Advantages and Disadvantages of a Long Pastorate


Advantages and Disadvantages of a Long Pastorate

October 2nd, 1983 @ 8:15 AM

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 3:12-14

10-2-83    8:15 a.m.



It is a gladness for us to welcome the great throngs of you who are sharing this hour on radio.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor preaching the sermon entitled We Begin Our Fortieth Year, actually, The Advantages and the Disadvantages of a Long Pastorate.

As a background text, in the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, Philippians 3, verses 12 through 14:


Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfected:  but I follow after, if that I may get hold of that for which also Christ got hold of me.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended it:  but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.


The Advantages and the Disadvantages of a Long Pastorate

First:  the disadvantages.  When I think of the disadvantages of a long pastorate, I think first of the death of those that were so prominent in the work of the Lord when I first came here.  The seven, the six men and the one woman, the seven who comprised the pulpit committee have been dead for years and years; even the young man who represented the youth of the church, Ralph Baker, for whom Ralph Baker Hall is named, even Ralph has been dead many years.  I think of the deacons who served under Dr. Truett and who were here when I came; all of those men have been dead for many, many years.  And I think of the congregation; practically all of the congregation has been translated to heaven, only a little handful abide.  One of the disadvantages of a long pastorate:  seeing the people melt away before your very eyes.

The disadvantages of a long pastorate:  it becomes apparent through the years the mistakes that you have made.  For example, the Veal Parking Building:  it was built in the day when attendants were abundantly available and cheaply paid.  So the building was constructed for an attendant parking building; you drove your car into the front, and an attendant took it, parked it for you, brought it back to you.  Because attendants are unavailable or astronomically expensive, we turned it into a self-parking building, and that makes it very, very difficult, unfelicitous, almost unusable.  The mistakes that you have made through the years become apparent.

The Salvation Army approached us wanting to sell their building, their old building and their lot at the corner there for $150,000.  We appointed a committee, chaired by one of the finest men and most capable in this earth, and the committee came back with a report:  "It is too high; we cannot afford to buy it."  I made a mistake there.  I should have said, "No matter what the committee says, we’re going to buy that property."  Now they are adamant in wanting four million dollars for it.  As the years go on in a long pastorate, the mistakes that you make become increasingly apparent.

The disadvantages of a long pastorate:  you watch and become sensitive to the evolution of evil.  Evolution is universally taught in our schools.  By law you cannot teach creation, God, by law you teach in our school systems, in our universities, in our high schools, in the public schools, by law you teach evolution.  Inevitable progress and advancement, progress advancement in invention, and discovery, and technology, and science, and education, well and good:  we see advancement made in the automobile, in the discovery of the radio and television, in all of these wonderful things of the computer technological world.  But there is also progress and advancement in evil.  There is progress in war and in the instruments of war.  There is progress in bitterness and in hatred and in national confrontation.  There is progress in sodomy.  In the days of my ministry, I have seen sodomonic communities, vigorous, clamorous; in San Francisco one that will number almost three hundred thousand, a community of sodomites in Dallas, clamoring to be recognized on the campus of our great Southern Methodist University.

In my pastorate, I’ve become acquainted with the terms of herpes and AIDS.  Advancement in evil, the evolution of wrong, advancement in pornography:  all of these things were unheard of when I began my ministry here in this dear church.  Cable television will soon bring adult pornographic movies into everybody’s living room, soon; already in many areas of our great metroplex.  Advancement in the drug culture:  alcohol, the drug that you drink; drugs that you smoke, like marijuana; drugs that you swallow, like amphetamine pills; drugs that you inhale, like cocaine; drugs that you insert in your veins with a needle, like heroin.  The drug culture when I began my ministry as a youth was under the Eighteenth Amendment, called Prohibition. Then I lived to see it annulled under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who to me was a curse to the nation.  The advancement of evil:  and there is no drug, or there are,all the other drugs put together do not slay and slaughter like alcohol, the drug alcohol; and yet it is universally accepted and universally consumed. 

The evil of evolution, and the evolution of evil, the advancement in the decay of the moral fabric of our nation; and the advancement in humanism, that is, the educational system that leaves God out – when I began my pastorate here, upon a day that we would have a revival meeting, our evangelist would be speaking in all the chapel services of the schools of the city of Dallas.  Could you imagine such a thing today?  You can teach atheism, you can teach evolution, you can teach endlessly humanism; but you can’t teach God.  The disadvantages of a long pastorate:  to see these things develop before your very eyes.

The disadvantages of a long pastorate:  the disillusionment and discouragement that come in denominational life, the communion to which we belong.  When I began my ministry as a youth, I thought of our Baptist world as monolithic:  we all believed the Bible, all of us.  And all the preachers that I’d ever hear, and all the teachers that I’d ever hear teach and all of the services that I ever attended, we all believed the Bible: it was the infallible, inerrant, authoritative Word of God.  And in my naiveté, I thought all of our Baptist communion believed the Bible.  In a recent publication – and you’ll have to excuse one of the tributes here – in a recent religious publication, I copied this:


Spurgeon said, ‘This volume,’ referring to the Bible, ‘is the writing of the living God.  Each letter was penned with an almighty finger, each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips, each sentence was dictated by the Holy Spirit;’ those were the words of the most revered Baptist preacher of all time.  Dr. W. A. Criswell, called by many "the Spurgeon of the twentieth century," has written, ‘With complete and perfect assurance, I can pick up my Bible and know that I read the revealed Word of God.  The God who inspired it also took faithful care that it be exactly preserved through the fire and blood of centuries.’


