Here is the conclusion of Wayne Smith’s keynote sermon “Preach the Word” from the 1977 North American Christian Convention.
Smith helped start Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1956 and served as her senior minister until 1995. He died in 2016. Many still list Smith as their all-time favorite preacher.
Click here to read the first part of Smith’s sermon, which focuses on “The Summons—Preach.”
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Preach the Word (Part 2)
The President’s message at the 1977 NACC—based on 2 Timothy 4:1-8
By Wayne B. Smith
March 10, 1985; p. 4
Christ said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw men unto me.” Some men say we need a new message. If you say that, then you’re implying we need a new Bible. The message is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The unchangeable words of the book of Acts are still the best prescription for church growth.
A man was watching television at one o’clock in the morning. A mouse ran underneath the TV set. He ran immediately and got a mouse trap and then he went to the refrigerator to get some cheese. But, there was no cheese. So he went to a Life magazine that has colorful advertisements that looked so real, and he cut out a picture of cheese and put it in the mouse trap. He went to bed. He woke up the next morning and found there was a picture of a mouse in the mouse trap! If you want the real thing, you’ve got to put out the real thing. We must preach Christ.
I lay no claim to scholarship, but I’ll tell you this—the bedrock foundation, the heart and the soul and the substance of the message of the apostles was the Son of God—the crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended, reigning, returning, rewarding Redeemer.
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame and fear.
Until a new object struck my sight,
And changed my wild career.
Oh, how the world needs that new object. John 3:16 has twenty-five words and the middle word is “Son.” I read recently where a student up in Michigan said it was very revealing to find, after three years of systematic theology, that the most scholarly thing that people listen to is, “Jesus loves you.”
THE SOURCE—THE WORD
I heard of a spring . . . where the water has certain medical properties so that those who drink from it are helped in their infirmities. In the course of time hotels, stores, homes, and other things were built there. One day a visitor said to someone, “Say, where’s the spring?” And the reply was, I’m sorry, we don’t know.” You see, in the haste to make improvements they somehow lost what made them great. I can read sermons of the North American Christian Convention of fifty years ago and I can tell you why it was a great convention. All progress is change, but not all change is progress. In the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of May 23, 1977, it tells the story behind the story of the 50th anniversary of the landing of Charles Lindberg after his flight across the Atlantic, Edward W. O’Brien went to Le Bourget, France, where exactly fifty years ago 50,000 Frenchmen hardly let Lindberg land his plane because they were so thrilled. Lindbergh went into a hangar and locked the doors so they wouldn’t tear his plane apart for souvenirs. Now, fifty years later, this reporter wandered about that grassy, overgrown airport. He said, “Do you have a plaque about Lindbergh?” They shrugged their shoulders. They didn’t know what he was talking about. He said, “Unlock the hangar for me,” and he looked in vain for a marker to tell of the great historic event.
There’s a sad application here for the church. Under our superstructures and success, some of us have lost the spring. We’re on the circumference and we need to get back to the center. Paul stayed at the spring and he made no apology for it. Our primary devotion is to Christ and our sole business is to glorify Jesus. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
We’re not as smart as we think we are and the main source of some of our church programs is built around entertainment, in all honesty, not Jesus. There’s not a preacher here tonight that believes in numbers more than I. The only preachers that I know who are running down numbers are those who are not running them up! I don’t think some of us are fishers of men as much as we are keepers of the aquarium. I believe in big days and occasional extra-curricular activities to attract people to the church. But when your program is built on icing, your cake is in trouble. I love the Impact Brass; I love the quartet; I love Roy Rogers; I love Trigger; but none of them died for me!
Numerous large churches are on television right now but will not be here in twenty years. That’s because, my brethren, Jesus is not the main event. And some of us are looking at others and the numbers they attract, and what they do seems very inviting and very tempting. Look at Jesus, and in the long run, He’ll bless your efforts and you’ll be here when they’re gone.
I’ve seen a number of people die in my years in the ministry. I’m telling something tonight before my wife and my two girls that I’ve never told anyone before. Of all the people I’ve seen die, there’s only one man I’ve ever envied. His name was Steve Dowd. He was speaking briefly at a church dedication where I ministered and where he formerly ministered. He was an old man. He had only spoken about seven minutes when he said, “I believe I’m going blind.” His knees began to buckle; I put my arms around his waist. We laid him down; he was dead. I took the Communion cloth off of the Communion table and put it over him. He’d gone on to be with the Lord.
I’d love to die that way. And when I go, I want this choir and this Messenger’s Quartet to sing my favorite song, “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.”
Preach the gospel, brother, preach it,
Put it high, where men can teach it;
Put it low, where men can reach it,
But preach the gospel, brother, preach it.