Tabeltalk (TT): How did you become a Christian, and how were you called to ministry?
Steven J. Lawson: I grew up in a Christian home and was brought to faith as a young boy through the consistent witness of my father and mother. Specifically, it was through the reading of the Bible by my father each night that the seed of the gospel was planted, which God caused to germinate in my heart. Regarding my call to the ministry, I actually began preaching and teaching while in college in various ministries and churches. Upon graduating, I sat under the strong preaching of Adrian Rogers at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and strongly felt God summoning me into full-time ministry. His bold preaching electrified my heart and served as the catalyst that launched me to seminary, where I would be prepared for a lifetime of ministry.
TT: What are the biggest challenges you have faced during your ministry? How have you faced these challenges?
SL: In my earlier years, the greatest challenges I faced were preaching the doctrines of grace to congregations that were theologically untaught. To say the least, it was difficult and demanding to try to establish God-centered truth and a biblical philosophy of ministry where there had previously been a stronghold of man-centered thinking concerning the work of God in salvation. Though it was obviously a painful process, the only way to meet such an obstacle was head-on, unashamedly preaching the full counsel of God. This required much prayer, pastoral discretion, patience, and perseverance, which God honored. Over time, God established His truth in the minds and hearts of many, though it came at a high price personally.
TT: What advice would you give to a young man who aspires to be a pastor?
SL: First, any man aspiring to the pastorate needs to be sitting under strong expository preaching. He needs a role model who exemplifies what is in his heart to do. Second, he needs a personal ministry whereby he can use what he is learning, test his giftedness, and cultivate what has been entrusted to him. Third, he should surround himself with a small circle of spiritually mature men who can provide wise counsel in helping steer his life and ministry as important decisions arise. Fourth, he must begin to inquire of various seminaries regarding his future theological education. He needs to contact some institutions, visit their campuses, and talk to some of the faculty. Fifth, he needs to become an avid reader of important Christian books, including the spiritual biographies of noted men who have been mightily used by God.
TT: How does a pastor remain faithful to his calling over the long haul?
SL: In order to persevere in ministry, a pastor needs to be, first and foremost, deeply rooted and anchored in God’s Word. The more he studies, learns, teaches, and preaches God’s Word, the greater will be his staying power in ministry. Further, reading Christian biographies of men who have faced great adversity in their ministries provides greater drive and endurance. Reading the heroic accounts of martyrs and missionaries who have faced great persecution should be at the top of his reading list. Likewise, being surrounded by a small group of laymen who will encourage him in God’s work is a necessity. Pastors can be vulnerable to severe bouts of discouragement. Having the edifying feedback of trusted individuals helps him remain steadfast in doing God’s work.
TT: Who has most influenced your preaching?
SL: There have been multiple influences upon my preaching—Adrian Rogers,W.A. Criswell, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and S. Lewis Johnson. Each of these men has contributed something vitally important to my preaching ministry. Over many decades, John MacArthur has most shaped my approach to biblical exposition. He has influenced me in preaching through entire books of the Bible sequentially. I have learned from him the need for sound exegesis, word studies, historical background, crossreferences, theological precision, sermon outline, and manuscript writing. Moreover, Dr. MacArthur has demonstrated the need for guarding the gospel and teaching sound doctrine.
TT: Why have you focused so much of your attention to the practice of expository preaching and to helping both preachers and laypeople see its importance?
SL: I strongly believe that no church can rise any higher than its pulpit. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church. The deeper the preacher takes his flock into the Word of God, the higher they will rise in worship. The stronger they are in the Scripture, the stronger they will be in the pursuit of holiness. Likewise, strong preaching leads to sacrificial service in the Lord’s work. Strong exposition kindles hearts for the work of evangelism and the cause of worldwide missions. Every great movement of God in church history has been ushered in by a renewed commitment to solid preaching of the Word. If we are to see a spiritual awakening in our day, the church must recover the primacy of preaching. I desire to be used by God to help equip a new generation of preachers and laypeople in recognizing the importance of this primary means of grace.
TT: Can you describe for us what your sermon preparation looks like?
