September 8th, 1975
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-8-75 Staff Retreat
I have a meticulously prepared presentation to make to us this afternoon, and after it is over we all will know exactly where we are, what we are doing, the direction we are taking, and how we are proposing to achieve the goals that the Lord has placed upon our souls. I have it divided up into these sections—first, the staff spirit; second, the staff structure; then third, a historical background—that you might be conversant with the years that have brought us to this present moment. Much of this you are already conversant with, but some of it was in an area into which you would have no opportunity to be introduced. And then the fourth will be a discussion of the pastoral office, and then the fifth and last will be the continuing ministry.
Now first, the staff spirit. In the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John is the record of the supper that our Lord shared before He established our memorial of the Lord’s Table, and these are the words that are written:
And supper being ended, Satan having put into the heart of Iscariot to betray Him;
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God;
He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself.
As any of you might know, there is hardly anything that is more self-abasing than to take off your clothes and be naked before a group of people—and our Lord did that. He took aside His garments and girded Himself with a towel, not to cover His nakedness, but to wash feet.
Then He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel.
He came to Simon: and Simon Peter said, Lord, do You wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto Him, Lord, Thou shalt never was my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.
Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needed not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.
When a man is washed, when he is regenerated [John 3:3, 7], he never needs to be regenerated again; only day by day that his sins be forgiven [John 13:10], as he walks through the pilgrimage of this life.
Now, as the Lord continued this, He said:
Know ye what I have done?
Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord, neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
I have entitled this little section of my presentation, “The Staff Spirit,” Washing feet, accepting any assignment.
“But pastor, you don’t understand. I don’t want to wash feet; I want to lord it over God’s heritage. You don’t quite understand, I want to be a majordomo and a high factotum. You don’t understand, pastor. This thing of washing feet, of being a servant, is not in my spirit, and it’s not the part that I covet in the kingdom.” But that is what it is to be a disciple: it’s to wash feet. What if you were assigned a place in the work and vineyard of the Lord to pray and to win souls?
“Yes, but pastor, you don’t understand. I want to be a high factotum. I want to be a major-domo. I want to lord it over God’s heritage. I want to walk in and out in strutting Persian high-step before God’s people.”
I have an answer that has come out of years and years of working in the vineyard of the Lord. Two things: one, if you’re in it for money, you’re in the wrong place. There is no gifted man in this world in the Lord’s work, but that could make forty times a day more in the business world; that is, if he’s gifted. If you’re in the Lord’s work for money, you are in the wrong place: it’s no place to make money. The second is no less true: if you are in the Lord’s work for power, or prestige, or fame, you are in the wrong place. Out of the thousands—there are thirty-five thousand pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention—there are not a half a dozen of them that are known outside of their own backyards, their own bailiwicks. It is the rare, rare, rare preacher who has any fame at all. In our generation, there is a Billy Graham; and in the whole world he’d be about the only one that is known. The world just doesn’t know the preacher; he is too common an article in Christendom.
I went over there with Jack Byrd and Gary Moore, and a couple of our men, to talk to KTVT. You’d think that we have a great following: actually, we’re kind of a nuisance, and that’s about all we are to them. On the ratings, we have the lowest; by “we,” I mean God’s people. In a scale of one to ten, we barely make one. The station doesn’t care whether they have us or not; and by “we” I mean any kind of religious program. We are a small minority in the world. If you want to get where the action is—that is, you want to be famous and successful, number one would be to shoot for the presidency of the United States; number two would be to shoot for the most famous of all of the Hollywood stars. But our world is one of subservience and humility: it is never one of worldly success. And when we work in the vineyard of the Lord, it is with a predisposition and a precommitment that I have renounced the world and the fashion of it, the flower of it, the emoluments and rewards, I have resigned from it, and I have given myself to be a servant of Christ.
You find that in the Catholic Church more than you find it in our communion. The vow of poverty, of celibacy, to live behind a high monastic wall, is a seeking on their part of the realization, the implementation of the Spirit of Christ. In the work of the Lord, the nearer we get to Jesus, the less we are controlled by selfish motives. The farther we get from the Lord, the more we fall into those vain and foolish ambitions.
Jeremiah said to Baruch, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.” [Jeremiah 45:5]. The only reason to be a servant of Christ is because you love the Lord, and you’ve renounced the world, and you’ve given your life to Him. You’re not working for money, you weren’t doing it for fame, you weren’t even doing it for the praise of the people; you were doing it for God. And if you’ll ever get to that place in your prayer life, and commitment life, that it doesn’t matter what, how, anything, it is a marvelous achievement in your spiritual upbringing, “I was doing it for God, working for the Lord.”
There was an old-timer who said to a young man, “Son, you can do lots of good in this world if you don’t mind who gets the credit for it.” And that’s the way with us in our work: you can do lots of good, a world of good, if you do it just for the love of Jesus. That is the spirit that will make a tremendous staff: just working for the love of God and that’s all.
Now, my second part in this presentation concerns the staff structure. Some years ago, I was in the Amazon jungle; I went down there at the invitation of the head of the Wycliffe Bible Translators. I went down there to visit the Aucas, a Stone Age Indian tribe who had murdered five white missionaries, and who had been won to Christ by the sister of one of the men who was murdered and by the wife of one of them. Down there in the Amazon jungle, in a little Helio Courier, the only plane they could use at that time, with long pontoons lighting on the water; as long as it followed the course of the river everything was just perfectly safe. If anything happened to the little one-engine plane, it’d just come down on the water like a water bug. But the danger lies in a crossover from one river to the other. So we were flying from the Ucayali to the Maranon where those two come together; from there on you call it the Amazon River. We were sixty-five hundred feet in the middle of the crossover, and something happened to the engine: it ground itself to pieces with an awesome, thunderous sound. It sounded like an explosion to me. There was not anything on the outside that did that, nobody put a bomb in it, nobody smashed it with a sledge hammer; it ground itself to pieces from the inside, internally. I could put my fist through the pistons; I could run my thumb along both engine blocks. It ground itself to pieces internally; not from the outside, from the inside.
