Our gatherings: familiar and responsive

I’m posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The previous posts  I’ve looked at the aim and shape of our gatherings. Here I turn to one of the principles that guides how we select the content.

Familiar and responsive

We want the shape and much of the content of our meetings to be familiar to regular attenders. This is because we want people to focus on God and not on the service itself. We do not want people wondering about what is going to happen next. This is how C. S. Lewis puts it:

Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And [people] don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best — if you like, it ‘works’ best — when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance … The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping … A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the questions ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste …

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Mariner Books, 2002, 4-5.)

For us this means two things.

  1. Our gatherings normally have the same shape as outlined above: (1) call: we come to worship, (2) confession: we confess our sin, (3) word: we hear God’s voice, and (4) response: we respond in faith.
  2. We choose from a fairly small stock of confessions and creeds so the wording becomes familiar to people. For other aspects of the meeting (such as the call to worship or response to the word) will draw widely on the words of Scriptures, either read or responsively, as appropriate for the themes of the meeting.

We also want our gatherings to be responsive. That is, we to gather with the expectation that God will speak to us and that we will respond. So our meetings are planned, but with response built in and with a commitment to adapt, especially after the sermon. We expect God to be at work during our gathering and we want our meetings to facilitate that work. As those leading the meeting sense the congregation responding with conviction of sin or joy in Christ or wonder at God’s glory or resolve for mission, we want to ‘steward the moment’ by allowing people to express their response or expressing it on their behalf.

Again the principles of familiarity and responsiveness may sometimes be in tension. But a familiar shape which includes time for response in familiar forms means that this tension need not normally be a problem. 

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Gospel-Centred Preaching

Gospel-Centred Preaching is the latest edition to our Gospel-Centred series. I’ve written it with my good friend Marcus Honeysett, the Director of Living Leadership.

It covers all your might expect – the goals, foundations and practicalities of preparing and delivering sermons. But here’s what I think is more distinctive about it …

  • An emphasis on capturing the affections of our hearts for Christ (rather than merely a process of education) along with an exploration of what this means in practice.
  • A focus on ensuring our preaching is always a Christ-centred proclamation of the gospel.
  • A focus on ‘letting the text do the work’ so that the text itself provide the colour and variety to your gospel proclamation.
  • A section of preparing the preacher as well as preparing the preaching.
  • A workbook format with short practical chapters that groups (like leadership teams or staff teams) can readily look at together.

The focus is on sermons, but there are also a couple of chapters on interactive Bible studies. The format is similar to other volumes in the Gospel-Centred series although Gospel-Centred Preaching is about twice as long.

You can get a good feel for the book with this glimpse inside.

And here’s a commendation:

Initial reaction: oh no, not another how-to on preaching! Reaction after reading: this is great! It is theologically informed, practical, real and God-honouring. But above all, it is really encouraging! It renewed in me both a vision and a passion for getting on with communicating God’s word.
- Mark Meynell, senior associate minister at All Souls Langham Place, London, UK.

Gospel-Centred Preaching is available from TheGoodBook.com and ThinkIVP.

Other volumes in the Gospel-Centred series are available from TheGoodBook.com  and ThinkIVP.

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Our gatherings: contemporary and traditional

I’m posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The previous posts  I’ve looked at the aim and shape of our gatherings. Here I turn to one of the principles that guides how we select the content.

Contemporary and traditional

We want our gatherings to feel contemporary and local. We recognize that this represents a challenge because there is no single local or homogenous culture. Instead there are many sub-cultures within our society. We have decided that our music should have folk or indie feel as this feels normal even by those with different personal preferences. Where do we adopt music from other cultures (for example, from the United States) we are adopting musical styles that the wider cultures also adopts so again this means this music feels normal.

