All of us who dare to stand up and explain the Bible are teachers in progress. We all have ways we can get better.
Recently I got to sit down with Mark Meynell, who, in his role as director of Europe and the Caribbean for Langham Preaching, spends most of his time traveling to different parts of the world to help teachers and preachers get better at handling the Bible. According to Meynell, Bible teachers all over the world lament the same thing—a lack of time to do the kind of study they want. But he tells teachers, “You make time for what you think is important.” Meynell says that the marks of really good Bible teaching include faithfulness to the text, relevance to the audience, and clarity in delivery. Our discussion included tips on how to discover the tics that make it hard for our audience to listen, how (and how not) to incorporate passages outside our main text into our talks, and how John Stott modeled what it looks like to be a lifelong learner.
Meynell is the author of numerous books, including What Angels Long to Read (Langham Preaching Resources, 2017), When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend (InterVarsity Press, 2018) and his most recent, Colossians and Philemon for You (Good Book, 2018). He blogs at markmeynell.net.
Mark Meynell: So, I have one dear friend who, you know, he’ll read books but, you know, he wants to go and watch soccer and Formula One racing. That’s his big thing. And he is very easily bored when I get all sort of abstract and stuff. And we’re very different, but we are good friends. So, that certainly is important, that trust. You know, he will tell me, “I was really bored in that sermon.” He’s a pretty direct guy. I’m crushed. I go and cry in a corner and brush myself down. I think, “Yeah, you are right.” It’s about being willing to say, “Okay. How am I gonna address the needs of the whole congregation?”
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible.” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracts. Learn more at crossway.org. This podcast has always been all about equipping people to become better at teaching the Bible. And that’s really our whole focus today. My guest today is Mark Meynell, who is Director for Langham Preaching for Europe and Caribbean. Mark, thank you for being willing to help us teach the Bible.
Meynell: Thank you very much for having me.
Guthrie: Mark is actually here in the States right now. So, we’re getting to sit around at my kitchen table to have our conversation. So, Mark, why don’t you tell people why you are in the States. What have you been doing?
Meynell: So, I started last year doing the doctor of ministry program at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. So, we have a module once…it’s a week-long and we come three times a year. So, last week, I was in St. Louis, having a great time.
Guthrie: And what are you now an expert on after a week studying at Covenant?
Meynell: Well, we were thinking about millennials, and now I really understand them all and…
Meynell: …I feel that is the future of my ministry now.
Guthrie: All right. So, I said that you work for Langham Preaching and that you’re the director for Europe and Caribbean. So, talk to us a little bit about what Langham partnership, Langham Preaching is and then what you do for them.
Meynell: So, Langham Partnership was created maybe 15 years ago to be an umbrella for all the ministries, the global ministries that John Stott started and was involved in right till the last few years of his life. So, he’d done things sort of piecemeal over the years, but this was a way of bringing it under the overall directorship of the Old Testament scholar, Chris Wright. And Langham Preaching, which is the third branch of it, was created at that time, simply because, actually, for John, preaching was the heart of his ministry and the thing that he loved doing most and he loved to encourage others in doing. So, Langham Preaching was created as a way of capitalizing on that before he died. And we now work in 70 countries developing what we call sort of indigenous expository preaching programs. Movements of people who are leaders of churches in their countries who want to do everything they can to bring people together to study, and teach, and preach the Bible well, across different denominations.
Guthrie: You mentioned you’re in lots of different countries, are most of the people that you serve, have they been to seminary or had a little bit of seminary, no seminary?
Meynell: The whole range.
Meynell: Maybe a third to half of the leaders of churches around the world have not and will never have seminary training, maybe more. I mean, who knows exactly what we’re dealing with here. So, the idea that a residential institution could be created to keep up with this kind of rapid growth is a joke. It’s just impossible. I used to teach in a small seminary in Uganda. We were there for a few years. And I remember just jotting on the back of an envelope, literally, “If we were to meet the needs of churches around Uganda, which is a small country relatively, 25 million people, we would need to create maybe 20 new colleges a year for 10 years.” And I was struggling to fundraise for our little college as it was. I mean, it’s just not gonna happen. So, a number of different organizations that have a sense of what’s going on globally, a number are now saying, “Okay, well, we gotta find different models to train,” grassroots training, sustainable, transferable training. And, of course, you know, there will still be institutions and residential places maybe like sort of oasis resources, but they won’t necessarily have the same usage as they once did, particularly in the global south, in Africa, Asia.
