Drawing from 2 Timothy 4, pastor Roger Spradlin urged attendees to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting to preach the unchanging Word of God amidst the “Titanic” changes in today’s post-Christian America.
Photo by Matt Jones
Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., gives the convention sermon for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix June 13. He preached from 2 Timothy 4:1-5, focusing on the job description God gives pastors.
“What should never change in the Southern Baptist Convention is the proclamation of the Word of God,” Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., told messengers during the SBC’s annual sermon June 14 at the Phoenix Convention Center.
From the passage, Spradlin noted the apostle Paul was in prison, soon to be executed, and was “passing the baton” on to the younger Timothy, cautioning him (and pastors today by extension) that being a Christian leader “is a serious business.”
“Our primary responsibility is to preach God’s Word – not our opinion,” Spradlin said, pointing to 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word!” He said many today prefer “dialogue rather than monologue” and “multimedia presentations” over sermons. But “God’s plan always included preaching, even ‘the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe’” (1 Corinthians 1:21 NKJV), he said.
Accordingly, too many preachers start with felt needs and then turn to the biblical text, he said, noting he has focused on expository preaching at the same church for the past 34 years. “We must start with scripture [in context] and then apply it.”
Secondly, “we should preach at every opportunity, not just when it is convenient,” Spradlin noted, pointing to 2 Timothy 4:2, “Be ready in season and out of season.”
That means, we preach no matter how we feel physically, psychologically or even spiritually, he said. “We should never lower our preaching to our living but elevate our living to our preaching.”
He also urged his listeners to be biblically balanced when they preach. Noting some pastors avoid preaching through whole Bible passages because of their tough subjects, Spradlin said preachers should “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
“If we rebuke and not offer hope, we have added to their burden. If we preach hope with no rebuke, we are complicit in their culture of sin,” he warned.
Pointing to 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, … [but] have itching ears,” Spradlin said preachers should preach to please God rather than men. They should do this, he noted, especially in a day when people just want entertainment.
Why are there so many shallow sermons in America? Because there is such a demand for them, Spradlin said, cautioning, “Often people don’t know what they really want to hear until they hear it.” Preaching should focus on the gospel and not the prosperity messages prevalent today.
Relating Paul’s admonition to “be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5),” Spradlin said it seemed people “want to be envied for what they have instead of admired for who they are” and seek to avoid pain and adversity. And yet, God uses adversity and hardships to deeper one’s faith.
“There is no shortcut to a holy life,” Spradlin said. He urged perseverance, saying there is a cumulative effect, “… precept upon precept, line upon line …” (Isaiah 28:10) when hearing the Word of God.
But the mark of biblical preaching is not knowledge, he added, noting that knowledge alone makes one like the Gnostics who pursued secret meanings in the scriptures. The effectiveness of preaching is not in the preacher but in the power of the message. Preaching does not make “man better” but makes “dead men alive,” he said.
If we’re not careful, we spend all our time on developing the right ambiance – referring to the right lights, sound, coffee café, children’s ministry and other programs. He urged focus on the function of declaring Jesus instead of focus on these forms.
“Changing forms of ministry may seem to bring success, but it will never bring succession,” he said, noting people cannot put a marriage back together or heal the addicted. “But Jesus, in a moment, can. Jesus is the only unique message we have!”
He added, “We must be careful that nothing in our character distracts from Jesus. … Our message is Jesus!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware in Columbia, Md.)