At the same time, we want elements of our corporate worship to be traditional. That is, we want them to reflect a common heritage of Christian public worship as an expression of our belonging to the church across the world and across the years. In other words, some of the things we do have been done by Christians for centuries and by doing them we express our connection with them. The confessions and creeds we use are either derived from Scripture or employ wording that stretches back many centuries. Unbelievers typically expect tradition when they attend a church meeting so they rarely find these traditional elements as off-putting as we might imagine. They are more likely to be put off by innovation. Indeed usually whatever we do feels more contemporary than their expectations.

So we want to reflect the context in which we are placed and that context is both a local cultural context and the context of the worldwide church.

Clearly there may be some tension between these two aims – being contemporary and traditional. Often, though, we can resolve this by using biblical or traditional content in contemporary forms (by, for example, updating the words to modern usage or using contemporary tunes to traditional words).

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Inspector Smart and the Case of the Empty Tomb

 

I’ve had my first book for children published – Inspector Smart and the Case of the Empty Tomb: Case File.

The character of Inspector Smart was created by a member of our church, Michael Tinker. Michael has recorded a CD of related songs and created an accompanying stage show. My book is designed for 8-11 year-olds and there’s also a version for younger children. The CD and books are all published by The Good

Book Company and resources for a holiday Bible club will be available next year. There are already ten free colouring sheets.

The aim of the book is for children to explore the evidence for the resurrection with Inspector Smart. At the end they have to help Smart decide what really happened and what we must do in response.

The two Inspector Smart books and CD are available in the US from TheGoodBook.com and in the UK from ThinkIVP.

 

Here’s the video introducing the Inspector Smart tour …

 

The shape of our gatherings

I’m posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The first post looked at how we view the aim of our Sunday gatherings and the principles behind how we shape our gatherings. Here’s how we put this together to create the ‘template’ for our meetings.  

1. Call: we come to worship

We begin with a call to worship or an affirmation of God’s glory. This may take the form of songs, prayer, short readings from the Bible, liturgical readings (reading words of Scripture together) or a creed. So our opening song or songs are often addressed not to God directly, but to one another (‘Come praise and glorify our God’). Or they may praise God for his power, beauty, holiness, love, glory and so on. We are calling one another away from the worship of created things or away from the distractions of this world and back to the worship to God. This is true of creeds. When we say a creed together we are affirming together the truth about God. This is a subversive act for in so doing we are refuting the lies of this world.

2. Confession: we confess our sin

As we come before a holy God we come aware of our sin and our need of his grace. So we confess our sins and receive the assurance of grace. This can be spoken or sung. It is not that Christians are out of favour with God until we have confessed our sin. We come to the gathering righteousness in God’s sight whatever kind of week we have had. But we confess our sins to restore our relationship with God, to reaffirm our commitment to holiness and to remind ourselves of God’s grace. This act of confession and assurance normally comes after the opening worship, but may instead come as part of the response to the word when that is more appropriate.

3. Word: we hear God’s voice

The centrepiece of our gathering is hearing God’s voice through his word. This involves hearing the Bible read aloud and hearing the preaching of the word. It may also be introduced by a song or prayer asking God to speak to us through his word. We want to use the language of ‘God speaking’ to us (rather than simply ‘reading the Bible’) to convey the idea that this is more than receiving information. God himself is speaking to us in this moment, both individually and corporately. The Holy Spirit has not only spoken in the past in the writing of the Scriptures, he also speaks in the present through the reading and preaching of the word. So we want to have a strong expectation that we will hear God’s voice as we gather together.

4. Response: we respond in faith

James 1:22 says: ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ So we respond to God’s word. We may do this through song, led prayer, open prayer, confession of sin or reciting a creed. We also want a strong sense of being sent out in some form of dismissal to live the word in our everyday lives. Worship in the New Testament is to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Our sacrifice of praise is both the fruit of our lips and the fruit of good lives (Hebrews 13:15-16). Coming together recalibrates our hearts to the worship of God. But then we go out to worship him in our lives by declaring his praises to a lost world.