Guthrie: Why don’t we go back and why don’t you tell us a little bit about your own development as someone who teaches and handles God’s Word? How did that develop in your life?
Meynell: I grew up in a home where, you know, we went to church occasionally. God was on the table. I think I would have… I used to say that sometimes, you know, I’d be very happy to talk about God because that’s nice and vague, but talk about Jesus, that’s far too specific and slightly cringy. I was converted over sort of a three or four-week period when I was 18. And I was pretty shaky, but I think some things definitely slotted into place. I go up to university and I was discipled by a guy who was training for ministry in that town. And he read the Bible with me one to one weekly for that first year. Then in my second year, I was in a little group with about six or seven others, we used to meet, again, weekly as a group, started going to summer camps for kids and stuff. So, I never went to any of that as a kid. And I started getting involved in the university Christian Union and you know how it is, different people taking turns to lead the Bible study and it was all sort of slightly chaotic. And I didn’t know what I was doing. None of us really did. There was a bit of training and I just found myself really enjoying that. And people started saying, “Oh, you know, I quite enjoy it when you do it. And I think you should maybe do a bit more and see how it goes.” And I think partly also because this guy, Simon, who was discipling me, he seemed like a pretty normal bloke on the whole. And I thought, “Well, if someone as normal as him is considering ministry, well, maybe there’s something in that.” So, it was just really low key mundane, just weighing it up. And I guess it made it plausible and a bit normal. So I just started exploring, started doing the odd talk, particularly at camp, and I loved it. I just really enjoyed doing it. As simple as that. It was quite fun.
Guthrie: So, you are going into situations and you’re having people who are doing preaching and teaching week by week who are coming and they’re coming because they recognize a lack in or they just want to get better at the way they handle the Bible. What are the most typical things you find yourself challenging the typical preacher or teacher in regard to their presentation of the Scriptures? Are there two or three common issues, mistakes you find yourself talking about again and again?
Meynell: I mean, the most common thing people say, “Oh, I don’t have time to do all the things you say we need to think about or do.” And say, “Oh, in my culture, we don’t this.” Well, no, in no culture can you do this. So the question is, you make time for what you think is important. But I suppose, you know, like the sort of diving board approach to the Bible. So, you might bounce up and down on a verse, maybe a paragraph if you’re lucky, and then you dive into the pool. And by the end of the sermon, you’re miles away, but it’s been like a kind of trigger or a sort of catalyst for some good stuff often. You know, it’s truth, but it’s not necessarily truth from this passage that you started in. So, one of the disciplines to try and encourage is saying, “Okay, well, let’s see what this passage is doing as it functions as a passage. And let’s allow that passage or paragraph or whatever, shape, not just how we start or gives us the general theme, but let’s see if it can shape the whole thing, finding the melodic line or the thread through that passage. So that I come out of the sermon thinking, “Oh, that’s what the passage is about.” So, that’s one thing. I think we often have people saying, “Well, I like to preach thematic sermons.” And I think sometimes it’s a misunderstanding to assume that thematic and expository sermons are mutually exclusive. They don’t need to be. They can be but they don’t need to be. And I would say, sometimes, perhaps, you know, from time to time in a church congregation, issues arise, you might need to take a theme but you approach it in an expository way.
Guthrie: When you talk about thematic, is that the same thing as topical? Are you drawing a distinction between topical and thematic?
Meynell: That’s exactly what I mean. Yes, I should have used that.
Guthrie: Okay. Okay. Because that, to me, is very different.
Meynell: It sounds different and the way people, you know, will sort of concordance preach for want of a better way of putting it. So it’s just like, “Oh, well, here’s an idea. Let’s find all the verses that talk about that.” And you just have the preacher just spouting out loads and loads of cross-references. And it seems like, “Wow, this person really knows the Bible.” I think ironically it means the opposite. I think it means that they’re avoiding actually telling you about this passage, “I don’t understand this passage, but let me tell you about another one.” And so, I sometimes say, the more cross-references a sermon has, the less I feel the passage has been understood.
Guthrie: Let me just push back on that a little bit. I think there’s a difference. See if you’ll agree with me. There’s a difference between you’ve got a topic and you’re plucking out a bunch of verses that connect to that topic. There’s a difference between that, and you’ve got a passage, let’s say, especially a New Testament passage, but you recognize, “Okay, what’s happening in this, to fully understand what’s happening here, you have to understand what happened back here in Genesis and how this was dealt with in the history books, and the prophets.” And so you’re not really just jumping to different passages about a topic, you’re using. You’re helping to set that passage in context of the whole of the Bible. I would think you would be a big fan of.
