Southeast Christian Church – with more than 20,000 members – is one of the ten largest congregations in America. Recently senior pastor Bob Russell handed over the reins of leadership to his long-time preaching associate Dave Stone, bringing to a close a five-year leadership transition. Preaching editor Michael Duduit recently sat down with Bob and Dave (both of them Preaching Contributing Editors, we’re pleased to say), and spoke with them about the leadership transition and the role preaching has played in the process.
Preaching: Bob, you have been senior pastor at Southeast for forty years. This church had 140 members when you first came here, and it’s incredible to see how God has blessed. In January you officially stepped out of the senior pastor position, though I understand there’s a six-month period in which you are still a member of the preaching team here. I watched your statement to the church online, and it was a wonderfully gracious handoff to your successor. Tell me about your vision for the leadership transition that has taken place, and how that whole process has taken place.
Russell: Five or six years ago, the elders asked me to come up with some kind of a transition plan and felt like that we needed to nail down in advance what were going to do. I think it was easier because of the long term plan, as opposed to just being something I decided to do in six months time. The people had responded so well to Dave and loved Dave, and he has such a terrific work ethic and love for the church, it was obvious that he should be the successor. Also, about that time I read Jim Collins book Good to Great, and also One Built to Last, in which he said the best succession plans are usually with those who came from within and knew the culture. I certainly agreed with that and thought that it applied to the church too. So I came back with a transition plan.
There were several pieces of that and the first was that Dave Stone would be the successor. The second was that somewhere around the year 2006 I would step aside permanently. And the third was we would find a third person to be on the preaching team so that when I left there would still be two guys here and the whole load wouldn’t be on Dave. The fourth would be that when it was over I would step aside and get out of the way. I think there are a few preachers who can stay in the church and be there in some supportive capacity, but I don’t think that was the wise thing for me for a lot of different reasons. Having been here forty years, I think that’s tough to do.
So we announced that to the congregation five years ago and now we are just doing what we said we were going to do. I held in my hip pocket for a couple of years the idea of officially turning over the reigns to Dave six months early. I thought that as we got down to this point and I’d be a lame duck, with Dave sitting out there just waiting, chomping at the bit – the staff ready to go with a new plan, we’re just going to sit and wait until Bob retires.
So I talked with the elders and talked with Dave several months before that point. I said: what if I step aside January 1st and stay for six months in a supportive role, but you become the senior minister at the end of January? They thought about it, prayed about it and agreed to do that. And I really think that was a wise thing to do because I was already becoming a lame duck. People are gracious and kind, but it was becoming awkward to have future plans because they had to check with so many people. So that was kind of the last step in the transition plan and I think it worked out pretty well.
Preaching: When Dave came on as preaching associate with you 17 years ago, at that point did you have him in mind as a potential successor?
Russell: No, I wasn’t even thinking about it at that point. I don’t think Dave was either. The elders felt like at that juncture we needed to bring somebody on for a couple of reasons. One was to share the preaching load because I was preaching four or five times a weekend, and as any preacher knows the real pressure of the ministry is that week by week grind of getting up a sermon – kind of like having a term paper due every week. And so they thought this will be one way to relieve some of the pressure of preaching. The second was that there was some speculation this was becoming a personality cult and we wanted to make sure that wasn’t happening. And by sharing the preaching I think it gave some diversity to the congregation and gave a relief to me.
Preaching: Dave, how do you evaluate the whole transition process? Do you sense it has gone well? Are there things you wish you could redo?
Stone: Sometimes people ask us if this is a good model for other places and we’re both quick to say it really has worked great for us, but I don’t know if it’s a model. It’s too long of a stretch. I’ve been here 17 years and it worked great because of my age and because of his age. Neither one of us was thinking about successor back in 1989 because he was 45 years old and there was no reason to be thinking about that. I always saw my ministry as trying to maximize and lengthen his. If I could make him more effective then I felt like I did my job.
