It was good to attend the annual FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) conference in Blackpool last week. This is the first such gathering since 2019 so it was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and make a few new ones. This first annual conference since Covid was particularly special as it coincided with the centenary of the formation of the FIEC in 1922.
The brief Letter of Jude was chosen as the biblical soundtrack for the conference. The FIEC National Director John Stevens set the tone for the conference in the first session with a poignant message on Jude 1–16, which highlighted the need to be faithful in our engagement with Scripture. John reminded us of the need for this engagement to address the theological, moral and cultural issues of our day.
The conference ended with a stirring sermon by Julian Hardyman of Eden Baptist Church in Cambridge on the concluding doxology in Jude 24–25. This sermon thoroughly and sensitively spoke of the practical implications for our Christian life of the hope that we share in Christ.
This sermon reminded me of a thought-provoking section in one of the seminars at the conference. Yannick Christos-Wahab spoke on creating meaningful partnerships across cultures. The demographic of the conference was predominantly white, male and British, so it was good to have a session like this that addressed the need to understand, welcome and incorporate people from different cultural backgrounds into our churches.
Yannick helpfully spoke about the difference of style between how black and white preachers typically conclude their sermons. He suggested that the primary British white expository approach tended to conclude with application in the form of a to-do-list.
By contrast the typical black preacher tended to conclude by accentuating hope.
It was suggested that the reason for this could be found in a background where blacks were marginalised, oppressed, and continually told what to do. In such circumstances the hearers did not need yet another to-do-list but a sense of hope that things could change.
This reminded me of my friend Anthony Billington’s suggestion that a better word for what we want to draw out at the end of a sermon is not so much application as implication.
Sometimes the takeaway from a sermon is not something we need to do but something we can see, be or feel. It might be seeing the beauty of Jesus, being aware of who we are in Christ, or feeling the love of the Father who has adopted us into his family.
Julian’s concluding sermon helped me remember in a fresh way the implications of being in the hands of one able to keep me from falling into folly, trouble and sin, and present me “before his presence without fault and with great joy.” It was the kind of sermon that was forensically heart-searching but so tender that it sent us away from Blackpool with smiles on our faces.
Urgent and joyful: maybe those are the two notes that preachers need to sound more often?