Meynell: Totally agree. So, yes, okay, let’s take those in turn. So, let’s say it is a topical sermon and there’s a presenting issue, maybe within the community, the church, or maybe a national conversation going on, one that you actually can’t avoid, no one passage of the Bible is probably going to be able to deal with that or engage with that adequately. Maybe there are three or four. So, what I would then suggest is, okay, do your work on three passages, approach each one in your preparation as if that is your one passage, do the text work, and then maybe have your three points of the sermon, one on each paragraph from different parts of the Bible. And so, how it all connects and so on. And I think that is a really helpful way, both dealing with the topic and also showing how the Bible interconnects. Now, when it comes to Biblical theology or the grand sweep of the whole Bible, then, yes, actually, it can be thrilling. I remember the first time I heard somebody explaining the end of those wonderful introductory verses in John 1, 1 to 18 and showing how that the final paragraph as is often sort of printed out, you know, verses 14 to 18, those sort of climactic, incredible sort of seismic verses and showing how John clearly has in mind, Exodus 33 and 34, and all this business about Moses hiding in a cleft in the rock and not being able to see the glory. But John says, “And we have seen his glory” and you just think, “Wow, I’ve never seen the connection.” This is what Jesus does. He’s tabernacling, he’s dwelling amongst us, like the tabernacle in Exodus, but he’s now him in-person doing this and we’ve seen it. We have this privilege Moses didn’t. And so, you know, you actually lose out big time if you’re looking at John 1 and you’ve not talked about Exodus, and it goes on and on. You could go to the nth degree with that.
Guthrie: You know, Mark, I think that when we hear a teacher or preacher do that, and especially if it’s a connection we’ve never heard before, boy, our hearts just skip a beat, don’t they? And…
Meynell: It’s a sort of Emmaus road moment.
Guthrie: Oh, yeah. And it’s a sense of, “Oh, there’s just another way the Bible fits together so beautifully showing it has one divine author and that it’s one big story.” But I also think that oftentimes, especially if we’re new to teaching, we hear someone do that and we think, “Oh, how did they see that? Where did they get that?” So, what do you say to the less experienced Bible teacher, especially, and I don’t know if it’s different in the UK, sometimes because some of my best teachers in terms of biblical theology have been from the UK, I have the perception that everyone there is immersed in that, and that may not exactly be accurate. But certainly, here in the States, a lot of us did not grow up understanding and having the Bible taught to us in the way that makes connections. So, what do you say to that less experienced Bible teacher who says, “I want to handle the Bible that way, but I don’t naturally see those kinds of connections.” How do we develop our skill and our repertoire in being able to do that?
Meynell: That’s a really important question. And there’s no shortcut. And in fact, that’s one of the things about biblical ministry is that if you’re doing it right, it’s not on a shortcut. I think, thankfully, and in the last, I don’t know, what? Forty, 50 years, there are more and more scholars and writers who have really dedicated themselves to thinking in these grand sweep studies. And the reason they are so helpful is because when they lay it all out, it doesn’t look like some kind of mystery religion, some kind of magical thing that you have to have the special spark to be able to do it. No. They lay it out so that you can see their working and you can see, “Oh, okay, this is not stretching things. This is not really sort of imposing things on the text.” It’s just how it naturally works, especially when you particularly, say that John 1 example again, you notice that particular words, the vocabulary, which you’ve known, you’ve been familiar with all this time and, you know, you don’t bat an eyelid and think, “Actually, that’s quite an odd way of putting it, but because it’s a familiar thing that’s just normal,” when you suddenly identify, hang on, that is an odd way. Why might you phrase it like that? What is the big deal about seeing his glory? We just saw this bloke, this man, Jesus, Why say we’ve seen his glory?
And then when you see that, actually, there are three, four, maybe five or six connections with this one thing back in Exodus, you think, “Okay, this is not just random.” This is not one verse that sounds like it. There’s actually a method here. There is a process that the New Testament writer is using deliberately to throw us back to that passage. Now, when you have a one-off thing and you think, “Oh, that sounds like that.” And hopefully, that is happening. And the job then is to go and see, well, you go back to the passage it sounds like, and this is one thing that we always say, “If you are gonna refer to an Old Testament passage, you need to do just as much work in that passage as you do in your New Testament passage.” So, don’t think you can just say, “Oh, let’s just like that verse and quote it” because you might be doing funny things to that verse. So you have to do the text work there. So, this is one of the things about cross-referring. You actually double your work. You don’t save time, you add more work. And then you see what other people says, people who’ve been studying this for decades for their whole lifetime. And if you are the first person in human history who seems to have seen a connection then you probably wanna give yourself the benefit of someone else’s wisdom rather than your own.
