Some elements of good preaching are caught, not taught, veteran Texas preacher Dr. Ralph Douglas West told a Samford University audience Tuesday, March 13.
West, popular founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas, spoke as this year's lecturer in the William E. Conger, Jr., Lectures on Biblical Preaching sponsored by Samford's Beeson Divinity School.
Using the theme "Turning the Preacher Inside Out," West chose to look inside a preacher's heart, head and hand during his three lectures. "Much like an MRI that looks inside to see what can't be seen from the outside," said West who holds a doctor of ministry degree from Beeson.
In his "heart" sermon, West described three New Testament preaching models: Peter, who preached from a restored heart; Paul, who preached from a converted heart; and John, who preached from a pastoral heart.
Peter, who would run away and then return to Jesus, preached while enveloped with the holy spirit. Jesus had seen something in Simon Peter, said West, adding that Jesus is more interested in what people can become than in what they were or are.
While every preacher can be tempted to be deified or elevated to a place God never intended them to be, a restored heart will keep that place in perspective. Restoration takes time, said West, predicting that the divinity students would someday need it. "Your day is coming when you will need some restoration, and it won't happen overnight," said West.
Paul's preaching was affected by his conversion experience, said West, and after his dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul couldn't help but tell his story.
People today seldom tell about their first encounter with God, said West, who shared how as a teenager in the ghettos of Houston he flirted with Islam as a religion choice. "But somebody was praying for me, and I got saved," said West, who founded what is now the 20,000-member Church Without Walls in 1987.
John, who has no sermons cited in the Bible, preached from a pastoral heart, said West. Peter had met Jesus while he was casting nets, he noted, but John was mending nets and would later mend the church of its errors.
"John mended the church and brought it back to its wholeness," said West, adding that a church wants to know that its pastor is human.
"People want to know if you can sit, weep and rejoice with them," said West, who has learned better than to believe that all Christians love each other. "A preacher can't say often enough for a congregation to 'love one another.'"
West, known as "Pas" to his congregation, is the author of several books, including a collection of daily devotionals, Pas the Day: Go West.
The annual lecture series is made possible through the generosity of the late Colonel William E. Conger, Jr., who was a close personal advisor to Ralph Waldo Beeson, the founding benefactor of Beeson Divinity School.
"Colonel Conger encouraged us to remember Ralph Beeson's admonition that we train students how to preach," said Beeson founding dean Dr. Timothy George, noting that the school's spring worship focus is on symbols of the Christian faith in Hodges Chapel, where it holds its weekly services. The symbol for March 13-15, the week of the Conger lectures, is the pulpit.
"But what's important about the pulpit is not who's behind it, but what's said from behind it," said George.