?Michael Quicke is Professor of Preaching at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary near Chicago. He is the former principal (president) of Spurgeon’s College in the United Kingdom, and for a number of years was pastor of St. Andrews Street Baptist Church in Cambridge, site of the 2007 International Congress on Preaching. He was interviewed by Michael Duduit, executive editor of Preaching.
?Preaching: Michael, you were one of the first persons to be interviewed in the early days of Preaching magazine, some 20 years ago. How have your thoughts about preaching changed over the last 20 years?
Quicke: When I spoke to you then, I was passionate about preaching. And you were asking me then about the British church scene, which of course I was immersed in. So two obvious things have happened to me since then. First, I now actually know more-not as much as I would like to, but more-about the North American scene. It’s been exciting, at my stage, to come over and to be part of a very big network and to meet people I’d read or heard about. And of course going to churches, seeing it firsthand.
The other major thing was, when I was at Spurgeon’s I used to teach preaching, and it was a passion of mine; but it was a kind of hobby. Most of my time was spent administering, and I had an awful lot of traveling. I taught preaching in these large classes, and the only way to listen to students was to tape audio cassettes and listen when I was traveling and try to remember who was who and my comments.
Now I have this wonderful time, being able to read and reflect and to be able to write in areas where I’ve felt a particular passion and concern. So I’m a much more reflective preacher now courtesy of the time I’ve been given; and I’ve really gained more of an insight into the North American scene, which has been a great plus to me.
Preaching: As you’ve seen what’s going on in the North American church, what kind of influences or changes have you seen taking place in preaching?
Quicke: Obviously there’ve been some interesting trends. The strengthening of the reformed or neo-reformed movement-John Piper and folks like this. You’ve had also the so-called emergents, though it shouldn’t be lumped as all one group-you’ve had clearly a new understanding of church as community, and preaching has been very important to some of those people.
And of course living in Chicago, I’ve been very interested in Bill Hybels. Whenever people come and visit me in Chicago they still want to go up to Willow Creek. And here you’ve had this re-evaluation of the seeker movement that was, 20 years ago, the happening thing. I’ve since heard Bill Hybels himself, who’s now back as a full-time pastor, saying they recognize that preaching must not just be attractional-sharing the gospel-but it’s also developing maturity. It’s leading people in their spiritual journey.
So there’ve been some very interesting things. The backdrop, sadly, has been that many of the mainstream churches continue to decline. You can go to churches where the average age is way up there. You’ve got people who love the church but are very small in number and aging, with very few under 35.
Preaching: You wrote a very important book a few years ago called 360-Degree Leadership. What are some things pastors need to be thinking about in using preaching as a tool of their leadership in the church?
Quicke: In a sense that book emerged out of a main problem that kept cropping up. I discovered that pastors, and some who’d recently left the seminary, were so intrigued by leadership and were putting so much emphasis in going to leadership seminars and reading books on leadership, that they’d essentially left preaching. For them, preaching was not only a bit boring-in that it comes round every week-but other people were a bit bored by it. So they saw preaching as a kind of teaching thing that was about the Bible-it was important, you had to do it; but leadership was really where churches were being transformed, where there was a fresh vision.
Preaching: That’s where the romance and excitement were …
Quicke: That’s exactly it. And so you found preachers who were a little bit switched off because they failed to see the connections. And of course when you begin to look at preaching effectively in church history terms, where else do you find vision but in Scripture? Where else is there a sense of direction as a people but in Scripture? And anything that’s worked out in leadership should be based upon what you’re seeing in Scripture-it has to be fleshed out in the specifics because obviously each church has a different area of mission and commitment. But it seems to me that the preachers I’d heard had very often become very individualistic; so the “you” was nearly always singular, and people weren’t being addressed in community.
Yet preaching features the very skills that leadership demands-the ability to generate and sustain interest, to create tension, which many leadership books say is the number-one skill. As I jokingly say, many of us can generate tension; but this is creative tension. Preachers can’t opt out of leadership, not if they are teaching God’s Word. When the preacher is leading, the people hear a word that is demanding.
Preaching: I understand you’re now working on a book in the area of preaching and worship. What drew you to that?