SL: I begin each week by photocopying everything that I need to read in order to prepare my sermon. This includes study Bibles, commentaries, expository sermons, linguistic and historical tools, and the like. I first read the passage and discover its literary unit, determining what verse or verses I will preach. After writing a block diagram and reading the passage in the original language, I identify the central theme of these verses. I then read all of my photocopied information, thoroughly marking it up. I draft the beginnings of a working outline for the sermon. I will start writing the sermon—with a fountain pen, I might add—beginning with the first homiletical point. I then move systematically through the text, creating a manuscript that explains and applies each successive part of the passage. I will then add transitions, illustrations, and quotations as needed. The final step is to write the introduction and conclusion. I will compose this manuscript as though I can hear myself preaching it. At last, I will review my manuscript for length, balance, and quality, praying over its truths.
TT: What is the purpose of OnePassion Ministries and how does it seek to accomplish its goals?
SL: OnePassion Ministries was created to help bring about a new reformation in this day. It has a website in which most all of my preaching and writing resources are found (www.onepassionministries.org). We are hosting conferences both nationally and internationally in order to train preachers, teachers, prospective pastors, and interested laypeople in the art and science of expository preaching and teaching. I want to define what it is, what it is not, and show how to effectively carry out this divine calling. I desire to help take people to the next level in their skills of handling and ministering God’s Word. Also, I want to motivate those who attend our conferences to be fully committed to preaching the Word expositionally. Moreover, we want to host conferences for all people in order to introduce them to Christ and encourage them in their Christian walk. Finally, we will be hosting church history tours in which I will take people to important historical sites around the world.
TT: Why did you decide to establish the book series A Long Line of Godly Men, and what other men do you hope to profile individually in this series?
SL: The Long Line series was birthed in my teaching ministry at the church that I pastor. As I was teaching the men of my church sound doctrine from Scripture, I wanted them to see that what we believe in the doctrines of sovereign grace has been the mainline position by great men and movements down through the centuries. Out of this Friday morning teaching series has arisen these books so that these essential truths may be made available to a wider audience around the world. There is much instruction and inspiration to be drawn from this profile study. In the future, I need to write volume three of the larger books, which will move from John Knox to this present hour. In the smaller books, there are other key figures who I want to address such as William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and, yes, R.C. Sproul.
Steven J. Lawson is founder and president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to bring about biblical reformation in the church today, and former senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He has served as a pastor in Arkansas and Alabama for twenty-five years and is author of many books, including The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield and In It to Win It: Pursuing Victory in the One Race That Really Counts. He is a teaching fellow for and serves on the board of Ligonier Ministries and the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and is professor of preaching at The Master’s Seminary.
Interview Conducted by Karen Swallow Prior/ NOVEMBER 1, 2011
Why the pastor says gender roles are changing and how the church can be more effective in promoting marriage.
What does your book contribute to the conversation about marriage that other books have not?
It’s not simply a how-to manual. Many Christian marriage books are “here’s how to work on your problems.” On the other hand, the book is not just theological or “here’s the biblical view of marriage.” The most recent and the best-selling Christian books on marriage from the last few years were either theological, polemical, or absolutely practical. This is a combination of those. Most books I know on the subject recently have not been written by pastors; they’ve been written by counselors or theologians or people like that. This book was originally a series of sermons. When you preach, the sermon usually goes from the theological to the more polemical and into the practical.
You suggest that the Bible’s teachings come “not only in well-stated propositions, but also through brilliant stories and moving poetry.” Has the contemporary church been less effective in presenting good stories about marriage than in stating propositions?
I don’t know that I would say the church has been great at laying out rules, and I don’t think it’s actually been very practical. The theological tends to be propositions. The polemical tends to be arguments. The practical uses lots of stories to give you the gist of what a good marriage should be like. Somewhere in Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor was asked to put the basic point of her short story in a nutshell. She said, ‘If I could put it in a nutshell, I wouldn’t have had to write the story.’
I believe she says a story can’t be paraphrased.
Yes, that’s right. I think what she means is a story gives you an excess of meaning that no proposition could possibly convey, or even a set of propositions. There’s meaning that comes with a narrative that is certainly somewhat propositional—you can put some of it into propositions—but the impact is greater.
On a practical level, the church doesn’t do a great job of giving people a vision for what God wants marriage to be. I actually think that’s a way that my book is somewhat different in that it’s almost as much for a non-married person as for a married person. I actually think, in the end, what is very practical for both singles and married people is they need to get a breathtaking vision for what marriage should be. I don’t know if the strictly theological, strictly polemical, and strictly practical books do that.