Stages Potential Components
1. Call:
we come to worship
song, prayer, Scripture readings, liturgical readings, a creed
2. Confession:
we confess our sin
song, led prayer, liturgical prayer, Scripture readings
3. Word:
we hear God’s voice
Bible reading, preaching, introduced by prayer or song
4. Response:
we respond in faith
song, prayer, open prayer, confession, a creed, dismissal

To help plan our gatherings we have created a list of the songs we regularly sing and organised them according to these core components and according to common themes in God’s word:

Stages:            Call, confession, assurance, word, response and dismissal.

Themes:             Christ’s kingship and exaltation, church and community, creation, cross, fulfilment, hope, incarnation, mission and the nations, prayer and petition, refuge and suffering, satisfaction in God, and the Holy Spirit.

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An evangelical theology of religions

My good friend, Dan Strange, has published his long-awaited book on other religions under the title “Their Rock is Not as Our Rock”: An Evangelical Theology of Religions.

How do we make sense of the way other religions can at times seem to reflect something of the truth yet at other times be so opposed to the truth? How can they at times be forces for good and other times violently oppose the gospel? Are their noble attempts to pursue God that merely fall short of the truth revealled in Christ or are they product of demonic activity that only deceive humanity?

Dan draws upon Reformed missiology to offer an explanation that encompasses all these realities. He develops this under the heading of ‘subversive fulfilment’. I’ve posted on subversive fulfilment before as well as drawing on the concept in Unreached.

I’m sure it will become the standard evangelical work on the subject for years to come.

“Their Rock is Not as Our Rock” is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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The aim of our gatherings

Over the coming weeks I’m going to post a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The first post looks at how we view the aim of our Sunday gatherings and the principles behind how we shape our gatherings. 

The aim of our gatherings

Our aim for our Sunday gathering is to reshape our affections by capturing the imagination and informing the mind. So it is not just about imparting information. We want a meeting that moves people to love Christ and worship him above everything else. We want people to be moved! We want emotion that arises from the truth (not truth without emotion or emotion without truth).

Our gatherings are not put together in a random fashion with various elements thrown together to pad out the time together.

1. We want the shape of our gatherings to embody the gospel

We want the component parts of a gathering to be true to the gospel. But we want more than this. We want the overall shape or flow of the meeting to reflect the gospel. Indeed we want the meeting to re-enact the gospel so that to participate in the meeting is to participate in the gospel.

So we want the shape of the meeting to embody the gospel.

  • God is beauty, truth and goodness. We are made to know him and worship him. So we begin with a call to worship and an affirmation of his glory.
  • We are sinners so we only come before God through his grace to us in Christ. So we include a time of confession and an assurance of grace.
  • We know God through his word and his word should shape our hearts and lives. So the centrepiece of our time together is hearing God through the reading and preaching of the word.
  • We respond to God revealed in his word with praise, love and service. So in our meetings we respond to God’s word in ways that are appropriate to the word we have heard. At the close of our time together we are sent out to live the word in our everyday lives.

2. We want the shape of our gatherings to be centred on God’s word

The word of God is one of the three core commitments of The Crowded House (the others being community and mission). We want to be shaped by the word and so the word is the centrepiece of our meetings. Before the Bible reading and sermon we want our meetings to prepare us for God’s word and after the Bible reading and sermon we want our meetings to enable us to respond to God’s word. There is a sense, then, in which our meetings follow the pattern of preparing for the word, hearing the word and responding to the word.

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How God Became Jesus

This week sees the release of How Jesus Became God by the controversial historian Bart Ehrman. The title summaries the argument. Ehrman argues that the man Jesus came to be called a god after his life.

The good news is that a counter argument from a group of leading biblical scholars is being published at the same time. How God Became Jesus tackles Ehrman’s argument head on to provide a defence of the historicity and cogency of the traditional doctrine of the incarnation. It’s available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

In an interview on the book, editor Michael Bird, was asked about the key ways in which he hoped How God Became Jesus would counter the arguments of Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. Here’s his reply.

