North Phoenix Baptist Church is one of America’s “super churches,” with thousands of members, a national television ministry, and an international reputation for effective ministries and a powerful pulpit. Richard Jackson has stood behind that pulpit for over twenty years, and has led that church in its phenomenal growth and development.
Known widely for his effective biblical preaching, Jackson is a dynamic personality in and out of the pulpit. He was interviewed by Preaching Associate Editor R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Preaching: You have established a reputation for effective biblical preaching. We are interested to know what biblical preaching means to you. How do you define the character of genuine biblical preaching?
Jackson: I don’t think any other form of preaching is legitimate. God has promised, we remember, to bless His Word. He did not promise to bless my cleverness or eloquence. In fact, He did not promise to bless what I say about His Word, unless it is really based in the Word itself.
I must interpret and apply His Word in the sermon, so I must speak about His Word, but faithfully. As I see it, biblical preaching brings scripture alive in the “now,” with application. All that is said about the text must grow out of the text and be faithful interpretation and application.
Preaching: Where does the preacher begin this process? How does the intention and commitment to preach a biblical message find its beginning?
Jackson: I begin with the text. Now that is what you are supposed to say, but it really is the truth. I plan my preaching by working through the books of the Bible and preaching them through.
Lavonn Brown (pastor of First Baptist Church, Norman, Oklahoma) once said to me, “The only thing wrong with all the preaching we do is the preaching we do all the time.” We must vary our form once in a while for the congregation’s sake — and for our own!
I do very little thematic preaching, but some situations require it, so I go immediately to an appropriate text and find the message there, rather than bringing my thematic message to the text. We cannot bring the message to the text. I have no confidence in thematic preaching which finds the message in the theme. It must come from the text.
Preaching: How do you find the message within the biblical text? How do you allow the text to speak within the sermon? This is the critical issue for most preachers seeking to be faithful to the task of biblical preaching.
Jackson: I have gone through a growth process at this point. I started out, like most young preachers, with a thematic approach. I went to seminary and learned something about homiletics and expository preaching, and in my early years I took the text and dealt with what I determined to be its major theme — worked out in points and the rest.
Then, a few years ago, I started a verse-by-verse exposition of the text. I had seen so much of this that was just a running homily by someone who read verses until he had something to say. I did not want to do that, so I started taking a verse-by-verse approach and combined that with the thematic method I had used earlier.
I found that I was preaching messages with too much content for one sermon, but God blessed His Word. I preached through Romans and the Gospel of John — not laborious messages, but I probably did more with each verse than I needed to do in the preaching context.
I have evolved now to the point where I take a larger text and am less detailed in the exposition. This varies from book to book. I preached through Matthew a few years ago and had one sermon for each chapter. I then went through Mark and John and found myself preaching about five sermons in each chapter. Now, as I am in Luke, I am preaching about two or three messages in each chapter. There are no hard and fast rules, but there is a natural balance.
Preaching: How does this method work itself out in the context of the sermon? How do you find this natural balance in the text?
Jackson: Let me give you an example. Just a few weeks ago I preached on ministry as seen in Luke, chapter 7. There are four events recorded in that chapter: the healing of the centurion’s son, the raising of the widow’s son, John the Baptist’s inquiry to Jesus, and the anointing of Jesus’ feet. There are fifty verses in that chapter! But the four events were precisely what we needed to see as the ministry example of Jesus. I preached on Jesus as the Great Physician, “The Doctor Is In and He Will See You Now.” We looked to Jesus as the model for ministry and found Him ministering to the sick, the sorrowing, the searching, and the sinners.
I do not put a lot of emphasis on “cute” outline schemes. We can go overboard by alliteration, but it can be a very useful tool.
Preaching: Fifty verses! Most preachers would blush at the idea of a fifty-verse text. Yet, I see the natural balance in the simple exposition of this lengthy chapter.
Jackson: This is an extreme example! Fifty verses in any one sermon is a bit much, but it fit this situation. When the text is combined with a simple outline of application it will remain in the congregation’s mind. The people walked out of that service with those four forms of ministry firmly in mind. I hope they will go home and read that chapter and learn more of it for themselves.
I don’t believe in holding anything back for a later sermon. I may choose to leave something undeveloped, but not because I want to “save” it for a later sermon. I preach the great texts on Wednesday night as well as Sunday morning. I think that if a preacher is really faithful, nothing will be held back “for the next time.”
This was Charles Spurgeon’s approach — he never held anything back. If God gave him an illustration or an application of a text, he did not hold it back in reserve for a later opportunity. It appears to me that we have to die with every sermon, as it were. We must pray that this sermon will be the best we have ever preached, or will ever preach.
Preaching: You have been at North Phoenix Baptist Church for over twenty years. The task of preaching to one congregation for two decades presents a tremendous challenge. How has the preaching task changed you and your preaching in those years?
