Panel Question Time (Basics 2024)
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Panel Question Time (Basics 2024)

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 3664)

In this Q and A session, Rico Tice, Alistair Begg, and Sinclair Ferguson respond to questions from the attendees of the Basic Conference. Listen to these men laugh and teach together as they offer a gold mine of practical wisdom. Among other topics, they discuss their individual callings to pastoral ministry, the advantages and disadvantages to denominational ties, plagiarism, corporate worship, and words of concern and advice for the upcoming generation of pastors.

Series Containing This Sermon

Basics 2024

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23522

Sermon Transcript: Print

Matt Ross: All right. Well, good morning. Good morning. Welcome back to this third and final day of Basics. It’s been a good few days, hasn’t it? Yeah.

Well, this morning, we’re excited to be able to hear from our speakers through a question-and-answer time. I do want to thank those of you who submitted questions. There were so many helpful things written in. I doubt we’ll have time to cover everything, but we’ll try to get through as many as possible.

The way the Q and A is going to work is I’ll address certain questions to specific ones of you, but any of you can chime in as you feel led. Other questions will be for all three of you.

So, before we start, I thought we’d just pause and pray. So we pray:

Our Father in heaven, we thank you that your mercies are new to us each and every morning.[1] We thank you for your kindness in allowing us to gather like this today and to be sharpened in how we think about the Christian life and in how we think about pastoral ministry. Lord, we commit this time to you, and we ask that you would guide each one of us here on this panel by your Holy Spirit. And, Lord, we ask that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts would be pleasing in your sight[2] and helpful to our brothers here. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, this first question is for all three of you. This comes from a younger man, and he writes that “Alistair made mention of his own flight of fancy with the parchments from 2 Timothy 4.[3] What exactly would you say were those parchments?”

Sinclair Ferguson: Is this on? Well, I actually do know the answer.

Matt: I figured that you would.

Sinclair: Yeah. Yeah. You’d probably better all write this down: they were parchments.

Matt: That’s good. That’s good.

Sinclair: But that said, and adding to what Alistair said (without contradicting, of course!), it just struck me recently that when Paul wrote… I happened to be working on one of his letters, and it struck me: when he wrote it, a copy would have been kept of it, A, because that’s what people did, and, B, I suspect that some of that material was also copies perhaps not only of his letters, but since Peter clearly had access to copies of Paul’s letters, there may have been copies of other things as well—in addition to all that Alistair said. So, you know, many of us, at sem, we were brought up on the question of the Gospels and Q, so we need to reintroduce the Begg theory of “the Gospels and P”—not J, D, E, and P but M, M, L, J, and P.

Matt: Insightful. Yeah, helpful.

Alistair Begg: I would just add to that… I would add to that… (Do you have my microphone on? Here? Okay, sorry. I beg your pardon.) I just want to add that I agree with him. Yes.

Matt: Well, on a more serious note, Rico, this question is for you.

Rico Tice: Should I just throw one thing on there?

Matt: Oh, please do.

Rico: I just think what is interesting, when you’re trying to help people come to faith—the two areas of keeping on saying, “This is inspired by God but written by men,” and, just as they come to faith, getting clear the dual authorship of Scripture: God has breathed it out,[4] but here are real men writing this material and what they went through, but the Lord’s hand was behind it. I think that’s very important to introduce them to the doctrine of Scripture early on, you know, as they’re coming to faith. And I thought it was a fascinating insight into that as he wants them to come. And how are they being mentored in their writing, as men of their time, but the Lord’s behind it? And let’s be teaching that to people as they come to faith.

Matt: That’s good.

Well, Rico, this is a question for you. This question reads, “It seems that most churches have a proclivity either toward evangelism or discipleship but seldom both. How can a church balance its breadth in evangelism and its depth in discipleship?”

Rico: Oh, brother!Well, if I talk about the UK, I think we’re at a once-in-five-hundred-year moment. So, the early church, the big issue is “Who is Jesus? Is he fully man and fully God?” Obviously, the Reformation is “Why did Jesus die?” We’re now at the point “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” And therefore, the key word is repentance. That is the key word. And I think both in our discipleship and in our evangelism, we’ve got to hold our nerve and keep teaching repentance, knowing that as we call people to repent, God regenerates their hearts. So, 2 Timothy 2:24. Acts 11:18: the Lord “granted” them repentance. So as I say, “Stop it, brother! Well, mate, no, that’s not right,” I trust the Holy Spirit to be convicting them and calling them to repent.

So, what I’d say is: I think the battle is over repentance. The Church of England, my home church, is breaking up over repentance. At the moment at Canterbury Cathedral—so, that is the lead building in the whole denomination for seventy million Anglicans—David is married to David, who is [dean] of the cathedral. So, that’s no repentance. So I would say as you’re balancing the two and as we see what the cultural battle is, that is the word we’re fighting for.

