Since 2006, Mac Brunson has served as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, coming to that congregation from the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Preaching Editor Michael Duduit recently visited with Brunson in his book-lined study.

Preaching: You are pastor of a remarkable church in the downtown area of Jacksonville. In fact, Mac, I think your facilities take up about half of downtown!

Brunson: We’ve got a lot of land the city would like to have, I can tell you that.

Preaching: Your most recent book, published by NavPress, is called Paralyzed by Fear or Empowered by Hope. It’s on the 23rd Psalm. Did that book come out of a sermon series?

Brunson: It did. I preached it through a summer. Everyone likes the 23rd Psalm. I read it at every funeral that I do and at every graveside. I just decided I was going to break that passage down; and as I read it, it really spoke to the fears of life.

I can tell you, we live in a fearful generation—a fearful day. We could just go into what the news is this morning. The world sits on the brink of catastrophe. What’s going to happen to the stock market? What’s going to happen in Egypt? Jordan? Tunisia? Lebanon? Yemen? What’s going to take place? So many people are just gripped by fear.

Preaching: The 23rd Psalm is such a well-known passage, such a favorite passage. As you approach a passage such as this, which is so well-known, how do you come at that as a preaching passage in order to be fresh and provide insights folks haven’t heard before?

Brunson: I do it just like I go at any passage. I want to be familiar with it. I want to look at how the whole passage breaks down. Then I just start reading everything I can get my hands on about the passage. I do that with any passage I preach. It’s kind of the same way.

You want to be fresh, but I find God’s truth has been there all along. Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun. I don’t know that I’ve done anything new that somebody, somewhere, at some time hasn’t. Then you apply that to the age you’re living in. That’s the great thing about the Word of God—it is relevant every minute of every day.

Preaching: You’ve mentioned the whole issue of fear, and certainly we could talk about the contrasting elements of fear and hope. Fear is such a prevalent issue in our culture—not just in the news, but also in people’s lives at a personal level. Fear is such a present reality. How do you deal with that as a pastor and preacher?

Brunson: The Word of God. The Word of God offers the only real hope we have. It’s the only hope for this world. I think you just stand up, hold forth and sound forth the Word of God.

To me, the Word of God gives tremendous hope. Whether you’re in a hospital room with someone who’s in a hospital bed, sitting with a senior adult whose husband has died and now is afraid to stay at the house alone in the dark of night, or with a young couple after the husband just got fired. Nothing speaks to the heart as does the Word of God.

Preaching: For people who don’t know this church, it covers multiple blocks in the downtown area of Jacksonville, including a 9,500-seat sanctuary. At a time when many churches have been moving out of downtown areas, you’ve actually pastored two downtown churches in Dallas and here. What are some of the unique things you deal with as a pastor of a downtown church?

Brunson: I’ve pastored the two historic downtown churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. When I get to heaven, that’s what I’m going to ask the Lord: “Why did you pick me to do this?” I’m really a small-town, country boy from South Carolina, a little, cotton mill town. I didn’t know anything about downtown, inner-city church ministry, but the folks in the inner city need Jesus. They need hope. Through the years, God has grown me, taught me and shown me just to hold the Word up for them.

Now, we do a lot of things ministry-wise that are a little unique. We feed hungry people who are on the street. We pass out blankets. There are various things. Last year, we took a group of 150 teenagers on a mission trip to Argentina. We didn’t take a sightseeing trip. They did missions from sunup to way past sundown.

We brought those 150 young people back, and a group of them who came out of that influenced other young people. They are now getting up every Sunday morning, cooking biscuits, taking orange juice down to Hemming Plaza, which is the center of the city—homeless people, street people are there. They feed them breakfast, then sit down and teach them a Bible study. Those are high school students. We just try to foster those kinds of things.

Preaching: Do you do anything in your preaching to encourage people to see their mission in the city?

