Saturday, January 25, 2014

15 Outstanding Preachers

This past week, a preaching colleague of mine engaged me in a conversation.  Being a person who loves to dialogue and debate, he posed to me a very interesting question.  He asked, ‘Pullam...who are your top 10 favorite preachers?’  While I am not the best in the preaching craft, I love preaching; and I love to talk about preaching, read on preaching, and I love to preach.  So...I called the roll: My father, J.A. Reed, Jr., my uncles, Joe Samuel Ratliff, Cleophus J. LaRue, my pastor, Harvey Clemons, Jr., J. R. Miller, R.L. Sanders, Charles Spurgeon, H.B. Charles, Jr. and several others.  Then, he gave me a few qualifiers that threw me.  He said 1) Someone who has lived in my lifetime (in the past 35 years), whether living or now deceased.  2) Someone to whom you aren’t related nor have had a close relationship. 3) Someone over the age of 50.  4) These had to be men, not women (which I found rather odd, but okay, I can do that).  I told him I needed some time, and asked him to give me his list first.  He could only give me five.  I could only do the same.  It has lingered with me; and I think I have 15!  lol  This morning, I have gone through my list; and (while I will not take the time now to provide a description of the following), it has really provoked me to redefine the shape of my own preaching, reflect on the way these preachers have touched me, and to challenge myself to further come into my own self as a proclaimer of God’s Word.  Here is my tentative (almost definite) tope 15, mindful I’ve probably missed light of my friends’ qualifiers.

1. E. K. Bailey (While he was my college pastor, whom I met and fellowshipped with on occasions, my years there at the Concord Church were times of health challenges for Dr. Bailey.  We didn’t spend extensive time, one-on-one.  Therefore, he is #1!)
2. Ralph West
3. Gardner C. Taylor
4. W. A. Criswell
5. John F. Macarthur
6. Melvin V. Wade
7. Isadore Edwards
8. Calvin Miller
9. Joel Gregory
10. Billy Graham
11. Manuel Scott, Sr.
12. Adrian Rogers
13. E.V. Hill
14. Jasper Williams
15. Darrell Gilyard

These men are not perfect men.  And, surprisingly, it became of interest to me those who I placed on my list.  But these are definitely the ones who stand out for me.  Some I have only heard 4 or 5 times; but their preaching has completely impacted my life and ministry.  Maybe some day, after I reflect, I can go into how these preaching heroes of mine have touched and spoken to me personally and in preaching.’s my list.  I will invite my friend to read this blog! :)

If anyone is reading.....I’m curious.  Who is on your list???

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dr. Gardner C. Taylor on ‘The Presumptuousness of Preaching'

Since my formative years of preaching, I have always had an admiration and connection to the preaching prowess and giftedness of Dr. Gardner C. Taylor.  In short, his preaching has always carried me to a peculiar mix of height and depth I still fail to adequately explain or describe, even now.  Some of my favorite preachers are not originals; but their preaching is highly filtered through the sifting of their own personality and crafting of the art we call ‘Preaching.’  This should at least solicit a respect and reverence of the diligence the preacher has committed to the stewardship of their ministry.  Patti Labelle, the long-standing R & B singer, is a great example.  When you hear her voice, there is no question on whether or not you’ve heard her voice.  In fact, unlike many singers, many who’ve come and gone have not even attempted to imitate the tone, texture and intonation of her voice.  In some sense, I suppose it seems pointless and redundant to do so.  This example helps me to explain my view of Dr. Taylor’s preaching giftedness.  Unlike many preachers, there is no way to put a handle on the preaching of Dr. Gardner C. Taylor.  When you hear his voice, there is no question on whether or not you’ve heard his voice.  If a young (or old) preacher made an attempt to emulate his preaching, they would merely be caught in an ecclesiastical web of preaching futility.  

I contend that, while Dr. Taylor can be hard to pen down, he is worthy of the attention of any preacher, young or old.  He, now in his 90’s, brings a grace to the pulpit that is unparalleled.  One of the things one will note in his preaching, and in his classic work, ‘How Shall They Preach’, is Dr. Taylor’s language and communicative distinction.  You cannot help but note that he is heavily drawn to Alexander Mclaren, or J.W. Forsyth and a G. Campbell Morgan (one of my favorites).  You can also discern his love of the works of the Quakers and the Puritans.  How he has redefined black preaching to the extent of being given the nomenclature ‘Prince of Preachers’ (beyond all color lines) is a testament, in and of itself, when you consider Dr. Taylor never perfected the ‘Art of Intonation’ or what we call, ‘Whooping’, in the African-American preaching context.  

