Second annual preaching conference models text-driven preaching
Southwestern Seminary’s second annual Text-Driven Preaching Conference, March 5-7, provided helpful instruction in the what, how and why of text-driven preaching. Eight plenary sessions, their choice among 30 breakout sessions, and a pre-conference workshop—all led by renowned preachers and scholars in the field of preaching—equipped attendees to allow the structure, substance and spirit of a given biblical text to drive the structure, substance and spirit of their sermons.
Each of the plenary sessions featured a text-driven preacher modeling how to preach a text-driven sermon. Speakers included Dante Wright, H.B. Charles, Tony Merida, Robby Gallaty, and Alistair Begg, as well as Southwestern professors David Allen, Barry McCarty, and President Paige Patterson.
Dean of Southwestern’s School of Preaching David Allen opened the conference, delivering a message from Isaiah 6, wherein Isaiah encounters the Lord and receives his call to be a prophet. Describing Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, Allen said, “Isaiah saw things in the night of sadness that he never saw in the light of gladness.”
Allen asserted that this is characteristic of not only Isaiah, but of himself and of the many preachers in attendance. “All your losses, all your disappointments, and all your discouragements have a mission from God—to point you not to an empty throne on earth, but to a God who sits enthroned in heaven.”
Allen called on his fellow preachers be wary of neglecting their calling. “There is only one sin greater than the rejection of the preaching of God’s Word,” he said. “That is the rejection of preaching the Word when you are called to do so.”
Following Allen was Dante Wright, senior pastor of Sweet Home—The Pinnacle of Praise in Round Rock, Texas, who preached from Jeremiah 20. He exhorted preachers to rely on God as the sustainer of their ministries, even when they face the temptation to quit.
Wright described a “virus” that has power to destroy one’s ministry and church. This “virus,” he explained, is manifested in various aspects of ministry: disappointment following Sunday services, members who “starve your appetite for ministry,” discouragement, and many other factors that bring pastors to the brink of “spiritual burnout.”
Wright challenged conference attendees to remember the God who called them to ministry. “God is too legit for you to quit on Him,” Wright said.
The complaints described by Jeremiah in this chapter are not unfamiliar to the preachers of today, Wright explained. Many pastors are frustrated and discouraged by ridicule they receive, as well as the disappointments of unmet expectations.
“Remember, if God calls you, He can save you and He can sustain you,” Wright said. “You can overcome the temptation to quit by making a decision to persevere under pressure.”
Southwestern President Paige Patterson kicked off the second day of the conference, explaining that the doctrine of salvation is the most important element in God’s Word. “Every doctrine is important, and the Bible is about many things,” he said, “but from the earliest chapters of Genesis, the Bible is about the fall of man and the plan of God to bring about his redemption.”
Preaching from Leviticus 16 on the Day of Atonement, Patterson noted how God told Aaron that he must approach Him in a prescribed way. “The first thing that we are met with is that you do not come to God anytime you choose, under your chosen circumstances. … You have to come to God in God’s way and on His timetable,” Patterson said. “There is no guarantee there will be another opportunity like that.”
But while a sinner is subject to the laws of God, Patterson said, repentance and the blood of Jesus make atonement possible. “God is the eternal judge of the universe,” he said. “He has found us guilty of evil and said the wages of sin is death. But then the eternal Judge laid aside His robes and took human form and paid the price for us.”
The plenary session of H.B. Charles, pastor-teacher of the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., doubled as Southwestern’s chapel service, March 6. He preached Mark 1:9-11 on the baptism of Jesus.
“The baptism of Jesus is not about what Christians should do; the baptism of Jesus is about who Christ is,” Charles said. “And I declare to you this morning that the baptism of Jesus declares Him to be the sinless Son of God who came to save sinners.”
Charles noted that the baptism of John the Baptist was one of repentance for sinners. The question arises, then, why Jesus would seek to be baptized by John. In response to this question, Charles said, “Jesus was baptized that day, I submit to you, to identify Himself with sinners.”
He continued, “Jesus was not baptized that day to repent of sin; Jesus was baptized that day to represent sinners. I’m glad Jesus did not stand at the banks of the Jordan and judge the sinners in the water. He got in the muddy water and joined the sinners in the water. … But not only did He get baptized to identify with sinners; He was baptized to identify Himself as the Savior of sinners.”
Charles went on the explain that, upon a person’s profession of faith, that person has Christ’s righteousness imputed, or credited, to him. Regarding the result of this, Charles explained, “God does not merely see you in Christ as if you had never sinned. … He sees you as if you had performed all the righteousness of Christ. May I be so bold to suggest that in Christ, what God said to Jesus that day, He says to you today—‘You are my child, whom I love; and I am pleased with you, because you are in my beloved Son.’”
Tony Merida, pastor for preaching and vision of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., used his time in the pulpit to preach Romans 8:31-39, reminding the audience of the awe-inspiring truths of the Gospel. In short, he said, “God is for us, Christ Jesus has died for us, He rose for us, He is interceding for us, and nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
These truths, Merida said, do four things for Christians. First, they lead Christians to worship. “We return to these texts over and over again to rekindle awe,” he said. “… When a person gets a new love, a new affection for Jesus, everything changes. How you spend money changes, how you spend time changes, what you look at on the computer changes. Everything changes when affections are stirred.”
