The Pastors Primer
THE PASTOR’S PRIMER
Copyright 2006 O.S. Hawkins All rights reserved
ISBN: 0-9779400-0-4 Dewey Decimal Classiﬁcation: 253-dc22 Subject Heading: CLERGY - HANDBOOKS, MANUALS, ETC. Printed in the United States of America
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Other books by O.S. Hawkins
When Revival Comes (with Jack R. Taylor) After Revival Comes Clues to a Successful Life Where Angels Fear to Tread Tracing the Rainbow Through the Rain Revive Us Again Unmasked! Jonah: Meeting the God of the Second Chance Getting Down to Brass Tacks In Sheep’s Clothing Tearing Down Walls and Building Bridges Moral Earthquakes and Secret Faults Rebuilding: It’s Never too Late for a New Beginning Money Talks: But What Is It Really Saying? Shields of Brass or Shields of Gold? Good News for Great Days Drawing the Net Culture Shock High Calling, High Anxiety The Question of Our Time The Art of Connecting GuideStones: Ancient Landmarks
About the author
For more than 25 years O.S. Hawkins served pastorates in Oklahoma, Florida and Texas. A native of Fort Worth, he has three earned degrees (BBA, MDiv and DMin) and several honorary degrees. He is President of GuideStone Financial Resources which serves 175,000 pastors, church staff members, missionaries and other workers of various Christian organizations with their retirement and beneﬁt service needs. He is the author of more than 25 books and preaches regularly at Bible conferences, evangelism conferences and churches across the nation. He and his wife Susie have two married daughters and three grandchildren.
To the pastor at the crossroads who labors with dedication and determination in that seemingly “out of the way place” where he often may wonder if he is forgotten. To you is given an incredible promise — “Shepherd the ﬂock of God which is among you…and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2,4).
Table of Contents
I The Pastor and His Purpose ......................13
II The Pastor and His Preaching ..................29
III The Pastor and His Preparation ................49
IV The Pastor and His Passion ......................63
V The Pastor and His Perspective ................75
VI The Pastor and His Position ......................89
VII The Pastor and His Pastorate ..................103
VIII The Pastor and His People ......................117
IX The Pastor and His Prayer Life ..............131
X The Pastor and His Power ......................141
XI The Pastor and His Privilege ..................153
XII The Pastor and His Passage ....................169
XIII The Pastor and His Pastoral Ministry ....179
XIV The Pastor and His Pastoral Care............199
XV The Pastor and His Partner ....................211
XVI The Pastor and His Parenting..................223
XVII The Pastor and His Priorities ..................233
XVIII The Pastor and His Personal Life............235
XIX The Pastor and His Possessions ..............255
XX The Pastor and His Pressures..................267
XXI The Pastor and His Politics ....................277
XXII The Pastor and The Poor ........................287
XXIII The Pastor and His Pedagogy ................299
XXIV The Pastor and His Pay ..........................309
XXV The Pastor and His Pension ....................321
XXVI The Pastor and His Prize ........................331
Scripture Index ........................................................339
In a myriad of ways this pastor’s primer you hold in your hand capsulates more than a quarter of a century of my pastoral ministry. This journey took me from the little town of Hobart out on the southwestern plains of Oklahoma to the concrete canyons of downtown Dallas. It has been my joy and privilege to be called “pastor” to four wonderful congregations of believers across the years. While at the First Baptist Church of Hobart, Oklahoma, I learned that the pastorate is the people business and that life is about relationships. While at the First Baptist Church of Ada, Oklahoma, those good and godly people with a rich pulpit heritage inspired me to become an expository preacher. While serving the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for 15 years, I had the privilege of being on the cutting edge of church growth and for that decade and a half watched God do what few local churches have been able to see and experience. Then, at the First Baptist Church in Dallas I found anew the stewardship of pastoral authority and the respect that goes with heritage and history.
