Preaching: You’re now senior pastor of a major church, and leadership is such a critical role. What are some of the most important things that you’ve learned about being a pastoral leader over the years?
West: One is not to abuse the invested authority that people place in you. That has been one of the big challenges, for me, being a founding pastor of the church. I can build a team of men, strong leadership. Still, in the church the pastor is the pastor. So pastoral ministry today has to have a kind of self-correcting barometer to help you know how to make decisions and not to make decisions, to make choices, because you have the authority to do it; to run those questions, assessments, through a particular grid. So the very things that I was fighting against nearly 30 years ago are the things, 30 years later, that I’m putting in place to say: these things can work if you have the right people in place.
Another thing that I’ve learned is that leadership is influence, and you have to use that influence for the promotion of the agenda of the Kingdom of God. I want leadership to be baptized in God’s visionary agenda. Those are some of the things that I lean heavy on now, not to abuse the role of pastoral authority, and then to use influence to really help to shape the church as a community in fulfilling God’s Kingdom agenda—to go into the world and to reach them all, baptize them, and instruct them in all things. I still believe that that is the primary vision of the church, and it’s what shapes leadership.
Preaching: What role does preaching play in leadership in the local church?
West: The homileticians that pay attention to church history said that the 19th century was the golden era of preaching, and yet even then, there were preaching critics that referred to preaching as being dull, lulling people to sleep, irrelevant. Those same pundits say today that preaching has lost its way, preaching is irrelevant, that we need to find a new way.
Yet I truly do hold to the view that the scripture gives us our guide—that it is by the foolishness of preaching that men and women will be saved. So I believe that preaching remains a primary function of the church. Some think the key is to just have good leadership, and typically what we mean by leadership is administrative structure. I think that structure is good. I think it’s necessary. Accountability, I believe that all that is necessary, but the primary function—and I believe that it holds still supreme in the church—is the proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In fact, I believe that it’s so central that this is where you really, publicly promote the vision of the church, in the proclamation. I think that this is where leadership has its strongest emphasis for pastoral ministry, through proclamation. I believe that preaching is the place that young people respond to the gospel, the youth are shaped, the children are nurtured and grow in a healthy spiritual church environment. I believe it is that moment in church that makes the difference.
I’ve tried to make preaching central in our church, and unapologetically, it has created an environment where—when people come through the doors—they actually anticipate what God is going to say to us from His Word. Preaching is central; it’s primary. Everything is born out of preaching.
Dr. Gardner Taylor was asked about the place of preaching in the Concord Church in Brooklyn, New York, and he made a very interesting assessment. People would ask him about his educational program in school, his nursing home, the different credit unions and other social agencies that he had, and he said that all of it was the outpouring of the result of the preaching of the gospel. I hold to that primary role of preaching, that it is from that pool all the streams flow.
Preaching: How do you think pastoral ministry in the African-American church may have changed compared to past generations, and what do you foresee ahead?
West: Oh, it’s changed. I’ve been preaching now 40 years, and I grew up under a pastor that was a dominant preaching voice, not just at the local congregation, but a city and a national preaching figure. I understood even through college and seminary that preaching alone would build a great church. There was a time that, if the preacher was an able preacher—as the preacher was often referred to then and beyond, an able preacher—it guaranteed in an African-American church the securing of a great church.
I’ve also lived long enough to know now that’s not true, that what we view as not the most gifted preacher turns around and builds these enormous churches, so I’ve seen that change. I’ve seen where preaching that used to be the primary function in an African-American church, the role of leadership, takes even a tertiary place now; we place so many things above it and beyond it, where preaching’s not central, which is a shock to me. It makes me have to rethink some things, but I’ve never rethought church and ministry to the point that I’ve wanted to reduce preaching to a secondary or tertiary place. It holds primary place.
I’m going to preach the gospel if nothing else happens, but I have seen the change of that, and I have seen where preaching in the African-American church has taken a more secondary role.
I just don’t know the longevity of anything other than what the Lord Jesus Himself puts in as the primary, that it is going to last. That’s my challenge. I don’t see how anything else is going to last. I’ve been wrong on a lot of things. It’s true that I am no prophet in that sense of the word, but I’ve got to believe that if preaching and proclamation of the gospel, being a steward of the mysteries of God, is what God has called us to do, that God will be honored in the church through preaching.
CLICK PAGE NUMBER 6 TO CONTINUE READING