Preaching to Power: An Interview with Lloyd John Ogilvie
(The Interview conducted with Michael Duduit below is adapted from http://www.preaching.com/resources/articles/11565834/ – Lloyd John Ogilvie recently wrote a book on preaching [pictured above] published by Harvest House Publishers in 2014 entitled A Passionate Calling: Recapturing Preaching That Enriches the Spirit and Moves the Heart)
Preaching to Power: An Interview with Lloyd John Ogilvie with Michael Duduit
Lloyd John Ogilvie has served since 1995 as Chaplain of the United States Senate, a role in which he opens each Senate session in prayer and leads an active schedule of Bible studies and counseling for Senators and their staffs. He came to Washington from Hollywood, California, where he had served as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church and hosted a national television ministry. He is author of nearly 50 books and continues to be a popular speaker and preacher. He was interviewed in his Senate office this spring by Preaching editor Michael Duduit.
Preaching: As we conduct this interview, we are sitting in the U.S. Capitol building, a place that is a symbol of political power. As you have made the transition from the pastorate of a local church to chaplain of the Senate, how has it influenced your approach to ministry?
Ogilvie: It has had an influence. I’ve had to discover ways to help people who have immense secular power learn how to find the power of God for their work. The transition that must be made is to help persons realize that the river bed is the flow of God’s power, not the river — to help them be recipients of supernatural power, instead of simply the power of talents. For instance, any Senator to be elected must have talents of articulation, clear thinking, organization, a lodestar kind of leadership that attracts others. However, once in office, a person needs the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be the kind of leader the nation needs — gifts of wisdom, knowledge, discernment, prophetic vision, and then empowered articulation that’s really the result of knowing God personally and yielding the role of leadership to him to receive the empowerment for the task. So our work here is around the motto, “Without God, we can’t; without us, He won’t.” And when we get that into perspective, great leaders can be born and nurtured to recognize that apart from the Lord’s power we can’t move at a supernatural level. God has so created the way He moves providentially in history that He works through people. Where He wants to be He invests a person; when He wants something to occur in a particular society, He puts His people to discover and do His will. And to get leaders to be open to that call is the important thing.
Preaching: You use your ministry of preaching and teaching not only to lead but to build leaders. How would you translate that into the local church setting for the pastor who is trying to build leaders among the laity?
Ogilvie: I think there has to be a fundamental reevaluation of the biblical idea of the meaning of the laity. To be in Christ is to be in the ministry, so every member of a congregation is a minister. The question is: what kind of a ministry does he or she have? So I think our task is to be a coach of the ministers, which puts preaching and teaching, counseling and administration in an entirely different focus:
I used to ask four basic questions in a church:
(1) What kind of people do we want to put into the world?
(2) What kind of church will make that quality of person possible?
(3) What kind of church officer will make that kind of church possible?
(4) And lastly, what kind of pastor will be an enabler of that quality of laity?
Once we make the basic decision that we don’t do ministry on behalf of the congregation but we equip them to do their ministry, then everything else falls into place. If, however, we think that we do ministry for people, and as professional clergy accomplish the work of the church, then our people are simply observers of the game we play as leaders. I like to picture a big stadium with all the seats filled, and two teams seated on both sides of the field, with blankets huddling in the cold. Then the coaches of both teams are running up and down the field, playing the game for everyone to see. That’s the picture of the contemporary church: the clergy — highly trained and honed in their skills — doing ministry on behalf of the people rather than equipping them. Once you get an understanding that our task is equipping the saints for the work of ministry, then preaching with power becomes the task of inciting enthusiasm and excitement for ministry of the laity and the adventure of following Christ in the secular realm. Then you can reevaluate the nature of the church’s program: is it accomplishing the task of putting the people into the world to accomplish that work?
Preaching: As a pastor, what kind of preaching did you find best accomplished that purpose of equipping the congregation for ministry?
Ogilvie: I think there’s a great hunger in our time for biblically-rooted, Christ-centered, Holy-Spirit empowered preaching. Great preaching comes from exposition. An understanding of the original languages is very important, so that the messenger has a message that arises out of a study of the text. Then the whole question is application to the contemporary scene — the explanation of the text, the illustration of the text, and the application of the text becomes the task of the pastor. If you live in the text eventually it will grip you to the place where it becomes like a banked fire, just waiting for the bellows of the Holy Spirit to be placed on it, to set it aflame to warm the minds and hearts of the people. If it happens to us it then can happen through us, so the text must become very real to us.Then I think we’ve got to have Richard Baxter’s rule, “I preach as a dying man to dying men, as if never to preach again.”
So every sermon ought to be preached with vigor as if we will never have another chance. That kind of enthusiasm and passion is what is needed in the church in America today — and all over the world, for that matter. I call it preaching with passion, and that kind of preaching is an understanding, an appreciation and an acceptance of the passion of Christ, the suffering of Christ for us, and then an identification with the suffering of human beings, so that we really feel what is going on inside of people. We want to bring the two together in an enthusiastic, heartfelt but intellectually healthy presentation.
Preaching: You talk about living with a text. I recall that as a pastor you would live with a text for more than a year before preaching it. Tell me about that process.
