Questions for the Pastor, Part 1 of 2
March 16th, 1974
School of the Prophets
QUESTIONS FOR THE PASTOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-16-74 Part 1 of 2
We are going to be here a long time, so I am going to sit down. But I do not like that…I am like little Goldilocks trying out all the chairs. Now I like that better, that pleases me. As the days go on, we are learning more and more what needs to be done to make our week beautiful and effective. And next year, why, there are a whole lot of things that you have suggested that we will place into our week and make it happier for us and even more profitable.
This room that you are in is named after a wonderfully gifted young deacon. He died of a heart attack. He was on the pulpit committee that invited me to come to be pastor of the church here, and he represented the young people, the young element in the church. We had seven people on that pulpit committee, and Ralph Baker for whom this hall is named, was one of those members. And he was very interested in drama and entertainment. He and another Ralph were graduated from SMU, and they were a team, both of them played the piano beautifully, and they were born comedians. And you could just fall in the aisle laughing at them and all of the funny things that they did. And when he died, some of his friends wanted to do something in his memory, and they raised the money to build this little hall. It’s an ideal little place.
Any kind of a well, you think that might—well, this is just so nice, I am used to these hard iron seats around here. Didn’t even know we had a—I didn’t even know we had a chair like this in the church. I think I like the other one better. Okay.
The building here is brand new. What has plunged me into an almost insuperable burden is found in the lack of vision of our forefathers. The lot right across from the church on the other side, this is Patterson Street that runs right here, and San Jacinto runs one the other side of the church. Ervay is here and Saint Paul is there, that central building.
When I came here that was the church, just that central building there. The church was offered that lot for $3,500. And they turned it down because they didn’t need it, and it was too expensive. So I had to dig up $132,000 for that little lot. And we have just paid $1,700,000 for the rest of that block facing Ross Avenue. And the lot on which this building stands we paid about $332,000 for it. And just go on and on. So we are in debt about six million dollars, all of which would be needless had our forefathers had any kind of a vision of the future.
But there’s no need to cry over spilled milk. They didn’t have the vision, so we have the terrible burden of carrying that indebtedness at an enormous interest rate. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from this church go into interest payments. It’s just tragic. But there’s no other way out. The only thing that it brings to us is a lesson to you. Wherever I go and have opportunity to talk to the pastor, I encourage him to buy the properties around his church. Well, you don’t need them. Buy them anyway.
There may be a pastor that will follow you who might have an idea to do something at the church. So give him an opportunity. You don’t lose any money on that. The properties that you buy will go up and up and up as inflation gradually destroys the purchasing power of the dollar.
And there is no government in history that has ever been able to stop inflation, not one. Nor is there one on the present scene that is able, and least of all, America. The reason for that is very obvious. It is easy for the politician to just press a button and print money, but it’s hard for him to raise taxes. So as between destroying the future and following a program of immediacy in the present, why, the politician always will follow the program of immediacy, and that destroys the future, and America is going to be just like all the rest of them. The day is going to come when the American dollar will buy nothing. You will pay a hundred dollars for a loaf of bread. And that is not in the too distant future. So the time to buy your properties is now. And I would encourage you to do it.
I have seen several churches do that where I have been. For example, the First Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida; years ago, I was down there in a meeting with the pastor. And they had their church just on the lot and the block where they lived, where they met. And I walked around the property with the pastor, and I encouraged him with some of his deacons. They had a little supper meeting, and I talked to him and the deacons. So they started on a program of buying the properties around them. Well, you could not begin to buy those properties now for what the church bought them several years ago. It was smart for them to do it. And I would encourage you to do it. If there’s a house that comes up, if there’s a property that comes up, and it has any propinquity with you at all, buy it. And you’ll be grateful you did.
All of that lies back of a persuasion that I have, a very studied judgment I have. I don’t think the church is going to survive, other than a little old entity somewhere if it lives at all, that does not minister to the whole family, the whole life. Increasingly I think the world will swallow us up. I spoke to you about that. The world is against us. It is not for us. And the church that survives is going to be the church that is able to get the whole life of the whole family in the orbit of the church.
The world’s values are increasingly not our values. They’re just not Christian. And I think the turn that the world is going is not adventitious, or peripheral, or temporary. I think it is a set pattern. I think it’ll be more and more and more. You’re going to see more and more what you see now, and all of it is based upon the persuasion that these are old fogey, Puritanical, repressive, inhibiting traditions, the Christian ethic, the Christian morality. And we’re going to have a confrontation with practically everything that we believe.
