Keep Preaching in Perspective


Today I thought of Sidney Crowe.

When I was in seminary in Oxford, a friend and I were placed as interns at the Baptist Church in Cowley. We were sent there to learn about practical ministry, and we learned under Sidney Crowe and his wife Ivy. Sidney and Ivy had been in ministry in Cowley for nearly 30 years.

The church was set alongside a shopping center on a large housing estate. The people living in this housing estate provided labour for the vast motor manufacturing plant on the east side of Oxford. This situation was far from the dreaming spires!* Yet Sidney and Ivy spent so much of their lives with these people!

At first, it seemed like my friend and I learned nothing about preaching from Sidney. Even Sidney’s best friends would agree that he was tediously predictable. He had a bucket-load of mannerisms and quirks, including his habit of adding the phrase “and so on” to sentences. On one occasion, he added it memorably to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so on.” You can imagine what we critical students made of that statement!

But upon reflection, we learned a lot. And it has stayed with me ever since. Sidney’s people loved him and Ivy in such depths of relationship that they hung on every word he said to them. They listened not because he was polished and perfect but because they treasured him (and his wife!) as leaders and under-shepherds.

Sidney and Ivy retired after 31 years, and this happened while I was still an intern with them. At their leaving it was clear that his pastoral love and care stretched far beyond the church fellowship into the community of Cowley. A photographic display showed him involved in peace-making in an industrial dispute and taking a key role in community affairs. People lined up to testify to the ways that he had been like Jesus to them at every turn of their lives. My wife Carol and I also experienced their wonderful support as they journeyed with us after a couple of miscarriages.



I believe in improving preachers with all my heart, and this continues to be my mission. But preaching must be put into perspective. Sidney showed me that pastoral care and community building are essential, and average preaching can glow in its presence. Conversely, brilliant, five-star preaching without love and relationships may dazzle as communication, but it is unlikely to have a long-lasting glow with Christ’s people.

*Note from Lauren Visser: As someone unfamiliar with Oxford, I had no idea what Dr. Quicke first meant when he wrote that this housing state was “far from the dreaming spires!” But a quick google search informed me that Oxford is called the “city of dreaming spires,” based on a poem by Matthew Arnold, which was referencing the stunning university architecture.

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