Guthrie: Yeah. I remember years ago, being in a Bible study and being surrounded by some women who just seemed to know where stuff is in the Bible or a topic would come up and they would know where in the Bible that was talked about, or a book of the Bible would be discussed, and they seemed to know just even what the main point of that book of the Bible was. And I just remember thinking, “How did they get there?” And especially thinking to myself, “It would take a lifetime to know the Bible that way.” And I’ve come to see, “Yeah, it takes a lifetime.” And to be new at teaching the Bible and have a sense of, “Wow, I don’t have a grip on some of these things. I can’t see those things as quickly. I don’t as naturally see some of the Old Testament or New Testament connections,” depending on where you’re working, that’s just one of those things that come with doing it over years and you can’t really expect to have a lifetime’s understanding of the Bible when you haven’t lived a lifetime.
Meynell: One of the main jobs I have is to counteract the preachers and patients or the Bible students and patients. It’s like I compare training preachers as a bit to like someone being a driving instructor. I mean, I think that must be one of the worst jobs on Earth. I can’t imagine a few worse things. It must be so stressful. You know, you’ve got these people getting into cars for the first time and who knows what’s gonna happen? I’ve been teaching my kids to drive and it’s just stress. But most of the time, I imagine a driving instructor, probably the most common phrase they ever say is, “Slow down. Put the brakes on. You’re going too fast.” Sound a bit like Simon and Garfunkel, but basically, slow down, because by going fast, whether because you are really familiar with the passage, you see, “Oh, I know this one.” Or because you just presume to see the significance or the links or whatever, you will miss things. And also, you will not read around, and try and engage with it, and let things just sort of settle in your mind so that, you know, if you’re preparing something, say, for a sermon on a Sunday morning and you just sit down for the first time late Saturday night, which is a bit of a disaster, then, actually, you really lose out on all that sort of percolating time.
Guthrie: I need that percolating time.
Meynell: Absolutely. And, I mean, it really is true, you get great ideas in the shower. Suddenly, you know, something will just be rummaging around in there in your head and suddenly, there’s a connection, it makes sense. So, you want to allow time for both focused and then sort of subconscious meditation of the scriptures. But also then, in terms of the big picture, reading around, so, reading about the Bible and reading different parts of the Bible, not for a particular talk or study, but just for its own sake, for the growing to know the Lord and grown to know the Word, and people who’ve spent lifetimes studying. Like Alec Motyer spent 40 or 50 years on Isaiah and came out with two big commentaries at the end of it. But he just really lived within that one book as well as the whole Bible, obviously, but such wisdom there.
Guthrie: All right, so you’ve given us some thoughts about common things that you are challenging people to do. I wonder about the other side of the coin. What is it about a particular Bible teacher, that when you hear them you think, “Wow, that was good. That was well done.” Are there certain distinctive things that cause you to respond that way to a particular teacher?
Meynell: I think the bottom line is, I come out thinking, “Ah, now I get that passage.” So, you know, I don’t want someone to shake my hand at the door and say, “Hey, wow, what a great preaching,” not that they necessarily do, but if that is my goal, then I’m bound to get into trouble. I long for people to come out and say, “Wow, I get that passage now” or even better, “Wow, what a great God.” So, the goal is His glory and I have a deeper sense of why He gave us this verse even or paragraph. And my Bible understanding will be far weaker without this new thing that’s slotted into place.
Guthrie: So, on both of your answers to these questions about both good and bad that you see, you’ve talked primarily about content and not really about delivery. Is that something that you interact with people through what you do very much?
Meynell: Definitely. And of course, you know, as you rightly say, it’s only sort of part of the story. I mean, we will help people to focus on three things. The three key things are faithfulness to the text, relevant to the audience, and clear in delivery. And I think by clear, it’s a sort of broader thing. It’s communicated well, by which I would include sort of the passion, the engagement, the illustrations, all the things that will connect what we understand the passages challenge or relevance or importance, as we’ve understood it in our preparation to the listener, because, of course, communication is not just what I say, it’s what gets heard and understood as well. So, if I have just done my work on the exegesis on the text, so that what I’m saying is faithful, but I’ve not done work on the other two, then I have only done a third of my job. Now, very often what happens is when, whether they’ve come from a background where there have been all kinds of different models of preaching or they’ve never done any at all, you’ll find people getting really excited about the exegesis and think, “Wow, this is great. I can’t wait to sort of get my hands in.” And, you know, that’s wonderful.
