Learning to Preach

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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.

The Greatest Need of Northwest Baptists

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I’ll get right to the point – the greatest need of Northwest Baptists is for more pastors. We need more God-called, Jesus-loving, Gospel-sharing, Bible-preaching pastors in the Northwest Baptist Convention of churches. If we are going to fill the 50-odd vacant pulpits that currently exist, we need 50 more preaching pastors. If we are going to start the hundreds, and thousands, of new churches that we need in the Northwest, we need hundreds and thousands of pastors to shepherd those churches.

The more churches we have, the more people we can disciple for Christ and deploy into ministry. Whoever has the most churches wins, meaning we will reach increasing numbers of people as we increase the number of churches. But we can’t grow the numbers of churches without pastors to plant and shepherd those churches. So calling out and training pastors is the key.
I want to suggest a few things that we can do to address this need for more pastors. First, every current pastor must seek to call out new pastors from his congregation. As pastors we often think our primary responsibilities are to preach the Word, care for the people, and make disciples of the lost. I would add one more key task to that list – we need to pray for God to call pastors from our churches, and we need to “keep our eyes open” for those whom God might use as pastors.

Second, churches and pastors need to provide opportunities for potential pastors to utilize the spiritual gifts of leadership, teaching and preaching that God has given to the would-be pastors in our churches. When we provide opportunities for potential pastors to lead a small group, do missions, make prospect and hospital visits, and preach from the pulpit, these opportunities will help confirm God’s call on their lives. God’s call on my life was kindled and confirmed as I taught my first Sunday school class and led our Baptist Student Union ministry. My pastor took me under his wing and gave me opportunities to preach. He reviewed my first few sermons with me. He brought me with him to a men’s retreat so that we could talk about ministry on the drive to the camp. These were greatly important experiences for a young man seeking to clearly hear from God about a call to pastoral ministry.

Third, the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) must place a high priority on helping our churches develop pastoral leaders. Some might think our top priority is the starting of new churches. But actually our top priority is finding and developing more church planters and pastors. We could start 75 new churches each year if we had God-called men to lead them. And the most important thing we can do for our established churches is provide growth opportunities and resources to their current pastor, and to assist churches when they are without a pastor to find a pastor who is a Bible-preaching, Southern Baptist cooperating pastor.

Some things the NWBC is doing to develop pastors are: provide substantial financial support to students of Golden Gate Seminary’s Pacific Northwest Campus in Vancouver, WA. The NWBC contributes more than $3,000 per student, each year, helping them to receive a world-class education. These dollars come from the Cooperative Program contributions of our churches. Second, pastor cluster groups are conducted across the convention each year, involving about 50 pastors at any one time. Currently, we are in the process of reshaping our ministry to pastorless churches, which will include training more transitional pastors. Other opportunities for pastors include the Oasis Retreat (May 19-21) and MY316 evangelism and new believer resources for churches.

Another pastoral development ministry that we are planning to greatly expand is Contextualized Leadership Development for pastors who are not planning on receiving traditional seminary training. As previously stated, we need more pastors, and we’ll never have enough if we only rely on seminary-trained leaders. Golden Gate Baptist Seminary graduates about 50 each year who want to be a preaching pastor. Those 50 come from the entire Golden Gate system, which includes campuses in Colorado, Arizona and California, as well as Washington. In the Northwest alone we could easily use 50 more pastors each year. That means we must find ways to provide practical, effective training to men that doesn’t require four years of college and three years of seminary.

The Northwest needs churches of all sizes and types, serving various cultures and language groups. We need bi-vocational and full-time pastors to lead these churches (we need more bi-vocational pastors than full-time). More pastors is our greatest need. And our best opportunity to get more pastors is for current pastors to place a high priority on calling out and providing opportunities to potential pastors in their congregations.