Category: Leadership

A Pulpit Giant Lays Down the Mantle

RNS-TAYLOR-OBITThe Rev. Gardner C. Taylor prays during his sermon at a historic meeting of four black Baptist denominations at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., in 2005. Religion News Service file photo by Michael Clancy.

It could not have happened on a more appropriate day.

Gardner C. Taylor, a giant of the American pulpit who had spent most of his life proclaiming Christ, passed away on Easter Sunday at the age of 89.

Taylor served from 1948 to 1990 as Senior Pastor of Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church of Christ. He was influential in the establishment of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and served as President of that important body. He served twice as National Radio Preacher for NBC, delivered the 100th Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale University, and lectured at many colleges and seminaries.

In 1979 Time magazine called him the “dean of the nation’s Black preachers,” and Baylor University included him in its 1996 list of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world.

In 1993 I had my first opportunity to meet Dr. Taylor, conducting an interview that would appear in the January-February 1994 issue of Preaching magazine. He became a Contributing Editor of that publication (which I serve as Executive Editor), and spoke for us at the National Conference on Preaching and other events.

Over the years I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit with him from time to time, and in 2010 was honored to be invited to write a chapter for Our Sufficiency Is of God, a book which consisted of essays written in honor of Dr. Taylor, edited by Timothy George, James Earl Massey and Robert Smith, Jr. My last personal visit with him was at the reception marking the release of the book, held at Duke Divinity School in order to accommodate his inability to travel (he was living in Raleigh, North Carolina in retirement). Even then, with his health on the decline, he was gracious, engaging, and exuberant in his love for preachers and preaching.

In 2010, Preaching magazine proposed the 25 most influential preachers of the past 25 years, and Taylor was listed at number four on that list. In 1999 Preaching included him in its list of the 20 greatest preachers of the 20th century. In that 2010 article, I wrote: “A profound influence on the African-American pulpit, Gardner Taylor is a model of eloquence and passion in preaching.”

He was the final pulpiteer of his generation; we called him “the last pulpit prince” in a 2014 profile in Preaching. He not only faithfully preached the Word to his own congregation for many years, but he profoundly influenced more than one generation of preachers who stand on his broad shoulders.

Even as he lays down his mantle and moves into the other side of eternity, may he inspire ever new generations of preachers to preach the Word boldly and faithfully.

What Business is Your Church In?

Change is a reality. We can recognize and deal with it, or we can let it run over us.

Kodak is a prime example. A success for many years, changing technology finally caught up with them. They thought they were in the film and camera business, when they should have recognized they were in the picture business.

First came digitization, which allows us to take and store photographs in a digital form rather than on film. One can only how the executives at Kodak once laughed at that silly concept. Yet soon millions of people were storing their favorite images on their computers – then on their phones – rather than on paper. And then they discarded the camera altogether and began taking photos with those same phones.

As a February 17 article in The Wall Street Journal observed, “In 1996 Kodak employed 140,000 people and had a market value of $28 billion. In January 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. Instagram was founded in October 2010 and was bought by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion. It had 13 employees at the time.”

The last buggy whip maker survived for awhile, but then it was all gone. Kodak was the last buggy whip maker of old-school photography. Unfortunately, many of our churches are the last buggy whip makers in their neighborhoods – clinging to the methods that comforted the flock in the 1950’s but oblivious to the changing culture around them.

As organizations like Kodak didn’t do, we need to focus on our real mission, not cling to outdated methodology. We are not in the pews and parsons business – we are in the gospel business. We are not called to defend and cling to the methodologies that our grandparents used to grow churches in their generation. We are called to be students of both scripture and culture, so that we can determine how to most effectively communicate God’s truth to a lost and dying world.

Here’s to You, Dr. Robinson

Preaching magazine is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and one of the figures who has most influenced preaching during those years has been Haddon Robinson, now retired from his teaching role at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Through his work at GCTS, Denver Seminary and Dallas Seminary, he has taught generations of pastors and teachers, who are helping to shape the evangelical pulpit of today. Every evangelical preacher owes him a debt of gratitude. One of his last major projects is Theology of Work, a treasury of resources on the topic of faith and its relationship to work. As the website explains: “The Theology of Work (TOW) Project exists to help people explore what the Bible and the Christian faith can contribute to ordinary work.” Given this is the week when we celebrate Labor Day, this is an opportune moment to take a look at the site, including articles, Bible studies and more.Haddon-Robinson

There is also a revised and updated edition of Robinson’s classic Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages now available. This is one of those essential texts that belongs on every preacher’s bookshelf, but don’t put it on the shelf until it has been read and thoroughly devoured!

Thank you, Dr. Robinson, for all that you have contributed to those of us who preach the Word. Your influence and legacy will be making a kingdom impact for generations to come.

Preaching and Pastoral Care

As a young pastor while in seminary, I served a congregation where the median age was probably 87. Yet amazingly, during my two years as their pastor, not one member of the congregation died, and only one had any kind of serious illness. I told them I was good for their health, and it appears that was the case, since two of them passed away within six months after my departure. Later, when I was an associate pastor in Tallahassee, I had an arrangement with the senior pastor. He did the hospital visits, which he enjoyed, and I did the committee meetings and other administration, which he despised. It was a win-win.

As we were developing our Master of Ministry program at Anderson University, I was sometimes asked if there would be a course on counseling. My standard response was – how long does it take to learn to refer someone to a trained counselor?

OK, so I am not Mr. Pastoral Care. Mercy and compassion are not among my primary spiritual gifts. My counseling style leans more toward grabbing someone by the scruff of the neck, shaking them, and saying, “Quit doing that!”

