, that my identity isn’t in what I do – worship leading or preaching – but is ultimately found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the perfect Worship Leader and Preacher.

 

Book review: Is God anti-gay?

Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction

by Sam Allberry

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Genre: Christian living / Social Issues

Size: 93 small pages. Short and sweet.

What’s the big idea: Written by a pastor who struggles with same-sex attraction, the book explains what the Bible teaches about the good news of Jesus, marriage, sex, homosexuality and how to apply all this as individual Christians, as a church community, and how to commend all this to the world around us.

Along the way, Sam takes the time to answer the most commonly asked questions on this topic, including:

  • What does the Bible say about sex and marriage?
  • What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality?
  • Can I be a Christian if I struggle with same-sex attraction?
  • Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?
  • But Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so how can it be wrong?
  • Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?
  • What should we do if a gay couple start coming to our church?
  • What can the church do to support Christians facing this issue?
  • Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?
  • What should I do if a Christian comes out to me?
  • How should I respond when my non-Christian friend tells me that they’re gay?
  • What’s the best way to share Christ with a gay friend?

Easy to read? Yes. Done in a few hours.

What I appreciated: There are plenty of books out there on this topic (and more being published each month it seems). This one is unique because it’s winsomely written by someone for whom homosexuality isn’t just an abstract issue.

The thing I appreciated the most is that within the first 3 pages, Sam explained that the gospel message of Jesus was something everyone needed:

“[The gospel is] the announcement that, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can be put right with God; that we are being offered a fresh start to begin to live as God always meant us to. This is his message. And it’s his message for all people. When Jesus burst onto the scene, he didn’t subdivide humanity into categories and give each one a separate message…

God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone.Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love.” (p.9-10)

In the chapters diving into the Bible’s specific teachings on marriage and sexuality, Sam covers all the important passages. He also brings into the discussion a few other passages which I hadn’t considered before, such as Jesus’s teaching on celibacy in Matthew 19:11-12, and Revelation 2:20-21 on the issue of tolerance and whether we can just “agree to disagree” with other churches whose teaching leads people into sexual sin.

Sam is sharp on the question of whether Christians pick and choose from the Old Testament. He explains that Jesus fulfils all of the Old Testament (Matt 5:17), but fulfils the various elements in various ways. He declared all foods clean, fulfilled the requirements of all the temple-related regulations as the true Temple, and remade the people of God from nation-state to church. The Old Testament’s teaching on sexual ethics, through its restatement in the New Testament, means that it’s still binding for Christians today.

The chapter for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction is full of pastoral wisdom and encouragement. Sam reminds us that same-sex attraction doesn’t disqualify us if we’re united with Christ, and it doesn’t define us. He also has a really helpful section commending singleness for those who are unable to marry.

Sam also gives really helpful advice for churches so that they’re able to help Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction: make it easy to talk about, honour singleness, remember that church is family, deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, and provide good pastoral support.

Who I’d recommend it to: Any Christian needs to pick this up to help them engage perhaps the most challenging issue in our time. This isn’t so much a book for the atheist who has no interest in an orthodox Christian view on sexuality, but for someone in the church who is, or knows of individuals who are struggling in this area.

Notable quotes:

“It is the same for us all – ‘whoever’. I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. It is saying ‘no’ to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. To take up a cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit. It is laying down your life for the very reason that your life, it turns out, is not yours at all. It belongs to Jesus. He made it. And through his death he has bought it.

Ever since I have been open about my own experiences with homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: ‘the gospel must be harder for you than it is for me’, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything out of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.” (p.11-12)

“We live in a culture where sexuality is virtually equated with identity: “You are your sexuality”. We are encouraged to think that to experience homosexual feelings means that you are, at your most fundamental core, a homosexual. It is very easy for Christians to lose a healthy perspective on this. We can think that SSA is the issue in our Christian life, as though no other sins or struggles warranted serious attention … Yes, it has a significant effect on a number of defined areas of life, but it does not define your life.” (p.46)

When a gay couple start to come to your church:

“…It makes no difference if [the newcomers] are a gay couple, a straight couple, or anybody else. All are sinners, and all need God’s grace.” (p.64)

“…I want that conversation [about their sexuality] to take place in the context of the gospel, rather than start with their sexuality and try to get from there to the gospel. They need to know who Jesus is before being landed with what he requires.” (p.65)

On singleness:

“Those for whom marriage is not a realistic prospect need to be affirmed in their calling to singleness. Our fellowships need to uphold and honour singleness as a gift and take care not unwittingly to denigrate it. Singles should not be thought or spoken of as loose ends or need tying up. Nor should we think that every person is single because they’ve been too lazy to look for a marriage partner.” (p.68)

On a non-Christian friend coming out to you:

“Wouldn’t it be great if, of all people, it was their Christian friend they felt most able to approach? Telling us about their sexuality could be an opportunity for the friendship to deepen rather than drift apart. And taking a genuine interest is more likely than anything else to prompt questions about how we think about these matters as a believer.” (p.75)

On being an effective witness to the world:

“Key to our witness and credibility on this (or any) issue is the quality of our life together, and the clarity of our message.” (p.77)

Verdict: Highly recommended. Give it out to everyone you can at church to think through this issue with truth and love.