Now, I have been watching that in the staff these past several months. The staff is beginning to disintegrate internally; it is grinding itself to death on the inside. There are no Catholics who are doing this to us, there are no Mormons, there are no Seventh Day Adventists, there are no bodies on the outside doing this to us. It is happening in our own circle, and in our own group, and in our own leadership; our staff is gradually disintegrating.
Now, nothing in the world could please two groups more than for our church to falter and to begin to fail. Number one: the devil would be greatly pleased, highly pleased—just thrill him to death to see this great lighthouse for Christ begin disintegration. Number two: our brethren would exult in it. From one side of the convention to the other, they’d point to the First Baptist Church. And outwardly, they’d say words of pious, hypocritical commiseration; on the inside, it’d thrill them to death. The only people who are more envious and jealous than Christian leaders are doctors; but outside of the doctors, it’s the Christian people that are the most envious and jealous. You let any pastor and any church rise, and if they can find any fault in it at all, they love to talk about it and to point it out, and especially if it trembles and fails.
Now, I have been watching this in the staff for several months; I’ve been seeing it. And there is a law in thermodynamics called entropy. The law of entropy is this: that when anything gets wrong, it has a tendency to get more wrong; not to right itself, but it increasingly becomes chaotic. For example, if an engine is out of tune, it won’t tune itself: the law of entropy says it will increasingly get more out of tune, out of tune, out of tune, until finally it goes to pieces. That’s the way with the staff: when the thing starts disintegrating, it’s not going to right itself; it will get more and more and more disorganized.
Now, I stumbled into that poignantly last week. I came down here and I saw it vividly illustrated in the preparation for our bicentennial Roundup. I could see in a second what had happened, what was going to happen, how the thing is, the whole gamut of it, up and down, in the middle, and both ends. You see, I have been at this forty-eight years, and I have been the pastor of this church thirty-one years, and it is very difficult to deceive me. I can just see in a moment what is happening, and vividly, there before me was the whole thing outlined. I would not have done anything about it, I would not have entered into it at all, were it not that there are so many people involved. There are thousands of people involved in it, thousands of people; our Roundup is directed toward thousands and thousands of people. And second, it is soon upon us; it’s just almost tomorrow. I cannot afford to see the disintegration that has taken place in the staff; I cannot afford to see it in the church. After all, this church represents my life, thirty-one years of it. And this church represents the blood and the tears of countless thousands of people who have poured their very souls into it. I can’t afford to do it.
So I made a decision, first, which is a small decision, about the Roundup, and now the ultimate and final decision about the staff. An intermediate, near-term decision concerning the Roundup: it is to be completely in my office, all of it; all of the Roundup is in the pastor’s office, all of it. And its details are to be worked out by Ann Hood; all of it is in my office, all of it. There’s no part of it’s not in my office; the entire Roundup is in my office. And the details of the Roundup are to be worked out under the tutelage and the surveillance and the guidance of Ann Hood.
“Now, pastor. Why don’t you enter into that, and find out what these people say, and find out what these people say? And then, just back and forth, you be a mediator, while they fight it out. Why don’t you do that?” I have tried that just a little. It’s not much my inclination to mediate a fight in our staff; I don’t think of us like that. It doesn’t sound like washing feet to me. So, what little I have entered into it, I cannot without infinite and meticulous probing find an ultimate answer. I don’t know who is misrepresenting things; I cannot tell. These people will say this to me, and then these will say this to me; I cannot tell. They tell me the opposite things; it is difficult for me. All I know is, I can see the disintegration that inevitably ensues in that kind of a program, that kind of a spirit, that kind of an organizational structure, and if it isn’t stopped, it will finally tear the church apart.
Would you be delighted to see that? Would you exalt in that? Would you like to see this great church lose its ministry and its witness? I think if you love God at all, it’d be the last agonizing heart cry before God. I don’t care who you are. It’s downtown, it’s the keystone church in our denomination, and to see it hurt would be of all things a matter of tears and agony to somebody who cares.
So, there is a second corollary that comes from that observation. The entire church, the structure of this entire church is hereby, and herewith, and right now centered in, and solely in the pastor’s office, all of it. Everybody in this church is to be responsible personally to the pastor. The entire structure is centered in the pastor’s office, all of it. All of us are to help the pastor in the program that we shall outline.
Now, the actual working out of that structure will be something like this. Usually, you will have a church organized with somebody here, and then you’ll have different ones like that, then underneath you’ll have different people like that; almost always you’ll have a church structure like that, something like that. We’re going to do it here in an altogether different way. That circle there represents the pastor’s office; and everybody is responsible to him alone. The entire staff and the entire church is responsible to the pastor alone; the whole church, all of it. The whole church centers in my office, all of it.
Now these are, say, the members of the staff: here’s one, there’s one, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. If some of you want somebody to help you, like this one, or like to work with that one, fine; but you don’t have to. If this one would like to work with that one, fine; but you don’t have to. If this one would like to work with that one, fine; but you don’t have to. If this one would like to work with that one, fine; but you don’t have to. The only thing you have to do is, you have to be responsible to the pastor, and do what he says. That’s all. It’s a very simple organization. It doesn’t have any ramifications, it doesn’t have any discussions, it’s just one, two. It’s you and the pastor, that’s all. There’s not anything else; anybody can understand that. And there’s nobody in the church that will have any difficulty understanding that organization. You are responsible to the pastor, that’s all.
Now, in these assignments, the pastor may do many things. For example, this man here, this man here, let’s say, the minister of music, this one here is the minister of music, he may have four or five people in that office; but there’s not a one of those people that he has, that he has not chosen through me. He can’t go out here and choose anybody; he cannot. He has to do it through me. And if Gary Moore, who is our minister of music, decides he wants something done, he has to do it through me. He cannot do it himself. Then, with Gary, he can choose these, and these, and these, I’d put them here, here, here, and like that, he can do that; but what he does, he has to do through me, nobody else, through me.