Quicke: This is a similar thing. We’ve allowed the pastor/preacher on one side to develop work for Sundays; and in a separate box you have your worship leader, a misnomer. As soon as you call somebody a “worship leader”-and essentially they’re leading music-then you’re almost saying the worship is the music, which I think a lot of people actually do believe. You are defining worship in terms of the music you sing and the organized way in which you have your service. I mean all churches have liturgies. People tend to think liturgy must mean high church and set prayers; but of course liturgy means “work of the people,” and we all have that. So you’ve got this great danger that the preachers do their thing on one side and musicians on the other.
And the most insidious part of this is that preachers themselves can think of worship as something that’s a specialty that other people look after without realizing that worship, properly understood, is our response to God. It’s our response to God 24/7, as you know in Romans 12, living sacrifices. It’s corporately shared in church services. When they meet that’s corporate, but that’s a very minor part of what it means to be in this; and it is the same dynamic as I keep seeing: this is God as Father, Son and Spirit saying, “Join in with Us. We make worship possible actually because it’s our grace which is preached and the good news of the gospel saves and holds you.”
And as you return worship, you do it in the way in which you go to high school, conduct your affairs, run your marriage, run your bank. All these aspects, they are all worship. And preaching is worship. It’s a gift God gives us by His word that we return to Him. It works in exactly the same way. So understanding worship properly makes you realize that too often we’ve diminished
worship. We’ve made it something we do on Sundays. It’s tied in largely with music and therefore hostage to preferences, so we have our different services.
Worship is the response of the people of God, and that’s where I think the 1 Peter 2:9-10 verses are so important-that we are a called-out people. And we are corporately called out. The world needs to see us as a people who love our God as we worship but also love one another and actually evidence the fruit of the Spirit and the qualities of community growing. So it’s a little bit like leadership.
If we start defining worship as our response to God, then worship embraces preaching, yes, but also everything else. Those who prepare worship alongside the preacher-and one wants to emphasize that collaboration-are actually about something very big that is helping people respond to God in their daily lives. So it’s exciting, and it’s much bigger than I thought. I’ve really discovered more and more of my own failures in the past to understand worship and its riches.
Preaching: In your other books, the 360-Degree books, you’ve talked about a Trinitarian element of preaching and leadership. You also wrote a series of articles for Preaching magazine about a Trinitarian approach to preaching. Are you going to be re-using those Trinitarian lenses to look at the whole area of preaching and worship?
Quicke: I am. For years I had this picture that God-Father, Son and Spirit-were involved in the preaching task-intimately involved. This was God’s Word, revealed by the Father through Jesus; that Jesus continues to reign over the whole process as the Living Word, but that the Holy Spirit is the one who first breathes on Scripture. So the 360-Degrees was really about Isaiah 55:11. This is God’s Word. It would not return to Him void. It’s God’s Word-Father, Son and Spirit.
In a nutshell, I came to realize that that is our model, and it wasn’t just about preaching. This is exactly what worship is also, and preaching belongs within it. And it seemed to me, that preaching, vital though it is, is but one stream in this response to God who reveals who He is.
It’s not just what happens when we come together to worship, which so many of us tend to think about. In fact many of the books on worship, when you look at them, they will have a few paragraphs about the way in which we are living sacrifices and therefore we shouldn’t be conformed to this world-it’s the way we should live, Romans 12. But then, by default, it goes to the place of the Lord’s Supper, which by the way, I think is often underrated. Too many of us fail to understand that this is a very special way in which we are together in allegiance to Christ. But it goes back to the nitty-gritty of what happens in worship services.
So all the time, that model I had of the Father, Son and Spirit involved-360 Degrees I called it-actually refers to how worship works. Instead of saying preaching is all-important, I actually want to say worship is all-important and preaching is vital within it. Of course, some of my worship friends don’t see that; they’ve already dismissed preaching. You can do an MA in worship and spirituality in our seminary and never do anything on preaching.
I think that’s a misconception. So there is tension on the subject, and that will partly be met by understanding the Trinitarian theology that embraces it all.
Preaching: It’s even in the terminology we use. We say we have blended worship, we have contemporary worship. I love this term: classic worship. We don’t want to say traditional any more-it’s classic worship. Even the terminology is tending to say that worship is style; it’s methodology.
