The Pastor and His People
March 15th, 1974
1 Timothy 1
School of the Prophets
THE PASTOR AND HIS PEOPLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 1
Spurgeon stood in the center of that first balcony. There was a tier above him, a balcony above him, there was a lower floor beneath him, and he stood at the rail of that center balcony. And he had on that rail a little lectern, a little piece of wood about the size of this piece here. And Spurgeon preached from that rail, that balcony rail. And when he was asked why, he replied, “That a man preaches with every fiber and every muscle and every bone in his body, therefore,” said Spurgeon, “the man’s body ought not to be covered. It ought not to be hid.” I believe that.
When I went to hear Norman Vincent Peel in New York City, he preached from a microphone, just had a microphone stand before him. That’s very fine, very fine. I like a pulpit because of its beauty, and it centers the eyes of the people right here where the man stands. But the pulpit ought not to be large. And if you have a large surrounding pulpit in your church, I think you ought to tear it out, without exception I think that. It hides you from the people, and the more you are hid from the people, the more barriers you have between you and them. That is what happened in the first church. As the years went on there was a little rail between what they called the priest and the people, then a higher rail, then a higher rail, and finally in the Greek church, in the Greek Orthodox church, that rail goes clear to the ceiling, and the officiating minister in the Greek Orthodox church is absolutely hidden behind the wall. The wall is covered with icons.
I have been to their services in Moscow, and you stand there, and the officiating priest is carrying on behind that wall. Then he will come out of the door in the wall and administer the elements of the mass to the people. Now that is the tendency toward which you are moving in the history of the church, and confirmed by when you build big pulpits around you. Don’t! Tear them out!
Every time I preach in a church and there is a big pulpit all the way around me I feel as though there is an insuperable barrier between me and the people. And sometimes the thing is high, and I am seen just from here up. And that means I just look out of a cage over a wall at the people that I am trying to talk to.
Now wouldn’t that be funny if a fellow went to court a girl, and he was going to try to persuade her to marry him. And he takes along a cage with him, and then he just talks to her over that wall or over that cage? Wouldn’t that be funny if you went to talk to a businessman about a deal, or sell an insurance policy, or do anything and you take a wall with you and you put it between you and him?
Tell me what you’re trying to do in the pulpit. Aren’t you trying to get that man to Jesus? Aren’t you trying to talk to him? Aren’t you trying to get him to listen? Aren’t you trying to get him to respond? Then don’t put things between you and him. Get it down face to face, or as it was when I was a boy, go up and down the aisle preaching and exhorting. That’s just all right. There’s nothing wrong with that. Get down there and among the congregation, invite a man to the Lord; don’t do that anymore, but I did. I did and it was all right.
I remember one time when I was at Muskogee, I was asked to preach to the Choctaw Nation at Tuskegee, Oklahoma, like that name Tuskegee in Alabama, Tuskegee, Oklahoma. I went down there and there was a big open tabernacle on a campground, a very large tabernacle, and it was filled with Choctaw Indians, full blood Choctaw Indians. The whole nation was there. They’re Baptists. All people are Baptist unless somebody has been foolin’ with them. By nature you’re Baptist. So those Choctaw people were Baptists. So I stood up there and I preached. Oh! I poured out my heart and soul the best I knew how and gave an invitation, and nobody responded. Nobody responded!
Well, the Choctaw Indian who was leading the singing was standing there by me, so I turned to him and I said, “I turn the service back to you.” I meant I was through, kaput, finished, done, stop the service, have the benediction. It’s all over. That’s what I meant.
I did not know it but the Choctaw Indian who was leading the singing was an old fashioned, old time exhorter. And when I said to him, “I turn the service back to you,” instead of his understanding that I meant call on somebody to lead the benediction, he thought I meant I was done preaching, “Now you start exhorting!”
I want you to know that Choctaw Indian went up and down the aisles of that tabernacle, and on the outside, and all the way around, and up and down the pews, and everywhere pleading with men and women to come to Jesus. And he had them coming down there, coming down there from everywhere! And I was standing up there feeling like a fool, looking like one, just marveling at what was going on before my eyes. Now that is what to do. Exhort people to come to the Lord. That’s why, years ago, it’s changed now and you don’t see much of it because of the altar rail, but that’s why I had them put that lower platform down there.