Let’s say this here is John Shanks, this is John Shanks. Everybody in John Shanks’ office is responsible to me; and John Shanks is not to choose anybody in his office that he does not check with me, everybody in that office. And then, they can work with John, or as I say, put it here, like that. But it is all in the pastor’s office. And there is nobody in the organization that is not responsible to the pastor; the whole thing, from top to bottom. And we’re going to do what the pastor assigns. It’ll be directly to the pastor; not to anybody else, it’ll be directly to the pastor. And if the pastor assigns you to John Shanks, or he assigns you to the music division, or he assigns you to the mission division, or he assigns you to the recreational division, that’s where you will work, with that one; but your ultimate assignment is in the hands of the pastor, the whole organization. It’s simple, it’s plain, and you don’t have any trouble understanding it. Everybody in the church works directly under the pastor: the secretaries, the whole thing, it is with the pastor. The whole organization centers in the pastoral office, all of it right there. And everybody and everything works out of the pastor’s office. And the assignment that he has is what the pastor gives him. And if he wants to discuss it, or change it, or add to it, come and talk to the pastor and see what he says.
“I want to shift this. I want to add to this. I want to do something else. I need help. I want five other people,” whatever it is, you work it out with the pastor. Each does his own assignment; you’re not under anybody except me. You do your own work, and you are responsible alone to the pastor. There’s nobody else that you’re working for except the pastor. And everybody has his own assignment.
Now we’re going into the background of the church, in order that you might understand some of the things that lie in what we’re doing and what we’re going to do. When I came here thirty-one years ago, the attendance at Sunday school in the church was at such and such. There was no staff. I asked Dr. Bill Howe, who headed the educational division at Southwestern Seminary, to come over here and help me. He came to me one day, and said, “Pastor, did you know that every class in Sunday school adds ten percent to the enrollment in the class. Then when they add that up, every department adds ten percent to the enrollment in the department. And then when they add that up, the whole Sunday school adds ten percent to the registered attendance in the whole Sunday school.” So there was ten percent in each class added, ten percent of that total in each department added, and then ten percent in the whole Sunday school added; that’s thirty percent added to the attendance. I said, “Dr. Howe, under heaven, how could they justify an inaccuracy like that?” And the answer was, “On the basis that somebody might have been overlooked.” Actually what they were doing, were glorifying, they were glorifying the pastor’s ministry here; make it look big, big, big.
I found out Cliff Temple was doing the same thing. I called immediately to Earl Mead—Earl Mead over at Cliff Temple—and I said, “Earl Mede, as of this minute, the First Baptist Church in Dallas will report its registered attendance. I want to know if you’ll do the same.” Earl replied to me, “That has been on my conscience for years, and I can pledge you that as of this minute, the Cliff Temple Baptist Church will report its actual Sunday school attendance.” So, we started off. In actual Sunday school attendance here, without these inflated figures, they had about nine hundred in attendance on a poor Sunday; they’d have about fourteen hundred on a good Sunday, in actual people.
Herschel Hobbs, my good friend from forever, was called in those days to the First Church at Oklahoma City. At that time, Oklahoma City and the First Church at Dallas had the same attendance in Sunday school. Herschel said to me, “Why don’t we telephone each other, or wire each other our Sunday school attendance, in order to encourage our people in a friendly rivalry, to increase its attendance.” I said, “Wonderful. I would like that.” So we started off. The First Church at Oklahoma City and the First Church at Dallas started off together. Herschel there and I here, and the Sunday school attendance was the same.
And here’s what I did: in those days—I’m talking about thirty years ago now. In those days, all over this Southern Baptist Convention, those who had a staff organized it like this: they organized it perpendicularly. They had somebody to head the Sunday school; they had somebody to head the Training Union; they had somebody to head the Brotherhood; and then if the church had any proportion at all, why, they’d have other people to head different areas in it. That’s the way that every church that had any staff at all in the Southern Baptist Convention organized it, was perpendicularly, like that: Sunday school, Training Union, Brotherhood, whatever else. What I did when I came here to the church was, I decided to turn the thing over: instead of doing it perpendicularly, I turned it down and did it horizontally; and started out on the staff. This was a children’s worker; she was responsible for the children’s work, all through the seven days of the week. This was a youth worker; she was responsible for the youth all through the church, seven days a week, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Monday, Wednesday, every other day. This was an adult worker; it was all the days of the week under those directors. That’s the way I organized it, and that’s the way we started to work.
I have never had any trouble here in Dallas but one time, one time, and it arose over the staff. This church had been dying under Dr. Truett for eighteen years. I looked at the graph of the attendance in the First Church in Dallas: they reached their height in 1924, when the Truett Building—what we now call the Truett Building—was dedicated; they reached their height in 1924. From about 1924 to ’25, and maybe to ’26, it stayed just about the same. Then it went down every year for eighteen years until he died. The last, most climactic and glorious years of the ministry of Dr. Truett saw this church increasingly fail. When you came to church here on Sunday night, you could shoot a gun through the auditorium and wouldn’t hit anybody. It looked like a wood pile to me when I stood in the pulpit on Sunday night. So I started out to build this church. I never had any trouble in the church but just one time, and I have debated in my mind whether to tell you what that trouble was. I think I shall.
There were leaders in the church who were appointed Sunday school leaders. They were—Sizemore, what is the word they use?—they were approved, that’s the word, they were approved Sunday school workers. They had leaders in our church who were approved Sunday school workers. So when I started out on this staff, that horizontal staff, people in charge, staff leaders in charge of all of these areas, when I started out, some of those approved workers said to me, “Now listen, we were doing this before that flip from the Sunday School Board, and from the Southwestern Seminary was born, and they’re not coming in here to tell us what to do.” So, you have a problem on your hands; and it centered in O. E. Tarris, who was the superintendent of the only adult department in the church. It was a department on paper; there were no adult departments in the church, none at all. The adult classes were scattered all up and down the corners of the Truett Building. It centered in O. E. Tarris, who was the superintendent of the Adult department, and his wife, who was the superintendent of the Primary department, the Primary department; they had one. And in a Mr. Robinson, whose name I have forgotten, who was the teacher of a men’s Bible class, and his wife, who was the superintendent of the Beginner department. It centered in those four people.
