Last week I spent a few days with Baptist leaders serving in the Western part of the United States. Something that we all agreed upon was the huge need for more pastors. As I have written before, our first great need in the Northwest is not for more churches as that would be “putting the cart before the horse.” More churches, and more pastors for our existing churches, will happen as we identify more God-called men, set them apart as ministry leaders, and equip them for pastoral ministry.
As we talked about the need for more pastors, someone mentioned that churches provide fewer opportunities to “learn to preach” than they once did because of the decline of Sunday and Wednesday evening services. It is difficult for the senior pastor to give a novice preacher an opportunity on Sunday morning.
So how does a fellow learn to preach? Let me suggest a few things. First, teach a weekly Bible study class. If you have a man who is showing interest in preaching, assign him a class to teach. Or, better yet, challenge him to start a new class. It was through teaching Sunday school and a college Bible study that God called me to preach. I didn’t learn sermon delivery by teaching the class, but it got me into the Word, wrestling with the text, and learning how to apply it to the high schoolers and college students I was teaching.
Second, preach in a nursing home or assisted-living facility. Nearly every small town has a retirement facility and these provide multiple opportunities for ministry, including a preaching ministry. When the question, “Where did you learn to preach?” was asked in my meeting last week, my immediate response was, “In a nursing home.” For two years I preached monthly in a nursing home. That may be why I’m not easily offended when someone falls asleep on me! Seriously, in the nursing home I learned to identify who was listening and responding. I learned to visit with the folks, looking them in the eye, listen to them, and love on them. And I learned how to prepare a message. I clearly remember the occasion when I addressed them as “you guys,” knowing that didn’t sound right. After the service an old gentlemen told me that “you guys” wasn’t very respectful when addressing “old people.” Lesson learned. The next time it was “Ya’ll.”
Third, ask your pastor to teach you the basics of sermon preparation and delivery. Nothing helps you learn to preach more than doing it, but an experienced preacher can help you to work in the right direction. A few meetings with an experienced preacher can be of great benefit. Also, get a basic text on preaching. One that is short and simple is best. A young preacher needs to learn the basics of biblical interpretation. He needs to learn to identify the central idea of the text. Then he needs to learn how to explain, illustrate, and apply the text.
Fourth, take a class on preaching. One is beginning at Mill Park Baptist Church in Portland at the end of January. I’ll be teaching a class at the Vancouver campus of Golden Gate Seminary in the fall of 2015. Online seminary classes are also available through Golden Gate.
In the Northwest we need more preachers, especially those who can serve as bi-vocational pastors. We need more preachers, and, yes, we need more churches, many more. We have about 450 NWBC churches. If we had the same number of churches per person as they have in Mississippi, we’d have 8,000 churches. If we had the same number as Oklahoma we’d have about 5,000 churches. The reason the South has been called “the Bible best” is because they have a high density of churches, and thus they have far more who attend a church. Whoever has the most churches wins. But to have more churches, and more healthy churches, we must have more preachers.