It’s worked well. I think the reason it’s worked well in this setting is because of Bob’s humility and his willingness to share the spotlight. He’s given me more and more leadership responsibilities. We’ve had a couple of coaches here in football at University of Louisville who would put the backup quarterback in the second quarter, let them run some plays and take a drive and see if they could take them down for a touchdown. And I felt like that’s what Bob did for the first ten years of my being here. I got to play quarterback as a backup behind an All-American.
Yet rather than him run the score up all the time, he was looking toward the future and letting me get some snaps and letting me get some experience, which isn’t always the case with a dynamic preacher and visionary leader like Bob. His humility and his integrity have paved the way for me. I told somebody the other day, if things don’t go well in the next few years it’s not because of Bob Russell. He has laid the foundation and has really done everything he possibly can to ensure continued growth and success for Southeast.
Preaching: Bob, over the years you’ve progressively made Dave more visible over the in terms of preaching. Was there a specific plan to give him a larger role in preaching?
Russell: Some of that was selfish. It wasn’t visionary. I wanted Dave to stay here because he was playing such a key role and he is such an effective communicator. All kinds of churches came after him and he had good opportunities to go elsewhere. So, I said to Dave early on, “If you stay we’ll give you one more weekend each year, and we’ll give you additional responsibilities.” So he became more visible with the passing of time and he handled that extremely well. The congregation received him well. It was deliberate from the time he first came to give one more weekend a year. One of the reasons it’s gone well is that he’s been really, really patient and supportive. If he hadn’t been that, then there was all kind of potential for conflict, but he’s not only been for visible in preaching, he’s been more visible in other leadership roles. He was on the committee that oversaw the building committee, oversaw the construction of this building. He helped fashion new leadership transition and development, the development team that we’ve had among our elders and deacons. There have been a lot of areas in leadership that he’s played a real key role.
Preaching: Over the last year, how many weekends have you been responsible for preaching?
Stone: When we brought Kyle on in 2002, I think I was up to 22 and you (Bob) were at 28. Together we did 50 weekends each and brought two guests in each year. When we brought Kyle in, to get the congregation accustomed to a third voice we each gave up 5 so I dropped down to 17, Bob dropped down to 23 and Kyle took 10. So that was a sacrifice on our parts because we were both used to preaching a whole lot more, but we saw the value of it and we thought it would take a year or two for the people to really embrace Kyle’s preaching. It took at least a week. It didn’t take very long. We saw it was a good fit and he has great communication skills.
So what I get asked all the time is: are you guys going to look for another third person? The only reason having three on a preaching team worked for us was because it was a preparation for our congregation to get ready for Kyle. We both love to preach too much. We think we are going to go with two for a while.
Preaching: Once Bob officially retires this summer, how many weeks of the year will you be responsible for preaching?
Stone: I think I’m at like 28 or 29. Kyle’s at like 20. We’ll bring two guests in over the course of 12 months. That’s the game plan right now.
Preaching: Are people asking you already if Kyle is the next person in line as senior pastor?
Stone: Yeah, poor guy, he gets asked that all the time. He and I were in a meeting this morning and he said, “You know, we’ll see where the Lord leads.” The challenge we’re going to have with Kyle is we need to get him more responsibility, which we’re giving him. He has so many gifts – not just communication gifts, but he has leadership giftedness. Bob did a good job of keeping me interested here because of giving me more responsibility, so that’s what we intend to do with Kyle. And this is a tough place to leave!
Preaching: As you look back on the transition, are there some things you look back on now and say, “Hmmm, I probably could’ve done that differently? Or maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” Are there some ways you could have improved the transition?
Russell: I would say one thing: I probably wouldn’t have made it as long as it’s been. I think two years would be plenty long to announce to the congregation. I’ve answered so many questions about retirement and “when are you leaving?” It probably was too early to announce to them what we did. If I would have fashioned it again, we might just hold that. I don’t know if there are any other things.