The second worth is wrath—that actually, it’s God’s settled, controlled, personal hostility to evil. So I think the two things that define both discipleship and evangelism is our faithfulness to wrath and repentance.

Two Rs! Two Rs, everyone! Wrath and repentance. Yeah.

Matt: Alistair and Sinclair, this pastor writes, “In your opening messages, you spoke on the solemn and holy call to pastoral ministry. Can you describe your initial call into the ministry and provide any helpful word to those exploring such a call?”

Sinclair: Yeah, I can’t date this, but it did happen at one totally specific moment—I think when I was sixteen. I can so not date it that I can’t even remember whether I was sixteen or seventeen, but I would have been a Christian for a couple of years. And I have no memory of ever thinking what I would do, despite all those people when we were growing up who’d say, “What are you gonna do, son, when you grow up?” And I, even when I was examined for the ministry, I was actually asked the question, “What will you do if we turn you down?” And I’m sure I sounded very arrogant to a couple of men, who got really angry with me when I said that “the thought has never crossed my mind. I don’t know what I would do.” And I invented a couple of things. I said, “Well, maybe I’d be a journalist or a detective.” And that’s more or less the same thing as being a pastor.

But I was just standing somewhere in the church I attended, which was at the end of the street, and a lady in the congregation asked a boy I knew, who was more or less a contemporary, what he was going to do. And he said, “I’m going to be a minister.” And I didn’t know this about this boy, but it was as though a light had been turned on in my life or someone had put the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place, and I thought, “Well, that’s it.” And it was really as simple as that.

You know, I still had to learn, then, as I think I said on Monday night, that there’s at least a triple dimension in a call to the ministry. So, you know, somebody asked me the other day, you know, whether I had any regrets or anything. And I think I would say: no, it was pretty straightforward from then. Although when I began to sit under Mr. Still’s ministry, it was very obvious to me from his ministry that it could be a desperately costly thing. And so there were challenges on the way.

What I don’t know is: Could I have survived—the answer is no—could I have survived without the encouragement of God’s people? Because I wasn’t naturally disposed to a public life. You know, down in here, I’m very shy. My father was almost paralytically shy, and, you know, I still see that coming out. And America has been good for me, because Americans don’t allow you the same private space as other people do. But the encouragement of the people of God has really been a tremendous thing to me. It was really helpful to me early on that people confirmed that, you know, I hadn’t lost my head. And that has been true all the way through.

So, you know, a couple in the Tron—the church that Alistair and I know well, where Terry McCutcheon is—were in the building the night I was converted. And he went to be with the Lord just a few years ago. And I think about people like that, who must have heard me in my earlier days and wondered what planet I’d come from, who loved me and stayed with me and encouraged me. And so, that aspect of the encouragement of the people of God has meant just worlds to me.

And I’m pretty sure that though I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to express to people how much they have meant to me in the course of my ministry. Because they seem… I guess because they look at me while I’m looking at them, and they don’t think I’m looking at them. Congregations don’t seem to understand that if they can see us, we can see them and are looking at them. And we take in—I think we can take in a tremendous amount about our congregation just by keeping our eyes open and our ears open. And so the people of God have just been such a help and encouragement to me in that respect.

Matt: Alistair, similar?

Alistair: What was the question?

Matt: Just describing your own call into the ministry and how younger men maybe can think through that sense of calling.

Alistair: Yeah. The youngest fellow I’ve met here is sixteen, and the youngest pastor I’ve met has just begun in January. He’s twenty-four. And so there are a number of young men here, which is wonderfully exciting.

I was sitting at lunch at LBC. You could sit up at the faculty table if you were brave enough or foolish enough. And on a particular Monday I was sitting up there. I was my third year into our studies, so it was going to come to an end, and I had deviated from course and gone there out of a deep sense that I had my life completely organized for myself the way I wanted it—that I knew the girl that I wanted to marry, I knew the car I wanted to drive, and I knew what I wanted to do. And I had faxed that to God—in the old days you could fax—asking for his signature. He sent back a blank sheet and said, “If you’ll sign your name at the bottom, I will fill in the top part for you.” That’s the metaphor.

So, now I was very amenable to the idea of serving God in whatever capacity, but definitely not in pastoral ministry. I had had—Sinclair alludes to it—a lot of ministers in our home because my parents’ hospitality to them. I was often left Sunday, once the lunch was being prepared, and some little minister was sitting next to me, and he would do that, you know: “What are you going to be, sonny?” You know, “Maybe you’ll be a minister too!” you know. It’s like, “No! No! No!” That’s scary! That is so scary!

Now, I should say: It’s not because I didn’t love these guys. I loved them. If I went to church, I always wanted to shake hands with the minister. It wasn’t that at all. But it just seemed, like, way out there.