Along the way of my personal journey I have been fortunate to have had two remarkable mentors in ministry. Dr. W. Fred Swank, my father in the ministry who led me to Christ as a 17- year-old young man, consistently modeled the pastor’s heart before me and was my constant source of encouragement, correction and counsel. Then, after Dr. Swank’s death, Dr. W. A. Criswell “adopted” me as his own. He took me under his wing and into his heart during my days in Fort Lauderdale and then it was my good fortune to pastor the same people he had pastored for 50 years. He was my biggest asset and greatest encouragement during my Dallas days. Both of these pastors, like righteous Abel, “though dead still speak” today through much of my own philosophy of ministry which is found in this volume. The journey throughout this pastor’s primer will take us through 26 chapters. Each chapter contains a PowerPoint where we will deal with the power of the subject at hand. There is also a PracticalPoint where we will seek to put our hand on the handle of how “to do” ministry at the chapter’s particular point of interest. This is followed by a PressurePoint. Here, we will be cautious of various things to avoid and seek to be watchful of potential problems which could possibly arise at the point of the particular chapter’s topic. Then we will come to a PulpitPoint where we will establish a biblical basis, using an expository sermon outline, for the chapter’s primary subject. Finally, each chapter will conclude with a PersonalPoint at which the reader will have opportunity to make personal applications for future considerations. As the years unfold before us, it is my prayer that some young pastor out there somewhere, perhaps going to his ﬁrst pastorate, will ﬁnd some nugget of truth and help from these pages in order that he might, like David, lead his people “with the integrity of his heart and the skillfulness of his hands” (Ps. 78:72).
The pastor has been given by the Sovereign Lord the highest calling in God’s economy. It is not a vocation to be chosen among several options. It is a divine, supernatural “calling” from the Lord Himself. Jesus put it thus, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). Paul said, “I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7). The pastor has a special calling from God and a special gift which is given to him in order to perform the work of ministry. God’s words to Jeremiah are as poignant and personal to a God-called pastor as any to be found anywhere. He said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctiﬁed you, I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). I have always considered this one of the most awesome thoughts a pastor could have. Think about it, before I was formed in my mother’s womb — He knew me! But that is not all. He set me apart for a special calling and ordained me to do His will. Nothing nobler could be said of a pastor than what Paul said of David in his Pisidian Antioch address. He said that David “served God’s purpose (his calling; his will) in his own generation and fell asleep” (Acts 13:36). God’s purpose is for each of us to ﬁnd the will of God for our lives and then to do it.
God does not simply “call” the pastor into ministry; He gifts him for the tasks of the pastorate. He does not call the equipped and gifted; He equips and gifts those whom He calls. That simple statement should be a comfort and a challenge for any and all who feel God’s call to ministry. We ﬁnd the gift of the “pastor-teacher” listed among those glorious ascension gifts to the church which God bestows for the express purpose of “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12). There is something supernatural about the God-called pastor. He has the speciﬁc spiritual gift of pastoring the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. There were days in the pastorate when the call of God upon my life was the only thing that kept me going. As soon as I sensed God’s call to ministry on my life as a young college student, my pastor challenged me saying, “Son, if you can do anything else and ﬁnd joy, peace and satisfaction, go and do it. Because, if God has called you there is no contentment to be found in doing anything else.” God says, “I will make known unto you the path of life, in My presence is fullness of joy and at My right hand are pleasures forever more” (Ps. 16:11). I have never understood how anyone could pastor any church without a deﬁnite sense of the call of God. This is our purpose, “to serve God’s purpose,” His calling, His will for our lives.
Accompanying the sense of “calling to ministry” is the conﬁdence that we are “sent” by God for a special purpose. Yes, “there was a man sent from God whose name was John” (John 1:6). Pastor, put your name there. You are the man sent from God. Think about that! God still calls and sends particular people to particular places for particular purposes. Paul asks in Romans, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14–15). From the moment I was convinced God had called me into ministry, I have had the sense that I am a “sent man.”
It was the summer before my senior year at the university where I was on track to earn my degree in business administration. I had been converted to Christ three years earlier and as I was nearing graduation I began to continually ask the Lord the question of Paul in Acts 9:6, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” That particular year a hurricane had swept through a part of Mexico and brought devastation to a particularly poor section of Matamoras. I journeyed down there with some friends and spent some time helping those people rebuild their homes and lives. God used the experience to open my heart to His calling. Riding back to Fort Worth all night on a bus I wrestled with Him and what was a growing and irresistible sense that He was calling me, setting me apart, for the “work of the ministry.” A few days after I returned home, a gentleman called me (totally unaware of my search for God’s will in my life) and asked if I could preach on a given night at the old Union Gospel Rescue Mission downtown. I readily agreed and that simple assignment conﬁrmed in my heart God’s purpose for my life. Even as I type these words, I remember the thrill of standing behind that sacred desk in that dilapidated old room and lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not believe it was sealed in my heart, however, until I made the decision public in my own church. There was something about declaring it publicly and ﬁnding the conﬁrmation and encouragement of my church family that sealed the decision forever in my heart. From that moment, I had the assurance that “there was a man sent from God whose name was O.S.”
