Tony Evans is one of America’s best-known expository preachers. He’s been a senior pastor for more than 30 years and has seen Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship grow from 10 people in 1976 to more than 8,500 today. He serves as the president of the Urban Alternative and has a daily radio broadcast called “The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans,” heard throughout the United States and in more than 40 countries. Evans is chaplain of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and once served on that faculty. His latest book is The Power of God’s Names published by Harvest House. He’s one of the newest columnists for Preaching magazine and recently was interviewed by Executive Editor Michael Duduit.
Preaching: Your newest book is titled The Power of God’s Names. What drew you to write about the names of God?
Evans: When I began to do a study on the names of God, I saw that His names were tied regularly to situations people were facing in life. God would give a name to that scenario so a person would discover something new about Him. Just like the Bible progressively was written over time, God progressively would name Himself and His nature. When I saw that human connection to the name, [I saw] that name mattered.
Like today, if you say Hitler or Benedict Arnold, those are negative names; but on the other hand, if you use names of positive people, such as Bill Gates, you’re going to think about money. If you think about tennis and say Serena Williams, then that name is connected to something. So is God’s name.
God has exalted His name. In fact, He says in
Preaching: Were there names of God that you were less familiar with or surprised by as you went through that study?
Evans: One thing I noticed when going into this study was the shifting of God’s name—from the beginning. All of
Preaching: Did this study grow out of a sermon series?
Evans: It did grow out of a sermon series. I was teaching on the names of God, and that made me study the names of God; out of that came the book.
Preaching: Do most of your books come from sermon series?
Evans: A good amount of books come from sermon series. There’s some that are outside of sermon series, but most of them are from sermon series.
Preaching: How long does a typical series last for you? Is there any pattern?
Evans: Eight to 12 weeks—when I go longer than 12 weeks I usually divide it and make it two series.
Preaching: What series are you in now?
Evans: I’m going through the hall of faith. I call it “Heroes: Touring the Hall of Faith.” We’re looking at
Preaching: Do you have a favorite series you’ve ever done?
Evans: My favorite series would be the Kingdom Agenda, because it contains my philosophy and worldview of ministry. It deals with a visible demonstration of the comprehensive rule of God over all of life. We show it in our personal lives, family lives, church lives and community lives that God is supposed to rule all of those categories. Because He’s supposed to rule all of those categories, there’s nothing that sits outside His realm. So, what I love about it is the comprehensive nature.
Preaching: We know you as an expositor. What does the term expository preaching mean to you?
Evans: It means to explain the meaning and application of a biblical truth in such a way that the hearer not only is confronted with the truth but is called to make a response to it.
Preaching: Why are you drawn to expository teaching?
Evans: Because in Scripture, God is speaking, so I want to be true to His words. I want to expose what He is saying, not what I am saying. Then I want to make it relevant to the audience to whom I am speaking, because it was relevant to the audience to whom the biblical authors were writing. So, I’m true to God’s truth and relevant to my contemporary constituency; pulling those two together is, I believe, the right understanding of biblical preaching. When you expose that, it becomes exposition by its very nature.
Preaching: I assume most of your preaching is expository. Do you ever try a different approach for some strategic reason?
Evans: Most of my preaching is expository, but there may be times when I just want to lay out a principle for people to think about—and I spend time mentioning the principle—but spending a lot of the time talking about it, reacting to it and relating to it as opposed to exposing its meaning. I may do that because the principle is already understood and accepted. There would be a real exception not to be expositional, whether that’s going through a book, going through a topic, or going through a theology. You can do all of those expositionally.
Preaching: Do you find most of your series go through a single book, or do you find yourself moving topically?
Evans: I meander between books, theology and popular topics and intermix those.
Preaching: Tell me about the process as you move through preparing a message. How does it look as you move toward Sunday?
Evans: Because I’m moving through a series, I have a direction already before I begin the series; I know the weeks I want to cover in the series, the main points of the series. So when I hit the particular week, I’m already a little bit ahead of where I want to go. We have a Wednesday night service, so I also have to prepare for that. So I prepare for Sunday on part of Wednesday, part of Thursday and part of Friday. Usually by Friday night, I’m prepared for Sunday.
Preaching: Do you have certain things you do on certain days?
Evans: Well, because I take two or three days to look at the whole series, that gives me flexibility during my various weeks. Because my weeks change, what I do may change, although the amount of time I give to it—maybe 10 or 12 hours—won’t change.
Preaching: How far out do you work in planning your series?
Evans: I plan things out in six-month increments most of the time. The lowest would be four months. I might give myself some flexibility during the summer. So there’s the fall, the spring and then there’s a flexible time during the summer. That’s pretty much how I do it.
Preaching: How do you decide the series that you’re going to preach?
Evans: I try to assess the need of the congregation, not only felt need but also theological need. What’s out there that they need to be taught God’s view on theologically? Also, what are they going through that needs to be spoken to? What book of the Bible or character in the Bible would speak to a principle or core of principles that are needed by the congregation? Those are the types of questions that we ask.
Preaching: Do you involve other people in that process, or do you handle that on your own?
Evans: I pretty much handle that on my own, although I’m taking into consideration things I’ve heard throughout my day, throughout my week, throughout my month, what’s happening in society, what’s happening in the news or in my counseling sessions. Other people will contribute indirectly as opposed to directly.
Preaching: Who are your greatest influences in terms of how you preach today?
Evans: My biggest influence was Haddon Robinson, my homiletics professor at Dallas Seminary. He was spectacular in communicating the idea that the Bible is made up of ideas—these words come together to make ideas. People won’t remember your words, but what you want them to remember are the ideas the words were designed to communicate. When I grasped that principle—that the Bible is literature and is communicating ideas—it helped me bring what I am teaching to a point rather than independent points.
Preaching: Were there other pastors who influenced you or became models in some way?
Evans: I love John MacArthur in terms of the depth of his teaching. I love Chuck Swindoll because of the practical insights and application of his preaching. Coming out of an African-American context, Ruben Conner showed me cultural relevancy in preaching. So there are different things I’ve gotten from different people along the way.
Preaching: What do you enjoy most about preaching?
Evans: Calling people to a response to Scripture, to God’s voice. Seeing the light come on and then seeing them respond to that understanding.
Preaching: Do you do a formal invitation after the message?
Evans: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. It depends on how it flows and how I feel.
Preaching: What do you find is your greatest challenge in preaching?
Evans: Well, the greatest challenge is when you get behind, because unexpected things happen during the week to interrupt your schedule, but you can do nothing about it. Whether it’s a sickness, death, ministry emergency, it can come in all shapes and sizes. That’s the challenge: to stay true to your preparation while being true to your people and the ministry God has called you to do.
Preaching: Do you have some young pastors who serve with you whom you’re encouraging and teaching along the way?
Evans: Yeah, we have a staff of ministers who we use strategically throughout the year, and then we have a ministry development program for younger ministers who are coming along.
Preaching: If you knew you only had one sermon left to preach, what would it be?
Evans: It would be the Kingdom Agenda in
Preaching: One last question: You’ve been at this for a while now. Knowing what you know now about preaching and ministry, if you could go back to speak to young Tony when you were beginning your ministry, what insights would you share with yourself?
Evans: Learn how to use the tools so you can become well-prepared for preaching God’s Word, and balance well the pulpit proclamation with the people ministry. If it’s only pulpit without connecting to people, you can be biblically sound and totally irrelevant. If it’s only the other way around, you can be totally relevant and biblically off. So, that balance is the key to quality pulpiteering.