So I called them in, those four. And I said to them, “You can go to Gaston Avenue and teach and superintend, or you can go to Cliff Temple, or you can go to any other church in this city, but you can’t stay here in the First Baptist Church and not cooperate with this staff.”
Oh! they laughed! They ha-ha-ed! And they said to me, “We were here in this church before you were born; and we’ll be here after you’re gone.” I said, “Maybe that’s so, but I am giving you a fair warning. You will either cooperate with this staff and help us build this Sunday school, or you’re not going to be here.” Well, they laughed and scoffed. And I’m like Sam Jones: I don’t mind being swallowed up by a whale, but I’ll be dad-burned if I’m going to be nibbled to death by minnows. The best thing to do when you see trouble is meet it, get it over with. And if that means a first-class, royal fight, let’s have it. Get it over with, and then go on.
So I told those four people, “You’re going to be cooperative and help us, or you’ll get out.” And they decided to do their darnnedest, their dead-level best to ruin what I was trying to do. It came to a head in the deacons’ meeting. And Judge Frank Ryburn said, “Pastor, we’ve had no trouble in this church, ever. And this is the worst thing that could ever happen.” I said, “Judge, I realize it’s the worst thing that could ever happen, but it’s going to happen. And you’re going to preside over it, right up there where you sit.” We had a deacons’ meeting that lasted hours and hours, and I asked the deacons to dismiss those four people from the church.
Mr. Paris, who was a deacon, stood up there and ranted and raved for I don’t know how long, it seemed to me interminably. And when he got done, and when he sat down, Judge Ryburn said, “All of you who want to stand by the pastor, get to your feet.” And every one of those deacons stood up except two; and they looked around, and they stood up. And when Mr. Paris saw that it was unanimous, he went up to the front, and said, “We will leave.” They left and joined Lakewood; they hadn’t been out there but a few months, until they split Lakewood Church wide open. That was a part of God’s work, I suppose, because out of that split was born the Wilshire Baptist Church. That’s where Wilshire came from: out of these four people who split the Lakewood Church, they and some more just like them.
So, I have told you that to tell you that in my book, and in my praying, and in my preparing and building, the staff is all-important to me. It’s not peripheral; it is dynamically central; the staff is all-important. And what happens to the staff happens to me, and happens to the church.
All right, this is the genius of the staff, as I started out so many years ago. Each has his own assignment, unhindered. This leader here has an assignment, and nobody is to impede, nobody is to direct, nobody is to interfere, nobody is to say anything; this is this director’s assignment, this is this one’s assignment, this is this one’s assignment, and each one is to do his own assignment. And the only one that they are answerable to is the pastor. Now that’s the way I started off this work years and years ago. That gave our people an incomparable liberty to do what they wanted to do. There wasn’t anybody around to say this, or to say that, or to say the other: they were absolutely free to do what they wanted to do, only under the aegis and in the permission of the pastor.
For example, the music program, the pastor gives the music program one hundred percent to him. It is his program. And when anything comes up about the music, I’ll not go to you, or to you, to you, to you, to you, I will go to the minister of music and say this and this and this and this. And he is responsible wholly for the music program of the church, and nobody else is. And any time you have any music program here at the church, it ought to be cleared with the minister of music. Maybe you want to put on a music program of your own. That’s fine, that’s good, but it has to be done in conjunction with the minister of music.
“But you don’t understand, pastor, this is my program over here.” That’s true, but when you have a program that has a turn to it, that involves what we’re doing in a ministry here in the church, you ought to clear it with him, talk it over with him, ask him about it—let him help you maybe. Might surprise you how much those people there could help you. If you are an expert in music, well, why don’t you go somewhere and be an expert in music? Why are you here in this staff if you’re an expert in music and want to have your own music program? You go have your music program where you’re an expert. But here we have an expert in music, we have a minister of music, and I have assigned to him the entire music program of the church; all of it is his, and nobody is to have a music program here in the church of any kind, anywhere, unless first it is discussed with the minister of music. Then if he says, “I don’t want that stuff down here in this church,” and you say, “But I do want that stuff down here in this church,” then come to me. The ultimate answer lies always in the pastor. But the way the pastor organizes it is, he puts certain things under certain people. And the music is in the music division. Just like these other divisions, as we’ll discuss by and by.
Another thing and I’m going to speak of that a little later on, is the pulpit. Anytime anybody runs anything into that pulpit, and I don’t know about it, you just put it down. The pastor is seated over there, and he’s just asking God to give him a gracious spirit. He doesn’t like it, exclamation point! That pulpit is primarily the throne of the pastor; that’s where he reigns and rules, is in the pulpit. And when anybody runs people into that thing and I don’t know about it, and I just sit there in the desk at the seat and look, never heard of it, never saw it, was asked nothing about it, there it is going on, just remember: the pastor is seated there, and he’s about to break, asking God to give him a gracious and a fine and a charitable spirit. Nobody, nobody, any day, anytime, anywhere, anyhow, under any conditions ought to do anything in that pulpit unless first they check it with the pastor.
“Now pastor, I want to bring in so and so, and I want to do so and so.” Fine, I may help you do it. But I want to know what you are doing. And anytime anything is presented there in the pulpit, over radio, and we’ve got radio three times; over television, we’ve got that one time; and to our own congregation, we’ve got that all the time; I want to know it. And nobody anytime, anywhere, under any conditions is to bring anything into the pulpit unless first it is checked by me.