End quote from this religions periodical.  On the twenty-third of April in 1888, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was censored by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the vote was two thousand against him and seven for him, as he was excluded from the Baptist Union of Great Britain.  In 1969, after I had written and published the book Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True, the Southeastern Association of Professors of Religion censored me and condemned me, and I write, I quote from one of the great Baptist periodicals of the South:  they said, "Biblical literalism is blasphemy against God.  Biblical literalism accuses God of using men as tape recorders; a notion that dishonors God and destroys men.  Literalism borders inspiration for mechanics:  it tramples on elementary honesty"; because I believe the Bible is literally true.  I wish I could go back to the days when I was a youth and believed that our Baptist association of churches and our Baptist communion was monolithic, that they all believed the Bible.

I think of that famous poem by the American poet Thomas Hood:


I remember, I remember,

The fir trees dark and high;

I used to think their pointed spires

Were pressed against the sky:


‘Twas but a childish fancy,

But now ’tis little joy

To know I’m further away from heaven

Than when I was a boy.

["I Remember, I Remember"; Thomas Hood]


The disillusionments and the discouragements that come with a long pastorate.

The other, the advantages of a long pastorate:  one, I am now frequently marrying children whose parents I have married.  And to be the friend of the family for the years and the years is a reward heavenly and precious in itself.  The advantages of a long pastorate:  to see the people grow in grace and in the knowledge and wisdom of the Lord.  How preciously do I behold literally thousands of our people who walk in the way of the Lord, growing sweeter and dearer as they grow older.


Growing lovely, growing old –

So many fine things do:

Laces and ivory and gold,

These need not be new;

There is healing in old trees,

Old streets a glamour hold;

Why may not we, as well as these,

Grow lovely growing old?

[Adapted from "Let Me Grow Lovely"; Karle Wilson Baker]


I see that among our people.  More Christ-like, more humble, in honor preferring one another, walking closer to the Lord, it’s a beautiful thing to see a congregation filled with the Spirit of our Savior, growing heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward.

The advantages of a long pastorate:  seeing the growth of an idea.  This is the main one lying back of our church:  for almost the centuries and the centuries heretofore, the idea of a church has been a square building with a pulpit behind which the minister preached.  It was the idea of this church:  a square building, with a pulpit, and Dr. Truett preaching.  And that idea for centuries was universal.  But there was brought here another idea:  that the church was not just a preaching place, but the church also is to be a Christian community in a world of worldliness; it was to envelope the whole family; it was to be the heart and the center of all of the life of the people, children, babies, teenagers, youth, college, career, young marrieds, men and women in the vigor of life, down to old age.  It was to be a community in a community.

As such, when the idea was pressed upon the people – that’s the reason that I pressed for the acquisition of properties here around the church, and if I could have got the deacons to go along with me, we would have owned this section, this whole end of the city of Dallas.  We could have bought it for practically nothing.  I wanted it for a playground, for a football field, for a baseball diamond, for schools, for all of the vast activities that consume the interest and the life of people; the growth of an idea.  And to some extent we have succeeded: we have five blocks downtown.  And in this effort, we have not only a vigorous Sunday program, Sunday school, our Training Union, our convocations, not only is it on the Lord’s Day that we try to pull our people into the way and work of our Lord, but we try to do it seven days out of the week.

We established our schools, teaching that child the mind of God in Christ Jesus, interpreting history, and science, and the humanities, and all of knowledge in the mind of our Lord; and bringing the children together where they can have chapel, and prayer, and preaching, and revival meetings, and a call to conversion and faith in the Lord.  And not only that, but training men and women in the ministries of Christ, to be staff members, and missionaries, and all of the things that pertain to the gospel ministry; a community in a world of worldliness.

When I began, the executive leader of our Baptist denomination, a sweet and precious friend and fellow elder here in our church, when I began he said to me, "I hate seeing you devolve from a preacher of the gospel into the management and manager of schools."  Well, I can understand, and I am not critical of those who do not believe in the church being the center of the entire life of the family, all of it, social, recreational, educational, spiritual, the whole life centered around the church.  If we’re going to date, we’re going to date in the will of Christ.  If we’re going to marry, we’re going to marry in the will of Christ.  We’re going to raise our children; we’re going to raise our children in the will of the Lord.  Every decision we make is upon His advice and His counsel; the whole of life centered in our Lord.  The growth of an idea:


An old man, going a lone highway,

Came, in the evening, cold and gray,

To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,


The old man crossed in the twilight dim;

The sullen stream hath no fears for him;

But he stopped, when safe on the other side,

And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man said a fellow pilgrim, near,

"You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day;

You never again will pass this way;

You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide –

Why do you build this bridge to span the tide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:

"Good friend, in the path I have come he said,

"There followeth after me today

A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, which has been as naught to me,

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

["The Bridge Builder"; Will Allen Dromgoole]


I believe that the church is more than just a preaching place.  I believe the church is the body of Christ, and belonging to it, it consumes every love, and interest, and devotion, and vision, and prayer, and hope of our lives.  It is to be everything; all in all

Like the psalmist said, in Psalm 73, verses 25 and 26:  "Whom have I in heaven but Thee?  And whom do I desire in earth but Thee?  My God, the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever."  The idea of a church:  a consuming congregation that envelopes in its embrace, in its prayers, in its program, in its outreach every facet of human life; the body of Christ, the very presence of our Lord in the earth.

We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal.  And while we sing it, a family: "Today, pastor, we have decided to put our lives in this wonderful church, and we’re coming."  A couple, a man and his wife, or two friends, or just you: "This is God’s day for me; God has spoken to my heart, and I’m coming.  I want to be baptized, like God says in His Word or "I want to accept Jesus as my Savior; I want to open my heart and my life toward God or "I want to grow in grace in the circle and circumference of these precious people."  Make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment when we sing our song, if you’re in the balcony, there’s time and to spare; if you’re on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front.  A thousand times welcome, and may the angels attend you in the way as you come.  Do it; God be with you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.