And that is one of the things certainly for me that got me into this in the first place. I was digging for treasure and finding tons in the text. But if that’s all I’ve done, then it’s highly unlikely that I’m gonna communicate it well enough so that it is grasped by people and that people won’t see why this necessarily is significant. I mean, it’s fascinating. Isn’t it nice that there was this king who lived thousands of years ago who did these things and God blessed him? Well, that’s great, nice for him, but what about us? If you’re not building the bridge and you’re not getting it across to people, then, well, you might have helped yourself, you’re not necessarily gonna help others. And in fact, worse, they might pick up things that maybe even the complete opposite of what you’re intending because we sort of select things out when we’re listening.
Guthrie: So, how do you get better at delivery? Because, I mean, I think oftentimes, especially for the less experienced teacher, that’s the most intimidating part because like you said, we get excited about the exegesis, and we’re excited about the discoveries we’ve made in the text, and we’ve come up with some good applications. But maybe there are some of us who just feel like, then when we stand up, there’s just a problem. There’s some kind of barrier. You know, we see people’s eyes nodding off or we talk to someone after the talk and they tell us what they heard from our talk, and we think, “Well, that’s not at all what I was meaning to communicate.”
Guthrie: So, it seems to me like there’s lots of training available for working in the text but it’s a bit more challenging, I think, to find help to get better at actually delivery.
Meynell: You’re telling me, yeah, I agree. And it’s almost as if people need to go through a phase of being boring at the early stages when, you know, they’re getting used to really getting into the text. And you can’t avoid doing that. You don’t want people to jump to being great communicators if it’s sort of frothy and it’s not rooted in the Bible. Because all kinds of funny things can happen that way. So you want people to be getting into it, but they mustn’t stay there. And I think this is the sort of process of having trusted people around you. You’ve gotta keep doing it, I mean, you know, practice,
Guthrie: Hang in there with it.
Meynell: Yeah. And there’s no such thing as a perfect sermon. So, God can use rubbish sermons, in fact, has often done that, in fact, more often than not probably. So, the Lord is faithful, and he will use his word. It doesn’t go out and return empty. So, we keep at it. And then we have one or two people around us who we trust to say, “Okay, well, let’s think about doing this or whatever.” Now, John Stott himself, you know, in the early years, he became rector of All Souls when he was 29. Now, it wasn’t quite what All Souls became, but it was still quite a high profile society church. There was a lot of opposition within the congregation because he’d been the curate, the number two there. There were people who really didn’t want him to take over. They said he’s too young. He’s, you know, far too whatever, whatever. But in the end, of course, he did become rector. But he recognized that he did need people to feedback to him and to say hard words when they needed to be said. So he had a little group of people he would telephone on Monday mornings and they would be very frank with him.
Meynell: And that takes courage and…
Guthrie: It takes humility.
Meynell: …it takes humility.
Guthrie: And I find, because my teaching matters to me so much because I so want to handle the word right and I so wanna get it across, because it matters to me so much, I can easily be crushed and I can just not even wanna ask someone because I feel like I can’t bear the truth. But I do think that that is pretty much the only way that we get a sense of the things that we are doing or failing to do that could serve us in getting our message across.
Meynell: Including even the most simple things like a physical tic. Like, apparently, well, I won’t say what mine is because that’ll expose myself too much but…
Guthrie: I’ve told mine on this podcast before, but I am not gonna go into mine either.
Meynell: Apparently, I often put my hand through my hair, all right, and I can assume that I’ve not done it for months, and I’ll be told I did it 23 times in a sermon. “You mean you were counting?” “Yeah, I’m afraid I couldn’t avoid looking at it.” Whatever it is. And so, we are oblivious to that kind of thing. And then to have one or two people who are not like you, okay? So, I have one dear friend who, he’ll read books, but that’s not, you know, he wants to go and watch soccer and Formula One racing. That’s his big thing. And he is very easily bored when I get all sort of abstract and stuff. And we’re very different, but we are good friends. So that certainly is important, that trust. You know, he will tell me, “I was really bored in that sermon. ”
Guthrie: He will?
Meynell: Mm-hmm. He’s a pretty direct guy.
