The Mission of the Minister: Q & A, part 1 of 2
March 21st, 1971
1 Timothy 1
School of the Prophets Special
THE MISSION OF THE MINISTER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Question and Answer Session
Sunday Evening, part 1 of 2
All right, I feel this is more of an imposition on you than it is a blessing. You all ought to be up here, and let me ask you questions, or talk to you about anything. Actually, there is not anything in this church that you do not have in your church, only maybe better. What we need is not nearly so much that we could come together and find instruction, though these staff members in these different areas of work do get to be real experts in it. They give their whole lives just to one area, like a Cradle Roll worker here in the church. I do not know of another church in the world that has a full time Cradle Roll worker except this church. She gives her life to that. Well, as time goes on, and she lives in that world, she becomes very knowledgeable in it. And in areas like that, there are people here that can really help us.
But other than that, what mostly we need is encouragement. It is no easy thing to do God’s work in this world, it isn’t. There are no easy places. And when we see one another, it helps us. It helps me. Sometimes I get so discouraged I just cannot hear [anybody] pray. I just get so down and blue, O Lord. But, when we have meetings like this, and you are here, I just am just oh, I am just encouraged! And you are going to be seed for what we are going to do in the future. I think through you we are going to have a tremendous week next year, and then through the men that you will bring next year, the following year will be even better. We are not going to tear up the earth.
One of those men came to me this week and wanted to know what I was going to do. I said, “Well, now you just put it down, I am not going to stand up there in that pulpit or anywhere else and tear up the earth, I am just not. You are not going to hear anything out of me, all you are going to hear is, I am going to preach what I believe, stand up for the thing that God has put in my soul. I am not going to say anything about you. I am not going to criticize you, not going to do anything. You can put that down. We’re not going to tear up our convention or anything else.”
But I tell you what, there’s a whole lot of us that are going right down the middle in this work; and we’re not going to be dissuaded from it. We’re not going to be intimidated, and we’re not going to be made to feel that we’re worms and ignoramuses, and that the only reason we believe as we do is because we don’t know any better. They’re not going to do that to us. We’re going to stand up, and we’re going to speak out, and I think God will give us the people. I think He will.
Well, that’s just to say to you that what we’re doing mostly is just encouraging one another in the faith. And next year, why, I want us to take a lot of time to be together. Oh, this year, it’s been so pressed! But I just, my own soul, I just like to be with you, eat together and talk together and just a whole lot of things together. Now, I suppose Dr. Bryant had this arranged for you all to say what you’d like to say, so I quit. Okay, son.
[Audience: Dr. Criswell, I wanted to ask if you would go through the procedure from the time you receive a person here for baptism until you take them into the baptistery, could you briefly describe which process you use?]
Well, I depend upon the staff for older people. If they don’t do it, most of the times it would not be done. But when children come, youngsters come, if the child is very young, it’s a step toward God, if the child is very young. I preached a sermon here in the church, and the Baptist Press picked it up. Oh dear! I got lots of letters about that! Some of them were just blistering. But they misunderstand and they misunderstood.
I don’t think a child ought to be baptized until the child has maturity of mind. The child grows just like his foot grows, his thumb grows, his nose grows, his ears grow, his head grows, his brain grows. Now I have been a pastor longer than most of you men are old. I have been a pastor forty-four years. I’ve been pastor of this church, soon, twenty-seven years. And I have worked with these children for years, and years, and years, and years. And the difference between a little child and an older child is the difference between night and day.
Now if I were a Camelite––which by God’s grace I couldn’t be, I don’t care if I were made to be––if I were a Camelite and believed that they were saved by being baptized, that the water washed their sins away, if I were a Camelite, why, I might want to baptize them right on the spot no matter what. But baptism is something else. It is not an instrument of salvation. It is not a sacrament. Baptism is a setting forth of the burial and the resurrection of our Lord [Romans 6:3-5], and it is our introduction into the privileges and the rights and the fellowshipping of the church [Matthew 28:19-20].