The world is against us. Two-thirds of the world already is statedly atheistic. Do you realize that it’s only in your and my lifetime that there has ever been in the history of the world a government that was statedly atheistic? Even the ancient Roman would not go to war until he had propitiated the gods. And even the ancient Greek would not make a decision until first he had consulted the oracle at Delphi. But these modern politicians, governmental leaders, bow at no altar. They worship no deity. They call upon the name of no God, and they are blatantly and statedly atheistic. And they war against theism of any kind, and that includes the church of course.
Hello; here he comes.
So with the whole world against us, we had better prepare for a real confrontation, gird up our loins. And that’s exactly what I am doing here and what you see around here. I am pushing this thing for all that I can. That’s why the debt, that’s why our Institute, that’s why our day school; we have it through ten grades now, I mean nine grades now. Next year it’ll be ten, next year eleven, and the next year twelve. And we’re just doing everything we can with our recreational building and program, our mission program, just everything we can to encompass the whole life of the family.
Well, these are just some words in the hall that we are. Now what would you like to talk about? [question from audience]
Well, sir, I’m not conscious of saying it. Isn’t that funny? And you notice that I say “Where in the earth?” all the time. [comment from audience] Well, thank you for pointing it out to me. I will try to desist from it.
For example, we use so many words that we overwork. “Great” is one of them. In my writing, when they will take down a sermon, I will take the word “great” and substitute another word for it. I just cut them all out. I don’t even know any word for “heart” that I substitute, but there’s another one we overwork. There are a good many words in our ecclesiastical, spiritual vocabulary that we overwork. And I don’t like to do it. And an expression, “Where in the earth would you see anything like that? Where in the earth would you have thought of such a thing?” Well, I’ll be conscious of it from now on. Yeah, I’m glad you did. Wait just a second, all right.
[audience question: “Dr. Criswell, I would like to hear you speak to the matter of the time that you spend with your staff, and the direction that you give them, the degree of the closeness, the amount of the things that they do that’s an execution of policy and program that you conceived of, and how much has origin with them, and so forth.”]
Well, you’re going to be surprised at my dereliction. It’s just pitiful that I have to confess a thing like this. I think that a minister, a pastor, ought to meet with his staff in some way, such as prayer if nothing else, once a week. And I would think that he ought to talk with them and encourage them. I do not do it. I am derelict in that. What I do is, I turn it over to others. It has been a kind of a pattern of my life that I divide up the work of the church and turn it over to them. And I really turn it over to them. I do not enter it. The only time that I enter in the organized life of the church is, first, in thinking out a program, what we’re going to do, such as this building that you’re in, such as the budget appeal, such as, well, whatever the thrust of the church that comes from me, what are we going to do. That is what I will do. Then I will tell them what I expect of them, and divide it up, and then turn it over to them, one hundred percent. Now, what do you do about having a staff meeting and a staff program? I meet with them once a year for about two days. We call that our staff retreat. And we stay with it all day long, morning and night, till way late at night, for about two days. I will do that. I will meet with the staff when there is something that I want to get done. Otherwise, I turn it over to somebody else altogether.
Right now, as of this minute, the staff is turned over to Jimmy Draper, and I let him have it. I really turn it over to him, and I don’t enter into it. If I see that there is a wrong course, or a mistake being made, or a way in which we can ameliorate a deteriorating situation, why, I will say something. But other than that I will not enter into it.
I can say, though, the basic assumption that God has, God has proved as correct, God has demonstrated—I hate to lay that in God’s hands—that providence has demonstrated was correct in my judgment to begin with, and that is that you will not build a bigger church, a greater church, you know, an expansive church any greater, deeper, further, higher, broader than you’re able to get a staff to do it.
A church grows—if I had a, instead of a board on which I would draw something, a piece of chalk, just see it in your mind. Let’s take a big blackboard, and let me draw a circle in the center of it. That represents the hard core, if I could call it, the really dedicated inner circle of the church; the pastor, his family, the deacons, and that group of people that are here until death. Now the church doesn’t grow there. My family is what it is, and that group is pretty much what they are. The church grows at the periphery. It grows on the outside of that circle as you add to that circle. And when you try to get those people in, then it grows again. Your periphery is a little bigger. People always doubt that. See, that center core stays just the same. My family is just the same. That group of dedicated people in the church are just the same, but it grows out here at the periphery. So you try to get those people pulled in. Get those people pulled in. Then your church is a bigger circle, like the rings of a tree, the annual rings of a tree. It grows exactly like that. It grows at the periphery.
Then you try to get those people in, you know, into the work of the church. You get them involved in music, involved in education, involved in visitation, involved in outreach, involved in the building program, involved in the institutes that you have, the trustees, whatever it is, just working to get those people involved. Then your church gets bigger. It’s out here and the periphery is out here; the periphery is out here, the periphery is out here. Finally the periphery is an enormous periphery, and on the edge of that periphery you have hundreds and hundreds of families.