Along the years of ministry, I have discovered a very important principle. There is a difference in an achieved ministry and a received ministry. One of the most moving passages of scripture is found when Pastor Paul is saying a farewell to those he had pastored in Ephesus. Knowing he will see their faces no more, he says, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may ﬁnish my race with joy and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Did you catch that phrase? “The ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus.” And, note the way he ends the Colossian epistle, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord that you may fulﬁll it” (Col. 4:17). Paul saw his calling as a “received ministry.” We do not have a ministry. It belongs to the Lord. I must confess I cringe each and every time I hear someone talk about “my ministry.” Pastor, you do not have a ministry. It is not yours. You are a “steward” and an “ambassador.” You have “received a ministry from the Lord Jesus.” There are stark differences between an “achieved ministry” and a “received ministry.” An achieved ministry seeks the applause and the amen of men. A received ministry seeks the applause and the amen of God. An achieved ministry may “succeed” even though it fails. A received ministry may fail (in the eyes of men) even though it “succeeds” (in the eyes of God). Pastor, one of the most liberating discoveries you will ever make is to discover, or perhaps rediscover, that, like Paul, you have “received a ministry” from the Lord. The pastor’s calling is to “serve God’s purpose” and glorify His holy name in the process.
After I surrendered to God’s call to ministry, I continued my senior year in college and ﬁnished with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. I then went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, my hometown, to begin work on the Master of Divinity degree. I had within my soul a passion and burning desire to preach, but there seemed to be no opportunities afforded me and, what is more, I saw no possibilities on the horizon. I remember going into the student center and looking on the information board and seeing various “ﬂyers” and promotional pieces of my fellow seminarians preaching at various forums such as youth revivals, youth rallies, or supply preaching assignments. And nothing came my way. On a given day, feeling rather sorry for myself, and wondering why, if God called me to preach, I was not having any opportunities, I got in my car and drove across town to talk with my pastor. W. Fred Swank was not known for his compassion on what he thought were trivial matters and could at times be rather gruff. I walked into his ofﬁce and poured out my dilemma to him. Poor me! He looked up from his desk and abruptly said, “Son, you be faithful over little things and God will make you ruler over greater things. Now, go on your way and close the door when you leave.” That was it! I got in my car and you can probably still see the stripes of black rubber marks in the parking lot. I was incensed at his “insensitivity.” “You be faithful over little things.” I started driving down Lancaster Street repeating those words sarcastically over and over — “You be faithful over little things.” I passed a nursing home I had seen a thousand times but never really saw it until that day. Without thinking I turned into the parking lot. I went in and met the manager and she agreed to let me start coming there on Sunday afternoons and have services for the residents. I got back in my car and drove downtown to lower Houston Street and pulled up to a Rescue Mission. I went in and met Brother Williams who ran it and he agreed to let me come there on Tuesday evenings and preach to the skid row inhabitants of his mission. That advice Dr. Swank gave me was the greatest I ever received. I can tell you that today, more than 35 years later, there has not been a week go by in my life when I have not had multiple opportunities to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Pastor, one of the most practical things we can do is to “be faithful over little things.” When we are, God has His own ways of enlarging our coasts and expanding our opportunities.
One of the questions that sometimes challenges us is, “How can I know that God is calling me to a certain purpose or place? How can I be sure?” Apart from the supernatural phenomenon of my spirit bearing witness with His own spirit within my heart conﬁrming my calling, there are three practical approaches to ﬁnding God’s will. The ﬁrst word is “desire.” I do not believe that God will call you to any particular calling without ﬁrst implanting a desire in your heart to do so. The Psalmist said, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). Now, this does not mean that whatever your little heart desires God will give you. It means that He will implant those desires in your heart to do His will. He will give you the desire. We sometimes hear someone testify that “God called me to preach but I did not want to do it.” I have difﬁculty with that because if God is calling us to preach He will begin by giving us the desire to do so.