Ogilvie: I would use a three-year process. I would spend a year with a portion of Scripture as a devotional exercise. If I was going to plan to preach from the book of James, I would use that book as my devotional literature for the first year. The next year I would do an in-depth expositional study, and a reading of the great minds — to study the expositors, the great preachers through the ages. In the actual year of the preaching, I would take the time in my study leave to outline the presentation for a whole period of time, a portion of the year, then prepare a manila folder for each Sunday of that series, then publish a preaching guide for that period of time. I would do 45 Sundays a year in the parish, and I would come out of my study leave with 45 outlines of sermons, 45 manila folders, ready to receive the illustrative material that would go into each of them as I read, gathering illustrative materials from everyday life, and as I talked with people. Then, as I got to the week of actually preaching a sermon, there was the devotional year’s resource, the intensive study scholarship, then the practical gathering of material. Then the actual writing of the sermon — it is very important that the writing of the sermon be fresh, not dependent on well-worn phrases and hackneyed language. After the sermon is written it takes about a day of memorization, repeating it until it becomes a part of the preacher, then preaching it with as few notes as possible.
Preaching: What was the nature of the preaching guide you published?
Ogilvie: There would be a single page for each week. I would list out the title, the text, and the development. I would actually write three clear, concise, distilled paragraphs explaining what it is that I wanted to do with that particular text. That would be sent to the director of music, and he would take that and prepare all of the music to fit with the particular theme of that Sunday. So from the beginning note of the prelude to the last note of the postlude, one central theme in all of the hymns, Scripture readings, responses — all would augment that one central theme. Often I would add another page actually outlining the sermon as I envisioned it. Once I got to the week of the preaching of that sermon, the folder would be full of illustrative material that I had gathered through the year.
Preaching: Was most of your preaching in the form of series?
Ogilvie: Yes, I would take books of the Scripture for themes. The book of James I did a series on Making Stress Work for You. I did a book on the “He is able” statements of the epistles; that became the book Lord of the Loose Ends. Then I did one on the book of Acts that was entitled The Bush is Still Burning. I did one on the “I am” statements of Christ.
Preaching: How long was a typical series for you?
Ogilvie: Usually three months, so I’d do three major series in a year. I found that brought continuity and unity to the preaching. I tried to vary them so we would cover the whole of Scripture.
Preaching: I recall sitting in your congregation and marveling that you communicated so effectively with apparently no notes at all. Many preachers struggle with that.
Ogilvie: I learned that from James Stewart, my professor at New College (in Edinburgh). His method was to outline clearly, then to memorize the outline as you worked with it, then to write the sermon from that outline. Then that outline would be clearly focused in your mind so that you could move through it without hesitation. So the outlining becomes very important. Actually the church in Hollywood had a round balcony, and I would often picture the title of the separate sections of the sermon around the balcony, and I would picture them in my mind. I often used alliteration to help me remember the development of the text. All of those things would help me to retain eye contact. However I found that in lecturing or in giving long messages, we ought to be able to use notes unashamedly. But the sermon itself is a different article.
Preaching: And you spent a full day getting it into your memory?
Ogilvie: Yes, I would speak it aloud ten times and then it would be in me and could be communicated without total dependence on notes.
Preaching: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about preaching over the years?
Ogilvie:Nothing can happen through you that hasn’t happened to you. I feel a person’s relationship with the living Lord is the most important aspect of preaching, and a growing relationship with the Lord is essential to powerful preaching. When we realize that we have been given the privilege of communicating the love, peace, power of the living Lord, then it’s very important to maintain a growing relationship with the Lord so that we have something fresh to share with the people.
Preaching: Clearly James Stewart was a great influence in your life. In what way did he influence your ministry?
Ogilvie: He was a great expositor and loved the Scriptures. He was an intense preacher — he had hurricane force. I’ve written a great deal about him and given lectures on him. To me, he was the greatest preacher of the twentieth century. The chance to study with him meant a great deal to me. He was a good friend long after I finished my theological education. I would go back in the summers and renew our friendship. We would often review what I was going to preach on in the coming year, and he would always have new insights. He was the most thorough scholar-preacher I have ever met.
Preaching: If you were starting over, is there anything you’d do differently as a preacher?
Ogilvie: I came to the commitment of a schedule that allowed for intensive study each week later in my ministry. I would start earlier allowing for two full days for study and preparation of the sermon. The commitment of one hour in the study for each minute in the pulpit is one I would apply sooner in my ministry. I think the temptation when you are starting in ministry is to say, “When I move to a larger church I’ll really concentrate on study.” I think you move to the larger church because you have concentrated on study. So the commitment of time to study and prepare is to me the most important aspect. Then the pastor’s own prayer life and commitment to an honest and growing relationship with the Lord, and his accountability to a small group is very important. I would meet with a group of elders every Sunday prior to preaching, and usually one was elected to say, “Are you ready to preach? Is there anything we can pray for?” The renewal of the church will rise or fall on the quality of its preaching, and I think it will depend on preachers who make preaching the central priority in their allocation of time and energy. To do that we will need an understanding of the officers of the church and the membership — to allow their pastor to take the time to be ready to preach is absolutely essential. It’s been a great adventure. It still is.