Guthrie: So what do you do with that?
Meynell: I’m crushed. I go and cry in a corner and brush myself down and think, “Yeah, you are right.” Because actually, you know, not everybody’s like me. In fact, very few people are like me because I’m weird. And we all are and it’s about being willing to say, “Okay. How am I gonna address the needs of a whole congregation?” Now, one of the things that I loved at All Souls, which is something I hated when I first started is we used to have what was called The Preacher’s Breakfast every Thursday morning and two different sermons on a Sunday, one sermon at the two services in the morning, same one and then another one in the evening service. So, two preachers. And on Thursday morning, at 9:00, we’d spend 30 minutes on each of the two. Whoever was going to preach on that Sunday, would give, say, a maximum 10-minute outline of their plan, with an indication of where they were wanting to apply it and that kind of thing. And then it was open to all members of the ministry team and we would have our apprentices, you know, people, All Souls of years, some of them will be there and so on. And the rule was, anybody can say anything.
You know, there’s no sort of status or anything. You know, if you’ve got a problem for one of the senior staff and you think that what they said about that talk isn’t gonna resonate with the people you minister to, like, you know, the young families, they’re not gonna get this or that’s just unrealistic or “We’ve got lots of many people in All Souls from Asia, what you’ve just said, that actually is quite offensive in Asian culture. “Oh, I had no idea.” “Well, of course, you didn’t. How could you know? But I’m telling you, so please don’t do that,” or whatever it is. It can be a nice tiny point. In the years that I was preaching, only once did I come away from that meeting thinking, “I’m gonna have to completely start again.” So that was when I was gutted when that happened. But I can tell you, not one sermon I preached at All souls in all those years, not one was unimproved by that breakfast. And so, the first few I went to and when I started, I hated. I said, “Don’t you know who I am? This is All Souls, you know, I expect to be treated with respect blah, blah, blah,” and sort of absolutely ridiculous, of course. But I can say, within a few weeks, quite apart from having to get my ab along by Thursday morning, that’s a whole other thing…
Guthrie: But that was probably a good discipline too, right? Kept you from last minutes?
Meynell: If you’d asked me before, I would have said, “No, I don’t need to,” but afterwards, “Yeah, no, absolutely.” Having to do that and then being willing to submit it to what anybody might challenge meant that I had to think of different people in the congregation who were gonna be there. But here’s the other thing that it did for us as a ministry team is like, we all had ownership of this thing. So, I might be thinking of, say, the conversation I’ve had in the pub with somebody in church. And actually I’m really praying about the sermon because I know that if they’re there, this will really connect with them. And so, actually, we’re all invested in it. And this is what I really got from this. I suddenly realized the most obvious thing in the world, but because we’re all individualist and we think that my sermon is my thing so that I can take the credit for it, I suddenly realized, “This is not mine at all. This is public property. This is a sermon, not for me, not even for my peers and colleagues. This is for the church. They own it, if you like, it is for them, for their building up.”
And so, therefore, they have every right to engage with it and challenge it because this is a corporate worship activity. That was very counterintuitive. And that actually sort of relativized, well, my pride and my own investment in it because actually, if you suddenly realize, “Hey, this is public, this is like common land where you’re all invested in this,” actually, it’s much harder to be too sort of precious about it. And it’s not personal because, yes, some people, you know, they’re just a bit ornery and they like having a go, okay, well, that’s the same everywhere, but a lot of the time, you suddenly realize, “No, they’re thinking about the body that we all belong to for its sake, to serve it. And so that’s why they might be concerned I’ve said this or will say that.” And that was just such a helpful development for me. And it made me much less angsty actually. Although, ironically, it ratchets up the responsibility, but I knew that I wasn’t on my own in that.
Guthrie: But it would make you so much more aware of all of the different kind of listeners that you’re preparing to speak to, whereas I think sometimes when I teach, I can tend to think that everybody has the same struggles as me and sees things the same way I do and they…
Meynell: Finds the same things interesting.
Guthrie: Yeah. And it’s a real discipline to say, “No, let me think about my audience and what are going to be the things, their touchpoints and am I connecting them at all?” So you mentioned that, in addition to what you do for Langham Preaching, you do some writing. One of your books that I was looking at is a book called What Angels Long to Read. It’s a very intriguing title, I think…
Meynell: That came in the shower.