The second operative word is “opportunity.” In seeking to discover God’s will, desire is not enough. It must be accompanied by an opportunity. More than one of us have had a “desire” to be pastor of such and such a church, but it was not God’s will for us because the opportunity did not present itself. For example, I may have the desire to be the next Billy Graham (incidentally I do not), but it obviously is not God’s will for my life. I could go rent Texas Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play and maybe a few dozen of my friends would show up to hear me!
Thirdly, in ﬁnding the will of God in ministry, if you have the desire and are afforded the opportunity, then my counsel is to keep on walking and trust God if it is not His will to shut the door. A good biblical example of this is in Acts 16 when Paul is heading out on his second missionary journey. He tried to go to Asia but he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word” there. He tried to go to Bithynia and when he put his hand on the doorknob there, “the Spirit did not permit” him to go in. Even though Paul had a desire to go to these places and preach, the opportunity was not afforded him. There was no rebuke here. He was simply on the move abiding in the truth of Isaiah 30:21, “Your ears shall hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to to the left.” The only way we can hear a voice behind us is to be on the move. Finally, Paul gets to Troas. There, he receives the “Macedonian call.” The Bible records that; “after we had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us” (Acts 16:10). The operative word here is “concluding.” This Greek word, συμβιβαζω, means that it all came together. It is the word picture of a sweater being knitted that doesn’t look like much until it is almost ﬁnished. It is the word picture of a jigsaw puzzle that makes little sense until a piece ﬁts here, and another there, and then it all comes together. And so it is with the will of God. It begins with desire, then there is an opportunity, and if these come together then keep walking like Paul, trusting God and if it is not His will to shut the door, it will all come together for you. Then, you too, can “conclude” that the Lord has called you to a particular place for a particular task.
Once, the pastor has sensed the call of God to preach and has found his place of service, then it is essential from a practical point to understand his role as a God-called pastor. Peter’s ﬁrst letter and speciﬁcally, the ﬁfth chapter, lays this out.
Practically, in the church the pastor is called to be the spiritual leader, the servant leader, and the senior leader. Peter uses three words in 1 Peter 5 to illustrate this important role of the pastor.
The pastor’s calling is to be the spiritual leader of the church. Peter refers to the pastor as the πρεσβυτεροs, translated “elder” (1 Pet. 5:1). This word generally refers to a fully mature man in the faith. This may or may not have anything to do with a pastor’s age. I have known men who have been in ministry for decades who do not show maturity in the faith. And, I have known young men who have exhibited extraordinary maturity in ministry. This word, elder, carries with it a profound respect and esteem for the high calling of the ofﬁce of pastor. The pastor is the spiritual leader of the church.
Peter goes on to remind us that the pastor is the servant leader of the church. He chooses the word, which in its noun form is ποιμην, translated “shepherd” to describe this task of the pastor (1 Pet. 5:2). The shepherd is to lead, feed, protect and serve the ﬂock of God under his care. This concept of the servant nature of the under-shepherd is found in the word υπηρετηs, or “under rower” in other places in scripture. This word refers to those slaves who sat down in the belly of those great Greek ships chained to the oars and rowed through the waters of the sea. This is the spirit of the pastor. He takes his place as an under rower. He doesn’t have to be on deck barking out orders for others to follow. He leads with a servant’s heart.
Peter continues in revealing that not only is the pastor to be the spiritual leader and servant leader of the church but the senior leader as well. Here he chooses the word επισκοποs to describe this task (1 Pet. 5:2). We translate this word “overseer.” The emphasis here is on the administrative responsibilities of the pastor. Many a pastor has been less successful because he failed to see the importance of this task in ministry. If the pastor is God-anointed, God-appointed, and God-called then no one should know what is best for the church where he serves as the pastor. He is the one whom God has appointed to give oversight to the church of God. He is the one who will one day stand before God to give account for his faithfulness to this task.
Practically speaking, the local New Testament pastor is to be the spiritual leader, the servant leader and the senior leader of the church recognizing full well that there is a difference in an achieved ministry and a received ministry.
