Dr. Ervin Kinsley (E.K.) Bailey is known as one of the premiere African-American expository preachers of the 20th century. E.K. Bailey, as he was known, was born Dec. 19, 1945, in Marshall, Texas, the second son to Dr. Vivian Moses and Victoria Bailey. His father was a well-known Baptist preacher who organized the 7th Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., in 1958. He was an outstanding orator, a prolific and powerful preacher who dedicated his life to preaching the truth of Christ.
E.K. came from a family boasting a long line of preachers, including his father, brother, uncles and godfather. Bailey’s parents, unfortunately, divorced when he was very young. He adored his father and considered him the rock of the family. When his parents divorced, E.K. decided to live with his father. His father’s new wife, however, never really accepted E.K. but tolerated him as her husband’s son.
On Nov. 18, 1963, E.K.’s father died at the age of 45. While the world was in shock and mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred four days later, E.K. was mourning the death of his father. It was the most tragic, depressing and wearisome time of his life. At the age of 17, he found himself asking how a young black man would get a new start without the guidance, wisdom and protection of his father. However, things grew worst.
After his father’s funeral, his father’s wife put him out of the house. For days, he wandered the streets of Oakland with no money and no place to go. One night while sitting on a park bench, E.K. heard the reassuring voice of God telling him, “When I take, I never take all.” E.K. began to cry because he knew he had to work through his pain and concentrate on the things his father had instilled in him and the things God had left him to cherish. At that moment, he decided to live as his father lived, serving Christ.
He soon admitted to God that he had been running for years from the call God placed on his life to preach the gospel. Once he surrendered to God’s call on his life, his tears of sadness turned into tears of joy. That night, he worshiped God right there in the park. God used the early tragic experiences of his life to dig a well of joy. During the latter years of his preaching ministry, he often verbalized the famous quote in his own way, “God uses a spade of sorrow to dig a well of joy.”
Through the encouragement of a few good friends and his godfather, the Rev. Walter Kinsley (W.K.) Jackson, E.K. Bailey moved to Dallas to attend Bishop College. On Sept. 15, 1965, he met Sheila Smith in the dining hall at Bishop College. He and Sheila dated through four years of college. After the two graduated from Bishop in 1969, E.K. married his college sweetheart. They enjoyed 34 years of marital bliss, raising three God-fearing children, Cokiesha, Shenikwa and Emon.
E.K. always believed a call to preach is a call to prepare. When he and Sheila left the campus of Bishop College, they moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he became a student at Southwestern Baptist Seminary; he later earned his Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
In December 1969, he accepted his first pastoral call at Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas. E.K.’s greatest moment in ministry, however, came in June 1975 when he organized the Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas. Six months after being established, Concord purchased its first property and was soon labeled one of the fastest growing churches in America. It was able to burn the mortgage notes on three properties and purchase a 24-acre site on which it now resides; the street was renamed Pastor Bailey Drive.
In 2010, Preaching magazine identified E.K. as one of the 25 most influential preachers of the past 25 years. He remains known for his vivid imaginative presentations of biblical truths, especially the narrative portions of the Bible. Anyone who heard Confessions of an Ex-Crossmaker, Testimony of a Tax Collector, The Death of a Conscience or Showdown at Shechem, to name a few, witnessed African-American preaching at its best, weaving together exposition and narration.
He launched a new birth of expository preaching in the African-American church and became the model for expository preaching in that tradition. During his era, expository preaching was more popular in Eurocentric circles. He juxtaposed expository preaching with the African-American preaching tradition, which made expository preaching acceptable to those who were committed to narrative preaching, the style of choice in most African-American preaching circles.
E.K. was convinced the African-American church needed to learn more about expository preaching. He dreamed of bringing together a stellar lineup of black and white preachers who could model the principles of expository preaching through sermons and workshops. His commitment to bring more attention to expository preaching birthed the E.K. Bailey Expository Preaching Conference in July 1995.
More than 850 preachers from across the country gathered in Dallas to hear black preachers such as James Earl Massey and A. Louis Patterson, as well as white preachers such as Warren Wiersbe and Stephen Olford. E.K. viewed the conference as cross-pollination. He said when God was passing out genius, He didn’t discriminate by race. According to Bailey, expository preaching is “a message which focuses on a specific portion of Scripture to determine the precise meaning of the text, so that hearers may adopt the attitudes and the actions of the text for transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit.” He further believed once the preacher has the illumination on the revelation of a text, then it’s time for celebration.
E.K. argued, unapologetically, the best of preaching—and most of black preaching in particular—begins with the Bible. At the same time, effective preaching has to involve personal experiences, sitz em leben, so the text must be studied from two different perspectives. When Bailey looked at a text, he studied it not only from the viewpoint of his academic training and reading, but also from the context of his listeners who were primarily African Americans. He believed expository preaching helped the preacher and the listener walk through a text and find hope to help them deal with negative situations positively and see a God who is concerned about what is happening in our daily lives. Once there is illumination on the revelation, then the preacher and listener can enjoy celebration.
What can we learn from the life and preaching of E.K. Bailey? Preaching must be didactic and practical. It must speak to head and heart. To do this, one must dig deep into the text, as well as the life situations of one’s listeners. We have to look at both in-depth; if we don’t, we will miss God’s message or miss the people’s need. If something happens in our society that affects the life of our listeners, we can’t miss the opportunity to let God’s Word speak to the situation. God calls us to be faithful to His Word and the people who gather week after week asking if there is a word from the Lord. E.K. Bailey was a master at communicating the Word through exposition, but he also performed exegesis on his listener. When we preach, we have to exegete both.
Furthermore, we must be grounded theologically in order to render a true interpretation that will meet the needs of our listeners and not simply rattle off the latest political, psychological or sociological theory. We must be faithful to the author’s original intent and to what the text is saying to us today. This is the goal of expository preaching and should be the goal of preaching regardless of style.
After three bouts with cancer, E.K. Bailey took his last breath in 2003. In the Word of God and in his personal life, E.K. Bailey, as the title of his last book states, dug farther in and deeper down. As we preach God’s Word, may we also go farther in and deeper down in life and in God’s Word.