When I came here there was no lower platform down there. There was a rail on each side for the aged Dr. Truett to get down to the floor, and there was a little bitty thing there on which the communion table stood, and that was all. Well, I had them build this platform because when I get through preaching I go down there. And once in a while—don’t do it much anywhere—but once in a while in these days past, I’d go down there and exhort with the people to come to Jesus. That’s what that lower platform is for. The architecture has been changed, extended over here for the piano, and make a place for the organ, and on and on. But to me, preaching is to get a hold of people. That’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get a hold of them for God. And that’s a way to do. And don’t put anything between you and the people, nothing.
Well, there are different kinds of preaching. The best kind in the world is to take the Bible and preach it. I didn’t do that until I was at Muskogee. If I had my life to live over again, when I started, seventeen years old, when I was seventeen years old, I would take the Bible and I’d preach it. And if I couldn’t get a sermon out of say the first chapter of Genesis, I’d preach on the first two chapters of Genesis. If I couldn’t get a sermon out of the first two, I would take the next three. If I couldn’t get a sermon out of half of Genesis, I’d try to get me a sermon on the whole book. And if I couldn’t get one on the whole book, I’d preach a sermon on the Pentateuch [Genesis 1:1-Deuteronomy 34:12]. If I couldn’t get a sermon on that, I’d get one on the Hexateuch [Genesis 1:1-Joshua 24:32]; couldn’t get one on that, I’d take the whole Old Testament and see if I couldn’t get me a sermon on the whole Old Testament. But I’d preach the Bible if I had my life to do over again, that’s what I would do.
The best way to preach is to be yourself. Just be yourself. However you are, just be yourself. I have to close. I want to close—I want to close with an experience that I went through as a youth. And I do this to encourage you in however you are. However you are, and we’re all different, some of us are loud and boisterous, some of us are very quiet and sort of timid, but doesn’t matter. However you are, just be yourself.
All right, here’s what happened to me. I started preaching when I was seventeen. I was licensed at the First Baptist Church in Amarillo and went down to Baylor to study to be a preacher. Well, immediately I began preaching. I started out on the streets of Waco and then in the jail. Finally graduated to the poor farm, and then finally to a little country church. It met in a schoolhouse. The only thing that it had was an open tabernacle at which time they had a camp revival. People came from all over and they camped there for ten days.
Well, I belonged to the volunteer band in Baylor. They were mission volunteers. I was not a mission volunteer, but I loved those kids that were in it. So I belonged to the volunteer band and went around with them. When I came to the summertime, I was eighteen years old by that time, when I came to the summertime, why, I was holding the revival meeting under the open tabernacle. And all of that volunteer group, about thirty, thirty-five of them, decided to get in their bus and come to Pulltight where I was holding the meeting—name of my little church, Congrove Baptist Church in Pulltight—and to attend the services. Well, they came. And they were astonished! Oh, the lugubrious prognostications those kids made about me and my work! Why, they said, “There’s no fine church in the nation that would ever think about calling you. It is impossible how you are, how loud you preach; walking around, up and down. Why, it is unthinkable that an educated, cultured minister of the gospel would do what you do. All of your life you’re going to stay right out there in that country where there’s no church house, nothing but an open tabernacle. There’s no fine church in the land that’ll call you.”
I’d sure change my idea about their basic assumption that, if I stayed out in the country, it’d be a failure. That’s not so. If God wanted me out in the country the rest of my life, it would have been just as marvelous in God’s sight, and just as blessed, as now that He has sent me to the city. It makes no difference in God’s sight. It’s just His will for us. That’s all. Well anyway, they had that basic assumption that in order to succeed, you had to go up and up and up into the high-steepled church.
Well anyway, they bothered me because they never said it to me just one time. They pounced on me every time they saw me, and they never said it nicely, you know, like you would. These kids are hard on each other, and they drove it in with barbs! So it just distressed me world without end.
Well, I had a dear friend at Baylor, and I confessed to her that I was in despair, that no matter how I tried to change the way that I was when I stood up to preach, it wasn’t long until I was a fury. On any clear day at that time, you could hear me three, or four, or five miles. You can’t hear me more than maybe one mile or half a mile now. But oh, then it was just a fury.