The pastor should see himself as a “sent man.” Perhaps one of the greatest pressure points in the pastorate comes at this point. The illustration of this truth is found in the description of the beginning of Paul’s ﬁrst missionary journey recorded for all posterity in Acts 13. He saw himself as a “sent man.” After the church at Antioch had determined that God had set Paul and Barnabas apart from the others for this special calling, the Bible records, “Then, having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:3). The very next verse records, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 13:4). Note the word “sent” in both verses. This brings an obvious question. Who sent them? Who sends us? Verse three says the church “sent” them. Verse four says the Holy Spirit “sent” them. So, what happens when a pastor is called to the church? Is it in the hands of the church to call him or does God call him? Herein lies the issue with the call of a pastor to the church.
When we read this verse in the language of the New Testament, it comes into clear focus and reveals one of the most beautiful truths of scripture. There are two diametrically different words in Greek which we translate into our same English word, “sent,” in these two verses. In verse three, when we read that the church “sent” them, we ﬁnd the word απολυω. Every other time this word is translated in the New Testament it is translated as “to let go” or to “release.” It is used in Acts 3:13 to describe a prisoner who has been “let go” or “released” from prison. The word in verse four where we read that the Holy Spirit “sent” them is a strong word with a strong preposition in front of it, εκπεμπτω. This word means to thrust out, to push out, to send out.
So this begs the question. Who does the sending? The obvious answer is that the Holy Spirit “sends” a pastor to a church and the church recognizes this and “releases” the pastor to do the work of the ministry. God still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes. Problems arise when the church calls a pastor whom the Holy Spirit has not sent. This can happen when the pulpit committee does not give priority to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. There is the temptation to depend more on resumes and outward appearances that on the divine nature of the call. Other problems often arise when God “sends” His man to a particular church but that church does not and will not “release” him to do the work of ministry as the spiritual, servant and senior leader of the church. However, when you ﬁnd a situation in which the Holy Spirit has “sent” the pastor to a particular church and the church realizes and recognizes it and “releases” the pastor to do the work of the ministry, you see the power of God displayed in and through the local congregation. Pastor, make sure you are “sent by the Holy Spirit” before assuming any pastorate.
The Call of God
Recently, a leading seminary educator lamented the fact that so many applicants to a particular educational institution were simply searching for a vocation and few were speaking of any sense of divine calling to the gospel ministry. When, as a young man, I was hearing God’s “call” to my heart for ministry, my pastor, W. Fred Swank, said to me, “Son, if you can do anything else in life and ﬁnd joy and contentment, go and do it; for if you can, you have not been called into ministry.”
The Apostle Paul did not see himself as someone who had chosen the ministry as a career change but as a “sent” man (Acts 13:3,4). In Acts 13:2 there are four important elements related to the call of God upon our lives.
The call of God is personal.
The Holy Spirit said to those believers at Antioch, “separate Barnabas and Saul” for the particular task He had in mind. There were many others in the church at Antioch but it was only Barnabas and Saul who received God’s call to a speciﬁc task. He did not call Lucius or Simeon or Manaen or any of the others named in this church. The call of God is personal. He still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes.
The call of God is purposeful.
The Lord said, “separate” for me Barnabas and Saul. The same Greek word is used in Galatians 1:15 when Paul says, “God set me apart from birth and called me from my mother’s womb.” God has a purpose for each of our lives. We are set apart by Him and for Him for that particular purpose which no one can perform quite like we can when we are called and empowered by His Spirit.
The call of God is practical.
The Holy Spirit said that these two individuals were set apart “for the work” to which He had called them. Not only did God choose the men, He chose the work the men were to do. The ministry is work. When we are walking in the Spirit, we do not wear out the seats of our pants but the soles of our shoes. There is a practical part to the calling of God.
The call of God is providential.
Note. They were set apart for the work “to which I have called them.” The Greek expression is in the perfect tense indicating that this was something in the mind of God completed in ages past. There is a very real sense in which churches do not “call” the servant of God. Resumes and recommendations do not place us in divinely appointed positions. The call of God is providential.
Some churches today seem to have forgotten that what we are about is supernatural. Some act as if the pastor is to be a “hireling” of the church. The God-called pastor does not work for the church. He has a higher calling. He loves the church and gives himself to her and for her, but he recognizes that he has a higher calling.
Yes, God still calls particular people to particular places for particular purposes. The call of God is personal, purposeful, practical and providential.