Brunson: Yes, we do. I use application in preaching all along the way to help them see. I’ve put a major emphasis on missions, which always has been a part of my heart—here, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. While we’re doing stuff right here down the street, we also have a south campus now out in a booming suburban area—or where everyone thought it would be booming! It will boom again; people are moving out there. We are on mission from here all the way to the Middle East. First Baptist Church of Jacksonville is really around the world right now.

Preaching: Do you see the church adding other satellite campuses in the future?

Brunson: Yes.

Preaching: How do you view the trend of the satellite campus and video venues? Where do you see that going?

Brunson: I don’t know how the video venue works. I preach on site at the south campus—I get in a car, not a helicopter as some people have said. It’s a good, hard 30-minute drive. I get back here by the time the choir sings, in time for me to preach. I can do that for now, but I cannot be in two places at once; but we’re going to have to look at doing a video feed at some point. They tell me that works well. I don’t know.

What I really would like to do is begin to put a team of pastors together; and at some point, I will preach and begin to rotate through the team. That’s what’s in the back of my mind right now.

Preaching: The idea of the satellite campus certainly seems to be the trend today as opposed to a generation ago, where we would talk about planting a mission church.

Brunson: We’re doing both. We’re planting churches in Tampa, San Diego, upstate New York, Atlanta. We’re really committing some heavy money to start one in Cleveland, Ohio; and we’re doing the satellite.

I love the satellite. I love going out there and preaching at a high school to about 300 people and watching it as it’s beginning to grow. I’ve discovered this: When we first went out there, we may have had 100 or 125. I discovered I’m just as happy preaching in front of 125 people as I am in front of 6,000 or 7,000 people!

Preaching: How many services a week do you preach?

Brunson: I preach three. I’ve given up Wednesday nights. I’ve turned that over to one of my associates because I preach twice on Sunday morning and once on Sunday night. I did four services in Dallas—three times Sunday morning and Sunday night there.

Preaching: Walk me through your week in terms of your sermon preparation process.

Brunson: Two things up front: It’s always easier to be in a series; generally, for me it is most natural to do a book series, so you don’t have to begin to think about what you are going to do next week. I know where I’m going. I’m in the Gospel of John on Sunday morning, and I’m in Acts on Sunday night.

The second thing—and this is a mistake most preachers make and get in a bind toward the end of the week—they let Monday get by without any preparation work. I never let a Monday morning get by that I’m not up early and in the study. You never know what’s going to happen toward the end of the week. Get up on Monday morning, study and start working.

I do sermon preparation week by week. I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack, so I asked Chuck Swindoll about planning. I thought all these guys have six months of sermon preparation already down the road. He looked at me and said, “Basically I do it week to week.” He said he knows where he’s going, but he said, “I just study week to week.”

I find that if I work on it this week, it is much more fresh. I have planned out before and written a couple of sermons a couple of weeks ahead. By the time I get to them, it’s kind of lost to me. So I’d rather get up first thing Monday morning and start.

Preaching: So you start on Monday. Do you have any particular pattern that you use as far as getting ready for Sunday morning and Sunday evening?

Brunson: I devote Monday and Tuesday to studying for Sunday morning. Wednesdays right now, I’m teaching church history for an extension program out of New Orleans. So I have to devote a lot of time Tuesday night and Wednesday to just that. When that’s done, I’ll go back to incorporating Wednesday into my Sunday morning. Then Thursday, Friday and Saturday is devoted to Sunday night’s message.

Preaching: How many hours would you say you spend in preparing a typical sermon?

Brunson: Sunday morning probably would be at least 15 to 20 hours; Sunday night, about 15 hours or so.

Preaching: When you actually preach, how long is an average sermon for you?

Brunson: Thirty-five to 40 minutes. Dr. Vines (the previous pastor) preached 54 minutes yesterday. I told him I can tell he’s been around Charles Stanley too much. I said, “You’re preaching 50- to 55-minute sermons, but mine are about 35 minutes.”

Preaching: Have you found your preaching style has changed through the years? How do you preach now versus when you were first starting out?