There is somebody to read the Scripture; I chose that. There is somebody to make the announcements; I have chosen that. There is somebody to lead these prayers—we’re going to look at that, because I think we can do a great ministry here in the church teaching and praying.
All right, in the genius of this organization, I felt that the way to do it was to multiply divisions. I had down here E. W. Westmoreland, who for a generation was head of the educational division, the Sunday school and Training Union division of Oklahoma; a man that I love as my own brother. I had him down here to help us in our Sunday school work. He greatly objected to this divisional idea. He said, “For example, you ought to have adult 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 15, 20, 25, 30, you ought to have all of your adults, 1, 2, 3, ad seriatum, all the way through, you ought to have them all like that.” And he just pressed that. I said, “E. W., I honor you and your experience and knowledge and wisdom, and you’ve given your life to it; but we’re not going that way.” My idea of building this Sunday school is by creating divisions. And instead of having adult 1, 2, 3, clear on up to 30, we’ll have a Young Married division, and we’ll have a Young Adult division, and we’ll have a Median Adult division, and we’ll have a Meridian Adult division, and we’ll have an Adult division. And each one of those divisions will have its own program and its own work. That’s the way I started out building the church.
Now, it wasn’t long until I never heard a word from Herschel Hobbs. He never peeped, squeaked, called, sent a wire, anything. You know exactly why: after Herschel Hobbs had been pastor of the First Church at Oklahoma City for years and years, when he quit, the Sunday school was smaller than when he went there—never a little peeping out of Herschel Hobbs to this day.
What happened to us down here in this church? I will give you one illustration. Years ago I held a revival meeting in Madisonville, Kentucky. There was an intermediate director, a young single girl, just out of the Louisville seminary, named Ann Emerson. She impressed me by something she did. She had been in a heavy, serious automobile accident. She got out of bed, out of the hospital bed, when she should not have done it, and came to that revival because she felt it her duty to be there. It made an impression upon me. She went to Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the First Church there and I asked her to come to the First Church in Dallas. She said to me, “But I am an Intermediate director, and you have a fine Intermediate director.” We had Hazel Johnson, who is now Mrs. Hazel Atkinson. I said, “That’s correct, we have a fine Intermediate director, but I want you to come and do something, and we’ll find something for you until a staff position opens that will be a delight to you.” So, Ann Emerson came to our church without any particular assignment.
In these beginning years, when I started, as I said, there was no adult department in the church, not one. They had adult classes scattered all up and down the seven floors of the Truett Building, in the corners at the front, on each side, at the front. And any adult department was just on paper. I tried in those days to start a young adult department, a young married peoples’ department. I finally got up to an attendance of eleven, and then it failed again; absolutely collapsed, it disintegrated. I could not do it. So when Ann Emerson came, I said to her, “I would like to see what you could do with a young adult division. I’d just like to see you start off.”
So Ann started off. And in those days as she was working, she married a young deacon in the First Church at Fort Smith, who out of love to God, instead of taking Ann to Fort Smith, he moved down here. So Ann Hood started off with nothing, absolutely nothing. And as the days passed, and the years passed, it began to grow, and to grow, and to grow. And finally she came to me and said, “It is too large for me to preside over.” So I said, “Choose somebody to help you, and we’ll divide it, the Young Adults,” and I invented the name “Median Adult.” Nobody ever heard of a median adult; but I thought of that name for the Young Adult—not Adult, Young Adult—and then Median Adult. And she chose Libby Daniel, and asked me to invite Libby Daniel. So I invited Libby Daniel to head the Median Adult. Then Ann continued to work with the Young Adult, and continued to work, and continued to work. And then, by and by she came to me again, and said, “Pastor, it has grown so much, that I wish you would divide again, and make another division; and then you can have Young Adults and Young Marrieds.” So we did that, and we got Young Marrieds and Young Adult and Median Adult—all three, all three of those divisions came out of the work of Ann Hood.
I have in my hand here the Sunday school averages for August. This was placed on the table last Wednesday night. In August, Ann Hood averaged 313 in attendance in the Young Marrieds. Last year she averaged 289. She grows and grows and grows in that division. In the Young Adult division, they had an attendance of 205; in the Median Adult division they had an attendance of 381. In the enrollment in the Young Marrieds, they have 578. In the Young Adults they have 399. In the Median Adult they have 760. Out of the work of Ann Hood there has come from her genius, 578 Young Marrieds, 399 Young Adults, 760 Median Adults. I am greatly impressed. I am impressed beyond any way I could say it. Out of the genius of that one girl has come that marvelous, marvelous heart and center of the adult program in our church. She is the greatest promoter I have ever seen in my life. I have never seen anybody that can promote a thing like Ann Hood.
And I am impressed when people do things. All you have to do to make the pastor happy—exult, shout all over creation—is to do something, just anything. I’m impressed with anything: just do something. And the contrariwise is also true: I am greatly unimpressed by doing nothing. “But you don’t understand, pastor, here are these problems.” No, no, no; fine, we’re going to talk about that in a minute.
Now, there is in our church freedom to work, to worship, to teach, to do. Let’s take for example this grading program. Mr. Souther, who set this Sunday school organization that you see now, Mr. Souther brought Jasper Barnette from Nashville, Tennessee, down here; he headed the Sunday school division of the Sunday School Board. He brought A. V. Washburn with him, who is his assistant. Dr. Bill Howse was brought over, and of course, Mr. Souther. And they graded this Sunday school from top to bottom. It pleased me just great. And here’s the difference in the First Church at Oklahoma City and the First Church in Dallas. The First Church at Oklahoma City did this: they brought in all of these tremendously fine men whom I love—I love A. V. Washburn, Jasper Barnette in heaven, one of the dearest men that ever lived, Bill Howse was an incomparable professor of education, and Mr. Souther is one of the dearest men in the world and one of the most gifted—the First Church at Oklahoma City went through that grading program, and said to the people, “You’re going to enter this grading program, or else, or else. They had, for example, an illustrious Bible teacher there by the name of Bob Kerr. And Bob Kerr was the governor of the state, and then an illustrious senator. Every Sunday he came by airplane from Washington to teach his class at the First Church at Oklahoma City. It was an affluent class; it had many wealthy people in it. They said, “We’re going to grade this whole thing, and that includes Senator Kerr’s class.”