High on the list of things that please God is the issue Paul mentions in the Corinthian letter when he says, “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Gospel preaching pleases God. It is the highest calling one can have. There is a dynamic that takes place in the preaching experience when God and man connect that cannot be found in any other type of oratory. Yes, pastor, the preaching of the gospel is your highest calling and most important task.
In interviews with 353 formerly unchurched people, Dr. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, indicated that in response to the question, “Did the pastor and his preaching play a part in your coming to the church?”, 97% of the respondents answered in the afﬁrmative. When asked, “What factors led you to choose this church?”, 90% said, “the pastor and his preaching.” While the pastor has voluminous duties and multitudinous tasks, nothing should be of higher priority than the assignment to preach the gospel and “rightly divide the word of truth” to the people God has assigned to him.
It has been my privilege as a pastor to be God’s undersheperd in four different churches across the years. In my last pastorate it was my challenge and joy to preach each Sunday behind one of, if not the most inﬂuential 20th century pulpits in the western world. For 47 years the incomparable Dr. George W. Truett thundered the gospel message from that sacred desk. Then, for almost 50 years Dr. W.A. Criswell, the true prince of modern preachers, expounded “the unsearchable riches” with conviction, clarity and compassion from the same pulpit. That pulpit, like most pulpits in Baptist life, stands in the middle of the building, on center stage so to speak. It is there to make a statement that central to Baptist worship is the preaching of the book of God to the people of God. One can walk into the worship center of a Baptist church in virtually any place in the world and the pulpit stands as an object lesson to signify the centrality of gospel preaching in the Baptist tradition.
Proclamation, the preaching of the gospel, should be central to Christian worship. The sermon is the central dynamic in the worship experience. It is the fulcrum upon which the entire service of worship hinges. Everything that comes before it should point to it and everything that comes after it should issue out of it. Because of this, the pastor is the worship leader of the church. In too many places and in too many circumstances worship is only identiﬁed with something we do before the sermon. That is, we think the worship leader is one who leads choruses or spiritual songs. The dynamic of the worship experience is a complete package and it is the sermon, the preaching of the gospel, that must be central to it. It is the pastor himself who sets the tone for worship. If he is aloof and unengaged, the people will have a tendency to not follow him. If he is ﬂippant and carefree before his people, they will not take it seriously. If he is reverent and worshipful in his demeanor, the people will follow suit. This is not to say the pastor should not emit an attitude of joy and gladness before the people. The Psalmist said to “serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2) and he said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’” (Ps. 122:1).
Preaching is the pastor’s highest calling and most important task. As I type these words, I am recalling my ﬁrst sermon as a young preacher. On a hot summer evening in June, I stood at the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth, Texas, and preached to a collection of homeless and hopeless people who gathered for worship, followed by a hot meal. The thrill in my heart, the humbleness of my calling, the dynamic I sensed as God took his word and sent it forth through my feeble and trembling mouth, the sheer rush of spiritual energy and yes, the nervousness of the moment have never left me. The preacher should preach every sermon as though it were his ﬁrst and as if it might be his last. I have sought to bring that thought with me to each and every one of the thousands of preaching experiences I have had since that summer night.
In the front of my Bible are three verses which I have memorized and which I look at on the platform before I preach each message. One is found in Paul’s ﬁnal epistle, in his second recorded letter to Timothy, when he says, “the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me” (2 Tim. 4:17). What a comfort it is to be assured that when I stand to preach, the Lord Himself is standing with me and empowering me supernaturally to preach. Another verse I read before I preach and ask the Lord to incarnate in my preaching is His promise to Jeremiah, “I will make My words in your mouth ﬁre and this people wood and it shall devour them” (Jer. 5:14). This dynamic word picture encourages me more that words can say to know that God can take the words of my mouth and set people on ﬁre with them in such a way that the word of God begins to consume them. Finally, I read Paul’s prayer in Ephesians before every preaching opportunity. I join him in praying, “that utterance might be given to me that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). In other words, that as I preach I might exhibit freedom, fearlessness and faithfulness.
Pastor, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Preaching is the passion of every God-anointed and appointed pastor. It is our high calling and great privilege.