“How Shall They Preach” is a collection of Dr. Taylor’s Lyman Beecher Lectureship on Preaching, held at Yale Divinity School since 1871.  Taylor lectured there in 1975-76.  His book (and lecture) is vintage Dr. Gardner C. Taylor.  It is filled with his wit, genius, humor, charm, wordings and a summation of forty years of preaching sojourn, at that time.  Dr. Taylor explores 'the presumptuousness of preaching’, as he terms it.  He says, ‘…preaching is a presumptuous business.  If the undertaking does not have some sanctions beyond human reckoning, then it is, indeed, rash and audacious for one person to dare to stand up before or among other people and declare that he or she brings from the Eternal God a message for those who listen which involves issues nothing less than those of life and death.’ (pg.24)   Dr. Taylor puts forth and holds up an important facet of preaching - the preacher must strive to know the God in Whom we proclaim.  We must acquaint ourselves with the very character, nature, personality and even tendencies of the God of the Bible.  Even as we study the scripture and read the historical events in the pages of God’s Word, we must always identify the character of God.  When we commune with Him, and come to know Him, those things become much easier to spot.  This becomes a life-long pursuit, I think.  After all, no one can claim to know fully a God Who is not only ubiquitous, but simply mysterious.  Dr. Taylor says that, “The temptation to vanity is one of the great perils of the person who preaches.” (pg. 31) Taylor says that, if we are not careful, we can start to believe in our own press clippings.  

I believe it is best for us to carry the conviction of our preaching with us home and in life, but that we should keep the influencing charisma of our preaching in the pulpit.  In a sense, forget about it!  

Taylor says:

“That was a fine sermon,” said a woman as she left the church. “Thank you,” said the preacher, “the devil has already told me so.”

When God uses us as instruments to deliver an outstanding message that touches people, please remember that God hasn’t just smiled on you, or on His people….He is smiling on His Word!  God responds to the proclamation of HIS Word.  If you happen to see ‘preaching’ that seems to elicit excitement from the crowd and there is clearly no reference to God’s Word, it is nothing more than objective truth that has been sweetened by music and made palatable by religious entertainment.  

When it comes to the presumptuousness of preaching, Dr. Taylor lists the great temptations of the preacher:
  1. To recline
  2. To shine
  3. To whine (pg. 33)

In a culture that views the preacher as the mogul or ‘next door Savior’, we must avoid these temptations like the plague.  Taylor says, and I agree, that we should take our flaws and morph them into our strengths.  We should use our infirmities and flaws as an opportunity to not only identify with the humanity to whom we preach, but to flesh it out in a manner that grows us and them.  He says, ‘We who preach are apart of the whole human undertaking.’ (pg. 34)  In describing the power of this reality, in connecting with the humanity (and weaknesses) within one’s self and others, Taylor parallels our pursuit of God with God’s pursuit of us through the incarnation.  That somehow it is implicit within the gospel that God could not work through us until He got ‘with us.’ (i.e. - Immanuel)  I think it is important to note that when we become acquainted with our own human proclivities, and avoid the temptations to become celebrity, and are aware of our own flaws, it places us in the right position to minister effectively to others who, knowingly or unknowingly, have the same plight.  We are then apt to allow God’s Spirit to proclaim “from" victory, rather than “for" it.  

My original intent was to review the entire work, ‘How Shall They Preach’, however, I guess this will suffice.  I highly recommend every preacher find a copy of this book, if possible.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Sunday in Retrospect

On the first Lord’s Day of 2014, God smiled on us and blessed our day of worship at the Mt. Salem Church.  I am so grateful to Pastor and lead this precious congregation whom God loves, and sent His Son to die for, and His Spirit to guide and comfort.  It has been a tremendous time of growth, tutelage and joy.  

Typically, I implement a few new changes at the beginning of February since being at Mt. Salem.  I am planning and praying about those changes now.  The changes are much more gradual, thought-through, and sensitive due to the age of our congregation.  I have seen this challenge as more of a blessing to me than a burden, amid occasional frustrations.  Patience is NOT my virtue!

My sermon title was, “The Difference the Gospel Makes.”  I had a different title (Clothing, Containers & New Beginnings) but I decided against it, going with a more ‘conservative’ label.  I have often struggled with titles and the labeling of my sermons.  Sometimes I get an epiphany of a blockbuster title; but those times have been rare.  There has been, at times, an envy of those (especially my white seminary brothers) who have such catchy titles for days.  Bryan Carter, who pastors the Concord Church in Dallas, has become one who is great in this area.  I remember visiting the website once, and seeing a Resurrection series entitled ‘HeRose’, a play on words from a television show entitled, ‘Heroes.’  I remember saying, ‘Wow....that’s genius.  Why didn’t I think of that!?!?’ lol  If I ever get the opportunity, I hope to take advantage of some college or seminary interns, or bright minds, who sit around and don’t mind throwing out ideas and title to preachers who have the content but no title!  My only consolation is once hearing of one of my preaching heroes, Dr. Ralph West, stating he struggled with titling his sermons, at least creatively.  