Jackson: I have found myself growing in the delivery of the sermon. A seminary professor once said to me: “I’ll bet you wish you could preach like I do.” I said “Yes!” He was a great preacher. Every gesture was perfect, every word fell gracefully from his lips. I was a crass young preacher. But that professor gave me a powerful word that day. He said, “It might surprise you to know that I have always longed to preach with the kind of force and power that you have.” He went on to tell me that I should be true to myself and learn within my own natural and God-given style.
I have learned to tone down some of the physicality of my style. I am much more comfortable with silence than I was twenty years ago, and this impacts my preaching. I like to believe that I put a greater emphasis on the content of the text and less upon other matters. I know I have a better grasp of the text now than before.
Preaching: Where do you see your preaching going in the future? You are far too creative to stay static in your preaching.
Jackson: This is far more exciting than the question of how I have changed in the past! I know that I have just now begun to learn, and entirely new opportunities are opening up for effective preaching right where I am serving. We must all evolve as preachers. I pray that I will be a much better preacher in the future than I have ever been.
Preaching: Every preacher has found some key insights and practical discoveries which opened up new effectiveness in preaching. What practical suggestions would you offer the readers of Preaching?
Jackson: You know, I think I would answer this question differently than I would have just a few years ago. At the seminary we are taught the necessity of textual application, but I don’t think we appreciate the importance of application when we are in seminary. This insight does not come from study — it comes from living with people. Application doesn’t emerge from the ivory tower. We can come out of the study sounding like a commentary. The message must come alive as the preacher is in contact with real people.
On the other hand the preacher who says “I will just be with my people,” and does not study, cannot really preach a biblical sermon. This preacher may be very popular, but there will not be much substance.
The practical course is to spend time in the Word and in study — and then have all this in mind when you are with people. These must be people from all walks of life — not just church members. I may spend time with someone on the golf course. Their comments, their questions, their concerns, all these work in me and work themselves out in my message.
We must be something between the “walking commentary” and the “jolly good preacher” who neglects study in favor of personal contact. We must have a pastor’s heart and a firm calling, matched with a great love for people. We must then saturate our minds with the text of scripture and come to the moment of delivery ready and equipped for the Holy Spirit to do something creative and mysterious.
I am absolutely awed by what happens in the moment of delivery. When the preacher is fully in the Word and in the worldly situation something incredible will happen.
Preaching: Your excitement and confidence is tangible. This must be a critical ingredient of the mix which produces a Richard Jackson — and a North Phoenix Baptist Church.
Jackson: I believe that the secret to great preaching is the preacher’s willingness to die in the preaching experience. I don’t know any other way to do it — but to hang it out, to be transparent and open.
A fellow said to me last night, “Thank you for being real.” Now that can be a cliche, but I think I know what he meant. I did not preach a sermon last night which would impress the classical homileticians. We can all do that — we all know some “cutesy” techniques, and we are all tempted to use them. Yet the folks who flew me across the country to preach that message were not looking for someone to demonstrate technical skills; they were looking for a message that would make a difference in their human lives.
I have understood this much since I preached my first sermon at age fifteen: I understood that I was to make a difference in someone’s life. If we do not walk into the pulpit with that purpose, the message will not go anywhere, or speak to anyone.
Preaching: North Phoenix Baptist Church has grown to be one of the largest churches in the United States. The pulpit of that great church has a well-deserved reputation for evangelistic preaching. How do you define or describe biblical preaching?
Jackson: This issue is the same — a basic concern for people and a realization that preaching is to change lives. Evangelism, however, is an atmosphere God creates, not something a preacher brings about by clever preaching.
I mentioned the sermon I recently preached from Luke, chapter 7. I spent thirty minutes of that sermon speaking directly to Christians — they were the focus of that message. Yet, for the last five or six minutes I spoke of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet and identified her as a sinner reached by God’s grace. Jesus ministers to those who sin, and they then recognize their sin and can be forgiven.
I made this application and said that the church must minister to those in sin because of our Savior’s example. I just extended the application of the text to the invitation for sinners to come to faith and salvation. I just gave the invitation. You know, we had some twenty professions of faith.
Many people have the idea that a preacher who has that kind of response, who baptizes large numbers of people each year, must get up and holler “Jesus Saves” for thirty minutes and give a twenty-minute pressure invitation. I preach for thirty to thirty-five minutes and ninety percent of the message is almost always addressed to believers.
You know, the evangelistic application is always there. I don’t have to create it. The evangelistic message is shot through the Book — it is God’s heart. If we get up and give a method appeal or high pressure, we make God look like a beggar. If we just preach the Word, extend a dignified appeal, and provide an opportunity for response, it will happen. That is evangelistic preaching — and that is Christian preaching.

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