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Whole Life Preaching 2023

This weekend I have enjoyed sharing the teaching on our School of Preachers weekend with Anthony Billington, who brings his experience with the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity to our Whole Life Preaching weekend.

One of the challenges that preachers face is seeking to preach in a way that roots what is preached in God’s word but then lands that message in the everyday lives of the hearers.

We began by looking at the experience of Daniel and his three friends as they navigate their first days at the Babylon “University” in Daniel chapter 1.

I am always struck by how Daniel and Joseph are two of the few biblical characters who escape censure for their behaviour. They are biblical heroes, even though they are not the usual Christian hero material: pastors, preachers, and missionaries.

The life of Daniel is a powerful reminder that being godly is not incompatible with getting your hands dirty in the everyday life of politics. Members of our churches spend six days a week largely involved with what we call secular activity, but the vision of Whole Life Preaching seeks to collapse the difference between sacred and secular.

Two key passages in the letter to the Colossians form the beating heart of this this idea.

“He (Jesus) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

When we preach Jesus, we remember that he dignified the world of work by taking his place in the carpenter’s shop. It is striking to see how often he uses earthy, everyday images in his teaching. He is calls himself the good shepherd, he commissions his disciples to fish for men and urges his hearers to be like a wise builder.

I had an older man called Hector in my first congregation. Two of the things I remember of my visits was firstly seeing him hoover the bird cage in his house, while the budgie was still in it. Mercifully the budgie survived. Then secondly hearing him talking about his own life as a carpenter. Hector used to tell me, that whenever he finished a job, he would ask himself, “Would Jesus the master carpenter be pleased with this job?”

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16–17)

I like the image of allowing the text of Scripture to live in the preacher and for the preacher to live in the text. When this happens on a regular basis it will produce what Miroslav Volf describes as adoration and action. Paul in Colossians brings these two things together: the worship that preaching produces is displayed by lip and life.

The words “whatever you do in word or deed” bring devotion to the whole of life: praying a prayer, preaching a sermon, singing a song, but also cooking a meal, painting a picture, or digging the garden.

Preaching for Paul is proclaiming all of Jesus for the whole of life.

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