There are a number of elements we want to contest or qualify. First, early views on Jesus as a “divine” figure were not just cut and pasted onto him from the polytheistic world of Clash of the Titans with Greek gods who become human or Emperors who become a god at death. Second, there is Jesus’ self-understanding. While Jesus saw himself as a prophet, he seems to have also thought of himself as more than a prophet. He spoke with a divine authority, identified himself with God’s own activity in the world, believed that in his own person he was embodying the return of the LORD to Jerusalem, and he would be enthroned right beside God in the future. Third, regarding whether Jesus was buried and his body just thrown in some ditch as carrion for scavengers, we show that the burial traditions in the Gospels have a lot more going for them than Ehrman alleges. Fourth, we strive to show that, against Ehrman, Paul did not think of Jesus as an angel who became human, but as a pre-existing being, who was part of the very identity of God. Fifth, and finally, the various challenges the early church faced in developing a grammar and framework for thinking about Jesus as fully God and fully human also need to get the proper nuance and commentary, which is not always given to them.

(Reproduced with permission. The full interview is available here.)

Michael Bird (ed.), How God Became Jesus is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

 

Deep Day on Definite Atonement

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Jonny Gibson and David Gibson will be addressing the issues raised in their major new book on the scope of the atonement, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. J. I. Packer says of the book: “A massive product of exact and well-informed scholarship . . . with landmark significance . . . I give this book top marks for its range of solid scholarship, cogency of argument, warmth of style, and zeal for the true glory of God. I recommend it most highly.”

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

Here’s a trailer for the book:

Early-bird ticket for the conference (before 1 March) – £5.00 each

Click here for more information or to book a place at the day conference.

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You Can Pray commendations

Here are some commendations for my latest book, You Can Pray (available from amazon.com and thinkivp).

“The subject of prayer can raise profound questions, fears, guilt and frustration in us all. Tim Chester answers with rich theology and practical wisdom. As ever he is Trinitarian, gospel-shaped and pastorally-hearted. By the end you won’t just believe the title, you’ll rejoice that, in Jesus, You Can Pray.” – Glen Scrivener, an ordained minister and evangelist.

“You may be thinking ‘not another book on prayer’ and so was I.  What I found was a book that challenged and stretched how and what I pray for. It was a refreshing reminder of the fundamentals of prayer and the end focus of glorifying God; however he chooses to answer our prayers.  Whether you’ve read a lot of books on prayer or none – this is well worth the read.” – Charmaine Muir, Minister for Workplace, All Souls, Langham Place.

‘A very encouraging and enjoyable read. It put a spring into my step and got me praying more than I had been.’ – Sam Allberry, Associate Minister, St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead; and author of Connected, Lifted and Is God Anti-Gay?

‘I am so grateful to Tim Chester for writing You Can Pray. It is gracious yet challenging, accessible yet theologically robust. If you’ve ever wondered why we need to pray, or how to get better at it, this book will help you enormously. In a crowded market, this is one of the few books on prayer I shall recommend unreservedly.’ – Pete Greig, founding champion of the 24-7 Prayer movement, Director of Prayer for Alpha International and Lead Pastor of Emmaus Rd church in Guildford, UK.

‘Enjoyment and prayer are words that are not normally associated together, but after reading You Can Pray you will not be able to separate them! Tim’s book is full of helpful insights into how we should pray, why we should pray and what we should pray. It’s simple to read, yet not simplistic, as it engages deeply with the biblical text and also with contemporary issues. The book addresses many of the challenges that hinder us from praying and is jam-packed full of encouragement and tips on how we can become great pray-ers. Having been in full-time Christian ministry for over twenty years, both in Africa and in the UK, I wish this book had been available when I first started out! It is a must-read for anyone who wants to make prayer easy, biblical and God-glorifying.’ – Andrew Chard, European Director for AIM International

For the next couple of weeks ThinkIVP are offering a special discount on You Can Pray for readers of my blog. Order through these links and you will get the hard copy for £6 and the ebook for £4. This offer does not apply to orders from North America.

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