Stone: I remember the week when he announced it to the congregation. I’d say he and I knew it was kind of heading in that direction a few years before the elders asked for a succession plan. You know we are good friends, we goof off together, we play golf together, it just seemed to kind of fit. It was one of those unspoken things. I didn’t have a desire to lead a megachurch – my kids were very young – it was just one of those things that kind of happened and we both had peace with it.
Russell: Dave said an important thing earlier when he said we’re not trying to be a model for anybody else. I think everybody has to fashion their own succession plan if they are willing to do that. It worked for us because of the personalities involved. There has to be a blend of the right personalities for it to happen.
Preaching: And yet you’re almost inevitably going to become a model because this issue of leadership transitions in megachurches is a problem in American Christianity. There’s this whole new issue of how you take these gigantic churches and transition leadership to the next generation.
Russell: Well, we thought about that a lot and that’s why we did it. You can’t look out at the thousands of people every week and be aware of your own mortality or be aware of the fact that we all age without thinking about what is going to happen ten years from now, what’s going to happen five years from now? If it is the Lord’s church and you really care, you’ve got to think about how we can make this transition as effective as we possibly can make it. I’m glad it’s gone well. We prayed about it, we think God has led, I’m just saying I don’t want somebody to say this is a model that worked at Southeast Christian Church so we’ve got to follow it, because the personalities are a whole lot more important than the schedule.
I have people ask me about it, and I’ll say, “Hey, we’re not finished yet.” But they’ll say, “Yeah, but you’re the only one. We don’t have very many others to look toward.” I’m sure there are others that have done it, and done it effectively. I don’t think very many.
Stone: The biggest piece of the puzzle is that man (pointing to Bob). The senior pastor has got to be the biggest cheerleader for the up and coming person. And that means swallowing your pride a whole lot and that means remembering why you’re here. He has done that. He’s probably my closest friend on staff and he’s my biggest encourager. We can laugh our heads off together, and when something happens in the church service or away from each other we get on the cell phones and we get in our car and pick up the phone and call each other, we’re laughing before the person’s even said anything because we can finish each other’s sentences – you know what’s going through their mind. It’s kind of cool to have another preacher sitting down there who knows what’s going through your mind when the baby starts crying during the conclusion or this takes place or when that doesn’t go right on the screen the way it’s supposed to. You’ve just got somebody to say I feel your pain!
Russell: There aren’t very many staff people who share the passion for the church or who look at the church from the same perspective as the senior pastor does. And David’s done that from day one. I think a good analogy for us was the passing of the baton. Certain things are required for the pass to be effective. One is the guy who’s passing the baton has to keep running until the very end and not quit. And the other guy has to start running before he gets there and they’ve both got to be in the same lane. There has to be a willingness to give up the baton at the appropriate time. You can’t drop the baton. The other piece was that when you pass the baton you don’t run along aside and criticize and coach; you go to the finish line and cheer like everybody else. That’s probably going to be a hard thing for me!
I feel like I’m staying out of the way. I’m not going to meetings. But we had our first conflict about two or three weeks ago. Dave and Kyle thought our Easter services should be at 9:00, 11:30, and a 2:00. And I said, “2:00?” I’m preaching that weekend, and I said, “Who’s going to come at 2:00?” And I mumbled and grumbled. And they said, “Well, we’re really going to try to persuade people who have been here a long time to come to the 2:00 service to give room for a seeker to come the other two times.” I just shook my head and walked away. Then Sunday morning, one of the ushers came to me and said, “Bob, I’m in charge of getting ushers for 2:00. Nobody’s going to come at 2:00. What am I supposed to do?” And I said, “I didn’t choose it, that wasn’t my idea. That was Dave Stone – you go to him.”
And then I immediately said, “What’d I do?!” That’s the very thing I tell staff people: “Be a team player,” but I was on the other end of that. I had to call Dave that afternoon and apologize. And I went to the usher and apologized to him, too. After you’ve done something, you’ve been the leader 40 years, and all of a sudden you’re supposed to be a team player, that’s easy in theory, but not always easy in practice.
