Preaching: Beyond this issue of attention span and the lack of consistency, what do you find to be the most challenging thing about preaching today for you?

West: Preaching biblically. I started my journey preaching 40 years ago, and though in the church that I grew up in the pastor was not a seminarian, the people had been baptized in the scriptures. You could sit down and talk about Othniel, and these people that taught Sunday School and went to Sunday School, they knew that you were talking about some judge. You could mention somebody like Epaphroditus, and they knew that this was one of the co-laborers with the Apostle Paul. You could tell the story of David and Goliath, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Today, they don’t even who those people were. It’s kind of a standard a joke, but it’s true—you ask who were the epistles, and somebody says they’re the wives of the apostles. It really rings true now. In fact, here’s how true that stands: 15 or 20 years ago if you said that, people would chuckle. Today they say, what are you laughing about?

The biggest challenge for me is to preach biblically, and what I mean by that is you’re preaching to a biblical passage. You only have 30 minutes, maybe 35 minutes, so you have to condense. You need to do background in a way that people who’ve never heard it can get on board the way you’re trying to go. That’s what I mean in that.

The other side of it is that it gives you a great opportunity because people who come, they come hungry for the living bread, and so the mention of a word or a study of a text interests them, because they’ve never heard this before.

So it’s twofold: On the one hand, there’s the challenge of trying to bring people up to the point of what these biblical passages mean, what is the context. And then, on the other hand, it’s exciting because these people know almost nothing about what you’re talking about.

Then the final challenge is that I have to always remember, I’m not the only preacher they’re listening to. It used to be that I knew I was their pastor. Now, I’m one of their many pastors, and if some pastor other than me is somebody who’s not faithful to biblical exegesis, then everything is topical, it’s just emotional, or it’s sensational. Chances are, like a child, they’re going to enjoy the candy over a balanced meal.

Dr. Taylor used to say candy every now and then is good. Only problem is, you eat too much and it’ll rot your teeth out, so you can’t eat anything solid.

There are some great hurdles, homiletical hurdles that you’re jumping every week when you’re standing up to preach now.

Preaching: You’re a pastor of a tremendous church, but I know that along the way God brought you through some challenging times. Talk about those early days of pastoral ministry that brought you to the founding of a new church.

West: I pastored a church in Houston’s Heights area. It was an older congregation, and I served that church for four years. Nearly 30 years separate me from that church to now. Among the tensions that developed, one was my inability to understand their history. Now, as a founding pastor, I have an opportunity to write history. I often think about the generations that will come, that will interpret, misinterpret or reinterpret what we are doing now, and might change it without understanding the reasons why certain things are shaped the way that they have been. In my pastoring that church, they had a history and I didn’t understand how to really assess that history.

The church was growing. It was numerically growing, and I think it was spiritually growing. Then there was a conflict about what we understood growth to be. I was just excited about people filling the pews, and being part of their fellowship. I didn’t understand that in a church that was older, with many families having intermarried in the congregation, every new person posed a threat to the undoing of that nucleus. Had I understood that, I don’t know what I would have done differently. I probably just would have been able to articulate and communicate my vision differently in the church.

I learned a lot in that church and pastoral ministry. I learned that they could call you “Pastor” and you don’t necessarily have to be that, if you understand what the pastoral role is. That’s an earned position; it may be given to us biblically and ecclesiologically, but communally it’s an earned position. It’s only after you have walked with people through the valley of the shadow of death, stood with people at the open grave, the blessing of a baby, the union of marriage, the baptism of a loved one, the people living together understand—only then will they see you as the pastor of the church.

Many of the challenges that I encountered at that church led to The Church Without Walls. Now it’s nearly 30 years later. I often wonder, 30 years from now, when new pastoral leadership has come here—new leaders and a new generation—how many people might stumble and fall over the same mistakes that I’ve made, all because of the inability to assess, interpret, to execute the history that we’ve established here at the church.

I learned quite a bit at that church to help prepare and shape me for the way I do church and ministry here.

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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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