One of the paradoxes you talk about is how the commitment of marriage actually produces freedom: the freedom to be truly ourselves, the freedom to be fully known, the freedom to be there in the future for those we love and who love us. Why do you believe that the commitment of marriage is viewed as largely anything but freeing today?
Our culture pits the two against each other. The culture says you have to be free from any obligation to really be free. The modern view of freedom is freedom from. It’s negative: freedom from any obligation, freedom from anybody telling me how I have to live my life. The biblical view is a richer view of freedom. It’s the freedom of—the freedom of joy, the freedom of realizing what I was designed to be.
If you don’t bind yourself to practice the piano for eight hours a day for ten years, you’ll never know the freedom of being able to sit down and express yourself through playing beautiful music. I don’t have that freedom. It’s very clear that to be able to do so is a freeing thing for people, with the diminishment of choice. And since freedom now is defined as all options, the power of choice, that’s freedom from. I don’t think ancient people saw these things as contradictions, but modern people do.
Your wife Kathy adheres to a complementarian view of gender roles but points out that a subdivision of labor can vary greatly within marriages and across cultures, generations, and societies. You state that cultural gender roles are not necessarily the same as biblical gender roles. Might this view might advance the egalitarian vs. complementarian debate beyond a current stalemate?
I don’t know. I would love that. Let’s just say, I hope so. I don’t have a lot of hopes right now about some of the stalemates we have in our evangelical world.
On the one hand, we say there is such a thing as male headship. It is irreducible in the home and in the church. But then, the details of what it looks like are almost completely un-spelled out. There are hints, but they are not laid out. We think it’s a principle for all times, all places, and all cultures, so if you had any list of specifics, it would make the principle less applicable. Complementarians admit the principle, but they always add a list of specifics that they treat as universal. Egalitarians won’t admit the principle. So, you might say we’re complementarians who endorse the principle that the husband and wife say “yes, the husband is the head,” but then we expect couples to come up with what that’s going to look like in their own marriage. Just don’t punt on the principle.
You describe marriage as a means for each spouse to “become their glorious future-selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship” and sex as one of the expressions of that relationship. Such a purpose pre-supposes a belief in a biblical eschatology. What purpose does marriage serve for those who do not share such a belief?
It doesn’t have the vertical dimension. A Christian marriage shows me more of the gospel, shows me more of Christ’s love. But there’s no doubt that marriage has natural benefits, too. First, it creates a stable environment for the rearing of children, who can’t thrive as well anywhere else. It also brings the two genders together to complement one another and knock off the rough edges. Marriage provides the personal growth that comes through cross-gender relationships.
Do you think the question of gay marriage has been settled politically? Would it have been more effectively addressed by the church if the church had more effectively upheld and supported the biblical model of marriage?
Right now it seems as if gay marriage has the upper hand politically, but it’s hard to say whether 50 years from now gay marriage will still have public support. Gay marriage activists say that if you don’t believe in gay marriage, it’s the same as not believing in interracial marriage. They don’t realize that’s not at all the case, because the texts of the major religions do not treat the subjects of race and homosexuality the same.
What advice can you offer families who are devoting more hours to work and less to home and family because of the economy?
It’s a very hard time now economically. In the end, family has to take precedence over making money. As the saying goes, on one’s deathbed, no one says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
In great faith, I have written to a number of better-known preachers on both sides of the Atlantic. Each of them has been sent ten questions on the subject of preaching. The following is Tim Keller’s response. For those of you who don’t know, “Timothy J. Keller is an author, a speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, New York.”
1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
It is central, but not alone at the center. Pastoral ministry is as important as preaching ministry, and lay “every-member” ministry is as crucial as ordained ministry. I wouldn’t make a hierarchy out of these things—they are interdependent. But pastoral ministry and lay ministry are not substitutes for strong preaching.
2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I preached about 200 different expositions a year for the first nine years of my ministry (when I was age 24 through 33). During that time I was considered interesting and good but I never got a lot of feedback that I was anything special. I’ve grown a lot through lots of practice.