It’s lunchtime. We’re having a conversation, talking about the weekend. I volunteer to the group that I don’t like doing these youth weekends anymore. They said, “Well, why not?” I said, “Well, you go there…” We had just come back from Bournemouth on the South Coast, myself and a guy who was an evangelist with MWE. And we come back… And I said, “Because you go on Friday, you meet a group of people that you’ve never met before, you are engaged with them over a period of about forty-eight hours or whatever else it is, you say goodbye, you get in your car, and you drive away somewhere.” And John Belchem, one of the guys—had really Coca-Cola glasses. He always squinted when he looked at you. (Because, you know, he was looking at me, but I was also looking at him!) And… (Amazing, that, isn’t it? No wonder they asked, “What planet are you from?” Sorry. Sorry.)

Sinclair: I was never very good at physics.

Alistair: No. And so he says to me, “And I can tell you why that is.” Just like that. And I said, “Why is that?” He said, “Because I believe that God has given you a pastor’s heart—the heart to invest somewhere and stay.”

I got up from the table, I went back to my room, and I wept. Because it was like a sword in the back of my neck and a huge door opening in front of me. I was twenty-three years old. There’s no place to go, unless you’re an Anglican or a Presbyterian in the Free Church. There were two churches I knew of. Steve Brady went to the one in Leicester—Leicester Evangelical Church. And then there was a guy called Derek Prime in a church in Edinburgh. I won’t go into all the details of that. But against the run of play, I was invited to go up to be with Derek. And the understanding was that if, in the course of time, the eldership and the congregation felt able to confirm that sense of call in the context of that congregation, then we would proceed to do that.

And in terms of the pieces in that puzzle that have gone on, I concur with that. I’m not sure what the threefold dimension is, but there are multiple dimensions to that. But on the day that I was ordained, which is the second Sunday of October in ’76, Derek said to me—’cause we still wore clerical collars—and Derek said to me, “If you are ever going to wear a clerical collar, you should wear it on the day of your ordination, because that will mark it, and you can go on from there.” I thought, “No.”

So, anyway, I went to George Street, and I went in, and I got one, and I got the stock, and I took it home to the flat where we lived. And I was in there by myself, and I was trying it on. And I had it on, and in the door comes Sue and one of my sisters. And I turn around, and all they do is just fall around the floor laughing. They thought it was the funniest thing they ever saw in their life—which was a great encouragement to me.

And I don’t mean this in any stupid way, but when I stood up there in that act of ordination and the laying on of hands, if I’d been stark naked, it wouldn’t have been any more devastating to me than it was to stand up there in that thing. Because for me, it was—there was no going back from this one. There was no going back from it. Wherever I was going—I don’t know where I was going, but I wasn’t going back. And so that sense of call, it continues…

Sinclair: You remember how difficult these things were to put on at the back.

Alistair: With the button thing?

Sinclair: Yeah, the button things.

Alistair: Yeah, yeah.

Sinclair: So I was—a moment of comic relief here—I had put my car in the shop to get a service, and I was coming back on the top of a corporation bus in Glasgow. I was reading my book and had my hand out like this with the money for my fare in it. And I heard—I felt my hand being pushed back and this little Irish voice saying, “Just put it away, Father.” So, I’ve never confessed this in public, but I think I cheated Glasgow Corporation under masquerading as a Roman Catholic priest.

Matt: That’s good.

Rico: I think it’s interesting on motivation to get ordained. Uncle John—John Stott—used to say there are three motivations: love for people, love for truth, but the interesting one was the third, anger—anger that the truth is not being taught; anger that in a community, the Bible is not being expounded; there isn’t an undershepherd there.

And I think that… So, you know, I got converted at this boarding school. I found that the school chaplain really was not a believer. There was another gospel being preached. And very quickly I just thought, “This is outrageous!” I had contemporaries who all think they’re going to heaven, and they’re not, but they were told at confirmation, “You were given a ticket. You’re going to go to heaven.” So I do think, you know, part of, for me, the driver of ordination was the anger of the defilement of the truth. And I think that’s the motivation too. If you feel that anger, then—I mean, obviously we’ve got to love the church family, we’ve got to love our enemies, but there is that sense of “The truth has got to be taught.”

Matt: That’s good. You all three seem to mention the significance of the church, the people of God, in that call. Yeah. That’s helpful.

This next question reads that “the three of you have served in different denominational settings. What are the benefits and potential detriments of serving within a denomination or nondenominational context?”

Rico: Well, Lloyd-Jones was right. So, 1967, there was Uncle John and Lloyd-Jones, and he called the Anglicans out. And at that stage they didn’t come out, because there was a real sense of “We could win the Church of England.” But I think when I look at the Church of England leadership now and the apostasy of the senior bishops—with glorious exceptions—I can’t see how people can remain in. So, I think that I just look at the Church of England and the incredible—you know, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the incredible legacy, the doctrines, the liturgies, which is what we have there. But we have—this is the key—brothers, we have ordained people who should never have been ordained. They should have been… There’s got to be church discipline. And I just say this with grief. I just look at my denomination. We just haven’t exercised church discipline in who we ordain! And when you do that, you end up institutionalizing sin. So, repentance isn’t being taught properly. So, I just—please learn the warning of the Church of England, and I’m sure the Church of Scotland would echo that. But I think that’s what I’ve seen very briefly as I’ve moved to the Presbyterian Church: there’s a much, much stronger sense of church discipline in who is allowed to be an elder and, indeed, be the pastor.