So the child, when he is baptized, ought to be taught; and he ought to have that acumen, that maturity of mind that makes it possible for him really to be sensitive to all that this means. So I preached a sermon here that we were not going to baptize children under nine years of age, just blanket, not going to do it. Now once in a while, of course, there’ll be a parent who just, oh my, they just, just awful; so I say, “All right.” That happened about three weeks ago. But I’ve done my best, and there are very few parents like that. So with our children, pastor, we very carefully teach them that little book that I have written; and then they bring them to me, and I talk to them and the father and the mother.
Now when an older man or an older woman, these other people, when they join the church by baptism, I depend upon the staff to get them ready, to teach them, to visit with them, and to, and if they will, to read that little book. And if they don’t do it, I am disappointed in them and sorry; but that’s all. I depend on the staff for these that are older, to work with them and get them prepared.
[Audience: Dr. Criswell, this is a question concerning the mechanics of baptism. We were discussing it after the service a moment ago. My services have a tendency to be a little splashy. I don’t get the mood that you do in yours, the reverence. What instructions do you give these candidates that, I noticed that you went in two phases, do you instruct them or does one member of your staff instruct them on the mechanics?]
Another member of the staff, usually Mel Carter.
[Audience: Could he say a word about what he says to them?]
Where is Mel? Is Mel here? Okay Mel, come here Mel, take this.
[Mel Carter: All right, I meet with the candidates in Grace Parlor. I go through two things with them. The first is mechanical. I tell them the only reason for having them there is to go through this mechanical explanation as to what will happen when they enter the baptismal tank. Tell them the pastor will greet them at the foot of the stairs, and he’ll lead them across to the right hand side of the tank. And in the bottom of the pool they’ll find an iron bar, which has been welded to the bottom of the tank, about that far off the floor. I ask them to slide their toes under that bar. And I explain, frankly, the reason, the practical reason for this is that it keeps your feet down when we lay you back in the water. It sets them at ease a little bit there, I think.
Then I tell them to cross their hands across their chest. And then when the pastor begins to lay them back in the water, to hold their body stiff, don’t sink, don’t sit down, sag; hold your legs stiff and you’ll rock back very easily, and back up very easily. He’ll have good hold of you. He’ll have control of you. He’ll do it slowly. There’s no splashing, and just before he places your face under the water he’ll hold your nose so there’ll be no discomfort of the water going up your nose. Any questions, about the mechanical process? And if there is, we’ll try to answer that.
Then I say, now the second thing we want to make crystal clear to you is the fact that baptism has nothing whatsoever to do with your salvation. You are saved when you give your heart to Christ, when you surrender your life to the Lord, when you came down and made a profession of faith, public profession of faith in Christ [Romans 10:9-10, 13]. That’s your salvation experience. Baptism is an act of obedience. You’re following the Lord in baptism. You’re baptized as He was baptized [Matthew 3:13-17]. Everywhere in the Scripture you’ll read it, it is “Believe, and be baptized. Believe, and be baptized.” You’re not baptized to believe. You believe and you are baptized, in that order [Acts 8:36-38]. And then it’s a beautiful picture.
As the Scriptures show us, we follow the Lord in the likeness of His death, we are raised to walk in the likeness of His resurrection. Symbolically we die. We are raised to a new life. It’s the most beautiful picture we have in Scriptures of salvation, of the new life [Romans 6:3-6]. It is also the best sermon you may ever preach, because there will be many out there watching, some out there perhaps who are not Christians, and because of your testimony, because of the message of your burial with Christ, your resurrection to a new life, symbolically in Him, they may come to know the Lord. The reason I say that is this: that we have had people who have come down the aisle, on the invitation, and have said, “Because I saw the baptism tonight, the Lord touched my heart, and I’m giving my life to Him.” And every night we pray that this will happen.