So, Senator Kerr said, “I don’t want to stand in the way,” so he stayed in Washington; never came back to teach his class. And they graded the class, and they graded the whole Sunday school; and out of that came the affluent Crown Heights Baptist Church. They split the church over it, and the First Church lost its affluent people: never recovered, it never gained stature again.
What did we do here in Dallas? What’d the pastor do, because he’s the one that did it? I told Mr. Souther what I was going to do, and here is an example. The “Sadolaphon” class at that time was a big class called, taught by Mrs. Norris, who was one of the most illustrious looking women I ever saw. She looked like the queen dowager of England. Oh! she was an impressive woman, Mrs. Norris. And they had a marvelous class; the Sadolaphon class was the class of distinction in the church. So when they got into this grading program, the Sadolaphon class had a big dinner. Oh boy, did they have a big dinner! And those women were dressed up fit to kill for that dinner. And in the center they had the president, and on this side they had Mrs. Norris the teacher, and on this side they stuck me, right there. And in the class was a gifted woman by the name of Dr. Nance, who was a professor of English literature at Southern Methodist University. So, they had assigned Dr. Nance the assignment to make out the case to me that they were not going to grade. Ah! She walked up and down in front of me and all those women—I was up there on the podium, and she was down there on the floor, standing on the floor with all those others—and she walked up and down like a trial lawyer before a jury, making out the case that they were not going to promote, that they were not going to grade. And when she got done, there was silence. You could hear the flies buzzing in the milk pitcher. You could hear the grass growing on the outside. And all of those women, a great big throng of them, just staring at me, and this is what I said: I said, “Well, I am surprised. Did anybody say something to you about grading?” And the looks on the face of Dr. Nance, and the president of the class, and the teacher, and the people, it was an amazing come to pass! I said, “I don’t know anything about grading you. Anybody say anything to you about it?” And then I made them just a little short speech. I said, “We don’t coerce anybody. If you want to meet, fine. If you want to have Mrs. Norris, fine. If you want to do your thing, fine. You go right ahead.” And then I made the announcement to the church, “Anybody that wants to go on with whatever they’re doing for God, do it. We are going to have a graded program in the church, from the cradle to the grave, from the Nursery clear up to the oldest Adult class. We would like for you to enter that program, but if you don’t, fine. Just go anywhere you want to.” That is the difference, among others, between the First Church at Oklahoma City and the First Church at Dallas. Insofar as it is possible, there is freedom in this church to do anything that you want to: just under the surveillance of the pastor, that’s all. You are absolutely free to shine, do good, grow, win souls, pray.
“But pastor, you don’t understand. Why, man! Over here in this church, we did it so and so, and look! We have two thousand in Sunday school. Pastor, you don’t understand. Over here in this church, we did it so and so, and we’ve got two thousand, three hundred in Sunday school.” Fine. I don’t have anything to say to these people that are working. All I’m just observing is, while you’re working on your two thousand, we’re working on our seven thousand, and finally, our ten thousand.
My great desire is for a tremendous program in the church. That was expressed, literally died for, thirty-one years ago, and we’re still at it.
I’ll give you another instance of an implantation of that tremendous desire for a viable program in the church. Mr. Souther was one of the most gifted men in all this earth when it came down to outlining and building a program. Mr. Souther had both music and education. And as the church grew, I came to the definite conclusion that there was no man that could do both, direct the educational program here and the music program, not as I wanted. So I told Mr. Souther, “Mr. Souther, you cannot do both of them. And I want a music program here, one that has choirs for every age, and one singing all over God’s creation. I want a great, tremendous music program in the church. And we can’t have it under one man. You don’t have time to put your arms around all of it; it can’t be done.” So I said, “I want you to choose: you take music, or you take education; but you can’t have both.” That was the greatest blow Mr. Souther ever sustained. It literally broke his heart. He pled with me about that. I said, “Mr. Souther, I have made up my mind. You cannot do both of them; and you choose.” So he chose education. It took us a long, hard time; but we finally achieved the music program that is unexcelled. And Mr. Souther, because he was so unhappy, went to be professor at the seminary in New Orleans.
All right, needless to say, I have looked through this thing that I have done hours and hours, mostly in the middle of the night, lying awake in the middle of the night. And I’m going to talk to you a minute about what I think is the Bible teaching concerning the pastoral office. And the reason I am doing it is that you might know the basis upon which I stand when I tell you what I tell you, when I say to you what I say.
This great principle to leave each other alone, leave each other alone; don’t get into that music until first you clear it and talk it and check it with the music director, then if you have any problem bring it to me; don’t get into the business affairs of the church unless you check everything thoroughly, meticulously with Mr. Shanks, then if you have any problem, bring it to me; don’t bother each other, don’t impede or put blocks, stumbling blocks in front of each other. You have an assignment: do what you’re supposed to do, and you’re responsible only to me.
Now, have I a right to say that? Why responsible to me? There are two reasons. Number one: when I came to the church and talked to the pulpit committee, I had two things, just two that I asked for. Number one: the staff is mine, completely, absolutely mine. The only reason we ever appointed a personnel committee was because I did not want to set the salary, and if I needed any advice or counsel or direction, I’d have the committee to go to. The staff is completely mine, altogether, absolutely mine. The staff works for the pastor. Every one of them is chosen by the pastor. If John Shanks wants somebody, he is to come to the pastor about it: “Pastor, I’d like to hire so and so.” If Gary Moore wants somebody, he’s to go to the pastor: “Pastor, I want so and so.” The staff is one hundred percent mine. The second thing that I asked of the pulpit committee was that I have an unfettered pulpit: nobody is ever to say anything to me about what I preach. What I do up there in that pulpit is absolutely mine. In those two areas the church has been faithful for thirty-one years. They have never entered into the staff; it is absolutely mine. And they have never entered into what I have said in the pulpit; and sometimes it has been awful! I tell you, what has been going on sometimes, out of the things that I would say in that pulpit—it’d just be more than some of them could nearly take—but to this day there has never been anybody in the church who’s ever said anything to me about it. To this day I have an unfettered pulpit.
