Since 2007, Robert Jeffress has served as senior pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He also hosts a daily radio program called "Pathway to Victory," and his weekly TV ministry is seen on more then 1,200 stations and media outlets across the nation. Dr. Jeffress is the author of 21 books. Recently, he led his historic congregation in the completion of a new $135 million campus in downtown Dallas. Executive Editor Michael Duduit visited with him recently.
Preaching: You frequently are seen on national news outlets, commenting on current issues and events. How do you see the connection between preaching and what’s happening in culture?
Jeffress: I believe we who are preaching God’s Word have been engaged unfortunately in silo spirituality. There is a trend of thinking that preachers only have the right to address other Christians and that the only message we have for non-Christians is the gospel, about the way to salvation through Jesus Christ.
I believe we have a prophetic role as preachers, and you look at prophets in the Old Testament—Jeremiah or Ezekiel—or in the New Testament—John the Baptist or Jesus Himself—they were willing to confront an ungodly culture and ungodly leaders and say without stuttering, "Thus sayeth the Lord." That is what has been lost in much preaching today, and it’s time for preachers to recapture their prophetic role.
Preaching: As a pastor who is an expositor working through biblical books, how do you make those connections between the biblical text and what is happening in the culture?
Jeffress: First of all, those of us who believe in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture believe all Scripture is applicable to today. It takes a very careful study to find those timeless principles in texts that are thousands of years old and bridge the application into today’s culture; but there are applications, and I believe texts are pregnant with applications and calls to action for today.
Preaching: How far should preaching go in engaging political issues? Where do you draw the line?
Jeffress: Personally, I do not endorse candidates from the pulpit; but short of that, I think that we have this idea that somehow politics is off limits from the pulpit. You have to define terms. When people say, “You shouldn’t preach politics,” what they mean is you shouldn’t engage any cultural issues, and I don’t know how you read the Old Testament or the New Testament and come away with that idea.
The word politics comes from a word that means “influence.” When you say pastors should not engage, you’re saying pastors should not engage the culture. Who can say that with a straight face?
When people tell me that I shouldn’t preach on politics and that Christians shouldn’t get involved in politics, I ask them a few questions. Do you think God cares about His name being outlawed from mention in the public square? Do you think God has an opinion about the rampant immorality that is engulfing our world? Do you believe God cares about the 4 million children who have been butchered in the womb since 1973? Does He have any opinion about that? If you answer yes to those questions, you just answered why Christians ought to be involved in what we call politics.
Preaching: As a student of culture, you are somebody who watches what happens at the national and the state levels. What are some of the challenges the church and church leaders are going to face in the next few years as our culture increasingly secularizes?
Jeffress: I think a secular culture is in a strategy of containment for Christians. By that, I mean they are happy for us to practice our worship in our churches, synagogues and homes, but they don’t want any seepage. They don’t want any influence to leak out of our places of worship into the public square. That is a strategy; they will do anything they can to contain us, and that includes threatening our tax-exempt status if we at all engage in what we call cultural issues.
I think we are just one decision away from the Supreme Court legalizing all same-sex marriages and striking down all bans against same-sex marriage. I think the next logical step is places of worship that preach against same-sex marriage can be found guilty of hate speech and see their tax-exempt status threatened. I think we need to be prepared for that, ready for that. I know it won’t change my preaching, and I don’t think it will change many evangelical pastors’ preaching.
Preaching: Tell me about your own approach to preaching. If we were to visit next Sunday, what might we experience or see?
Jeffress: The greatest influence on my own preaching was my mentor and predecessor, Dr. W.A. Criswell. He was pastor for 47 years, I grew up under his preaching, and he hired me at 21 to be the youth pastor. Anything and everything I know about church leadership I learned from him. However, having sat under him and influenced by him, his point of view was that expository preaching is the only kind of preaching and any other kind is rank liberalism.
I since have come to understand expository preaching is a wonderful way to preach, but it’s not the only way to preach; there’s such a thing as a topical biblical sermon. To me, what really is important is not the style. The real question is: Is it biblical? You can start with the subject and go to God’s Word, or you can start with the text.
So if you come to First Baptist Church Dallas and listen to me, some Sundays you will listen to expositional messages. I’ve been preaching through Romans verse by verse, but I’ve also interrupted that series for biblically topical series. For example, I’m doing a series right now on forgiveness and what the Bible says, and then we’ll resume Romans. It depends on when you come what you’ll hear, but hopefully it always will be a biblically based message.
Preaching: I’m assuming you mostly preach in series.
Jeffress: Yes, I’m almost always in a series. I have found it keeps people’s interest and allows me to develop a topic thoroughly by preaching a 10- to 12-week series. If it’s a topical series, many times my book series will go a year, a year and a half.
