In my last post, I shared my conviction that preachers become better preachers primarily through two means: regular pulpit experience and learning from good preaching role models. I shared my first two role models, Drs. Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines. I continue in many ways to be shaped by their early example. It was a great joy to enroll in seminary and finally have the chance to hear both of these brothers preach in person. I was only able to hear Dr. Rogers once, about a week before he entered into his heavenly reward. I’ve now heard Dr. Vines preach several times, and I hope to hear him several more.
My other three key preaching role models are a little different. One of them primarily influenced me through a handful of sermons rather than regular preaching. The other was, until relatively recently, probably better known for his teaching than his preaching. The final one is my current pastor.
I have a confession. Though it may surprise some readers, I am not someone who has listened to thousands of John Piper sermons. But even though I’ve never been a regular listener to his preaching ministry, Dr. Piper has definitely influenced me in a couple of ways.
In 1998, I was a college sophomore who was invited by a friend to attend a Passion Conference in Dallas with his university’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry. While I enjoyed the whole conference, I was blown away when this short fellow wearing a suit-clearly not one of the “cool” speakers-stepped behind the podium and delivered what for me was a life-changing sermon. He spoke about being part of a generation that would give up anything for the gospel, a generation where everyone was a missionary, a generation where we valued Christ more than the American Dream. I was gripped, and over the next several months I managed to get hold of another couple of Dr. Piper’s sermons that addressed similar themes.
As I’ve reflected on those sermons over the years, the word that most often comes to mind is gravity. Yes, Dr. Piper was passionate. Yes, he was expositional. Yes, he was evangelistic. Yes, he was theological. But the total package produced sermons that brought the gravity of the gospel to life, at least for me. While Dr. Piper didn’t really influence my preaching style, his example did cause me to have a heightened appreciation for what the Holy Spirit can accomplish through the preaching of the Word. Though I’ve probably heard a couple dozen of his sermons over the years, it only took the first couple to get the point across.
When Leah and I moved to Louisville to attend Southern Seminary, we heard a lot of people talking about Russ Moore. I knew who he was from the then-recent book Why I Am a Baptist (which he co-edited with Tom Nettles), but I didn’t know anything about him. The summer before I began classes, we joined Ninth and O Baptist Church. At that time, Dr. Moore was teaching the young adults Sunday School class we joined and was in a rotation of men who preached on Sunday evenings. During my two years in Louisville, I heard him preach at least ten or twelve times at either the church or in chapel, in addition to his very sermonish weekly Bible teaching in Sunday School and his often homiletically inclined theology classes at the seminary. Dr. Moore is now a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, where he preaches weekly.
Russ Moore is a fantastic preacher who modeled at least two habits that have fundamentally shaped my preaching. First, he modeled how to preach the whole Bible as a Christ-centered grand narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration-the true story of the world. Second, he had a knack for application. When Dr. Moore preaches, he doesn’t just throw in a trite point or two of practical application. He overtly makes application both spiritual and practical, and it is clear he spends time thinking about how many ways and to how many different types of people the sermon’s text can be applied. (As an aside, he also has the spiritual gift of clever sermon titles, but as I am far less creative than Dean Moore, I’ve long given up on attempting to follow his example in this regard.)
Almost five years ago, Leah and I joined the First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. Our pastor, Andy Davis, is a great preacher who in many ways represents for me a mixture of the very best of all the other key preaching role models who’ve influenced me. Like Dr. Rogers and Dr. Vines, he’s an evangelistic expositor who takes Scripture seriously. Like Dr. Piper, there is a consistent gravity to his preaching that affects almost everyone who regularly sits under his preaching. Like Dr. Moore, he is a “big picture” expositor who understands that Scripture is also a story of promise and fulfillment, with Jesus Christ at the center of the plot.
The major thing that Andy has modeled for me is effective illustration. All of the men I’ve mentioned are good illustrators, but Leah and I are consistently amazed at the ways that Andy illustrates the vital points of his sermons. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a terrible illustrator. I mean, I really stink at it. So I am consistently encouraged and challenged by the creative ways that Andy finds real life examples to illustrate the timeless truths of the gospel. In addition, he is also utterly unflashy-he lets the Word do the work. The longer I preach, the more and more I become aware of how little preaching has to do with my own labors and talents and how much it has to do with God working through His man expounding His Word to His people for His glory.
In closing, there are many other men who have positively influenced my preaching. Current and former South Georgia preachers such as my former pastors John Clough and David Drake and my friends Mike Stone and Don Hattaway have all been excellent role models. In seminary, Danny Akin, Hershael York, Stephen Rummage, and especially my former pastor Bill Cook were influential. Dozens of chapel speakers have helped shape me over the years. In addition to Dr. Akin, several of my current colleagues at SEBTS continue to influence my own preaching with their fine examples. And in this day of podcasts and internet sermons, I’ve benefitted greatly from the preaching of men like Lig Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Phil Newton, and Tim Keller.