Alistair: As someone who doesn’t fit either of these categories, as an observer, I would say there’s tremendous advantages in being, for example, within historic Presbyterianism, insofar as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the structures and framework of things, when believed and applied, provide framework, provide stability, provide the wider dimensions of pastoral care that go beyond even the local congregation. In the Anglican Church, as Rico knows—I mean, if the church was committed to the Thirty-Nine Articles, if they actually believed the things that were foundational documents, then things would be markedly different.

In our situation, or in a situation that may be akin to some others, there are peculiar dangers that attach to being disengaged in a formalized way from other people. The key is, I think, if you’re in a context like this, that you are not constitutionally disengaged from these people, that you’re not “independent” in your mentality.

When I read Dallimore’s second volume on Whitefield—and Whitefield found himself, you know, roaming around on his horse and preaching in different places, and then they were getting in touch with him from England and saying, you know, “You shouldn’t be in that place. That’s not the place for you to be.” And Dallimore, rightly or wrongly, says that Whitefield was actually operating on the basis of evangelical unity—a unity that was grounded in his convictions, irrespective of the sort of larger denominational structure.[5]

And I think one of the benefits of what is illustrated right here is that here three of us sit. And perhaps the classic of all of our Basics was when it was Derek Prime, Dick Lucas, and Eric Alexander. And they sat up here, each of them from very different backgrounds, and yet the three of them had never, ever done anything together in their entire lives. And each of them actually had more in common with each other than they had out of the context from which they had emerged. So there’s pluses and minuses, I think.

Sinclair: Yeah, my ordination is in the “ARP” denomination, which most of you haven’t heard of. It’s the “Ancient, Right Presbyterian Church.” And it’s the group that nixed Whitefield and said, “You preach with us in Scotland and nobody else.” And that was when, in Scotland, Whitefield took the line: “I’m not prepared for that kind of exclusivity.”

Personally, I think I’m probably a kind of congregational-type Presbyterian, in the sense that I think every true church of Jesus Christ has, in essence, all that it needs to be the church in that place—or, by God’s grace, will grow into it. And sometimes that depends on… For example, John Owen thought the perfect size for a church was maybe about three hundred and something. If you had a lot less than that, you might lack gifts. If you had a lot more than that, there were other kinds of challenges.

And, I mean, it does seem to me that the New Testament teaches us that local churches should be presbyterian in the sense that they should be governed by elders, and we know at least of one congregation in the New Testament actually had deacons and another congregation that at least was going to appoint deacons.[6] And at that level, I think, I mean, even among the three of us, even when Rico was in an Anglican church, there would have been a pretty high level of commonality, in the sense that our local churches were governed that way.

The strength of presbytery is that there are structures in place that open the local congregation to other congregations. The weakness of presbytery is that there are structures in place. And my sense of church life in general, throughout church history, is that from very early on, ecclesiology has always tended towards hierarchy, and in episcopacy, that hierarchy has been formalized. But in every other connectionalism, it eventually becomes formalized and sometimes structured in people and boards. And I think I, by God’s grace, managed to mortify my dislike of session meetings in the Presbyterian Church, but I never managed to mortify my dislike of presbytery meetings—and even less synod meetings. So, I would be happy with the general assembly of the saints in glory meeting once in eternity and not annually on earth.

Matt: That’s good. That’s good.

Well, this is a preaching question. This question reads, “Where is the line in preaching between being influenced by a commentary and plagiarizing a commentary?”

Rico: Well, brother, wouldn’t you just say, “I found this to be a great help”? You know, you just say—I’ve nicked a lot of these men’s sermons—I say, “Well, Sinclair was a help on this.” Is that right? Maybe I’m wrong. Don’t you acknowledge? I mean, I’ve got dyslexia. I got a third at university. I’m not great at getting structure. And I just need my brothers to really help me. It’s not that I don’t work at it; I just find there’s an amazing clarity that they can give me. But I just need to acknowledge that. Is that right? I don’t know. Tell me if I’ve got that wrong.

Alistair: Yeah, well, what do they say? That if you put footnotes, it’s research, and if you don’t, it’s plagiarism. I mean, it can be… I launched into doing 1 Samuel, which was like jumping off the end of a diving board into something not knowing how deep the water was, and pretty quickly I realized, “I need help on this stuff”—just the structure of it, the way it unfolded. And Christopher Ash was on the phone, and he said, “Do you have Woodhouse?” And I said, “Yeah, I just found it.” He said, “He’s your man.” And so, Woodhouse basically taught 1 and 2 Samuel to Parkside Church. And he actually… He actually… There’s no plagiarism.