3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I pastor a large church and have a large staff, and so I give special prominence to preparing the sermon. I give it 15–20 hours a week. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot, and to spend tons of time in people work—that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh and blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff, I put in six to eight hours on a sermon.
4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallize it?
I don’t know that I’d be so rigid as to say there has to be just one Big Idea every time. That is a good discipline for preachers in general, because it helps with clarity. Most texts have too much in them for the preacher to cover in one address. You must be selective. But sometimes a preaching-size text simply has two or three major ideas that are too good to pass up.
5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should combine warmth and authority/force. That is hard to do, since temperamentally we incline one way or the other. (And many, many of us show neither warmth nor force in preaching.)
6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use a very detailed outline, with many key phrases in each sub-point written out word for word.
7. What are the greatest perils that a preacher must avoid?
This seems to me too big a question to tackle here. Virtually everything a preacher ought to do has a corresponding peril-to-avoid. For examples, preaching should be Biblical, clear (for the mind), practical (for the will), vivid (for the heart,) warm, forceful, and Christo-centric. You should avoid the opposites of all these things.
8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (e.g., pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)?
See my remarks on #3 above. It is a very great mistake to pit pastoral care and leadership against preaching preparation. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be—someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership are to some degree sermon prep. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Prayer also prepares the preacher, not just the sermon.
9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
British preachers have had a much greater impact on me than American preachers (Dick Lucas, Alec Motyer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones). And the American preachers who have been most influential (e.g., Jonathan Edwards) were essentially British anyway.
10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I haven’t done much on that front at all, and I’m not happy about that. Currently I meet with two other younger preachers on my staff who also preach regularly. We talk specifically about their preaching and sermon prep.
Colin Adams is the pastor of Ballymoney Baptist Church, Northern Ireland. For six years he had the privilege of serving as an Associate Pastor with Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh. Before coming to Edinburgh he studied theology for four years at International Christian College in Glasgow.
In Scripture the word “father” is found more than 1,100 times. Yet in America it’s become increasingly harder to find a father in the home. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three children — now live in a home in which the biological father is absent.
Increasing father involvement in their children’s lives is one of the most important ways to address material and spiritual poverty in this country. One way we can do that is to reiterate the importance of fathers and the difference their presence makes. Almost every study conducted in the social sciences confirms what the Bible teaches — fathers matter.
Here are 25 facts from social science research on the effects of having a father in the home:
Question: “Complementarianism vs. egalitarianism—which view is biblically correct?”
Answer: Summarized by “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” complementarianism is the viewpoint that God restricts women from serving in church leadership roles and instead calls women to serve in equally important, but complementary roles. Summarized by “Christians for Biblical Equality,” egalitarianism is the viewpoint that there are no biblical gender-based restrictions on ministry in the church. With both positions claiming to be biblically based, it is crucially important to fully examine what exactly the Bible does say on the issue of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.
Again, to summarize, on the one side are the egalitarians who believe there are no gender distinctions and that since we are all one in Christ, women and men are interchangeable when it comes to functional roles in leadership and in the household. The opposing view is held by those who refer to themselves as complementarians. The complementarian view believes in the essential equality of men and women as persons (i.e., as human beings created in God’s image), but complementarians hold to gender distinctions when it comes to functional roles in society, the church and the home.
An argument in favor of complementarianism can be made from 1 Timothy 2:9-15. The verse in particular that seems to argue against the egalitarian view is 1 Timothy 2:12, which reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Paul makes a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 14 where he writes, “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Paul makes the argument that women are not allowed to teach and/or exercise authority over men within the church setting. Passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9 seem to limit church leadership “offices” to men, as well.
Egalitarianism essentially makes its case based on Galatians 3:28. In that verse Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The egalitarian view argues that in Christ the gender distinctions that characterized fallen relationships have been removed. However, is this how Galatians 3:28 should be understood? Does the context warrant such an interpretation? It is abundantly clear that this interpretation does damage to the context of the verse. In Galatians, Paul is demonstrating the great truth of justification by faith alone and not by works (Galatians 2:16). In Galatians 3:15-29, Paul argues for justification on the differences between the law and the promise. Galatians 3:28 fits into Paul’s argument that all who are in Christ are Abraham’s offspring by faith and heirs to the promise (Galatians 3:29). The context of this passage makes it clear Paul is referring to salvation, not roles in the church. In other words, salvation is given freely to all without respect to external factors such as ethnicity, economic status, or gender. To stretch this context to also apply to gender roles in the church goes far beyond and outside of the argument Paul was making.