More info:

  • A lot of what’s in this book and more can be found on this excellent site – www.livingout.org

God’s faithfulness in self-employment

2015-02-18 09.05.37Some of you know that last year, I (William) quit my comfortable, secure full-time job in order to take a risk at being a freelancer for our own business. It wasn’t a voice from God or a sense of “call” to become a freelancer. I prayed about it, asked my family and trusted friends for advice, then decided to hand in my resignation and start the ball rolling.

Today marks a year since we started this phase of life. Looking back, we’ve really seen God provide for everything our family needed. Sure, the money doesn’t come conveniently in regular payslips. But our bills are paid, the mortgage is shrinking, we have food on the table, and we can give what we have to others. God’s also helped me to be more thankful for what we are given, where in the past I would have taken our finances for granted.

A year of living from one invoice payment to the next also helps to bring into view some of the besetting idols I had. For example, when your incoming cash goes up and down week to week a big temptation is to think more or less of yourself and your worthiness. Is my worth in the numbers on my payslip? No – the gospel tells me that my worth is only found in Jesus Christ and His righteousness. His death and resurrection means life in Him is worth infinitely more than the riches of an attractive hourly rate or a lucrative contract. And when the bank balance dips, His love and care for me does not.

Here are some other thoughts I’ve had (in no particular order):

  • I’ve never worked harder in my life. I used to think that being busy writing for a few hours each day was “flat out”. The freelance lifestyle means not just writing, but also: juggling between clients, chasing new leads, calculating tax returns, generating invoices, keeping abreast of the latest developments in the areas I write in. All this makes for busy days. Add to the fact that during the week and some evenings, I’m serving in church ministries, helping to organise church and parachurch conferences, going on family trips and bike rides, and doing some DIY projects around the home… it’s been a busy but fruitful year.
  • I need to read. The temptation in freelance life is to be constantly thinking about work projects. The Bible and good books not only feed my soul, but give me a greater appreciation for good writing (Luke sure knew how to structure a compelling narrative history!) – which in turn helps me to think harder about how to structure what I’m writing.
  • I need to pray. I’ll freely confess that my prayer life has suffered this past year. It’s probably because I don’t schedule regular time to stop what I’m doing and pray, and buy the lie that “pray without ceasing” means I can just treat God as that ongoing Facebook chat window – ask something, come back later, ignore the pop-up, say something when it’s convenient to me. I want to do better in this, because my Father delights to hear from me, and to hear me share what I’m going through express my need for Him.
  • I need regular family time. I refer to them as ‘stakeholder meetings’ when declining meeting requests from clients. Without fixing dinner at certain times and trying to stick to some routines, it would have been more difficult for us to handle this lifestyle as a family. Even in the midst of a rush job, crazy deadlines and impossible requests, it’s so refreshing to be able to sit down with my family and eat, laugh, talk, pray and worship together.
  • Time tracking is a good habit to have. I only get paid for billable work, so I need to keep accurate timesheets. But you should try, it even if you work a salaried role. You may be surprised at how much time is spent on billable, productive work, and how much time isn’t. I use Toggl but there are lots of other good options.
  • I like the variety of freelancing. Last week I did work for five different clients. It was pretty crazy, but one thing it certainly did was make me work hard for each of them, knowing that my window of delivery for each one was small. The variety is great, and I learn lots from each different project.
  • Freelancing requires good organisation and time management, just as pastoral ministry does. One of my goals during the year was to get involved in more vocational ministry, if I could. That’s had some challenges and setbacks, but I’ve learned that those who serve in gospel ministry effectively are really good stewards of their time. It’s not wasted away commenting on blogs and debating with people. It’s prioritising on what’s important, not what’s urgent. It’s recognising that the “days are evil”, and using your time knowing that the King will return, soon and very soon.