Now the Scripture: this pastoral office, do I have a right to say what I’m saying? First, I have said the right lies in the directive that I asked for when I came to be pastor of the church. The other lies in the Holy Scriptures. Let me read to you about this preacher. First of all, we need a little lesson in the scriptural name for him, so we’ll all understand who he is, and what he’s about, and what he’s doing, and what the Word of God says about him.
The pastor in the Bible is called by three words. He is first an episkopos. If you have a scope, a telescope, teleskopos, that refers to looking. Epi means usually, “upon.” Here at this conjunction it means “over.” So episkopos, episkopos, is translated in the Bible “bishop.” The first word in the Bible for the pastor is “bishop”: he is the bishop; he is the overseer of the church. The second word by which he is called is presbuteros, presbuteros; this is merely a comparative word. Presbos is the word for “old”; presbutatas—tatas is the ending for the superlative degree—oldest, tatas. Teros is the Greek ending for a comparative, “older.” So the presbuteros means “older”; just a plain, common, ordinary Greek word meaning “older,” translated in the Bible “elder,” “older.” It refers to his dignity. Whenever you have a church that looks with scorn or disdain or contempt upon its pastor, write it down: without exception it is a God-cursed congregation, full of trouble and sorrow; it will never be blessed. The pastor is a presbuteros, he’s an elder; he’s to be looked upon with great reverence and deference. The pastor is called a poimēn, poimēn. Poimēn is a simple Greek word for “shepherd.”
Now the pastor is those three things: he’s the bishop, he’s the presbuteros, he’s the poimēn; he’s the overseer, he’s the elder, he’s the shepherd. In the first century—though not in the Bible, in the New Testament these three words all refer to the same office, but in the first century, not in the second century even—in the first century, this man, this appellation episkopos, “bishop,” singled out in every congregation the leader of the church. He is the ordained leader of the church: the episkopos.
Now, with those words in mind, let me read to you what God’s Word says. First, in 1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor,” timē—you can translate that “pay,” it means “pay,” it also can mean “honor” or “reverence.” “Especially they who labor in the word and doctrine” [1 Timothy 5:17]. Do you notice that word “rule”? “Let the elders that rule, let those that do well, that succeed, be counted worthy of double pay” [1 Timothy 5:17]. Now in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, verse 7, “Remember them that have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation, their life” [Hebrews 13:7]. Verse 17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that grief will be unprofitable for you” [Hebrews 13:17]. And look again: “Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen” [Hebrews 13:24-25]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing in the Bible? That episkopos is designated in the Bible as someone who has the rule over the church [Hebrews 13:7].
I look upon my office like that. If anybody asks me, “Are you a dictator?” I say, “I am. I am a benevolent one, but I am a dictator. I rule this First Baptist Church.” And if I am the pastor of any other church, I will be the episkopos, the bishop of the church; I will rule over it, according to the Word of God [Hebrews 13:7].
What about that deacon? Diakonia means “to serve, to wait upon,” such as a table. A diakonia is a ministry of service; a diakonos, a deacon, is a servant, one who waits on the table. The deacon is to help the pastor, that’s all. He is to stand by the side of the pastor and help him. But in no wise is the deacon ever to rule the church; not according to the Word of God. And whenever you have a deacon-ruled church, without exception, once again, you’ll have a weak, timorous, apologetic congregation. There is a ruler in the church: he is the bishop.
When I came to this church, I inherited a title: nobody called Dr. Truett, “Dr. Truett”; everybody called him the pastor. If they belonged to this church, they all referred to him as “the pastor.” His wife would refer to him as “Brother George.” He was Dr. Truett only to the outside. But the people had for Dr. Truett a deep and abiding solemnity in reverence. When I came to the church, miracle of miracles—I was forty-three years younger than Dr. Truett when I came here, forty-three years younger—but I inherited that same reverence; and the people called me “the pastor.” The same identical attitude, deference they paid to Dr. Truett, they gave to me, and have to this day.
I sat at a Southern Baptist Convention one time by Dr. John L. Hill, the book editor of the Sunday School Board, and Dr. Truett was preaching. And while that incomparable prince was proclaiming the message of Christ, Dr. Hill turned to me, and said, “He’s the only man I know who could not be moved. He’s the only man I know who could not be moved.” When John D. Rockefeller offered him anything, in a day when a preacher hardly received anything, when John D. Rockefeller offered him anything to go be pastor of the Euclid Avenue Church in Cleveland where he was Sunday school superintendent, Dr. Truett replied, “Yes, I can be moved.” And immediately they said, “What would it take?” And he said, “Move my people. Just take First Baptist Church up to Cleveland, and I’ll go with them.” When Baylor University asked him to be their president, Truett replied the most beautiful sentence that I know: “I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart.” And he stayed here till he died, forty-seven years. That is Dr. Truett.
“Now what are you going to do, pastor, about this authority that you arrogate to yourself, both from the church and from the Word of God?” You don’t have to speculate; thirty-one years have I done it, thirty-one years. We had a deacons’ meeting one time, in which Charlie Roberts—who engineered the great Sears Roebuck Corporation, he stayed here in Dallas because he loved this church. Charlie Roberts was a giant of a man physically; he was a giant of a man in his heart. The deacons were asking me really to do just like that regarding some of the work in the church, and I didn’t want to do it. “Well,” said the deacons as they talked to me all around, “you’ve got the authority, we’ll stand back of you, do it.” I said, “No, I don’t want to do it, I just don’t.” So the question came up about authority, and that I had it. And Charlie Roberts stood up and made a comment that I’ve never forgotten: he said, “The pastor is right. Authority is like money: the less you use it and the less you spend it, the more you have of it.”