Stone: The bad thing is I told my wife about the times and she said she agreed with Bob! We’re telling people this will be Bob Russell’s last Easter sermon. I said this is really his last Easter sermon, the last hour, the fifth of five, his last one. In addition to that we’re taking bets because He takes his afternoon nap at 2:00 on Sundays and we’ll have dandelions popping up on the screen!
Preaching: Personally, I think I’d be more of a 2:00 pm than a 7:00 pm person.
Russell: You could drive up here from Nashville!
Preaching: Dave, you’ve been on staff, partnering with one of the best Christian communicators in the country. How has that influenced and shaped your own preaching?
Stone: Well, you have to have some heroes to look up to in preaching. And you have to be yourself. After I’d been here a few months and my cadence and some of my preaching was starting to model his, he sat me down and said, “Hey, we already have a Bob Russell on staff. We hired you because you are Dave Stone and you have some gifts that I don’t have.” And that was the most freeing thing for a 27 year old kid to hear – that I could just be myself.
There’s no question he’s the best. I said that before I came to Southeast. I’ve never seen a person week in and week out hit triples and home-runs as often as he does. You don’t hear a bad Bob Russell sermon.
How does that shape my preaching? Maybe part of the reason that God put us together is that we both are the biggest encouragers to one another, but we both are very competitive too. This is one of those times where competition has a healthy side to it. I’m sitting out there and I’m hearing him preach and I’m seeing 6,000 people spell bound, and as I’m taking notes I glance down at my bulletin and I see I’m preaching the next week. That makes me know that I have to rely on the Lord a whole lot more, I’m going to have to prepare harder, and I’m going to have to make certain when I stand up at the pulpit I’m ready to open up God’s Word.
So he has shaped me with a preparation which I never would have had if I would have followed another type of person. He’s not into winging it. When I came, I was. Saturday nights we critique each other again after we’ve done it all through the week. I mean that’s what has taken my preaching up a notch – because his continues to rise.
Preaching: As you both prepare to preach, is there a partnering or taking ideas off each other throughout the week?
Russell: Big time! We start the planning with the preaching team in September, planning the year’s sermons and cooperate that way. About two months before each series we get together again and go over each sermon – whoever’s going to have that sermon gets a sense of direction and everybody has their input. Monday we meet with the worship team for an hour. The last half hour of that is input into this week’s sermon, both content and any supportive materials that come from the worship department. Then on Thursday we meet together for probably an hour and a half on the average and go over the manuscript. Once in a while we even preach it to five or six people and we have input from them: here’s something that would help out; this looks like a tedious area here; what do you think is the best way to communicate this; which of these two illustrations is best? You know there’s a whole lot of input. And then Saturday night we sit and listen and share a voicemail or two that are really helpful. That’s been invaluable to me over the years.
I like having to verbalize it in front of people. There’s a difference between that word on the page and that word spoken. Sometimes you’ll say something and you tell by people’s reaction it’s not as effective as you thought it was going to be. Better to do that in a group of 6 or 7 than in front of several thousand on Sunday. It’s too late then.
Preaching: Bob, I recall you preach from a manuscript, but you preach through it multiple times before you do that. Dave, how does that compare with your style?
Stone: When I came I preached from an outline. The first year I was here we went from three services to four services, so I went to a manuscript so that I would be able to know what I had already said. I manuscript now. I hope I can get to the point where I can manuscript and take an outline of that into the pulpit, but I’ve got to jump to get to that point. I think that there’s a real healthy discipline in manuscripting. I’ve learned that from Bob because you are careful with every single word. We used to preach for a Wednesday night service called Celebration. We both would just preach with little outlines and notes in our Bible. What we found is that when we’d do that, we’d need about 18-20 minutes worth of material on our little cheat sheets and it would end up going 30 minutes easily. We weren’t as picky about every specific word.
