Wayne Smith helped start Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1956 and served as her senior minister until 1995. He died in 2016. Still today, many list Smith as their all-time favorite preacher.
This article from 1985 was actually Smith’s manuscript from his keynote sermon at the North American Christian Convention in 1977, the year he served as president. Smith’s topic, preaching, was the subject about which he was perhaps most passionate.
This is long, and so we will break it into two parts. This week focuses on “The Summons—Preach,” and part two next week will explore “The Subject—Christ” and “The Source—The Word.”
Enjoy the journey.
_ _ _
Preach the Word (Part 1)
The President’s message at the 1977 NACC—based on 2 Timothy 4:1-8
By Wayne B. Smith
March 10, 1985; p. 4
THE thing that normally stands first in a man’s life oddly enough is the last thing that he speaks in his life. The last word Napoleon said before his death was, “army.” Why? Because he was a general—he was interested in great campaigns. The last words of a great judge were, “Gentlemen of the jury.” And I’m told that when a Greek restaurant owner called his sons around his death bed, he said, “Slice the ham thin, boys, slice it thin.”
Paul, contemplating martyrdom, wanted his work to go on. Almost the last words that he mentioned were those on his heart, “Preach the Word.” Here was an old man who had a right to enjoy the conveniences of life and spend the last days with his friends, not his enemies. Yet as he came to the evening years of life, he was a prisoner of Rome. It was cold, dark, damp, with unsanitary conditions. It is little wonder that he wrote, “Timothy, bring me my cloak before winter.” He was already cold. What would it be like when winter finally came? He was on what we call today death row. It was a pathetic thing—a sad charge.
It was also a solemn charge. “I charge thee in the sight of God.” It’s difficult for people to think lightly of their responsibilities when they’re aware of the presence of God. That’s why most of us do some foolish things in the darkness of night, because we think God is not there!
It was a serious charge, too. This charge involves God’s method of making known the gospel to the world through the instrumentality of preaching (Mark 16:15; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Romans 10:13-15).
But it also was a glorious charge—glorious in its exclusiveness. It was not delivered to angels, but it was delivered to men. This treasure—the gospel—has been committed to “earthen vessels” and that means us.
This great charge was specific. He said preach the gospel. Paul charged Timothy also with the method to use when he said preach, and he told him what to preach when he said the “Word.”
In 1741, Jonathon Edwards preached a sermon in Enfield, Connecticut. Today, more than 200 years later many still talk about that message—”Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Why is it that a man could preach a sermon 200 years ago that many still remember, and many of you cannot tell me what your preacher preached about two weeks ago? I’ll tell you why. Because something has radically happened to the kind of preaching we find in the Word of God and the way in which we are to deliver it. What happened to the kind of preaching men heard on the Day of Pentecost? What’s happened to preaching such as that on Mars Hill? P. H. Welshimer said on October 12, 1927, “The churches of our brotherhood were built through good preaching. Back in those days, when churches were established in greater numbers than at present, whole communities were stirred with gospel messages. It takes great preaching to make great preachers.” John Edmund Haggai said, “Preachers are praised as administrators, after-dinner speakers, book reviewers, counselors, good mixers, organizational workers, program pushers, psychologists, etc.” But whatever happened to preaching?
Christmas Evans tells the story of a group of men who went to Chicago, Illinois, to consult with Billy Sunday. They went to the seventh floor of his hotel. They knocked on the door. He asked why they came. They said, “We want to know about your preaching. What gives you power in your preaching?” He said little before he walked over to the window, looked down seven floors, and called the men over to look. They looked down and saw the people walking to and fro on the sidewalk. All that he said was this, “They are going to Hell! They are going to Hell! They are going to Hell!” My brethren, we are going to be saved by the foolishness of preaching. “Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel.”
A preacher in San Francisco wept as he gave the Yale lectures some time after the earthquake in his hometown. He said, “Oh, how differently I would have preached had I known the earthquake would have taken place!” Why? Because it would have put some urgency in his preaching.
On every side a voice I hear
The louder calls from year to year,
A voice I dare not lightly treat
Prepare, prepare, thy God to meet.
Have you heard the voice? Isaiah 58:1 says, “God said to the prophet, ‘Lift up thy voice like a trumpet.'” We thrill with the irrepressible words of the apostles in Acts 4:20, who when commanded to be silent said, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.?”
I heard recently that a reporter went backstage at the famous passion play in Europe. He was amazed to find that the cross the actor was carrying weighed more than 100 pounds. The reporter inquired, “Why don’t you use something else of a lighter weight?” To which the actor replied, “If I didn’t feel the weight, I couldn’t play the part.” Where there’s no pain, there’s no gain.
I do not believe that preachers are born, I believe they are made. I believe that preachers are made by the new birth; it’s called salvation. And you know what “enthusiasm” is in Greek? It means “God in us.” You don’t get that by birth, you get it by the new birth. Oh, you say, “I don’t have as many gifts as other people.” One of the finest preachers who’s won, I suppose, more than any other preacher here tonight, has an impediment of speech, but that didn’t stop him.
I had a poor academic record, but I’ll tell you this—I wanted to preach! I had a weakness and the Lord had a strength and we teamed up. How much do you want to preach? I don’t care where you were born, who you were born with, I want to know, “Do you want to preach?” I’d give anything in the world to preach, you say. Would you? “I’d give anything,” said a black girl to Marian Anderson, “If l could sing contralto like you.” The singer said, “Would you give eight hours a day?”
Bill Bradley was the star of the Olympics in 1964, one of the greatest basketball players that ever put on a uniform. Someone said to him, “I wish I could shoot baskets like you.” He said, “Would you stay in one place until you hit twenty-four consecutive baskets?”
It is a tragedy that many Bible colleges and seminaries have practice rooms for voice and music students and don’t have a delivery room. Does the average Bible college graduate put as much practice in delivering a message over and over and over again as the boys who play basketball every week? Is the boy studying for the ministry required to go over and over and over his sermons as much as a quartet that is sent out from the school has to practice?
We need to recover that hymn hidden in the mothballs:
A charge to keep I have
A God to glorify;
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age
My calling to fulfill;
O, may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!
Notice the place of preaching in the early church—its history began with a sermon; the New Testament church moved across the pagan Roman Empire on the wings of preaching. “Daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” The first martyr was a preacher (at the end of a three-hour board meeting). “They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). “Then Phillip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). Gentiles were ushered into the kingdom through preaching. Paul cited an Old Testament passage, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach.”
The great Cicero grew pale when he began to speak. He felt a tremor in every part of his body. Luther admitted that he had never ascended the pulpit without trembling. Jess Moody says, “Every time the choir begins singing the anthem, which immediately precedes my message, I grip the chair until my knuckles turn white, because of sheer terror at the idea of preaching the Word of God to a congregation that is of fellow human beings. They are going to spend eternity somewhere and what I say might determine where.”
My brethren, have your knuckles ever grown white? Do you just say something or do you have something to say? You might as well be a fish that doesn’t swim, a soloist that will not sing, a bird that will not fly, a dog that will not bark, a fire without a glow, a river without flow, a winter without snow, a conviction without know, like a wind without blow, an oar without row, like a trip without go, like a harvest without sow, like a Santa without a ho, like a kneader without dough, like a cock without a crow, like a high without a low, like a truth without a know, like a fast without a slow, like an actor without a show, like to without from, like above without below, like a violin without a bow, as to be a Christian who will not go—and a preacher who will not preach!
_ _ _
Next week, Smith’s NACC message from 1977 resumes with the “the subject” of our preaching: Christ.