When I had him here at Basics, I said to our congregation, “Do come.” We had him preach on Sunday. I said, “’Cause here’s the voice behind the voice.” But what I didn’t know was that he had already, for some other reason, begun to listen to Parkside online. And he got in touch with me to say that he was thoroughly enjoying my stuff! And I wrote to him and said, “Well, of course you were enjoying it. It’s your stuff!” You know?

No, I mean, we can’t… I mean, yeah, we’ve got to watch that. I mean, my most memorable recollection of this—and I’ve told this before—but I decided I wanted to try and explain the human responsibility and, you know, divine foreordination, and I was going to do that on a Sunday evening. And I got to—I don’t know whether it was Saturday afternoon or whatever it was—and I looked at what I’d written down, and I said, “This is Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer. I mean, this is so J. I. Packer that there’s no way to disguise this. I should just read the book.”

And then I thought, “I’m going to phone that man up.” So I phoned him up and said, “Dr. Packer, you don’t know me, but I heard you at the Tron when you did Keep in Step with the Spirit.”

And he says, “Go ahead. Go ahead.”

And I said, “I’ve got all my notes in front of me. It’s Sunday’s tomorrow. I’ve got to do this thing. It’s all your stuff.”

He says, “Dear brother, we cast our bread upon the water.[7] I have cast the bread upon the water. If you can feed on it and pass it on, do it without any fearfulness at all.”

And so I stood up, and I told the congregation, “Here’s my best work at précising J. I. Packer. If you want the full notes, you’ll find them in his book.” But, yeah, I think it’s good for us all to acknowledge how dependent we are on different people at different times. I mean… And sometimes it’s just little things that… But you never, we never… I don’t want to… I can’t preach like Sinclair. But when I have something really good, you know, I look at the congregation and go, “That was really good.” And they go, “Yeah, it was probably Sinclair.” So, I mean, they know. They know. “There’s a good bit coming,” you know. But when I’ve stopped, I’m actually reading, it’s probably that I’ve been benefited from.

Sinclair: You know, I can only bear so much responsibility for the chaos you create. Yeah.

I think I would say three things—or two things and a poem.

Maybe the first is this: that I do think our congregations discover over a period of time that we didn’t make all this up ourselves. But it would become an irritant to them if we kept saying to them, “As Alistair Begg says…” “As Rico Tice says…” And in general terms, I would say there may be times it’s appropriate to acknowledge something that is uniquely the insight of an individual and not pretend it was your insight. But what is catholic truth is shared by us all. So, you know, I think that’s the first thing I would say.

I think maybe the second thing I would say is that in recent years—and maybe it’s just, like, where I hang around—I have been struck by the sense that younger ministers are using commentaries less and listening to other people’s sermons more. And that actually alarms me, because they are more likely to be plagiarizing the best—the juicy points—in Alistair’s sermons, whereas if they’re working with commentaries, they are left with at least the challenge of transposing the world of the architect’s office into the world of the hard hat, which is the life of the church.

And probably I’d better drop the poem. Since it wasn’t by Simon and Garfunkel, nobody in this crowd will recognize it.

Alistair: Oh, are you going to do the Spurgy poem?

Sinclair: No. No. Well, is that what you thought I was going to do?

Alistair: I thought you were going to do Spurgy.

Sinclair: In that case, at the special request of Alistair:

There was a young preacher called Spurgy
Who hated the church’s liturgy,
But his sermons are fine,
And I use them as mine,
As do most of the Anglican clergy.

Alistair: There you go.That’s good.

Matt: That’s good.

Well, that last part kind of ties into this next question in some ways. This question reads, “As you look to the future and a younger generation of pastors coming behind you, what are things that encourage you and things that concern you with younger men in ministry?”

Sinclair: What encourages me is that they’re there and that they take the task seriously. I think, to be honest, what discourages me is two things. One is—well, three things really. One is the amount of social media to which they tend to expose themselves. The second is the amount of time they spend on social media. So I’ve kind of—I’ve got a kind of mantra. Every posting, every video, whatever you do, that you’re not being asked to do by your elders in some fashion or another is one less widow in the congregation who has been visited. And you’re paid to visit her. You’re not paid to establish your own reputation. And by and large, the world is not waiting for your perspective. So that has really become a concern to me. But it really involves self-discipline.