Furthermore, these truths lift saints from despair (“When you go to texts like this, you are reminded that the tomb is empty and the throne is occupied,” Merida said.), embolden the saints for mission (“You can endure almost anything with the promises of Romans 8, can’t you?”), and unite the saints in community.
“We are living with a forward lean until the day in which we are in a new creation and every tribe and tongue are gathered together with one voice, singing praise to the Lamb,” Merida said. “The Gospel provides the basis for unity.”
Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church and founder/president of Replicate Ministries, spoke next, preaching 2 Timothy 2 and emphasizing the importance of discipleship in the Christian life and ministry. Discipleship, he said, is an essential but often neglected part of the church.
Gallaty identified in 2 Timothy 2 a three-part process for making disciples. First, Christians must abide in the power of Christ. Gallaty explained that strength in the Christian life is found not in self-reliance, but through Christ. “Ministry is not achieved,” he said. “It is received from Christ.”
The second part of the discipleship process, Gallaty said, is the investment of the people of Christ—people, he added, who are teachable, available and eager to serve and follow the Lord. “We are looking for faithful men and women who have a love for God,” he said.
The problem that plagues many churches, he argued, is a message that salvation is the end goal. “Baptism is not the finish line; it is the starting line,” Gallaty explained, challenging pastors to consider how they are developing spiritually mature men and women in their churches.
Finally, Gallaty explained that disciples must repeat the process of 2 Timothy 2. “The discipleship process is not complete until the mentee becomes the mentor,” Gallaty said.
Barry McCarty, professor of preaching and rhetoric at Southwestern Seminary, preached Ephesians 3:14-21, titling his message “The Endgame Prayer.” He explained, “What Paul prays for the Ephesians [in this passage] is God's ultimate purpose for every believer.”
McCarty identified three petitions that Paul makes. First, “Strengthen my inner man with power so that Christ may be completely at home in my heart.” Second, “Root me and ground me in love so that I may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” Finally, in reference the latter part of verse 19 (“…that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God”), McCarty summarized Paul’s petition as “Fill me up with Yourself.”
“My hope and prayer,” McCarty told attendees, “is that you would adopt this prayer for yourself and for the people you love and the people you lead in ministry, because I think that’s God's purpose here—He discloses to us what He is all about.”
The conference concluded with a message from Alistair Begg, senior pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and Bible teacher on the radio program “Truth for Life.” His session doubled as Southwestern’s chapel service, March 7.
Begg preached 2 Corinthians 11:30-12:10, paying particular attention to Paul’s declaration, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Begg asked, “Have you ever considered the possibility that your handicaps and your limitations may, in the providence of God, prove to be the key to your usefulness in Gospel ministry?”
Begg encouraged his listeners to view their weaknesses as an advantage, noting that they increase dependence on God. He noted, however, that few people view weakness in such a way.
“Many a young minister is prone to try to attain by one jump the height that others have reached by a long series of single steps in the labor of a quarter or half a century,” Begg said. “Through these many dangers, toils, snares, and challenges of raising our children, the experience of facing our own incapacities, the awareness of the sinfulness of our own hearts, our proneness to pride—all of these things God is fashioning in order that we might not be inhibited by them, but that we might be helped by them. It is, at the same time, an ocean of grace, which I think many of us have only ever paddled in on the shallows.”
Begg exhorted his listeners to beware the weakness of strength (that is, sinful pride) and to embrace the strength of weakness. “The day you think you can do [ministry], you can’t,” he said. “And the day you’re pretty sure you can’t, you’ll be able to discover that God can.”
Beyond the plenary sessions, conference attendees could choose from 30 breakout sessions on such subjects as preaching topics, biblical topics, and leadership. Breakout speakers included Denny Autrey, Deron Biles, Daniel Dickard, Adam Dooley, Michael Duduit, Jordan Easley, Mark Howell, Jonathan Leeman, Nathan Lino, Tony Mathews, Matthew McKellar, Chris Osborne, Jarrett Stephens, and Kyle Walker.
In addition, the conference featured a Spanish-language track led by Rudy Gonzales, New Testament professor at Southwestern; and a Korean-language track, led by David Lim and Reverend Byung Rak Choi. Also, a pre-conference workshop, focusing on “hermeneutics for homiletics,” was led by Abraham Kuruvilla, senior research professor of preaching and pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. Finally, a late-night Grindstone on the second day of the conference featured plenary speakers Begg, Gallaty, Merida and Allen in a panel discussion.
Between sessions, conference participants had the opportunity to browse through the exhibit hall in MacGorman Chapel, which featured such exhibitors as LifeWay Christian Resources, Logos Bible Software, Accordance Bible Software, B&H Academic Digital & WORDsearch Bible, and Seminary Hill Press. Also during the conference, Master of Divinity student Gary Forrest was presented with the 2018 LifeWay Pastoral Leadership Award.
Southwestern will host a Text-Driven MicroConference immediately before the SBC Pastor’s Conference in Dallas, June 10. Speakers include pastors and Southwestern Ph.D. students Mac Brunson, Andre Kirkland and Clay Smith as well as Southwestern professors David Allen, Deron Biles and Kyle Walker. To learn more and to register, see here.