There’s nobody that’s been here for years and years and years but that can tell you it’s a rare thing you ever see me come around and say, “Now listen, you do this, or that.” It’s a rare thing. Is it because I couldn’t? I just got through telling you that I am a dictator; I rule the church, according to the way I got here, and according to the word of God I am the bishop of the church. How do I do it? In the greatest patience that you ever saw in your life. I put up with more unmitigated sorryness than anybody that I know of, but I just pray and hope for something good and better. I don’t try to bare a clenched fist.
So you’re not going to have an enemy in me: you’re going to have somebody who prays that you do good, and who by the grace of God is going to make it possible for you to do good.
Now to close: what are we going to do to implement this? This is what we’re going to do. To start off with, at eleven o’clock each Sunday morning, at a place that Dr. Shanks will designate—and Dr. Shanks, I would say that you ought to work this out with Charles Bristow—at eleven o’clock each Sunday morning, I am going to meet with the educational staff. Each Tuesday morning—did I say Monday? Sunday? Shows you how I got Sunday in my mind; I don’t come down any other time. At eleven o’clock each Tuesday morning to start off with, I am coming down here, and I want to be present in that meeting with the educational staff: all of these divisional directors, and the area directors. By an area I mean the business administrator, the minister of music, the minister of recreation, the ministry of missions if you would like, all of these and any other who choose to come, each Tuesday morning. Now the reason for Tuesday thus far is—and we may change that—the reason for Tuesday is, on Monday I feel so washed up and washed out, after Sunday I am just emotionally drained. It also will give you a little time in which to get ready for the meeting. I want us to go over the new members.
For example, this morning, I called Mrs. Thorne. Dr. and Mrs. William E. Thorne joined the church last Sunday, and I called her. Her name is Jesse. I asked her what she wanted to do. I asked her what her husband wanted to do. I talked to them, and I’ve written it down, and we’ll take it up when we have our staff meeting, what we will do to let the Thornes help us build our church. I want us to go through every member that joins; every one of them. I want us to go through them. Do they have children? Do they have parents? Do they have friends? Do they have neighbors? Do they have other relatives who are lost and need the Lord? I want us to go through it. And that will give you time between Sunday and Tuesday morning at eleven o’clock to get ready. We want to look at these members, where they came from, and what we can do to make them glad they joined the church.
I want us to go through how we are doing ourselves, the people we are reaching. And if we are not reaching them, why is it, and what we can do to help. And then to look at the near-term programs and see what the good Lord would have us do as we make intimate and meticulous plans for the near term. Maybe once or twice a year we’ll have a staff meeting of length, and go through the whole program. But each week we’ll meet at eleven o’clock and look at the immediate assignment that the Lord has laid upon us.
Now, I have tried to make this as plain as I could. And what I have done has not been adventitious; it has arisen out of a long, long, long consideration. Now, if you want to help build this church, wonderful, come and help us. If you had rather do something else, that’s all right. There’s nothing coercive in it. You’re going to work with the pastor, you are responsible alone to him, and we’re going to pour our very lives into this effort and see if God doesn’t bless it. When I first started, it never entered my mind that we would go over 3,000 in Sunday school. I thought when we reached 3,000, that that would be it, no other church had. The biggest Sunday school in the Southern Baptist Convention at that time was at Bellevue in Memphis, Tennessee, and on a good Sunday they would run around 2200, 2300, something like that. Nobody had ever even proposed to reach 3,000 in Sunday school, and I thought that when we did it, that that was it. We went through 3,000, and nobody could even tell you when we did it. And we stopped around 3800 and 3900. One day I called Dr. Souther down at the seminary in New Orleans, and I said, “Billy is it possible to get over 3800 and 3900 in Sunday school?” He said, “If you’ll stay with it, I can swear before God that you’ll go over 4,000, you will.” Well, I said, “We haven’t done it yet, and we’ve tried and tried.” He said, “Well, you just keep on, and it’ll come.” We went over 4,000, and there’s nobody can remember when. We just went right through it.
The same thing happened at 5,000. I don’t believe there’s anybody can remember when we started to go over this all the time 5,000; we just did it, we just went right through it. Why should we not take seriously what Dr. Williams said to me when I was called as pastor of the church? At that time, he was pastor of the First Church at Oklahoma City. He loved this church; he grew up in this church, Dr. Howard Williams. He said to me, he said, “Young fellow, I don’t think there’s any limit to the number of people that you can reach in Sunday school, if you’ll keep on multiplying divisions.” That’s what he said to me.
I don’t think there’s any limit to the number of people we can reach if we will set our hearts to it, if we’ll have that spirit, “All I want to do is to work. Give me a place, an assignment, and let me work. And pastor, I’ll do the best job for you you ever saw in your life. I’ll pray and pray and pray. I’ll visit and visit and visit. I’ll organize and organize and organize. I’ll pour my life into it.” I don’t think there’s any limit to the amount of people we can reach. And if you’d like to do that, you come along. If you feel uncomfortable, that’s all right. But we’re on the way now, and we’re going to do it just as we did in the beginning: everybody is responsible to the pastor. Dr. Draper, he does what the pastor asks him to do. He’s responsible to the pastor. Herschel Kreismen, he does what the pastor asks him to do. He is responsible to the pastor. John Shanks, he does what the pastor asks him to do. He is responsible to the pastor. Laverne Moore, she does what the pastor asks her to do. She is responsible to the pastor. And if the pastor assigns her to work in that office, fine! And if the pastor were to assign her in another place, if in his judgment she would be used of God more effectively in another place, I would expect her to say, “pastor that’s wonderful, let’s see if I can’t do it good in my new place.” And the whole church . . . .