And the other thing, I think, that is really important to understand is that the people to whom you look, like Rico or Alistair or whoever it is to whom you look, did not arrive there by what they are doing now. So what you need to learn from them, if you can, is not “How can I get where he is by imitating what he is doing now?” but “What happened in his life that led him there?” And I am actually not a good reader. I’m a very bad reader. Alistair is a hundred times better a reader than I am. But I think one of the things I’ve noticed is the extent to which, with some people in particular, younger men read the books that they refer to without asking the question, “What were the books they read that made them what they are now?” And I think that’s a matter of not thinking that you become what older men have become without the long and arduous and hard-working task of the process of becoming.

Matt: That’s good. Yeah. Anything you would offer?

Alistair: I think that’s a good answer. Yeah.

Rico: Yeah, I think 1 Corinthians 9 is very interesting—just echoing Sinclair’s point about the widows being visited, or the one-to-ones that Richard was, I think, so helpfully highlighting. I think 1 Corinthians 9 says, “all things to all men to win as many as possible.”[8] And that’s a real energy statement. And the next passage is “I beat my body and make it my slave.”[9] So if you’re not self-disciplined in your personal life, you don’t have time to go out and reach for others. And so much of ministry is that personal relationship.

And then it’s the tiny gestures that hold church life together—the text, just the remembered birthday, or “I know it was three years ago that you lost your husband, Margaret,” or, you know, just the remembered things. But that takes a self-forgetfulness. You’ve got to be organized on the back stage so that you’ve got time to reach out.

And I totally echo the social media point. We’ve got to be visiting people and getting the Bible open, because that’s where the power is—with the widow and with the younger man. And, you know, I do worry that social media just consumes us, because it’s designed to do that. It actually releases stuff in our brains that will hold us in.

So, yeah, let’s keep 1 Corinthians 9 and those two passages going together: “All things to all men to win as many as possible.” Next passage: have the discipline of the athlete, of the boxer.

Matt: That’s good.

This next question reads, “During this conference, we’ve mentioned Derek Prime’s name on multiple occasions. He, along with Alistair, writes in the book On Being a Pastor that pastors ‘should never forget that no matter how much we might wish it otherwise, we are the natural focus of people’s visual attention. … We should set a good example of entering wholeheartedly into whatever is sung.’[10] Any word you’d offer on how a pastor thinks through and participates in corporate worship?”

Alistair: Well, I alluded to it just in passing last evening, or whenever it was. I think it is vitally important that the person who has the preponderance of the opening up of Scripture is organically involved in the framework of those church services, whatever place they may have in the public dimension of it or not. As a church sings, so it really goes. I mean, the things that, if you go into a congregation where it starts with, you know, man and his need rather than God and his glory—I mean, from the very opening of the thing, the orientation has been skewed in a direction. And I’m not sure that the congregation is able to navigate, is able even to distinguish that, necessarily. And therefore, those who are entrusted with the privilege of leading the praise—for me, I have a very close relationship with that all the time, partly out of a sense of self-preservation.

I mean, when I came to America, this was a completely different world for me. I never… I mean, for six years, it was: I spoke to the organist, and we chose—I told him what my hymns were. He came in twenty minutes early, put them up on a board on the side: “Hymn 322” and so on. But my approach to the text of Scripture… And it’s true to this day that I’m just scribbling all the time in the margins of what I’m doing with hymns and songs that come to mind. And I don’t demand that those things are then used, but between myself and those who lead it, I’m involved in that.

You know, Spurgeon said you can let somebody else preach for you, but don’t let him do your pastoral prayer.[11] That’s a very interesting insight, and it’s akin to what Rico’s referencing here. And it actually is one of the ways in which the notion of affection is actually conveyed: not simply in the opening up of Scripture but the fact that there is that engagement. I mean, to our credit—but not so that we would blow our horn—but one of the things that comes back to us from the people who are online watching our services in various parts of the country, wherever else it is, they say, “It’s quite remarkable: you actually mention people’s names before you pray for them.” Well, of course we do! I mean, they’re our people.

So, the place of Scripture, the reading of the Bible, the choosing of the hymns—everything—I would be regarded as a bit of a neanderthal, I think, when it comes to this in this context. The worst of it is… And I remember in the early days, I went to a place, and the guy that led the praise also played, like, a saxophone or something, and he had it round his neck, and every so often he would burst into playing this thing. And, you know, I didn’t know what to do except grab the saxophone and throw it somewhere, but… And it was all heavily programmed, and he said, you know, “And you have twenty-seven minutes.” I said, “How much time you got for your saxophone, by the way?” you know.

So, it’s Deuteronomy 4: “Let us assemble the people that we might hear the word of God.”[12] Everything else is contrapuntal motion in relationship to that. All of the other stuff is related to the—what is it, a Lambeg? That big drum? Yeah. I don’t know if that’s a good answer, but I just took a stab at it.


Sinclair: Yeah, I said to Dorothy once—we were somewhere in this country in a state that won’t be mentioned—and I said (I was doing something; I was teaching), I said, “We could go to this church. That will be good.” And I was sitting quietly with her in the seat when this green, blonde goddess appeared, you know, dressed in this green robe and encouraging us all to lift our hearts to the Lord—and almost brought an end to my marriage bond. I kind of felt that my wife had turned into the ice maiden. You know, “What has happened to my husband, that he’s bringing me to this?”