So she said to me, this Baylor girl, she said, “I have a wonderfully dear friend here in Waco, named Martha Fowlkes-Haun, and she’s an elocution teacher. And she’s so fine, the people of this city so love her that they have built for her her own little theater. And I want to take you and introduce you to her. You tell her your problem.”
So she took me to Martha Fowlkes-Haun, and I told her my problem: that I preach loud and furiously, and that these kids all said if I didn’t quit that and change that, that I’d never advance in the ministry, that I’d be consigned out there [in the] country all my life. And that I was in despair about it. So she said, “Well, you just come and let’s see what I can do to help.” So I started with Martha Fowlkes-Haun.
Now, my mother had given me elocution lessons ever since I was big enough to stand up to talk. You wouldn’t think it or ever guess it or anything, but that’s the truth. I had those expression lessons for years and years as a little boy; growing up through high school, debated, gave dramatic readings, won silver loving cups and gold medals.
Well, I started with Martha Fowlkes-Haun, and she started me in those same things, you know, how to breathe, and how to speak from your diaphragm, and the tip of your tongue, and your lips and your teeth, and how not to make a gesture like that but to do it like this, always like this. I went through all that again with Martha Fowlkes-Haun. And after I had been with her some time, she finally said to me, “Would you preach me a sermon?”
Well, by that time I’d got to know her pretty well, so I said, “I’d be delighted to.” So I stood up there in the front of that little theater, and she sat out there in my audience of one. And I opened my Bible and took my text, and I preached her a sermon, just as I did out there in the country. When I got through, she never said a word. She said, “Would you do that again for me next lesson?” I said, “I’d be glad to.”
So the next time I stood up there in the little theater, and she was my audience of one, and I took a text and I preached her a sermon. Same thing; she never said a word except, “Would you come back next time and do that for me?”
“I’d be glad to.” But the next time that I came, I walked into her house, and she said, “I want you to come over here and sit down by my side on the sofa.” So I sat in the living room with Martha Fowlkes-Haun, on her sofa. And she said to me, “This week a dear friend of mine from Kansas City came to see me, and I was thinking about you, and I asked her, ‘Where do you go to church in Kansas City?’ And she said such and such church. I asked her, ‘Do you belong to that church?’ She said, ‘No.’ I asked her, ‘Why do you go to it?’ and she replied, ‘Because the minister preaches at that church, and I love to hear a man preach!’”
Now she said, “I am exactly like my friend from Kansas City. When I go to church, I love to hear a man preach.” Now she said, “I want to tell you something. This is the last time you’re to come. You’re to have no more lessons. But remember what I say: from now on and the rest of your life, when you stand up to preach, you do exactly as you feel in your heart you’d like to do. If you feel like doubling up your fist, you double up your fist. If you feel like pounding on the pulpit, you pound on the pulpit. If you feel like shaking your head, you shake your head. If you feel like stomping your foot, you stomp your foot! You do exactly as you feel in your heart.” Then she said a parting sentence, “I’m not saying that everyone will like you, but I am telling you they’ll all listen to what you have to say.”
Oh dear! I went out of that house ten feet tall! I walked away from that place with seven league boots. And from that day until this, I’ve had ten thousand times people say things to me about the way I preach. I always remember what Martha Fowlkes-Haun says: “You do exactly as you feel. They may not like it, but they’ll listen to what you have to say.”
Oh dear! Judge Ryburn was chairman of the deacons here thirty-five years, and before this pulpit was extended out here, why, the pews came right up there. And he sat right down there close by because Ann, his wife, was deaf, hard of hearing. So upon a day, I said to Judge Ryburn, seated there, you know, sit there with his head back like that all the time, I said to him, “Judge Ryburn, you always sit right down there at the front, close to the pulpit and your head back like that because Ann’s hard of hearing. Doesn’t that hurt your neck?” He said, “No, just my ears, just my ears.”
Don’t be ashamed of how God made you. Be yourself, and stand up there, and if you have it in your heart and you don’t impede it and obstruct it, it’ll come out if it’s in your soul. And just let it flow, let it glow; let it shine, what God has put in your soul. And the Lord will bless your ministry.