So what does year 2 of full-time freelancing look like? Hopefully the same as last year – live for God. Obey His Word. Consider others more significant. Strive for holiness in humility. Love Jesus. And as I do these things, work with all my might at whatever is in front of me, for as long as God places it in front of me, for His glory and my joy.

 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

- Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 6:25-34

Is Christ in your Christmas (carol)?

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I’m not saying that every Christmas carol needs to be a gospel presentation. But if in singing our Christmas carols, the deity, humanity, mission, and accomplishments of Christ are assumed, ignored, downplayed or revised, then our view of Christmas will be no better than that of a secular greeting card.

Someone once said, “Show me your songs and I’ll show you your theology”. Some carols are excellent in weaving together:

  • Who Jesus is – the fulfilment of long-awaited prophecies, literally Emmanuel / God with us (Matt 1:22-23)
  • Why Jesus came – “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).
  • What Jesus did – “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8)
  • How we ought to respond – “If you declare with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9-10)

On the other hand, I think there are carols out there that don’t give a clear picture of the above. Yes, they may be very uplifting to sing and have a great tune to go with them.

But if you tune out the melody and just read the words for what they are, would they be able to teach the word of Christ clearly (Col 3:16)? Or would they paint a sentimental, sanitised view that starts and ends in the surprisingly clean manger scene?

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild

Did the birth of the Son of God happen in a library? Was the Incarnation a serene event or an earth-shattering one?

It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth, To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.

Believe it or not, but in the rest of this carol there is no mention of Jesus. Is it helpful to be unclear about the source of our peace on earth?

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease

Even here, what is the gospel of peace? How does Christ cause all oppression to cease?

A question I often ask when choosing songs for gathered worship is: could a [insert different world religion] sing this song without being confronted with a Biblical view of things? Could a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness sing through all the songs in our carol service and have nothing they disagree with?

If a non-Christian can sing through a whole service full of carols and leave without seeing a clear, complete, unvarnished picture of Jesus, I think we’ve missed an opportunity to proclaim Christ in our Christmas carols.

It’s not be enough to sing something that everyone can assent to at Christmas. Whether in church services or in our communities (e.g. door-to-door carolling) we ought to be clear that Jesus was:

True God of true God, Light from Light eternal
Humbly, He enters the virgin’s womb
Son of the Father, begotten, not created (1)

He was:

Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth. (2)

His mission was clear:

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary. (3)

Our response should be:

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with his blood mankind hath bought (4)

And we should invite everyone to:

Come then to Him Who lies within the manger,
With joyful shepherds, proclaim Him as Lord.
Let not the Promised Son remain a stranger;
In reverent worship, make Christ your Adored.
Eternal life is theirs who would receive Him;
With grace and peace, their lives He will adorn.
Fall on your knees! Receive the Gift of heaven!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine! (5)

Don’t just tuck Jesus away in the manger in your carol singing this year. Let’s be sure to sing clearly about who this Child is, why He came, what He did, and how we should respond.


  1. O Come All Ye Faithful, final verse
  2. Hark the Herald Angels Sing, verse 3
  3. What Child Is This, verse 2
  4. The First Noel, final verse
  5. O Holy Night (alternate words by Kevin Hartnett), verse 3

Please pray for our church

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In God’s providence, this year has turned out to be a real rollercoaster for our home church (Howick Baptist). In March, our Associate Pastor Joe Fleener announced that after seeking much counsel and prayer, he had accepted a call to plant a church in Rolleston. I had the privilege of serving alongside him to help organise this year’s Stand Conference, before his family made the move down at the end of July.

Just last week, our Senior Pastor Peter Somervell informed the church family that he had accepted a call to lead a church in Richmond, Nelson (you can read his announcement here).

This means in the space of less than a year, our church will have lost two of our full-time teaching elders.

This will be the first church transition our family will be a part of, and it’s possible that our church will be without a Senior Pastor for much of next year.

If you could keep Howick Baptist Church in your prayers, it would be really appreciated. Specifically, please pray that:

  • That we would trust in God alone, find refuge in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and walk by the Spirit each day
  • Each of us would grow in our love for Christ, His Gospel and His church during this time
  • Peter, Francelle and their family would be able to “finish well” and be encouraged and ready to serve at their next church
  • That amid the confusion and questions, we would speak with and about one another in ways that would glorify God
  • Our elders and staff would shepherd wisely and care for the flock through the uncertain months ahead
  • The members of HBC would continue to love and care for one another during the time of transition, and that we would remain a community that loves Jesus and proclaims His good news
  • Even now, God would prepare the right person to become the next Senior Pastor, so that the message of grace and peace through Jesus Christ may continue to be proclaimed at HBC.