The art of preaching has a very practical nature to it. In the context of Paul’s preaching ministry, it is said that he and that band of early believers “turned their world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Perhaps nowhere do we ﬁnd a better example of the practicality of preaching than with Paul in Thessalonica. When the great preacher arrived there, he “as was his custom, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures” (Acts 17:2). As Luke penned these words to describe the Apostle’s own practical approach to preaching, he chose the word διαλεγομαιwhich we translate in our English Bibles as “reasoned.” This compound word is made up of a preposition meaning “through” and a verb meaning “to speak.” Paul’s practical approach to the preaching event was to “speak through” the scripture. He was an expository preacher! Many preachers today reason with their hearers through popular psychology, current events and through such things as business motivational techniques. The preacher in the apostolic tradition is one who is expository, who “speaks through the scriptures” from the pulpit. After all, it is the word of God which brings conviction.
In following this Thessalonican approach to practical preaching, Luke goes on to tell us that Paul not only “reasoned” with his hearers from the scriptures but he was also “explaining” the word to them (Acts 17:3). The word we translate “explaining” in our English Bible is the word, διανοιγω, which comes once again from the preposition meaning “through” and a verb meaning “to open.” Thus we see that for Paul, gospel preaching was not simply a speaking through the scriptures but an “opening through” of the scriptures in an explanatory way. This same Greek word appears other places in the Bible to describe the opening of the womb or the opening of a door. Here at Thessalonica, Paul was “explaining” the gospel; the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. In his practical approach to preaching here at Thessalonica he had two themes — the cross and the resurrection. He was an astute theologian, but he never preached theology. He used theology to preach the Lord Jesus. It is our job as preachers to “open through the word” to our hearers.
Paul is not only practical in the way he reasons and explains the scripture in the preaching experience, but Luke goes on to record that he did something else. He was also “demonstrating” (Acts 17:3) the scriptures to his hearers. Luke chooses the word, παρατιθημι, to illustrate this fact. This word comes from the preposition which means “beside” and the verb which means “to lie down” or “to lay.” Hence the word literally means “to lie down alongside.” In legal jargon it is used to describe one who gives evidence, who “lays alongside” the facts certain evidence to support his or her claim or case. Paul is speaking to the modern pastor here. He is saying that we should not be afraid to “lay it out,” to speak the truth in love even though it may seem offensive and even controversial. The preacher should “demonstrate” the gospel, lay alongside his message a life that gives evidence of the validity of what he preaches and proclaims. Paul presented the evidence in a very practical way at Thessalonica. This demands that the pastor have a systematic theology and a knowledge of Bible doctrine as well as a life that matches his lips.
The Bible records that the great Apostle “went in to them…and some of them were persuaded; and …joined Paul and Silas” (Acts 17:2,4). Paul was winsome and persuasive in his preaching. Our English word “joined” comes from προσκληροω, which literally means “to obtain an inheritance with.” These Thessalonians heard Paul preach the gospel and the result was that they “joined” him in the faith. This still happens today whenever and wherever the faithful preacher reasons, explains and demonstrates the word to his people. It would do us all well to heed the words of Paul who said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1); especially when it comes to his model of biblical preaching.
Preaching to your people Sunday by Sunday, week by week, month by month and year by year is the great joy and challenge of the preacher. Keeping the gospel relevant to the times and needs of the particular congregation is always before the pastor. This is why it is so imperative to know your people, their needs, their struggles, their burdens as you preach to them week by week. The man who says he is only called to preach should not seek to call himself a pastor. The pastor is a unique person in God’s economy and therefore knowing the needs of his particular congregation is paramount in the practical nature of his preaching. For example, below are three distinct series of messages I preached at various critical times in the life of my own congregation.
I came to a church that had just been through a very difﬁcult time. Tension and strife were in the air. Relationships that had been decades in the making were tattered, frayed and about to tear apart. I used that opportunity to preach through the little epistle of Philemon and applied it to personal relationships. After all, life is about relationships. There are only three in life. An outward expression. This is the relationship we have in the home, at the ofﬁce, in the social arena where we contact with others in interpersonal relationships. There is an inward expression. This is the relationship we have with ourselves. Some call it self-worth. And then there is the upward expression. This is an awesome thought. This is the ability to come into a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus in such a way that we can know Him in the intimacy of Father and child. And the bottom line? We will never be properly related to each other until we are properly related to ourselves. Much of what happens in our broken relationships outwardly is simply a projection of what is going on within us. Thus, the truth is we will never be properly related to ourselves until we come into relationship with God, knowing Him in the free pardoning of sin and thus ﬁnding our self-worth in Him. I preached several messages from Philemon each with a different aspect of relationships. Below is an outline of the series:
The importance of afﬁrmation of one another (vv. 4–7).