Russell: That’s one thing I admire about Kyle. Kyle does not use any notes because he’s not a rambler. I can preach without notes, but I’ll be five, six, seven minutes longer. I might be a little bit more emotionally involved, but when I listen to it later, there’s just not an economy of words, I don’t think for me personally I’m as effective as when I have a manuscript with me. And I read it over five or six times so that I’m not just reading it when I give it. It’s also easier if it’s your manuscript. If you’re doing someone else’s material it gets more difficult. But if it’s stuff you have written and you write like you speak, then you don’t have to say exactly what’s on the page, but it’s going to be pretty close to it.
Preaching: Having heard you many times, the average listener would never guess you had a manuscript there if they didn’t know. It’s just a natural presentation.
Russell: I think everybody has to develop their own style, this is a style I dealt with early and I stayed with it. If I were doing it again, if I were starting from scratch, I would do like some of these young preachers are doing now and find a way to almost memorize that sermon because I think it is really effective when they’re not using notes. But I’ve waited too long to change now.
Preaching: Over the years how has your preaching changed?
Russell: I hope that it has a little more depth to it. I probably am somewhat more compassionate now in a way. I might have been more strident about some issues early on than I am now. I hope I’m a little more balanced and look at both sides of an issue. My convictions about the Bible, my convictions about preaching have pretty much stayed the same. I probably believe more in preaching and it’s power now than I did forty years ago. I’m probably more serious, more intentional, having seen lives changed and people come back later and say, “Boy, I tell you what, you said something that changed my life” and I can’t even remember when they quote me on that. It’s a serious business, it really is.
I probably use more humor. Humor is such a powerful tool if it’s used correctly. Dave’s helped me there. Our people don’t do very well saying amen or responding to you verbally, but they will laugh out loud. That’s one way of getting people’s attention back sometimes. I think I probably use more humor than I did originally.
Preaching: I’m going to turn that around: how has the congregation changed? Not just in numbers, but as you analyze the group to whom you’re communicating, how has that changed?
Russell: The postmodern philosophy has really impacted us big time. You almost have to justify absolute truth. Words that you would say 30 years ago without batting an eye – now you’ve got to couch in different terms and broader explanations because of the influence of our culture. You’d talk 30 years ago about Jesus being the only way and everybody sitting out there was agreeing with you, 99% of the audience agreeing with you; now you talk about that and you’ve got to be more detailed, more specific as to why you believe that.
You talk about living together without marriage. You’ve got to talk about it with a more sensitive expression because there are people sitting out there in that very relationship not feeling it’s wrong. And still you’re going to talk about what is wrong and what is right, it’s more like you’re sitting looking across the table from people who are living in that behavior rather than condemning the world out there. The same with homosexuality, a lot of those things.
There are so many different types of people sitting in the audience, part of it is the culture of our day and at times you really have to alter the language you use to communicate the same truth.
Preaching: Dave, do you see your preaching changing as you anticipate these next years as senior pastor?
Stone: I don’t see huge changes. Like I said, I think I’m at my best when I am less tied to a manuscript. The bottom line is I need to prepare more. Bob is great about reading his manuscript four or five times through on Saturday morning. I’m not done Saturday morning. I’m reading it through Saturday afternoon, maybe out loud once. I can’t move back to my strength of some of the story telling and some of the freedom that I feel until I can take my preparation a step deeper.
I don’t know what will change, but I know some of the things that won’t change – that might be easier to answer. I remember when Bob preached a sermon 3 or 4 years ago on Jesus being the only way to heaven. We were down heading to our cars and he said, “If that’s a tough sermon to preach now, it’s going to be a really tough sermon to preach 5 years from now and 10 years from now.” That’s where we are and we’re not going to wimp out on those topics, we’re going to speak the truth in love, we’re going to continue to touch on the tough issues.
There’s a couple you may have just passed in the hallway; I was just talking with them. They came forward a few years ago, they’d been going to a mega church in Florida. They moved up here. They fell in love with the church, have three kids and came forward to become members here at Southeast, and they were living together. Our counselor said to them, “You know, sorry we can’t welcome you in as members because you are living together and we’d like for you to consider praying about separating.” They got a letter from our new member minister – they still have it; in fact they framed it. And it has one line in there that just lovingly said, “If Jesus were standing beside you and living in your home, would He be pleased or would He be dishonored by what is taking place?”
