A few days ago, Bo Brown, pastor of Maylene, Alabama’s Community Baptist Church and as nice a brother as you’ll ever have, handed me several CDs and one DVD.
“We recorded your sermons from the revival. And Saturday when you did the deacon session, we video-taped it. It’s on the DVD.”
I was delighted for several reasons. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the churches I pastored were on live television and so every word I uttered, practically, was recorded and preserved. From 1990 onward, the FBC of Kenner, Louisiana, was not broadcasting its services, but they made periodic tapes of the sermons. I suppose they’re collecting dust in some box somewhere.
Recently, a friend in Michigan invited me up in early December to do the pastors/spouses banquet for his association. He said, “We’ll find a couple of churches for you to preach that Sunday, too.” But in order to do that–that is, to let the pastors see what they’re getting–he needed me to send him some of my recorded sermons.
Driving home from Lanett, Georgia, Thursday of this week, I decided to see what I’ll be sending Director of Ministry Bobby Gilstrap and popped the Sunday morning CD into the player.
As with most churches that record the services, there are no stops along the way that allow a listener to skip forward or go backward. You begin with the invocation and listen to everything that was done that day.
I did that with three services in a row, and heard three of my four sermons.
Members of the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, where I served from 1974 into 1986, enjoy telling a little story from the pastor before me. Dr. S. R. Woodson led the church from the 1940s into 1972. The church had been on radio for many years, and when they began taping the sermons, Dr. Woodson decided he’d like to hear some of his preaching.
That Sunday afternoon, he cued up the big tape machine (remember those reel-to-reel things?) and settled back to enjoy his sermon.
He fell asleep.
The guffaws that would follow the tellling of this indicated he was not the only one who fell asleep during his preaching. (But he was a great Christian gentleman and gracious to me in every way; now in Heaven, I have nothing but deep appreciation for him and his ministry.)
Driving down Interstate 65 from Montgomery to Mobile, I listened to myself preaching. Having not done that in decades, it was an interesting couple of hours.
Okay, you’re wondering what flaws I found, right? The answer is plenty.
–I said Mary and Joseph “lost” Jesus in the Temple when he was 10 years old. I know very well the Bible says (Luke 2) that He was 12 at the time. Where did the “10” come from and why didn’t I catch it?
–I mumbled. In my mind, I was speaking more softly in places, but it showed up as mumbling on the tape.
–I did not like the way I read the Scripture. This is a big thing with me, and it was good for me to hear how ineffective my reading of the text was. As if to reinforce the point, an hour later, a Christian radio station played a section of Scripture read by the great British actor Alexander Scourby. I wanted to turn in my badge, he was so outstanding.
I am determined to work more on reading Scripture effectively.
–The sermons remind me of a grocery bag filled with everything the family is going to be needing for the next week. I didn’t say a thing I didn’t mean, didn’t feel deeply, and would not say again, but how nice it would be if one of those sermons was neatly divided into, say, two messages that were neater and more orderly.
But, then–I’m who I am and the way I preach is the result of nearly a half-century of trial and error. All in all, I’m okay about it.
Am I impressed by my preaching? (You were wondering; just thought I’d voice it.) Hardly. I’m no Chuck Swindoll or John MacArthur or Charles Stanley.
Becoming a “great” preacher was never my goal. Over 20 years ago, when the Lord and I had a heart-to-heart talk one night about my preaching, and He asked what kind of preacher I wanted to be–long story; I’ve told it in other places–I said, “I’m not asking for greatness or acclaim for my preaching. I want to be effective. I never want to stand at the pulpit without a clear grasp of the message, I want the message to have a firm grasp on me. I want good rapport with the congregation, and I want to see people come to Jesus.”
That’s been my prayer ever since.
I love to preach. That surely comes through from the CDs. Anyone listening can tell I’m in “my place,” doing what I was called to do.
On the other hand, I’ve never been at the place where an unemployed pastor friend was when he exclaimed in my office, “I have to preach, Joe! Preaching is my passion!”
I suggested there was his problem. “Preaching was never meant to be your passion. Jesus wants to be your passion.”
Give him credit; he took that well and thanked me. He’s serving effectively in a thriving pastorate today.
As much as I love preaching the messages the Lord has laid on my heart, I have never claimed that the act of preaching was my passion.
In fact, in April 1961 when God called me into the ministry while singing in the revival choir at Birmingham’s West End Baptist Church, it was not a “call to preach” or even a “call to pastor.” I distinctly remember it being “a call into the ministry.” That’s why when I left the pastorate to become Director of Missions for metro New Orleans in early 2004, I was not leaving my calling.
These days, while I’m retired from the active pastorate, I’m still in the ministry.
My son Marty promises he will see about putting one or more of the sermons on our website so you can hear them. I’m completely at sea over how that can be done, but if anyone can, it’s Marty.
We’ll let you know when it’s there.