Now the preacher, no matter who he is—and I speaking about that with Spurgeon, and Truett, T. Dewitt Talmadge, Dwight L. Moody—the preacher can only put his arms around so many of those people. There are just so many of them that he can keep. The rest of them will erode, I don’t care who you are; Charles Haddon Spurgeon, George W. Truett, Dwight L. Moody, I don’t care who you are, you can only put your arms around so many of those people and keep them. And if you are not able, in organization, to pull that vast periphery into the church, they will erode. They will erode; not here. It doesn’t grow here. It doesn’t erode here, that center is just the same, the pastor, his family, those dedicated people that are there till they die; but you erode here at the periphery. And if you’re not able, in building a staff, to get that periphery in, you will erode at the periphery. Families will fall off. Other people will pluck them off, and then your periphery is smaller. And then they’re on the periphery now. See, you pulled in; your church has come down. And then they’ll start falling off, and then it’ll be in, and they’ll start falling off. And if you don’t stop it, that erosion will occur until you get down to the hard core.
Practically all of your downtown churches are down to that little hard core. They have died, and it’s only that little band of faithful people that are still there. The reason is they’ve lost that periphery. It comes in and in and in and in and in, until finally the church is almost just a mission. You have to build a strong staff if you build an expansive church. There is no other way.
So I don’t work as closely with the staff as I should, but I have a strength in one thing. I really turn it over to them, and I count on their doing it. And that’s not a bad way.
All right, you. [audience question: “In the brochure, there’s an item concerning telephone visitation and ministry, and I would like to hear you speak to your usage of this tool.”]
Well, the last instance is in the last few weeks. Our Primary director, Ms. Libby Reynolds, got the names of about fifty-three thousand primaries in the public school system, Richardson, you know, the metroplex; people that could drive in, let’s say in an area of thirty miles. She got the names of fifty-three thousand of those primaries and telephone numbers, so we’re calling them all.
They started with me. They brought the names to my desk and had a photographer there, and so I started off. And if you love people, you won’t have any trouble doing that. So I call them on the phone. I said:
My name is W. A. Criswell, and I’m pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and you have a little girl named Louise, and she is seven years of age. She’s in such-and-such school. And just out of the love for the child, if you’d be thus gracious, I want to ask you some questions. Do you go to church? Do you belong to the church? How often do you attend? There’s a little child…
and on and on and on—
Well, the first one that I called was very fine, and so we’re going to visit that little child. The second one I called, I tell you that was the roughest burr that you could ever get tied up in the horse’s tail. Oh, he didn’t like Dallas! He lived in Richardson. He didn’t like downtown Dallas, and when he found our church was downtown, he didn’t like that. He didn’t like the Baptists. He didn’t like a big church. He never liked anything about us. So I said, “God love you, and God bless you, and God be with you. Go to some church.” I talked to him, yes he would. Bring up that child in the love of the Lord somewhere—he said he would, but he sure wasn’t going to do it down here where we are.
Once in a while they’ll take the telephone directory and just tear pages out. You take this page. You take this page. You take this page. Your telephone is your finest instrument for trying to get ahold of people and to succeed. Wait just a minute, all right.
[Question from audience regarding Lewis Sperry Chafer.] I am not able to. Did he write a book entitled True Evangelism? Do you know who he was?
[answer from audience] Yes, well you know him then, know of him.
[audiencecomment] Yes. Do you say, “I commend the book”?
[audience comment] Well, I have read through portions and sections of that systematic theology, and I haven’t read all of it. It’s about six or seven volumes. And I’m very surprised at that. He discourages the invitation. Well, you sure see it in their churches.
[audience comment] He was the first leader and founder of the Dallas Theological Seminary. I went to see him—I had a friend down at Baylor, when I was at Baylor, who knew him. And we came up here to Dallas and spent an evening in his home. I remember him well. That’s the only time I ever saw him. But, oh, there’s a whole lot about that system that…wait just a minute…that I am not in sympathy with them, that’s certainly one of them.
All right. [audience comment] Yes, yes. In the years gone by, let’s say twenty-eight years ago, twenty-nine years ago, for a period of say, several years in there, why, I had it completely. Oh man! It is with vast, almost infinite reluctance, that I ever dismiss a staff member. I just don’t do it. That may be weak, and maybe I’m chicken. I guess I am, but I don’t do it. The staff member that leaves, I’d say nine hundred and ninety-nine parts out of a thousand, the removal, the leaving will be something of them, not in me. I don’t dismiss them. When they don’t do good work, I just kind of suffer it out. Now here I’m chicken again.