[Dr. Criswell] One of the things that I want us to do more and more here in our church on the first Sunday of each––on every fifth Sunday, is that where it is Mel, we have baptism on television, fifth Sunday?––Every fifth Sunday in the morning, on television; I want us to do that more and more. I meet people all the time when we do that, saying, “I never saw a baptismal service in my life. It was a strange, unusual thing to me.” Well, most of the world, as you know, is pedobaptist. Practically all of them are pedobaptist. So more and more I want us to have baptismal services on television. People ought to see that. God honors that ordinance, and it’s just a blessed thing to do.
[Audience: Inaudible question]
[Dr. Criswell] There’s a bar down there. A man would not need that bar, a big footed boy would not need it. But a girl, and a woman needs it. A girl and a woman has a tendency, their bodies are light, and they have a tendency to float, to come up. So when you got the bar down there, have them put their toes under that bar, then you don’t have that problem. It’s just a lot better to have a bar where they can put their toes under and that’s all; then just lay them back and raise them up.
[Audience: If you have a big man like Forrest Gregg of the Green Bay Packers, or someone like that, and he’s up here, if you could ask him on the way back up, if they’re alert enough, put their foot back like this and push up, it helps you.]
[Dr. Criswell] A big man, when you lay him back, tell him, after you lay him back, to take his right foot and pull it back from the bar, you know, pull it back and push himself up. A great big giant of a man will just come right up beautifully. And they say, “Well how does a little old fellow like that pastor baptize a big man like that?” Well, he just baptizes himself, mostly. Okay, son.
[Audience: Dr. Criswell, you were mentioning in your sermon preparation, in your Bible you’d numbered certain books,] Yes, [with a page number. Now, are these books only books that are commentaries and sermons that deal with the certain text,] Yes, [or are these all your books,] No, [they’re numbered in a different way, the other books?]
Well, when Dr. Truett was living, somebody went out there and went through his library, and put that decimal system in it. They did that as a surprise to him. Dr. Truett went out there to his house, he couldn’t find any book. He couldn’t do anything in the world. And he got his books all back arranged, you know, as he had them before. I’m that way. I have my books arranged as I want to. But all those homiletical books, you know, books that have to do with a passage of Scripture, mostly they’re sermon books, I number them, as I say, as they come to my hand I number them. And then by the side of the text in the wide margin Bible I write the number of that book, dash, and then the page on which that sermon or message is found.
[Audience: Thank you.]
And as I said, that’s the greatest homiletical discovery I ever made in my life. That has meant more to me in my preaching than anything else I ever did, or half a dozen other things. You do that, son, and it’ll bless your life. Simple, because you don’t have to worry about rearranging the books, just put a number, start at one, go right on out ad infinitum until you’re an old man.
[Audience: Thank you.]
Bless you, fellow. All right.
[Audience: Several questions. First, I’d said something to you about this earlier, next year at School of Prophets you mentioned maybe Revelation, I am of the feeling most of us here are of the same mind concerning the second coming of the Lord, and probably most of us have read your books on Revelation, I’m trying to get ready to preach through Genesis, and the more I study that, the deeper it gets; I wonder if some of these men might be interested in you teaching Genesis next year, and I believe you’ll be preparing your manuscript for your book so that would coincide with your studying and not be such an imposition on your time in preparation? But I personally feel that Genesis would be of great, great value.]
All right, let’s just decide. What he’s talking about is, Zondervan has asked me, when I get through Daniel and when I get through Ephesians––I am almost through Ephesians––and they’ll be published. All the sermons I’ve preached on Ephesians, about forty of them, are going to be published in a volume on Ephesians, and it will come out next spring, you know, spring of next year. The third volume on Daniel will come out this November, and then there’ll be one more volume on Daniel that’ll come out the next November.