I think several things. One is: I’ve kind of developed the view that the building you have may constrain certain elements in what you do and that you probably do have to take that into account, so that this room—very different from, like, our room in Columbia.

The second thing is that I think there is both a theological and a psychological order to worship—so, whether we speak in terms of liturgy and to what extent that is documented or not or projected or not, that we recognize that we are sinners approaching a holy God and that there is built into the way in which we worship God an order that also corresponds to our own psyche.

So, for example, when we were in Glasgow, one of the things I eventually felt I had the courage to say to the elders who were responsible for it is “You know, confession of sin in our service is a hit and miss—total hit and miss. If whoever is praying decides that we need to confess our sin, we confess it; otherwise, we don’t.” And that seemed to me to be deficient theologically, and it was also deficient psychologically. And so, when we deliberately introduced confession of sin into the congregation, it kind of almost immediately transformed something and was really helpful to them.

So I think these… You know, whatever variance there may be, these are really important things. And, you know, to be honest—and I think this is what Alistair is saying—our worship services therefore need to be approached from a theological point of view as well as from a psychological point of view. Because we are communicating with him, and he is drawing near to us, and we’ve got to learn to do that appropriately.

And so, you know, a watchword for me in many ways has been—again, back to 1Corinthians—what Paul says, you know: “If you’re all speaking in tongues, they’ll think you’re off your head, but if there is prophesy…”[13] And without going into one’s idiosyncratic views of what prophesy may be, at the end of the day, that is where we want to be. We want to be down on our faces before God in the joy of recognizing him and worshipping him.

And to be honest, sometimes… I think probably in Scotland, there was the kind of lingering old style, whether it was just superficial or not. And sometimes at the end of services, I wanted to scream, “Will you lot not just sit down and be quiet for a minute or two?” You don’t come into the presence of God, you know, “Here I am!” And you shouldn’t just pick up your handbag and walk out of this place as though, you know, “Well, let’s get on to the next thing.”

So we were both probably reared—and Rico too—in a context where the worship would end in, at its best, being lost in wonder, love, and praise. And, you know, if you take the parable of the sower, I sometimes thought that, you know, the birds of the air are actually flying in the front door at the moment, and they’re picking up the seed that’s being sown, and it’s not even being time to bed itself in.[14] So I think we do need to give a lot of careful thought to what we’re doing.

Matt: Yeah, that’s excellent.

This is my last question. This question reads, “We’ve all seen men in ministry, particularly in recent years, disqualify themselves through moral failures. Is there any word of encouragement or warning that you’d give that can help us to live faithfully while serving in ministry?”

Sinclair: Well, you know: “Take heed lest in thinking that you stand, you do actually fall.”[15] I think I really have valued enormously the friendships that God has given me and the models that he’s set before me, and those have been very helpful. But, you know, at the end of the day, the chief thing is that we need to guard our hearts, because it’s out of them that the issues of life come.[16] And we need to encourage one another. I don’t personally think that always means that we’re kind of eyeballing one another and asking the ten questions, you know: “Are you doing this? Are you doing that?” Because I’ve come to the sense that I think I’ve known people who have done that and still fall. But the sense of the real friendship that we have in Christ that makes ease of mutual confession to one another and the recognition of one another’s weaknesses has just been a great help to me.

Matt: Yeah. Anything you’d add?

Rico: I think over in the UK, there’s been a right emphasis in the last ten years on blind spots: “What are my blind spots?” And I think we’re asking that question, we look back. So, for example, I can think of people who’ve fallen, and people would just say, “Oh, well, you know, Jonathan’s like that.” Well, that’s not good. You know, he was very effective in ministry, it seemed, but had a really brutal tongue on him sometimes, and people said, “Oh, that’s just Jonathan!” Well, no, that’s not permissible. And you can’t have a blind spot in a congregation where, because of someone’s gifting—we all know this—you know, it doesn’t mean that character isn’t important.

I do think with Uncle John, what always struck me was that (with John Stott) there was a huge emphasis in the morning on his own sin. So, he’d learned that from [Charles] Simeon, and that golden chain of Christian discipleship, which is that you get up in the morning; you open your Bible. It is a mirror. It shows you your sin. The Holy Spirit will convict. The Holy Spirit doesn’t bring God’s punch, but he does bring God’s kiss. It is a conviction of it: “Rico, it was here.” And the Bible is the mirror.

So, sin, grace. You know, “I live not by my performance but Christ’s. How does God feel about me? Amazingly, he’s delighted with me because he’s delighted with Jesus. I cannot believe it!”