I will talk now to the leader, you know, over the whole thing. Like, I talk to Jimmy Draper. I won’t talk to that member. Here’s one of the things that I cannot obviate. If I have the barest little tone in my voice of criticism about a staff member, they just die. It kills them; cry, or just crushed. I’ve tried to figure that out, and I don’t have a certain conclusion that I’ve come to yet about it. I would love to think it’s because of their great reverence for me, and they want to please me, and they are infinitely hurt if they think that I’m not happy about them.
That’d be a very egotistical and happy way for me to look at it. But it’s very true no matter where it comes from. So I, here it is again, I guess I’m chicken. I’m just not hard as I should be. But when I know that the least little word of unhappiness or criticism from me just kills them, why, I am reluctant ever. Now there’s a way to do that; that I’m not good at. There is a way to talk to staff members that are not doing good to help them to do good. So I’ve just concluded it’s better for me to tell Jimmy Draper what I think and then ask God to give him wisdom to know how to implement it in the staff.
All right, yes. [audience question: “I like the way you divide your day. For instance, could you say a word about your study habits, like morning sermon, the evening sermon, maybe outside study, how you break your study time up?”] Yes.
There’ll be times, there have been times when I was working on a dozen sermons at the same time, a whole raft of them, just working on them. For many years here, I preached three different sermons every Sunday. I started at eight o’clock, eight-fifteen service, because I could not take the pressure off of the auditorium.
I tried a junior church, and the parents came to me and said, “You, if you can’t have a place for our children with us, well, we’re just going to another church.” I even tried a teenage church. I broke it up every way I could. I took the Good Shepherd out, and they have a pastor and a church. I took the deaf people out, and they have their own church. And the smaller children, the real little children, I did everything I could, and finally, when I still couldn’t solve it, why, I started the service at eight-fifteen.
I started it to preach two months, and at the end of two months, then I said I’d keep it six more months. I have kept it about twenty-one years. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? The thing grew from the beginning.
I would admonish you no matter what, if we had an auditorium that would seat fifteen thousand people, we would still have an early morning service. It meets a real need and is a blessing to so many people. So for years, clear until I got to the Revelation preaching through the Bible, for years, I preached three different sermons. I prepared three different sermons every week and delivered them here.
The reason I changed was, when I got to the Revelation, there were so many people that were going to shift from the eight-fifteen service to the ten-fifty service—at which time I was going to preach through the Revelation—that I had to do the same thing at eight-fifteen. So for two years I preached through the Revelation. And when I got through, why, I just decided to just keep it up and preach the same sermon at eight-fifteen and ten-fifty. It saved me that much effort of preparing the third sermon. Now with Jimmy Draper here, he preaches at night, and so I prepare one sermon a week. And I’m always in a series, always. I’m always preaching through a book.
Now so many times a preacher will pace up and down the floor of his study, “O God, what shall I preach about next Sunday?” Well, I pace up and down the study too, but I don’t do it for that reason. I pace up and down the study, “O Lord, I’m going to die before I get through all of this that I want to do.” You see, my text is always in front of me, always in front of me. My assignment is always ahead of me. I don’t worry about my assignment, what I’m going to preach about. It’s always right there ahead of me. And in preaching in the Bible, preaching a series through, anywhere that you want to do it in the Bible, why, your text and your passage is always in front of you.
I meant to discuss this in the lecture yesterday, and I didn’t have time. If you will do that, you’ll always have a subject that’s pertinent. You will always have a message that moves your heart. God will do that for you. There is life in the Word. It is quickened. It’s not dead. These are not just cold syllables, but the Spirit of the Lord, like the Spirit of the Lord was in the wheels in Ezekiel’s vision [Ezekiel 1:16-21], the Spirit of the Lord is in the Word.
And if you will preach like that, you will always have a message. Studying, the subject will come to you. The message will come to you. And, of course, the vast amount of homiletical literature that you have in the English language will make your sermon rich, if you’ll take time to study it.
Now with regard to breaking it up, when I preach those three sermons, I just—whatever one might be easy for me, and within a little while I’d have it prepared. One might be difficult, in which I’d have to dig rock and blast through boulders in order to get it; but I would just allocate the time, not by any set pattern, but just what was needed to prepare the sermon.
First, I gather all the material together first. By the way, I read a fellow who wrote a book on homiletics, and he said, “You do everything you can first, and then get someone to help you.” I just turn that around exactly: I get all my material first, everywhere I can dig, I get the material first; then by that time I have a pretty good idea of the drive I’m going to make with it, how it’s going to be organized, how it’s going to turn.
[END OF PART 1]