It wasn’t long after God called me to preach that someone gave me a set of cassette tapes with different preachers preaching through the Word of God. At the time I was living in Boaz, AL and commuting to Jacksonville State University. I made the hour long drive and back five days a week and on most days I listened to two sermons a day. I will forever be thankful to Glenda Fields for giving me those tapes because as I listened to the men preaching I listened to what I would soon learn was Expository Preaching.
I left JSU for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I will have to admit…I heard a lot about Expository Preaching, but I didn’t actually hear a lot of Expository Preaching. After graduating from Seminary I found myself going to conferences headlined by the men dubbed the “Princes of Expository Preaching,” and read their commentaries and books, but for the most part it would seem that expository preaching was nothing more than coming up with an alliterated outline of the passage and skimming over the top of the text.
I will never forget the moment I realized that I was often spending more hours in the thesaurus trying to find words that stated with the same letter than I was spending in the actual text. At that moment I walked away from alliteration and decided to preach the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text.
There are many people who influenced me. I am most thankful for John MacArthur…I lived in Alabama and he lived in California, but his faithfulness to the text molded me more than any other living pastor. I am also thankful for the Puritans. I find myself reading them more and more and sometimes wonder why you would want to read any living writer when you can feast on their work!
I’m not trying to say that I am on the level with these men…I am so far from their level that I can just barely catch a glimpse of them over the horizon, but each week I open my Bible and pick up with the next verse—the one after the one I ended with on the last Sunday. I have determined to preach the Word book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, word by word, and when necessary jot by jot. I’m not perfect, I miss more than I get, but I dig and try to give the people who gather to hear me preach a word from the Letters of Heaven.
As I look back on it I have already shared some of my greatest influences, but the more I study the life of Ezra the more I find myself wanting to be like him. In Ezra 7:10 we find these words, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD and to do it, and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.” I also love the way we find him carrying that out in Nehemiah 8. We find him reading the Law to the people and then in Nehemiah 8:8 we find these words about the Levites, “They read from the book of the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
I love that because it captures what I think is the true essence of Expository Preaching…it is reading the Word of God clearly and giving the sense of the passage so that the listeners can understand what they are hearing. That’s what I try to do each week and I wonder what might happen in the Southern Baptist Convention if every pastor did the same thing.
Years ago a friend of mine was in a meeting with several pastors from our convention. They were talking about what they were preaching at the moment and over and over again the main topic was the movie The Da Vinci Code. What?!! The movie was bad enough…I can’t imagine wasting my time preaching on it!! Somewhere along the line many in our convention have bought into the Gospel of Pragmatism. It would seem that if it works we should do it, but there are many things that work that the Church should not be doing.
I could get a huge crowd next Sunday if I wanted to do it…I could put out a sign, advertise a Keg Party with Jimmy Buffett music and fill up the place, but what would we have to do to keep the crowd? What would be the next thing? Not long ago a friend posted a video of a pastor riding a zip line through his half empty church. I remember seeing that same pastor on TV with huge crowds, but the crowds were gone and the pastor was riding a zip line in the Sanctuary. I wanted to just scream—Preach the Word.
I’m not the pastor of thousands, but I could not be happier than I am being the pastor of the great FBC of Pell City. I hope we will grow, but I will not sell out to accomplish that goal. There are many great pastors of very large churches who faithfully preach the Word of God and I am thankful for them. Today, as you are reading this blog, I will be in Houston, TX for the Southern Baptist Convention. I will hear pastor after pastor introduced, as being the man who took his church from 100 to 10,000 members and those men will be paraded before us as the experts and the ones to follow. Many of them are, but I do not believe that the size of one’s church automatically determines whom we should follow. I’d rather hear from the man who has faithfully preached the Word of God week after week to 10 people in a community of 100 than from the man who has the biggest dog and pony show and has 1,000 in a community of 10,000,000. The reality is simple for me—just give me a man who will open up the Word of God and show me how to know the God of the Bible from the very Words He gave us. Nothing more and nothing less—just give me a Word from God.