Guthrie: Did it? All right. Hopefully, a lot of us will recognize that that comes from 1st Peter. It’s talking about this salvation on which angels long to look. And so, you’re taking that, What Angels Long to Read. And we could spend a whole day talking about things in this book because I found this to be, I think it would be really helpful, helpful book for someone who is in the process of really wanting to develop their teaching. One thing you talked about that I think doesn’t get talked about a lot is this idea of framework, and that we all have a framework in what we’re teaching. Can we just talk about that a little bit? Why don’t you define it first? And then tell us as teachers how we can both overcome the challenge that our framework has, but even use it as an opportunity to better our teaching.
Meynell: Maybe one way of putting it is to think of the fact that all of us, whether we’ve even sort of fully explored it, all of us have, say, a range, a block of assumptions about the makeup of the world, a worldview or whatever, that the more you go on as a Christian, the more, hopefully, that is shaped and informed by theology. And obviously, we will say that is underpinned, it’s founded in what God has revealed. All of us are a work in progress. That is a lifelong business of, you know, harnessing and shaping that framework more and more so that it’s, you know, consistent with what God has revealed. That is a long-term process and it’s big picture stuff. But there’s a constant dialogue conversation between the big picture, let’s say, that we know in the back our heads, you know about how God operates in the world that He is good, and gracious, and just, and merciful, all these sort of big doctrines. And then I’m zoomed in because, you know, you can’t give the whole framework every week in a sermon. Let’s say you’re working systematically through a book, say 1 Peter or whatever it might be, and you are focused on a very small little part of this book. I mean, there’s 66 books in the Bible, and then most of the time you’re focused just on a paragraph or two. So, it’s a tiny fraction of the whole, not just of the whole book, but also what the whole book leads us to believe about truth, and reality, and God.
And so then you’re looking at this little passage. And you find in that there are some things that perhaps somehow challenge or maybe just query something in the big picture. And you think you’ve gotta do something with that. You either just ignore it and say, “Well I’m just gonna pretend it’s not important,” or you say, “Well, I’ve gone wrong somewhere. Now, it may be that I’ve got the big framework, the big system wrong or it may be that I’ve misunderstood this passage. But I think the crucial thing is, I need to be open to reassess both ends.” Part of this is about a matter of humility and being a lifelong learner. And this was brought home to me very soon after I started All Souls, John Stott was still alive. He hadn’t moved into his retirement home at that point. And so, you know, he would be in church, preaching with him sitting in the back row. It was pretty scary. And, you know, he didn’t mince his words. I remember though, a few weeks after we moved, I just bumped into him in the street, and he was just going for a walk. And he just asked me if I had a copy of Malcolm Muggeridge’s book, Jesus Rediscovered, which is an old book. And I knew that John had known Malcolm Muggeridge quite well, and they’d been friends and so on. And he said, “I’m just doing a little bit of thinking about the incarnation.” And John was in his 80s then.
He’d written several books, you know, Christ The Controversialist, The Incomparable Christ as well as The Cross of Christ, and all this stuff. He had been engaging with incarnation his whole life. And he was in his 80s, still engaging, wanting to go back to refresh his memory about what Muggeridge had said in this book and all those things. I just thought that’s amazing, because he was still learning. He wasn’t satisfied with what he had done in the past. He was still engaging. So, yes, he undoubtedly had a much fuller, more nuanced, knowledgeable understanding of the big picture on that topic about who Jesus is and was than I ever had or probably ever will. And yet he was, I don’t know what the provocation was, but maybe it was a text or something that suddenly challenged something in that big thing, he just wanted to, it was sort of needling away at him, he wanted to work at that. And that meant going back to the big picture. Now, I wanna be like that when I grow up. I want to keep on having that sense of, “I’m still exploring. I haven’t arrived.” And that’s one of the exciting things about sort of systematic Bible study, isn’t it? It is because actually, I don’t know it all. And even a book that I thought I knew well, even one that I’ve preached on a few times. You know, one of my go-to books is Colossians. I’ve been through Colossians. I adore it. ..
Guthrie: And you just wrote a book on Colossians, didn’t you?
Meynell: I did.
Guthrie: On Colossians and Philemon for The Good Book Company.
Meynell: That’s right. That’s right. And I love doing it, even though I’ve done series on it a few times, but actually writing that, meant going back again, and still I was seeing stuff. And that’s one of the most exciting things because you think you’ve got a passage taped and you get into it and you realize, “Oh, I hadn’t seen that.” So, it’s this constant conversation. I think maybe that, you know, to put it very simply, it’s just about humility before the text, before the word, and before the Lord. It’s just saying, “I know I have things to learn.” The moment you think you haven’t is the moment that things begin to fall apart, I think.