I will say that my major reason for going with, ‘The Difference the Gospel Makes,’ came to me as I delved deeper in my study of the text.  It was one of the sermons where I went into the study of this text, Luke 5:33-39, thinking I would be dealing exclusively with ‘new wine and old wineskins’ and giving our people an encouraging message on a type of ‘new year/new you’ kind of pep talk.  BUT.....the more I began to study the parable and text, I began to notice much more - Christ is dealing with the contrast of Judaism and the gospel.  Essentially, Christ reveals to the Pharisees (who were such a pain, by the way) and the disciples of John the reason why He hangs with publicans and sinners.  The premise (or as my friend, Rev. Arthur Lane would say), the sermon in a sentence is: the gospel of Jesus Christ trumps any other religion in its message, its standard and its recipients.

I argued that:
1. The gospel begins with a new start 
2. The gospel births a new self
3. The gospel builds a new structure 
4. The gospel brings in a new seat

When I return to the Mt. Salem Pulpit on the 3rd Sunday, I plan to share on prayer.  It was my plan to preach on prayer yesterday, considering we begin our annual 21 Days of Prayer on the 7th of January.  However, the Lord be praised for the direction He led us in.  

After I speak on prayer, it is my hope to lead our church in a short series on Stewardship.  Looking forward to what God is doing in our congregation and excited to be apart of what He is doing now.  To God be the glory!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Sunday in Retrospect

Happy New Year!

I am excited about the closing of Chapter 2013, and the beginning of Chapter 2014.  With heightened anticipation, I am looking forward to seeing what this new year shall bring.

This past Lord’s Day, I had the opportunity to close out the year sharing with our congregation in the preaching moment.  Strongly, I sensed a need to speak internally on the subject of forgiveness.

Coupled with my prolonged urge to tackle one of my ‘Goliath’s’ called parables, I was led to a passaged tucked away in Matthew 18:21-35, commonly called ‘The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.’  As I’ve reflected over the past few weeks, in my 19 years of preaching ministry, I have never preached an entire message on a Parable.  This very fact blew me away!  I LOVE stories.  I TELL stories.  Many of my sermons, through the years, have been saturated by illustration and stories.  And while I have preached and taught on many of the Bible stories and narratives, and have referenced the parables on many occasions (and teaching on them in Bible studies and groups) I can not recall an entire message or sermon dedicated to the exposition of one of Christ’s parables.

Admittedly, I have often tried.  As a teenage preacher, I always wanted to deal with the story of The Prodigal Son, as it is called.  However, amid the pages of notes, I never mustered the courage to do so.  I suppose I just never felt adequate enough to do one of Christ’s great stories justice.  Add to this, I can be quite analytical and, when reading so many thoughts, conjectures and ideologies, I would often get lost and, yes, confused on what every single item in the parable meant and every person in the story symbolized.  (i.e. - does the lost coin mean the unsaved or the backslider; etc.)  Hitherto, the formulation of my thoughts never moved beyond inception.

Well....I finally did it!  I can say that studying the parable, for me, was rewarding, enlightening and challenging.  Fortunately, the formulation of the outline, points, central idea of the story, etc. all came together.  It took me two weeks to get it down to written form.  Unfortunately, my manuscript was written in rough form throughout the two weeks; and I didn’t bring them all together until Saturday night.  Fortunately, the entire story and lesson consumed so much of me throughout my study that the sermon on Sunday morning was relatively free of notes and enjoyable.  One of my strengths is stories and, I suppose, parables will help me in freeing myself from taking the manuscript into the pulpit.  This is my hope and prayer in 2014 (not my resolution!)  While I need to twerk the manuscript for my files, I can say that my outline was fairly basic:

I. The Setting
II. The Story
III. The Lesson

Within those main points were sub points, but the entire message revolved on the Central Idea of the Story which, I believe is: How we forgive others is the same way God may choose to forgive us.

I am thankful for those who made decisions and came forward, as well as those who have made the decision to act accordingly to God’s Word.

I am excited to have been selected to write a chapter in an upcoming book; and am looking to submit within the next week or so.  Please (if you’re reading this) pray for me.

With the passing of my grandfather over a month ago, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting and praying about how best to make my life count; and how to calm myself down long enough to reflect and chronicle, more than ever before.  I have asked myself awesome it would be if I could go back and read one of my grandfathers’ words from years ago; their thoughts an various events within their life and ministry; and even their vulnerabilities, as much as could be share in lieu onlookers.  Maybe one day, should the Lord suffer us to remain, my children and grandchildren can find some comfort, or perhaps direction; and, if nothing else INSIGHT into my life and thoughts.