Quicke: Yes. And that, I suspect, is one of the real tensions about it. On my blog recently, I’ve been asking people to work this out; and I had an interesting comment from a pastor in England, saying that just because people are all together singing the same music doesn’t mean they are united; so unity isn’t just about people singing the same stuff. Of course not. In his church, because more people come than the building holds, they have to have different services anyway, so no big deal. And let’s not make a big deal that people will worship in different styles because, essentially, unity is really about mission.
Well, yes, but it raises this big issue of how can we grow in maturity and make a response in the living of our lives? There’s been quite a bit of literature recently about the ethics of our preaching and how do people responsibly make ethical decisions? [The answer is] because we have the mind of Christ, says the apostle Paul. So there’s a lot more going on than just listening to a band or listening to the organ or whatever.
And that really can only be confronted by, as you say, a realization that many of our terms are woefully inadequate. Like the debate on worship leader-really that ought to be called perhaps the music leader because worship leader is a big term when the preacher needs to actually take much more responsibility. If that term is going to be used, it should be a term for the senior pastor who understands and is leading people into His presence. As God’s Word is heard, he’s a visible witness to the reality of the God who calls that community into a new sort of thing.
I was at a conference a few weeks ago, and the anger from the pastors of that conference-I mean anger-about the way in which some people in their worship teams were so proud and awkward to deal with. I know plenty of pastors who are like that, too! But there’s a strong sense that this has gotten out of hand, and we’re missing it.
I think we’re in a dangerous place sometimes. Often the language can be fine-we’re about giving glory to God. And yet when it comes down to it, we’re pretty passionate about gaining something that satisfies ourselves, that grows the church as we perceive it-and it doesn’t change people one bit.
One of the things worship books talk a lot about is spiritual formation. But what’s interesting is that they’re often only about integrating individuals into a church. How do you make sure people understand this and also encourage them to belong to a wider fellowship? That’s a vital dimension that’s often missing.
But the complementary dimension is how do we then encourage people to realize they belong together? There’s got to be something to do with small groups as well as the larger ones. It’s got to be about a closeness of responsibility. We’re back to this business that Jesus dealt with small groups in the early church, and they met in one another’s homes. It’s got to be about this accountability of who we are. We ought to be helping one another to live as a community of called-out people.
Preaching: There is a sense in many of our churches that when the musicians sit down, the worship is over. How are we to help people get past that misconception unless we teach what worship is?
Quicke: That’s exactly it. And in the book as I’ve been working on it, the last section is about preachers and others involved in worship seeking a unity of mind and heart. Seeking unity of mind clearly involves honesty about what worship is, and some churches even have developed core values expressing what we understand about worship. You can lay out some big ideas:
worship is not just what we do on a Sunday, or it’s not your choice as to classic or contemporary.
But if you as a leader go through this, it can be a very painful process because clearly you are laying foundations. If you don’t lay those foundations as leaders, then people will never get it and see it. One has to teach about worship in its glory, its full glory, and in that way encourage people.
One of the paradigms, one of the models I use, is of The Truman Show, which I think was a great, iconic movie. Truman, played by Jim Carrey, lives entirely in this world that he was born into 30 years ago. It’s all self-contained, and at the end in this boat he suddenly hits the wall. He gets out and he sees that door marked EXIT. It seems to me that so often we’ve placed both our preaching and our understanding of worship within a very limited dome. We don’t think it’s limited. But actually we need to open that door, and it’s a big task for preachers to help.
One of the very practical issues that has intrigued me is the way in which very often the preacher, the senior pastor, has never really sat down with worship leaders in order to talk about some sense of common vision, even how they should work. I mean, when they’re appointed, say, there’s a kind of meeting of minds. It seems sometimes the preachers have been doing their thing in
parallel. “This is the Scripture text for Sunday, this is the theme I’m doing, go to it, make it work.”
Preaching: “You do your part and I’ll do mine.”
Quicke: “You do your part. That’s what you’re paid to do and you’re good at doing it and you’re looking after the music, and I can’t do that … .” But I believe very strongly that the senior pastor should be involved. I’ve sat and planned a service with a worship leader who had been doing this for years, and we had prayer. This worship leader said, “That’s the first time any pastor has prayed with me about the service.” So there’s a bit of work to be done, even practically; and wouldn’t it be great to have some humility on all sides in the face of the great God we serve? Just to begin to open our eyes that we’ve diminished this thing called worship.
A podcast interview with Michael Quicke is available that covers additional topics not included here; you can find it at https://www.preaching.com/media/podcasts/.