Joy. You know: “Gosh, out we go. What a great day! I’m forgiven!” I mean, with Simeon, they couldn’t believe he would come out and just be thrilled in Cambridge, having been brutally treated, because he couldn’t believe that he was a forgiven sinner. And that was his—you know, “The only way up is down.” He went down into his sins, said those people who lived with him, each morning.

And then you go discipleship, evangelism, training. But I think that sin, grace, joy… And Uncle John certainly had a… You know, he would weep about his sin, sometimes, if you prayed with him. And there was just such a sense of his own personal depravity. One man said to him, “Uncle John, your commentaries are amazing. I’m just so thankful for the way that God has used the work of a righteous man in my life”—to which Uncle John replied, “If you could see my heart as God does, you’d spit in my face before you said that.”

You know, so I think it is also just treading very, very carefully on our own sin and seeing that. And I think with our Bibles open, if we keep doing that, then that’s a great way of watching ourselves.

Alistair: Well, both those things are profoundly helpful.

I think what Sinclair is saying is the fact that I exist, and he knows me, and he knows that I’m watching him—the fact that we’re separated by an ocean is really not that significant. That the photographs that surround me in my study bear the faces of people—some dead—to whom I feel a strong sense of accountability. And when tempted to delve into the blind spot or to go in that direction, the fear of God is conveyed in part to me by a genuine sense of fear lest I would ever besmirch the relationship that has been established over all these years, no matter how desirable the temptation might be. And that may be just very simple, but, you know, I…

And going at it in another way: You going to sit down and tell your grandchildren and your children that you decided not to take seriously Proverbs—to delight yourself in the wife of your youth, and let her breasts satisfy you always?[17] You decided that you just would violate that? That helps me.

And also, to your point—I mean, the accountability thing: guys were in accountability groups with John Stott that are nowhere in the gospel right now. You know that. And so the fact of the matter is if I’ll lie to God, I’ll lie to anybody. So what I am on my own is the key.

One final quote is from Bridges. I was looking for it. I wasn’t going online. But…

Sinclair: [Holding up Alistair’s personal notebook of quotes] To the highest bidder!

Alistair: Yeah!

Okay, guys. I was with Christopher Ash. We were in Brisbane. We’re in Brisbane. We’re in a mall, and we’d been there about a week. And we’re going up an escalator in the mall, and it so happens that we’re in, like, the women’s, you know, bathing suit department, or whatever it was.

Rico: What were you doing there?

Alistair: He said he wanted to buy a pair of shoes.

Rico: Oh, I see.

Alistair: So, we were going…

Sinclair: He’s got really small feet!

Alistair: I’m just trying to read a quote from a book!

Okay. So, we’re going up. We’re going up the stairs, and all the mannequins are on either side. And so I’m thinking to myself… I’m thinking what I’m thinking. And I’m thinking, “Oh, Christopher is such a cuddly man. He won’t be thinking any of this!” And we get to the top, and he pauses, and he goes, “I do think it’s about time for us to go home, brother.”

And so, hence the quote—Charles Bridges. Make of this what you wish: “Tender, well-regulated, domestic affection is the best defence against the vagrant desires of unlawful passion[s].”[18] Take care of the home fires.

Matt: That’s good.

Well, with that, I do want to bring our time to a close. And so, if we could just thank these gentlemen for their ministry among us. Thank you.

Alistair: Thank you! Thank you! We can just walk off, I think?

Matt: Alistair, would you pray, and then we’ll sing? You guys can just step down, and we’ll move from there.

Alistair: Our God and our Father—God and Father—we acknowledge that we are all learners from the one who knows the answers. And we thank you that your Word is a lamp to our feet and a guide to our path.[19] Grant that anything that has been said that helps to reinforce the truth of your Word may find a resting place in our hearts and minds, and anything that would be an unhelpful distraction or a deviation from course, we pray that it might be banished from our recollection. Thank you for Sinclair and for Rico and for Matt and for the privilege of these moments. And we commend this interim period now into your care. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] See Lamentations 3:22–23.

[2] See Psalm 19:14.

[3] See 2 Timothy 4:13.

[4] See 2 Timothy 3:16.

[5] Arnold A. Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival, 2 vols. (London: Banner of Truth, 1970–1980).

[6] See Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8–13.

[7] See Ecclesiastes 11:1.

[8] 1 Corinthians 9:22 (paraphrased).

[9] 1 Corinthians 9:27 (NIV 1984).

[10] Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 197.

[11] C. H. Spurgeon, “Our Public Prayer,” in Lectures to My Students (1874–75; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 62.

[12] Deuteronomy 4:10 (paraphrased).

[13] 1 Corinthians 14:23–24 (paraphrased).

[14] See Matthew 13:4; Mark 4:4; Luke 8:5.

[15] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).

[16] See Proverbs 4:23.

[17] See Proverbs 5:18–19.

[18] C. Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs, 3rd ed. (London: Seeleys, 1850), 1:83.

[19] See Psalm 119:105.