What I would have thought would have seemed like a rather abrupt statement melted their hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit and they separated the day they got that letter. They contacted a pastor who married them on that Saturday four days later, and on Sunday night I preached at our Vine service and they came up to me afterward and said we’d like to talk with you. They said, “We got married yesterday. Is it OK if we belong to your church now?” And I said, “Yeah, it sure is!”
I guess what I’m saying is: when the gospel is preached, and when you don’t back down from it, the Holy Spirit can do the best work. And it was a good reminder that even when you take that firm stand, yeah there will be some people who say, “Well, this church isn’t for me then. You’ll make me feel like I’m some terrible sinner.” But the Holy Spirit can still do His work. He did in that couple. I’m going to renew their vows Saturday.
Preaching: That is in sharp contrast to the attitudes so prevalent in our culture.
Stone: Yeah, the attitude is: “Who are you to tell me?” That’s not going to get any easier. We were interviewed by a guy who’s writing a book on evangelical Christianity and he said, “What do you see in years coming?”
“Well,” I said, “I see in the next 10 years preachers in the United States being in prison for preaching against homosexuality.” It sure seems to be heading in that direction. And I see nothing that would sway me to think that’s all of a sudden going to stop.
Preaching: Let’s talk again about the leadership transition, and specifically how preaching has played a role in that process. Have you at points thought about preaching sermons helping to lead the church through this time?
Russell: Definitely, we preached a series of sermon’s on the life of David, defining moments in the life of David. One of the defining moments was the courage to bless your successor. So it was just a natural part of that. Several years ago we talked again, reviewed, what the transition plan was going to be. We preached a series of sermons on Samuel and talked about people – I think it was Eli moving to Samuel and Elijah to Elisha. So when those topics came up we hit them head on with our situation.
And then the last month that I’m here we’re preaching from 2 Timothy about Paul’s passing the baton to Timothy. So yes, that’s been a part of preaching to prepare the congregation.
In my opinion, for most of us leadership bubbles up out of preaching. And whatever authority we have comes from our ability to communicate and teach the Word of God as opposed to saying we’re gifted to be a leader and we lead people and we cast vision. All those things are beneficial, but I think the starting point is the preaching of the Word of God. The congregation comes to respect the person who is feeding them.
It’s just like if you started a restaurant: where would you begin? What’s the first thing you would do? Put out billboards or pave the parking lot? No, the first thing you would do would be to give attention to the food, because if the food is good people are going to come even if it is a hole in the wall; then you’d work on those other things.
I think the same is true in most church situations – the place to begin, the place to give attention is the pulpit. If people are being fed from the pulpit there are going to be a lot of things that are not perfect and the congregation will accept them, but if people aren’t being fed from the pulpit then there are going to be a lot of things right and there is just a restlessness in that church. There are exceptions; there are just some guys who are gifted to be leaders; there are tremendous visionaries. But for most or us we need to give attention to preaching, and the authority for leadership comes out of the respect for having been fed.
Preaching: As the new senior pastor, Dave, how do you see your preaching in terms of helping to establish your identity with the church?
Stone: Well, he didn’t tell you his last weekend’s sermon is entitled “Preach the Word,” which is going to be really cool, a perfect wrap up. I did my vision sermon for the future back in early January. So when everybody comes back from their summer breaks this year, we’ll hit the middle of August to the middle of September digging into that vision again week by week as opposed to one week looking at the entire thing. I talked to a whole lot of CEOs and business leaders, and if there’s one thing I keep hearing from them is you’ve got to keep repeating the vision, the mission. You say it until you’re blue in the face; you say it until you think you’ve said it so many times. And so we’re trying to do that. We have plans of doing that, and incorporating that through the fall programming.