Then Zondervan has asked me to preach a series of sermons on Genesis, and to publish them, maybe three or four or five volumes of them. So, he makes the suggestion, why don’t you instead of preaching, instead of teaching, next year when we have the School of Prophets, on Revelation, why don’t you do it on Genesis? Well he asked me privately about that, and I said, “Well, I would not mind doing it because I have to prepare a series, and it has to be very thoroughly done. I could prepare a series on Genesis, and it’d be all right with me.”
So, let’s just vote on it. All of you that would like for me to have this course for a week on Revelation, and in a moment I’m going to ask you to raise your hands, and all of you that would like for me to study and to prepare the course on Genesis, you raise your hands. All right, now let’s go back to Revelation. All of you that would like for me, in that week next year of Bible study, to present it.
[Audience: Inaudible question]
Yes, yes, they’re all over here in this library. Every sermon that I have preached here since about 1954 or 5 is on tape over there, just oh, countless numbers of them.
Now, all of you who would like for me to present the Book of the Revelation in that week, hold up your hand. Thank you. Now, all of you that would like for the pastor to study and to present the Book of Genesis, hold up your hands. Well, that amazes me!
[Audience: How about both?]
To do it on Revelation would be practically easy for me because, as you know, I studied that so extensively, and I have all of those notes, all of them. Now whether we could do both of them, I don’t know, we’ll look at it, but we will do it on Genesis. We’ll do it on Genesis.
[Audience: Inaudible question]
[Audience: Dr. Criswell?]
[Audience: I had two more things. One I was going to ask, if you could send us, as best you could do with the time you had, a fairly complete bibliography of what books you would recommend.]
[Audience: And other books, just the books you feel are, you know, in the area of studying and trying to preach expository messages.]
[Audience: Inaudible question]
Oh, some of them are in the syllabus.
[Audience: That’s just twenty books.]
Sweet friend, I’m not able to answer that good yet. When I preach through the Bible––well, I could answer generally, you know, you asked me about books on Genesis––when I preach through the Bible, I first started to do it rapidly. And as I went on, I got slower, and slower, and slower, and slower, and slower, until finally, did you know, I preach a year on the ninth chapter of Hebrews? You just can’t imagine such a thing as that. Well, I’m not able to answer well on Genesis now. So let’s wait until I have time to study it and look through a whole lot of those books; and then next year I’ll be able to answer it easily. All right.
[Audience: I was wondering if you would elaborate for us on if you have a planned program of preaching a year ahead of time. I was very impressed by the fact that you announce your sermon topics, I believe it’s the Monday afternoon, like tomorrow you’ll have them up there.]
In the morning.
[Audience: And if you know already, do you have the topic, do you already have it written out, or do you just know in your mind where you’re going?]
The thing that helps me in my preaching, of course, is I’m preaching always through a book. Like John, I’m preaching through the Gospel of John. And in the morning, as you know, I’m preaching through Daniel. A lot of that is hard for me. I don’t know any more about it than anybody else. I have a general background. But I want you to know that when I go into a thing like that, it’s just like plowing stumps to me. Now I had to prepare the sermon that I preached this morning, this week. And it was as, oh, I knew it, you know, generally. But ninety-nine percent of that this morning, I didn’t know at all. I just heard generally about Babylon, and that Herodotus said the walls were high, and I remembered reading way back there he said six chariots could run abreast on it. But to prepare a message in all of that, so I stayed up late at night last week, and got up at five o’clock in the morning to prepare that message.
Well, if I had the time, this is what I would do. This is what I’d love to do, but I’ve never done it. I would love to take my vacation, a month off, in the summer. And I’d love to go somewhere where there’s no telephone, and I’d love to outline my messages for the following year, Sunday morning and Sunday night. Well, why don’t you do that? Because my vacations are always consumed with some kind of preaching program or going somewhere; like last year, you know, I went around the world with this choir that went over to the Orient, and this coming year taking this group to Israel. But if I had a clear way and could, I would take a month in the summertime, and I would outline the whole year’s program. Now what I do now is, I just do the best that I can, having before me this Book to preach through. But I’m not able to get a way ahead, which I would like to do. I like to prepare a long time out there.