Though it may not be my primary ministry gift, nevertheless I do understand the vital role that pastoral care plays in ministry. In fact, before moving to South Carolina, we lived in Nashville and I was deacon training coordinator for a congregation where we had about 250 deacons, divided into 12 teams, and they handled 90% of the pastoral care needs of that church. The deacons did most of the hospital visitation – as the pastor told members, if they saw him in their hospital room it was not good news – so I helped train deacons for basic pastoral care tasks they would be performing in their ministry role. So though I’m not good at it, I do believe in it!

And I do find it interesting to think about the relationship of preaching to pastoral care. In the very first year of Preaching magazine – back in 1985 and 86 – I enlisted Wayne Oates to do a series on preaching and pastoral care. At the very start of that series, he made this observation: “For most of Christian history, preaching and pastoral care would not be spoken of with a plural verb. Preaching and pastoral care were seen and practiced as a singular experience. The earliest formulations of pastoral care in this century began in the pulpits of exceptionally persuasive and gifted preaching pastors.”

Oates cites several well-known preachers in their time as models of this synthesis of preaching and pastoral care, such as Theodore Adams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Richmond, VA for many years. “Adams’ preaching was energized by his shepherding care of individuals and small groups. In the early 1930′s he was intensely concerned with synthesizing his preaching with a genuinely scientific approach to pastoral care.

“Contemporary with Adams in the Southern Baptist ministry was a brilliant array of pastors in other communions. Ralph Sockman blended preaching and pastoral care as he preached to Methodist congregations. John Sutherland Bonnell and George Buttrick were Presbyterian preachers and authors whose sermons spoke directly to the needs of persons for ethical reinforcement of their Christian faith and personal fortification in their personal and family lives. Paul Scherer spoke as an inspired Lutheran to the need of people for pastoral care. To him preaching was an ‘event in eternity.’

“The issues of ‘being a real person’ were addressed . . . by Harry Emerson Fosdick at Riverside Church in New York. He measured the effectiveness of his sermons by the number of persons who sought his care and counsel in the following week. Norman Vincent Peale, in the Dutch Reformed Church, is well known for his books, but few beyond his parish (knew of) his remarkably pastoral preaching Sunday after Sunday at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Even fewer realize that he established what was probably the first pastoral counseling center in the context of a local church.

“These pastors, and many others of their generation, saw preaching and pastoral care as functional extensions of each other, not as separate disciplines between which a pastor chose. They taught homiletics and pastoral care in seminaries adjacent to their pastoral fields of action. In doing so they assumed that pastoral care and counseling is not a specialty apart from preaching but an organic whole with preaching.”

While these pulpit giants of the mid-twentieth century saw preaching and pastoral care as integrally related, in more recent years these two fields have been seen and taught as distinct specialties in pastoral theology. The danger of that separation is that without a lively connection to pastoral life, preaching can easily become an academic exercise disengaged from the lives of God’s people.  Likewise, pastoral care needs to be connected to the active study and proclamation of God’s Word, “because without preaching as the proclamation of the good news of the available Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, caring for people wears thin and becomes trivial.”

This is why Oates insisted on the importance of “a holistic, inseparable relationship between preaching and pastoral care. . . . The primary responsibility of a Christian pastor is to convey the good news that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Preaching, teaching, and healing are inseparable ways of doing so.”

Hiring Staff

One of the most exciting times in the life of a church is when they are able to hire new staff. In his book Strategic Disciple Making, Aubrey Malphurs tells us there are three times when churches should recruit staff:

1. When critical things aren’t getting done – because your team is too busy doing other critical things

2. When your church is growing – there are more people and more needs to cover

3. When your church plateaus – it may be stuck at its current size because the staff can only handle so many people, and those who feel uncared for start dropping out, replaced by new ones at the same rate

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you are involved in hiring people:

1. Always be considering where the next hire needs to be. Aubrey Malphurs says the best time to hire someone is before you feel the need. What he means by that is that it is ideal to be able to play offense rather than defense – to be able to fill a spot before the situation becomes critical. When you can stay ahead of the curve, it means that you can take the time to look for the right person without being rushed, and that can help you avoid some mistakes.

2. Keep a file of potential future staff. As you run across promising candidates, keep their names and information in a file that you can pull out quickly in the event of an opening.

3. Have a written job description. Too often a staff member is hired and comes on board having heard one set of expectations for the position, only to find that those don’t match up with the reality. That creates a problem for both the church and the staff member.

In a related thought, make extensive notes in the interview, and then do a follow-up document expressing the major thoughts expressed by both sides. Share it among the committee to be sure there is a consensus that this is really their view, then share it with the candidate. This can help a committee clarify what it is really looking for, and can help the candidate clearly see what the church’s expectations are.

4. Don’t assume you know them well after an interview. Some people are charming and smooth in an interview, but once you get them on the job you discover their primary skill is good interviews. Others may appear shy or less assertive, but you may find they are top workers once they are on board. The interview is helpful, but it is no replacement for talking to people who have worked with the candidate previously.

Another suggestion: always have more than one person participating in an interview with a candidate. Sometimes the whole search committee will be involved, but if not, at least have someone else with you as you do the interview. They can help you observe the candidate, pick up on questionable areas, notice things you may have missed as you are engaged in the conversation.

Some useful interview questions might be, “As a leader, how have you relied on others?” or “How do you compensate for your weaknesses?” (The question, “What are your weaknesses?” always elicits the clichéd response, “I just can’t seem to stop being such a perfectionist.”) Be careful – when someone projects only strength, there’s usually a hidden weakness.


Get the latest updates via email!