How long have you been with Bible.org?I've been with Bible.org since before Bible.org existed. Hampton Keathley, III, and my materials were among the first articles published on the site.
What do you like best about working with Bible.org?
I like the commitment to the systematic teaching of the Word of God, and I love the idea of making it available free of charge. The other thing I would say is that there's something about working with guys who are all-in. Just watching the people here and their dedication... it's a great thing to be a part of.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is in seminary or in their early stages of ministry?
Seminaries by their very nature have their limitations. God's primary organization is the church. In my experience, at least 50%, if not more, of my education came through the church. Fellow leaders in the church see you and how you function in ministry and that's something that you can't really simulate in seminary as hard as you try.
How important are relationships in ministry?
They're huge. I recently read that 71% of pastors feel lonely and have no friend or confidant. If you believe in plurality of leadership, that isn't true. And if you include plurality in the teaching process, then that's not true either. You have good friends who are watching your back and sometimes kicking your backside when you need it. That was huge and continues to be huge in terms of whatever my ministry is.
How have the lessons you've learned from others in ministry impacted your personal life?
When life's questions come along and decisions have to be made, it encourages me to ask, "Are you going to take the high road or the low road? Are you going to think on the basis of principle?" And I think that's one of the things that disturbs me. I don't think we live in a principle-driven world. I don't think that most people really think biblically. And sadly, I would say, even pastors oftentimes do not approach things and say, "What would a biblical mindset think about this? What would a biblical mindset lead me to do?" We're far too pragmatic.
The Bible is filled with guidance. I was just recently teaching on David in 1 Kings 1. Here is David in his bed, wrapped up in blankets shivering. They bring along Abishag, the human hot water bottle, to keep him warm and that doesn't go well, which is one more indicator that he's over-the-hill. And there's Adonijah setting forth a rebellion that, if unattended to, will end up in the death of Solomon and his mother. They have to go through this scheme with Nathan the prophet to finally turn loose. God has made it clear to David that Solomon is the king. David had affirmed that and made it clear. But when push came to shove, he wouldn't let go. And here he is clinging to something at the end. I think that's what churches are doing today. You've got guys who are in positions of power. They're not thinking about succession. They're not training people to be leaders to replace them.
What authors and pastors have influenced you?
I would say friends have had a major impact on me more than any single author. I like guys like John Piper, Michael Horton, and company. I think they have some good stuff. And obviously it leans more in the reformed direction, even though I don't go down the covenant eschatology trail. Haddon Robinson said, and I think it's true, that preachers ought to listen to one good sermon per week. And he didn't mean their own! I think that's really true, and I hope that's one of the things we provide through Bible.org. I think to hear a job that's really well-done, you not only get the edification of the message, you also say to yourself "I need to strive for that level of quality."
You have an article of your process of preparing a sermon. Can you walk us through the "Cliff's-notes" version of that process?
I break all kinds of rules in the process that the highly-disciplined pastor will follow! I read through the text and ask myself questions. The same thing that makes me a reasonably good mechanic is what helps me with scripture. If you've got a problem with a car, and it isn't running, you're going to ask yourself, "Is there spark?" If not you might have a dead battery. "Is there fuel?" "Is the fuel pump working?" You've got systems that you're looking at. A doctor does the same thing. He looks at blood pressure. He looks at tests, and all of that narrows him down to a narrow field. So it's not about having a thousand observations; it's maybe having five observations that are down the trail that you need to be that's critical. So I ask questions. I ask the text and I ask other people. Sometimes that comes late in the week, but I would rather be exegetically on-target than homiletically smooth.
That's a short-term process. What does your long-term process look like?
I believe there are some books that are more critical to teach than others. I try my best to balance my teaching between the Old Testament and the New. It seems to me that it's critical for us to understand the Old Testament roots for the New Testament. So one of my plans is to focus on those books which are key books in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. But, I admit, when you get to the New Testament, there weren't as many books that I didn't see as crucial! Now Revelation I did, but I never posted it on Bible.org. There's just so much there that is speculative. People need to see the broad picture of where the Bible is going and they ought to be able to think their way through how each book fits into that.
What's your prayer life like?
Inadequate. You read books about guys who pray for hours on end, and I've been blessed with friends who are diligent in prayer. This is going to sound bizarre, but I'll be driving down the road and I'll see a car that's similar to someone's in our church and that will prompt me to pray for that person. I'll tell you what my least favorite prayer word is. I hate the word "smoothly." "Lord, please make the surgery go smoothly. Let their flight overseas go smoothly." I get to thinking, "Since when did God ever offer us a smooth life?" The issue is not things going "smoothly." The issue is "Lord, achieve your purposes. And if that means that the plane crashes or never takes off, then Lord achieve your purposes." But I think all of us are looking for smooth lives. Coming back to the question though, we had a lady in our church who prayed for us every day. I think about my wife's prayers. It doesn't excuse me, but I rely heavily on the fact that there are people, unbeknownst to others, who are faithfully praying. A lot of things that happen that may look like success have very little to do with us.