[Audience: I noticed that you, even your Easter messages, you already have your topics for that. Have you, these sermons, have you written these sermons or here again you’d be preparing all the way?]
The great chances are that in a series of messages like at the Easter service––and I’ve been doing that, this will be the twenty-seventh year that I’ve done that; and that’s one of the most blessed of all of the ministries that God’s ever given us are these—they were Palace Theater services until, the Palace is just now being torn down––but in a message like that, I’ll take material I already have. For example, the Monday, the general theme, you saw it here, is “God’s Witnesses to the World”: The Fire of Elijah, The Baptism of John, The Preaching of Peter, The Tears of Paul, The Blood of Christ; all of that material I have. And what I will do is; I will take the material and then boil it down—see, those messages are brief—just concentrated it, and just fire away down there in that theater. I will not preach new material in the theater. It will be material that I’ve already dug out, and I just put it together. But in these sermons here that are preached at the church, most of the times I have just dug it out, just done it.
[Audience: You have revival it seems every Sunday here, but I’m wondering if you have revivals during the year? Do you have special weeks that you hold meetings?]
What happens to us when we have a revival is the people wait until it’s over with so they can get back to work again. Now isn’t that a sight? The spirit of the church is so high, always. Now you never saw as many people come down the aisle today as usually come. We had a smaller harvest today than we’ve had in a long time. I think you all kind of intimidated them. But, oh, world without end there’ll be times when they just, oh, fill the front of this auditorium. The spirit of revival is always in the church; it is always in the church. And these protracted series of services do not contribute to us, they just don’t.
[Audience: So you don’t have them?]
[Audience: You don’t have them?]
[Audience: You do?]
Yes. We had two a year for a long time, and then we cut it down to one a year. And this year we haven’t, are not going to have one. Last year we didn’t have one, did we? We did not have one last year. We did not have one this year. But we’re planning one next year and the following year. A revival service as such to us makes no contribution. We do our work in a different way.
[Audience: I’ve noticed that, and that’s why I wondered about the meetings, because it almost seemed you didn’t need any special revivals. I had another series of questions about your personal pastoral ministry. I wanted to know about how much time you’re able to give to hospital calling, to weddings, and funerals, and personal counseling, and marriage counseling, and so on?]
Well, I lament over my inability to do what you’re talking about. I do what I can, but, you know, you look at this old beat up church, but you don’t realize when you look at it, see you’re sitting in an auditorium that was built in 1890; of course it’s been remodeled, you know, see these square windows, see these square windows? This was the educational building, so they gutted the whole thing out and turned it around; but we’re in these quarters that were built in 1890.
You don’t realize how big the church is. There are fifteen thousand three hundred members in the church. Consequently, the pastoral ministry is, you just can’t imagine it. So, I am getting older, I don’t need to say that, I just am, just look at me and tell, that’s why we have this staff here. They divide up the hospitals. I used, for years I saw everybody that was in the hospital, everybody. For years I did that. I got to where I struggled. I used to see everybody that wanted to see me. I struggled. And with everything else it became insuperable. So what I do now is, our ministers divide up the hospitals, and they have certain days that they regularly go to those hospitals. And I go see people just that are a special reason for my going, no other. I try to do every funeral that they ask me to, but I can’t. I try to but I can’t. I try to do every wedding that they ask me to do. I can’t do that, but I try. And as time goes on, more and more and more, you’re going to find the pastoral ministry of the church taken over by these men. I will more and more get away from it.
[Audience: Thank you very much, that’s a good answer. I really appreciate that. I wanted to ask one more thing, and that is concerning your preaching itself. You mentioned that you did not use any notes in your preaching, but I was wondering if you did the study and prepare a manuscript that you would file away for future reference?]