Paul begins his word to Philemon with a pat on the back. “Your love has given me much hope and encouragement because you brother have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” Afﬁrmation has a liberating effect on others.
The importance of accommodation of one another (vv. 8–11).
Here is what is known in the business world as the win/win relationship. Paul says Onesimos was “once unproﬁtable to you but now is proﬁtable to you and to me.”
The importance of acceptance of one another (vv. 12–16).
Forgiveness is the key to mending broken relationships. Two things must take place to mend relationships. One, there must be a repentant heart on the part of the offending party. And, two, there must be a receptive heart on the part of the offended party.
The importance of allegiance to one another (vv. 17–21).
Paul says, “if he has wronged you…put that on my account.” In other words, he is showing that he is committed in his relationship to Onesimus and to Philemon and is willing to stand by both of them.
The importance of accountability to one another (vv. 22–25).
Paul says, “Prepare the guest room for me.” When he said that, Philemon knew he was coming by to check up on him and hold him accountable.
These challenges worked wonders in my church as we challenged each other to afﬁrm one another, accommodate one another, accept one another, be committed to one another and hold each other accountable.
On another occasion, I found myself in a church in desperate need of “rebuilding.” Often it is easier to grow a church from a little congregation than to grow an old congregation. In a new church there are things that need to be done. In an older, more set in its ways church, there are not only things that need to be done but things that need to be undone as well. Sensing this, I preached a series through Nehemiah who knew something about rebuilding. I titled the series, “Rebuilding: It is never too late for a new beginning.” Below were the messages in the series:
Rebuilders get started right (chapter one).
How? They make an honest evaluation, identify the need, take personal responsibility, and move out of their comfort zones.
Rebuilders build a team spirit (chapter two).
How? Start with your goal in mind. Seize your opportunities. Make a careful analysis of your situation. Motivate your people to get off dead center. Stay on track.
Rebuiders let go without letting up (chapter three).
How? They delegate. Set clear objectives with speciﬁc tasks. Pick the right person for the right job. Be an example yourself. Hold your people accountable. Give a genuine pat on the back.
Rebuiders understand “YAC” is what really matters
How? YAC is a football term acrostic that stands for “yards after contact.” Deal with conﬂicts head-on. Make proper adjustments. Keep doing what is right. Rally your troops.
Rebuilders never cut what they can untie (chapter ﬁve).
How? Conﬂict resolution is critical. There is a time to back off. There is a time to stand up. There is a time to give in. There is a time to reach out.
Rebuilders ﬁnish strong (chapter six).
How? Stay off the side streets. Keep focused. Stay off the sidelines. Keep faithful.
On another occasion I noted that my church was growing out of touch with the culture around it. Instead of engaging it, it seemed to retreat from it. I wanted to challenge them in a very practical way with the importance of confronting the culture without conforming to it or condoning it. I found in Daniel a perfect example and thus preached a series of messages from Daniel which I titled, Culture Shock! The messages are below:
Part one: The remote control syndrome (chapter one).
Don’t give in — be resistant. Don’t give up — be consistent. Don’t give out — be persistent.
Part two: Real video: Back to the future (chapter two).
God reveals the scope of human history with a statue. God reveals the hope of human history with a stone.
Part three: You have what you tolerate (chapter three).
Learning to live with pressure. Learning to live with principle. Learning to live with perspective. Learning to live with protection.
Part four: On a search for signiﬁcance (chapter four).
The way down is up. The way up is down.
Part ﬁve: God and grafﬁti — the handwriting is on the wall (chapter ﬁve).
God is speaking on the point of our pride; our presumption; our promiscuity and our perversion.
Part six: Integrity — don’t leave home without it!
Integrity is rooted in our private life. It is reﬂected in our personal life. It is reinforced in our professional life. It is revealed in our public life.
These are just a few examples of how to be practical in the preaching experience. On this issue I could write volumes. There is the practical nature of our very appearance as we stand to preach. We should stand with authority and, at the same time, stand in humbleness before the people. We should care for our physical appearance, our grooming and our manners. Nothing about us should detract from the presentation of