One of the healthiest habits that Bob established a number of years ago was planning a sermon calendar a year in advance. All we have is a title and a text and that’s about it, maybe a few thoughts or ideas, but it gives us a compass for where we are going to be going. And we’ll continue to do that for years to come and shore up where we are weak, shore up where we think we need to hit something. We try to hit stewardship yearly, we try to hit family or parenting or marriage every year, workplace every two or three years, we’ve got a lot of different things we try to build in so that we can keep that whole balance thing going – and keep everybody on track so we’re not feeding them in one particular area.
Preaching: As you look back over your time at Southeast, are there some things that you know now that you wish you’d known then, when you were first starting out? If you could go back and tap yourself on the shoulder as a young preacher, what advice would you give?
Russell: Honestly, one thing I would have done differently is to make an effort to get every new member plugged into some sort of small group earlier. I relied too heavily on preaching alone. I believe in the power of preaching, but over a period of time as people hear the same preacher, it’s going to take more than that for them to grow in Christ and be loyal. I started at a time when Sunday school attendance was higher than church. I can remember you have a final meeting after Sunday school and the superintendent said, “Please stay for church.” But those two lines crossed to different worlds.
About the same time I started preaching, worship was going this way and Sunday school was declining. And I felt that way: let’s ride the wave. That is let’s put the emphasis on worship. In a way that was right, but another way I wish I could go back and say, “Ok, everybody who becomes a member, you’ve got to be involved in some kind of small group, some kind of Sunday school class, some kind of in-home study, so you develop relationships.” And I didn’t do that. I’ve felt I’ve spent a lot of time in my ministry trying to recover, scrambling, just pulling teeth trying to get people involved in something other than coming to hear a sermon. That would be one of the things I would do differently.
One of the decisions I made early on – which I thought was and I still think was a good one – was to have primarily expository preaching. You do have to get away from that some, because it’s tough to deal with family issues or some current events and just go strictly expository, but I would stick with that and not be carried into fads which I occasionally was. You get these clever, cute titles from television programs; you think you’re going to persuade a bigger audience because you’re talking about some Survivor program or something. But I think if I could go back I would do that less. I wasn’t persuaded by them a great deal, but I was tempted sometimes. I think people are blessed more by just basic Bible teaching and practical application than they are by clever titles or the latest fads.
Preaching: Dave, if you can look ahead 20 years – where do you want to be in ministry, and in your preaching?
Stone: I really hope this goes well. I don’t want to blow it. A lot has been entrusted to me and I am very grateful for that. I am very imperfect and I make a whole lot of mistakes, but 5 years from now I hope I’m still at Southeast. I hope I’m here as long as I’m effective. I’d love to be here for 20 more years, but I will be here as long as I can remain effective and as long as I can continue to change.
What people don’t realize is the reason this church has grown is because Bob Russell has been flexible and has adapted to change and has pushed change. So I hope I can follow his example in that. In 20 years from now, I hope I’m still preaching. I hope that my kids can look back at their dad’s time at a megachurch and say, “My dad loved me more than he loved his job.” And 20 years from now if that’s what they say in adulthood, then these years will have been great years.
Russell: I was with Bob Coy and Chuck Smith for breakfast several weeks ago. We got to talking, and they were saying: we’re making this a lot more complicated than it really is. Just take the Bible and teach it and apply it and it’s amazing what happens. We can analyze it and try to dissect culture and say how can we reach this culture, and we do need to at least be sensitive to the culture, but the bottom line is the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, able to penetrate the thoughts and intents of the heart. And I know that Dave will do this and stick with teaching the Bible. It’s amazing what happens when that is done. I sound like I’m preaching now!
Stone: You can worry so much about the culture, worry so much about the future, where we are going to go. The bottom line is: you serve up that food and you try to apply it week by week and it’s amazing what happens. I look back over some of my old sermons and I say how in the world did God use this? I wouldn’t preach them again for anything, but God did use it because it was His Word. It was fresh at that time and it’s amazing what happens when that word is planted in the soil of the human heart.