Q: Tell us a little about how you got into ministry.
A: Back in my day, people always used to ask little boys what they wanted to be when they grew up. Their answer today is that they just want to grow up. My mother told me that I would always say I was either going to be a preacher or a professional baseball player. My father was a preacher, but he backslid before I knew him as such. I only knew him as an alcoholic almost all of my life. Evidently, there was some DNA about ministry in me that I did not know about. When I was about 17, God miraculously called me to preach in a way I could never doubt. Then I went to TBC in 1968 on a Sheaves for Christ scholarship, and I started preaching whenever I could.
Q: Who were some of the preachers that have inspired the way you preach?
A: Wayne McClain was the greatest source of inspiration in my life. He became our pastor right before we got out of bible college. I also enjoyed the ministry of T.F. Tenney. I studied his one-liners and alliteration. Marvin Hicks was a great debater and camp meeting preacher. I studied his debating because I had the only Apostolic church in the city, and I knew the Assemblies of God and Baptists were going to attack me. Back in the day, they would debate you, and I had to prepared to defend the truth. Marvin Cole was a man of God that I preached revivals for that influenced me. I was an assistant to O. R. Fauss for many months, and he taught me how to give an altar call. He said the altar call starts right when I step to the pulpit. Also, R. E. Johnson was a great camp meeting preacher, and he taught me to not put my best illustration first.
Q: What do you think are the keys to a great sermon?
A: First of all, the conviction of the speaker. You are only as powerful as you personally believe. Some men are quoting what they have heard and learned, but it is not something they do not have down deep. Second, the greatest sermon is a message. What is the difference? The sermon carries a message. The message is what God is saying right then to that specific audience. It is a rhema, a relative word for right now. The right word at the wrong time is a failure. You need the right word at the right time.
And finally, illustrations that move people. You have to appeal a little bit to the head, but a whole lot to the heart.
Q: How do you begin to craft a sermon?
A: It depends on the type of message. You do not always get to eat steak, sometimes you just get some beans and potatoes to get you through the week. Ask yourself: “What are they asking me to do? What am I called upon to do?” You are trying to tailor that message to the goal that you have. To me, the most important parts of the message are the beginning and the ending. When you assume the pulpit, you have the anointing, but you also have five minutes for the congregation to decide to give you their anointing or not. You have to find a balance in the intro to win the favor of the congregation. I spend most of my time on the beginning and ending.
Q: What is your routine for studying?
A: You would be surprised at how many sermons I get sitting in a deer stand. I am not good at sitting down and putting a message together, it comes by inspiration. I study 24/7. I have a lot of the bible memorized in my mind, and with a cell phone, I can study wherever I am. Whatever I am doing, whoever I am with, I let people speak to me. One of the best ways to get a message is to listen to the sheep. If a shepherd listens to the sheep, they will tell him where they are hurting. Another thing I learned from an elder is, “He who has prayed well has studied well.” When you spend time with God, you have really studied. You have to learn to wait on God and learn to hear from and discern the Spirit.
Q: What do your sermon notes look like?
A: Sometimes it is a mixture of an outline and a manuscript, but basically, you could probably take my sermons and preach them. I usually have a strong outline. I am different than some folks, and I believe God can anoint you to write an outline. My pastor taught me this: the written down notes are like a diving board in a pool, they spring me into the message. I flow into what the service wants me to do, but the notes get me into that.
Q: Do you have any tips for young preachers?
A: Number 1: Know God. Learn to discern God. There are three spirits in the world: Holy Spirit, evil spirit, and human spirit, and you need to know the spirit world. You need to know the difference between the devil and the flesh, and the difference between the flesh and God. Number 2: know truth. Study truth. Learn how to preach the truth. Number 3: know people. You have to learn how to understand human flesh; how they are thinking, what they are thinking, where they are hurting. Number 4, have a spirit of true humility. True humility is not getting in a pulpit and calling yourself a big dummy, no one wants to hear that. The definition of humility is not thinking less of self, it is not thinking of self. And then finally, if you make God’s business your business, He will make your business His business.