Guthrie: So, I do a lot of work with the Simeon Trust, which I assume you’re familiar with. So, it’s interesting to hear you talk about framework because we talk about it a bit differently with Simeon Trust using that same term, or maybe there are some connections that you can make for me. A framework would be maybe you have a certain political framework, all right? A certain theological framework. You know, I’m Arminian, I am Reformed, all these kinds of things that you may actually be unaware of about yourself that you have such a settled opinion and viewpoint that shapes how you read and understand a text. And the thing is, we all have them because we’re all human and we have them. But the point in a Simeon Trust workshop would be, you better figure out what yours are, so that you can evaluate yourself and how you’re applying that to the text so that you don’t inadvertently, inappropriately bring that into your interpretation of the text, rather than letting it speak for itself.
Meynell: I think that’s helpful. That actually roots precisely what I’m talking about. So, it’s all the things that inform that. And, of course, the challenges I think, you know, our presumption is that my framework is as biblical as it gets. That’s what I think.
Guthrie: Well, we all think that about our own, don’t we?
Guthrie: If we don’t, yikes.
Meynell: Yeah. I mean, it would be odd to take the Bible seriously and then know that your framework is not biblical. So, however erroneously we assume that it is. And so, if I’m not prepared to allow the small to inform the big, but then also the big to inform my understanding of the small, then we will not be humble before the Bible. We will be just imposing stuff on it. And so, you know, church background, political, national background, all these different things are really important that we just need to have self-knowledge about. And that’s one reason, you know, for me, I mean, the job I get to do is a real privilege because I’m in different cultures all the time. And that relativizes your own culture in a magnificent way. I think I would, I don’t know whether this distinction is a helpful one or not, but I found myself, not least through living in East Africa for a few years, and now for being mainly in Eastern Europe regularly in places like Turkey, I’ve become more patriotic, but much less nationalistic. In other words, I love my country, but I love other countries too. But there’s no way in a million years now that I can just assume mine is best. I know it’s not. I know that no country is best. We all have our dark sides, our shadow sides, as well as our good sides. And all of us together need to come before the word and allow that to have the last word on things, not just what a particular political position or direction or agenda might have. Being with people who are just a bit different from me every now and then is a really healthy thing. And maybe actually all believers should do that as a matter of deliberate intention.
Guthrie: Well, Mark, this has been so helpful. It’s really fun to talk to someone who loves the whole idea of what it means to help other people get better at teaching the Bible to talk about these things. Maybe we could just close this way. If you would just speak directly to that person who maybe either they’re still just dreaming of teaching the Bible, that God has placed a desire and maybe they just feel like they don’t know enough yet, they don’t have the equipment, maybe they just feel they don’t have the opportunity, or someone who’s just getting started. Will you just speak directly to that person offering a word of challenge and encouragement?
Meynell: When I worked at the seminary in Kampala and, you know, was involved in interviewing potential students, one of the questions I would always ask is, “What is your ministry now?” I know you want to maybe become a pastor or a counselor in a church or whatever, and that’s great. And I would have said, “Yeah, you’re coming to the right place.” But, regardless of what your goal is, what are you doing now? And it may be even just chatting with a neighbor. It may be someone you see on the bus to go to work every day and you find yourselves talking about things, and maybe deciding to be a little bit more intentional about that and just say, “Hey, can I just tell you about what I’ve just been learning this week or whatever?” It could be as low key as that or it could be actually getting the opportunity to give talks at a youth camp or whatever it is. Don’t just put it off for some aspirational future thing. Just do it. And you might think there aren’t opportunities, but maybe you’re thinking of the wrong kind of opportunities. Maybe you’re assuming they have to be the sort of public exposure opportunities. Well, actually, I would say, for me, what matters most in my ministry now is actually the stuff in one-to-ones that nobody knows about. It’s the conversations. It’s the text to somebody in crisis because, and that matters not because of just sending a text by itself but because we have history. There’s a relationship there. And we can all be doing that. It doesn’t matter what our position or job title or whatever it is. It’s actually being a good brother and sister to another brother or sister or someone who doesn’t yet know the Lord. So, what are you doing now? Keep at it, and then see where that leads, and get people to give wisdom and advice as you’re doing that.
Guthrie: Thank you so much, Mark.
Meynell: Absolute pleasure.
Guthrie: You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie. A production of the Gospel Coalition, sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracts. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.