What is truly the crux of this argument, and what many egalitarians fail to understand, is that a difference in role does not equate to a difference in quality, importance, or value. Men and women are equally valued in God’s sight and plan. Women are not inferior to men. Rather, God assigns different roles to men and women in the church and the home because that is how He designed us to function. The truth of differentiation and equality can be seen in the functional hierarchy within the Trinity (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3). The Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. This functional submission does not imply an equivalent inferiority of essence; all three Persons are equally God, but they differ in their function. Likewise, men and women are equally human beings and equally share the image of God, but they have God-ordained roles and functions that mirror the functional hierarchy within the Trinity.
While he is not the author of every article on GotQuestions.org, for citation purposes, you may reference our CEO AT LOGOS, S. Michael Houdmann.
Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows that when the book of Proverbs uses the word “gossip,” it does so in the noun form, not the verb form. In other words, the Bible is concerned less with the words that are spoken and more with the heart and mouth that generate such destruction. Words matter, but they are simply the overflow of the heart. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.
Here, drawn from Mitchell’s book, is a gallery of gossips, five different gossiping people you will meet in life.
GOSSIP #1: THE SPY
The first kind of gossip, and I know you’ve run across this person before, is The Spy. Solomon describes him in Proverbs 11:13: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” The Spy is an informer, a person who gathers secrets so he can use them to his personal advantage. This is the person who is always listening for rumors and who always seems to know everyone else’s business. His ear is always to the ground. The Spy’s main motivation is power. It may be the thrill of knowing something before everyone else, or it may be the power that comes when threatening others by revealing their secrets. He uses information to elevate himself and to destroy others.
GOSSIP #2: THE GRUMBLER
The second gossip is The Grumbler and we find him in Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”The Grumbler complains and criticizes. She criticizes other people and complains about them behind their backs. She spreads all their secrets, describes exactly how she feels about them, and then excuses it all by saying, “I just needed to vent for a while.” Because she is miserable, and because misery loves company, she drags other people into her grumbling. Her motive is often jealously or envy. She wants what another person has and grumbles because she does not have it herself.
GOSSIP #3: THE BACKSTABBER
We all know The Backstabber, don’t we? The Backstabber is a complainer, but he is more than that. He is also angry and malicious and is out destroy others. He may bring full-out lies in order to bring down another person, or he may engage in a smear campaign. He looks for something, anything, everything wrong with his enemies and makes sure everyone knows about those things; if he can’t find them, he makes them up. The Backstabber is often motivated by revenge for some deep offense, some opportunity lost, or some hardship gained. This offense or perceived offense has led to bitterness which has taken root and motivated this desire for revenge. Today, many of these people begin web sites and do their work as loudly and publicly as possible.
GOSSIP #4: THE CHAMELEON
The Chameleon is the person who uses gossip to fit in with the crowd at work or school or church or even in the family. She is desperate to blend in and to be accepted. Since everyone else gossips, she gossips too, so that she can join in the conversation. Since respect comes through sharing juicy facts about others, she finds and then shares that kind of information. Her motivation is fear—the fear of man. She is afraid of what others will think of her, and especially afraid of being excluded from the crowd. Prov 29:25 describes her well: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”
GOSSIP #5: THE BUSYBODY
The final kind of gossip is The Busybody. The Busybody is the person who is idle, and his idleness leads to meddling and gossip. Proverbs 26:17 speaks to him: “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” We meet The Busybody man in both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and we meet The Busybody woman in his first letter to Timothy. The Busybody loves the titillation that comes through gossip and loves living vicariously through other people’s stories. The Busybody loves to be online where he can troll celebrity gossip sites in the name of amusement and Christian celebrity gossip sites in the name of discernment.
Most of us have met these people. Most of us have been these people. Each of us is in desperate need of God’s forgiveness and God’s sanctifying grace.
*SOURCE: December 5, 2013 @ http://www.challies.com/christian-living/the-5-gossips-you-will-meet.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BOOK: Matthew G. Mitchell. Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. CLC, 2013.