Preaching: How do you go about planning the shorter series? What’s the process you use to select those?
Jeffress: Many of my topical messages are driven by what I happen to be writing my books on and what we are teaching on our expanded ministry through "Pathway to Victory" on radio and television. I do something unusual that very few pastors do: When I have a book project, I write the book first, then I preach the manuscript to our people. That’s the opposite of most. It makes for a better book, and it also makes for better sermons. It allows [me] to be more precise in what [I] do.
So I have finished a book that will come out next spring on the exclusivity of Christ; it’s called Christ Alone. I finished that up, and I will preach it this fall. It will be taped for radio and television and released next spring when the book comes out. Of course, there are some adaptations I make from the book to the preaching audience, but it’s a good place to start.
Preaching: As you move though your week, how do your days look as you are preparing for Sunday?
Jeffress: Every day is different, and I know most pastors can identify with that; but speaking of my predecessor, he said, “Save your mornings for God.” His routine was to spend the morning hours always in the study. No meetings, no telephone calls; I follow that pattern in my own ministry, as well.
My friend David Jeremiah told me about a conversation he had with Dr. Criswell, in which he told him, "David, save your mornings for God, and you can stay at a church as long as you can stay, because you always will have something precious to say to the people. If you don’t, you’ll have to leave after a few years.” That is sage advice.
Preaching: You mentioned Dr. Criswell. Are there other people who have influenced your ministry and preaching?
Jeffress: I’d always say my mentor Howard Hendricks was so instrumental in my life; he taught me about precision and communication. We all know his influence on so many people such as David Jeremiah and Chuck Swindoll. From Hendricks, I learned the influence of choosing the right word at the right time. I think of people such as Chuck Swindoll and their influence on my life. I am really grateful to so many people. I read a lot of J.M. Boice, and he had a great expository ministry, too. All of those men had a great impact on me.
Preaching: What is your greatest joy in preaching, and what is the greatest challenge?
Jeffress: My greatest joy is those hours on Sunday when I get to preach God’s Word and see it speak to people. You know, I think every pastor has had the same experience, when someone comes and says, “How did you know? How did you know?” Because they are sure your message was specially crafted for them, and that’s the power of the Holy Spirit to apply it. That is my greatest joy.
My greatest challenge is the one every pastor faces—the terror of the blank page on Monday morning. When you preach through a book, you don’t lack for material. You know where you’re going, but still trying to fit that study time in with the press of other activities is a challenge every pastor has.
Preaching: The terror of Monday morning—more carpets are worn out pacing in the pastors office on Mondays! How far out do you want to know where you’re going with a sermon?
Jeffress: If I’m doing a topical series and it’s going to be published, I already have the outline for 10 to 12 weeks. If I’m doing a book study, say for Romans, I am not one of these who can plan out messages weeks and months in advance. I can only do one week at a time. I cannot be fresh and prepared two or three weeks from now. I’ll have a general outline, but many times for me it’s week to week.
Preaching: Do you have a favorite series you’ve done or a favorite book you enjoyed preaching through?
Jeffress: I really enjoyed preaching through Colossians. That was one of my favorites, when I happened to be getting ready to air that series on "Pathway to Victory." My study in Romans right now—I didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on my congregations—and I have enjoyed preaching Revelation. I don’t believe Bible prophecy needs to be a mystery. I think it’s significant that Revelation is the only book of the Bible with a special blessing for those who read and understand it, and our people have been blessed by a verse-by-verse study of that, as well.
Preaching: Where are you going after Romans?
Jeffress: I am going this fall into my series about the exclusivity of the gospel, and that will take me through December. I am praying about where to go in January.
Preaching: If God showed up on your doorstep tomorrow and said, “You have one more sermon to preach, and then I’m taking you home,” what would you preach?
Jeffress: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question! I can’t tell you the text, but I can tell you the subject. It would be the sovereignty of God—not from an ivory tower perspective but from the way I’ve seen that truth worked out in my own life. God is really in control, and that has given me great comfort though the years to look back and see how God has orchestrated every event in my life, every circumstance, and how He’s used the good and bad for His glory. That’s assurance; I’d want to give that to other believers, that comfort that God is in control.
Preaching: If you could go back and talk to yourself as a young pastor, when you were starting out, what do you know now that you wish you had known then?
Jeffress: Be yourself. Don’t try to be like anybody else. God made you the way you are for a reason. I would encourage myself to be the person God made me to be early on and not try to emulate somebody else. I don’t think I did that consciously, but I think subconsciously I was influenced by other people.