Brunson: That’s a good question. I hope to the good Lord it’s deeper, richer. I hope my exposition is better. I hope my application is a lot stronger. I think in the area of application, I’m a little more tender now than I used to be. In my younger days, I’d be pretty sharp, pretty hard-edged. I guess the aging process, dealing with people and realizing, as Moody said: “There’s a broken heart on every pew,” you think about what people are struggling with and dealing with. Even when I have a difficult point to preach, I want to be pastoral in that.

Preaching: It does seem to me that as you spend years as a pastor to people, you tend to develop a certain compassion for people and their lives, and that’s got to make its way into your preaching.

Brunson: That’s why you can’t be too hard on young preachers. I was that way. I wanted to get up with the Word, and I was going to set everything straight. It was the sword, and I was going to slash everyone with it. Bless their hearts—the people loved me, tolerated and put up with it. I think that’s something that comes with age. You can teach it, but I don’t know that young men can get it right away. That’s why older men ought to be patient with younger pastors.

Preaching: The whole area of application seems to me one of the areas that preachers struggle with the most. It’s probably the hardest area in preaching to do well. Do you have any particular approaches that you take as you seek to do application?

Brunson: Just listen to people. If you’ll listen to people, they’ll give you application. They will tell you where the Word needs to be applied. If you’ll listen to what they’re saying, hear where their struggles are, hear what they’re dealing with, then when you come to apply that passage of Scripture, it will begin to be really evident.

Preaching: Who are the preachers you enjoy hearing? Are there certain folks you are inspired and encouraged by as you listen to them?

Brunson: David Allen is one of the finest expositors around. What he’s able to do with a text of Scripture—I just sit there and think, “Lord, why didn’t You give me that mind?” I love to hear David Allen.

Eric Mason is an African American who’s planted a church in the middle of Philadelphia; his preaching is historical, grammatical, linguistic and textual. I love to hear anybody such as him. James Merritt is a great expositor. Of course I love to hear Dr. Jerry Vines. He just does it so neatly, so well. There are great expositors out there.

I encourage young pastors—you can’t just study exposition; you must see it modeled. It has to be both/and. You have to get the classroom side, but you’ve got to go, sit and listen to how it’s done.

Preaching: One of the wonderful things we have today in that regard is the Internet. We have access to so many great preachers. It used to be you’d have to travel to go hear somebody. Now, you can sit in your own study or in your car and listen.

Brunson: Yes, you can; and that is a marvel. If guys do not simply do that, become lazy…I tell guys this: “If you’ll work hard on a text, you can be your own great expositor. You don’t have to copy somebody else, but it’s going to take time.” That’s the issue right there. Most guys don’t want to have to pay the price. They come and say, “We’ve got hospital visits” and things like this. Well, I do, too! Just because I’m in a church this size and have staff—I go to the hospital. I go to nursing homes. I go the emergency room. I can’t see everybody, but I do every bit of that every week. You just have to determine if you are willing to pay the price.

Preaching: As you look back over your ministry, are there some things you know now about preaching and ministry that you wish you had known when you were starting out?

Brunson: For young pastors who are listening: Don’t flip out over everything. Everything is not a major issue. I stressed out about somebody who looked as if he or she was mad on a Sunday morning, and the person probably just had indigestion from a pizza the night before. I would read into the person’s expression that I was about to be fired, that I was about to be run off, that the world was falling apart. I’ve come to trust Jesus a lot more. I wish I had done that more.

I wish in the early part of my ministry that I had a little more compassion in the application part of my sermons. I would say I study more now than I ever have before. I study seven days a week. Of course, I had little kids; but I used to take a Friday off or a half day on Friday and then Saturday because I had young children. Now, I’m in the study every morning—every morning—and it hasn’t hurt me a bit.

I’m an expositional preacher, and that’s all I want to be. I don’t know how else to deal with the text other than to be and to do the exposition. Let the Word speak for itself. I think when the church did not have that, the church was dark. When it does, when the pulpit burns bright, the church burns bright.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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