The Southern Baptist Convention has an extended history and rich heritage of biblical preachers, but some are warning that "the character and centrality of preaching in the church" is currently being debated and challenged.1
The fact that a debate is even taking place is tragic, but the tragedy is compounded by the urgent need today for solid, biblical preachers; which begs the question: Where have all the biblical expositors gone?
Over the last twenty-six months we have lost two of, arguably, the greatest expository preachers of the last century: Stephen Olford and Adrian Rogers. Their lives and ministries exemplified the power and effectiveness of expository preaching. Each left behind more than an expository legacy; both left outstanding examples and stirring admonitions for those of us who remain.
Stephen Olford was ushered into the presence of our Heavenly Father August 29, 2004. His passion for preaching was contagious. He invested the last thirty years of his life in pastors, preachers, evangelists, missionaries, and Bible teachers. His constant charge was to "Preach the Word!" He would say, "Without question, the crying need of the hour is to return to the apostolic injunction to 'Preach the Word!'" He believed strongly that with preaching, Christianity stand or falls. He would often declare with great enthusiasm that: "The only thing that would ever replace preaching would be greater preaching." He reminded his students that preaching is primary and expository preaching paramount.
Olford was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City from 1959 to 1973. For fourteen years he faithfully expounded the Scriptures to his people. In an article entitled, "Why I Believe in Expository Preaching," Olford reported: "Saint Augustine once wrote, 'When the Scriptures Speak, God Speaks.' I believe that with all my heart. This is what makes me a Bible expositor. What I, or any other human has to say is quite secondary; it is what God says that matters. My task as a preacher is 'rightly dividing the word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15)."2
Olford defined expository preaching as: "... the spirit-empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God's Word with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical, and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response."3
When asked to address his greatest concern for the modern church, without hesitation he responded: "I think my greatest concern is the demise of anointed expository preaching. We (Olford Ministries International) are here in Memphis in our small attempt under God to try to encourage pastors to come back to expository preaching of God's Word in the power of the Holy Spirit, because I believe that when the Word of God is preached, everything else flows from that. All the evils that I could talk about that I fear today, such as liberalism, humanism, syncretism, and what Carl Henry calls 'naturalism,' all of these evils are making an impact upon the church, headed by the devil and his minions. While all of that is true, there is only one thing that will drive all of that back, and that is the preaching of God's Word."4
Adrian Rogers went home to be with his precious Father on November 15, 2005, after pastoring the great Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, for thirty-two years. Dubbed "the Prince of Preachers," his model of, and passion for, expository preaching left its indelible impression on untold thousands of pastors. His plans for retirement years included the newly-founded Adrian Rogers Pastor Training Institute. It was his desire to pour himself into the hearts, lives, and ministries of younger pastors and church leaders. Just a few weeks before going to be with the Lord, Adrian Rogers conducted a one-day seminar in Naples, Florida. At the time, no one knew that he would be leaving us so soon. The "maiden voyage" (as he called it) of the Pastor Training Institute captured Dr. Roger's passion for the Word of God and for preaching. Any pastor would benefit from reflecting upon Dr. Rogers' final appeal to his "Timothys."
The following comments are from Dr. Roger's instruction to the seminar participants:
"There is no substitute for preaching the Word of God. Biblical preaching is communicated through a two-fold medium — you and the Holy Spirit. When I stand in the pulpit, when you stand in the pulpit, the Holy Spirit should be walking up and down the aisles saying, 'That is a man of God. Listen to him. Listen to what he is saying.'
"There are four purposes of biblical preaching. 1) To confront: You know, one of the saddest things I've ever seen in the world is a preacher with fear in his eyes. A preacher with fear in his eyes? You are a herald of the King! 2) To clarify: All good preaching is teaching. Three questions to keep in mind when crafting sermons are, 'What?', 'So What?' 'Now What?'. 3) To convict: Don't let the people go outside without something happening on the inside. 4) To convert: The Gospel is good news, and I'm telling you if it is not good news, you are not preaching."5
With a supreme confidence in the sufficiency of the Scriptures, he told the students, "Expository preaching over the years will get the job done."6
In an interview with Michael Duduit of Preaching Magazine, Adrian Rogers was asked about the role of preaching in growing the church (with specific reference to the remarkable growth of the Bellevue Baptist Church). Rogers said, "I believe it [preaching] is central, and not because I happen to be the preacher. I believe that the message, preaching, is the stack pole around which everything else is built. My psychology is always: if I develop the message, God develops the ministry."7
The passing of these two legends need not signal the end of passionate expository preaching. If preaching has been in the shadows — if it has been relegated to the sidelines of church life — then the time has come to return preaching to its rightful place. It's time for this generation of pastors to fill the gap left by those expository giants who have gone ahead of us. The legacy, the model, and the admonition of each of these men remain as a constant reminder of our need to obey the Bible's command to: PREACH THE WORD! (2 Timothy 4:2).
1. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "The Urgency of Preaching," Southern Seminary Magazine, Summer 2006, p.6
2. Stephen F. Olford, "Why I Believe in Expository Preaching," The Preacher, Olford Ministries International, Memphis, TN., January-April, 1987, p.3
3. Stephen and David Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching, Broadman and Holman, Nashville, TN. 1985, p.69
4. Roger Willmore, "An Interview with Stephen Olford," The Preacher, Olford Ministries International, Memphis, TN., September-December 1993, pp.14-15
5. James A. Smith, Sr., The Florida Baptist Witness, November 17, 2005, www.floridabaptistwitness.com/5155.article.print
7. Michael Duduit, "Interview with Adrian Rogers," Preaching Magazine, www.ministry.org/preaching/features/rogers.htm
Sharpening Your Sword
Adrian Rogers Pastor Training Institute
On September 12, Adrian Rogers' 75th birthday, the Adrian Rogers Pastor Training Institute will release the What Every Pastor Ought To Know curriculum. At a birthday celebration being held at Bellevue Baptist Church, the Institute will unveil a plan to use Dr. Rogers' pastor training material to help train and equip 600,000 pastors over the next ten years. For more information, go to www.pastortraining.com.
Olford Ministries Institute for Biblical Preaching
Olford Ministries International, based in Memphis, Tennessee, sponsors the Institute for Biblical Preaching, and has partnered with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, in their doctor of ministry in expository preaching degrees. For more information on seminars and classes, go to www.olford.org.
Roger D. Willmore is senior pastor of Deerfoot Baptist Church, Trussville, Alabama, first vice-president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, trustee of LifeWay Christian Resources, and minister at large for Olford Ministries International.