Let’s take the sermon this morning. The sermon this morning was made, the reason I speak of it is because I just delivered it. The sermon this morning, I made nine pages of notes, nine pages, full pages of notes. Then out of the nine pages I made, you know, the fold that I always use, and four pages of notes. And I preached the sermon from those four pages of notes. Now I preached this morning about, at the first service I preached about forty-five minutes; at the next service I preached about forty minutes. I could have preached four hours; that’s the best way to preach is out of the overflow. You know ten dozen things that you could preach about, but you don’t have time. But that’s the way the sermon is prepared. I’ve got nine pages of notes, and then four that put it down in the form that I tried to present it this morning. And I will do that pretty well in every sermon, every sermon will follow that.
Now the sermon tonight is in an altogether different world. The sermon tonight, I don’t have the time to dig to prepare two sermons as I did this morning. I just don’t have the time, I just cannot. So the chances are that the sermon Sunday morning will be one that is really dug, because I don’t know anymore about Daniel than anybody else, and it’s just downright digging for me. But the sermon Sunday night will be something I’m very familiar with, very familiar with. And the preparation for it will be not nearly so slavish as the sermon that doubtless I’ll be preaching in the morning.
[Audience: Dr. Criswell, I’m from California, and I’m going to have to leave, but this is not a question, but I will ask you, can I say just a few words on how I feel?]
[Audience: I have started to the Holy Land a couple of times, and something came up and I didn’t get to go. But I feel like I’ve been to the Holy Land this week. And I almost feel like I’m talking to John the Baptist when I talk to you. I just had to say what I got to say, and I heard you the first time in 1961, I believe it was, in Hobbs, New Mexico. And my people told me they was never going to let me come back to one of your services because I went back and tried to imitate you. But anyway, I have another church now for eight years, I’ve been there. I started preaching when I was forty-five years old, and I’ve been preaching now for thirteen years. And I just got to say that you have done more for me than any preacher I have ever heard, and I just couldn’t leave without telling you that.]
You dear precious friend, thank you and the Lord be good to you.
[Audience: Amen. I wonder if you might share with us, I think the answer really is spreading the load. I think most of us here do not really have a large staff, and I think the key is getting our laymen committed. I mean, we may not have a full paid worker in the children’s division, but if we could get that superintendent and that departmental worker to do the job, and I was just wondering if you might share with us, I realize this is coming off the top here, some of the things we might do to inspire our laymen here to share the load as we preach the Bible.]
Well, as you know, I have not been pastor of just this church all my life. Out of the forty-four years only twenty-six and two thirds of it has been here. The rest of it has been in churches that were small, and smaller, and smallest. Now, God blessed me in those churches just as much as He has in this church, just as much. Out there in the little church where I had eighteen members, God blessed me there. Now, this is what I did from the beginning, not because I was taught or learned it, but I just did it. When I started out, I started out to involve people, involve them, involve them, involve them. Just think up things in which you could involve them. If you didn’t have something, think up something. And involve them. Now, I think any pastor can do that with his church.
You don’t have these paid leaders as we have here, these paid staff members. You don’t need them. You can direct it yourself. You can get somebody, a laywoman, and just you know place the responsibility upon her and make her feel that responsibility. And it is marvelous how people will respond when you expect something of them, same way all through the gamut of that church, all of it. In the morning, in the evening, your men, your women, all of the work, go see them and talk to them, and lay the responsibility of it on them. And they will respond. You won’t find any disposition in a consecrated group but to respond. And oh my, when they’re at it and working, they just grow in grace and they love you.
Now let me tell you something about working with people: it is a lot easier for a preacher just to lock himself in or put himself somewhere, and he studies, and he gets up and preaches and he just lets the people go. That’s all right, and God will bless the man that does that. But if you will take time to work with people and work with them, they will love you, that’s one thing, they will love you and with all the problems that arise in trying to fit them together in a church organization, the problem you face is nothing comparable to the rich reward of the love of your people, if you’ll work with them. There’s no place that we have in our church that you cannot get a [layman] or a laywoman for in your church, and it will just grow and be blessed.