17 April, 2024

Preaching Changed My Life

by | 1 March, 2024 | 3 comments

By Chris Philbeck 

Early last year I told my elders that after 44 years of full-time vocational ministry, over 22 of which have been spent at my current church, I plan to retire from full-time ministry at the end of June 2024. This decision has led to a lot of reflection.  

MY HISTORY 

I started with a church plant in Sugar Land, Texas, in 1982. That was in the “old days” when a church planter was pretty much on their own. There were no assessments, no “sending” church or church-planting organizations that provided help; instead, there were just a handful of people willing to trust a 22-year-old kid who wanted to preach.  

After almost 11 years in Sugar Land, I moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to lead what I would call a “turnaround” church. The church had a history of growth, but after a couple of church splits, they had lost momentum. I served almost 10 years there, and by then the church’s attendance was at an all-time high; the church was filled with new people along with a healthy number of “old” people who had returned.  

Then, in 2001, I moved to Greenwood, Indiana, to be senior pastor at Mount Pleasant Christian Church, where my full-time ministry will come to an end very soon. Mount Pleasant was already a megachurch when I arrived, and 22 years later it continues to grow and live out the mission of changing the world for Christ: one life, one family, one opportunity at a time.  

MY INFLUENCERS 

As I look back on my years of service in the local church, I can say that one of the strongest reasons I have spent the past 44 years of my life as a preacher is because preaching changed my life. The life change happened first in the church where I grew up. But the sermon with the greatest impact on me didn’t occur on a Sunday morning or a Sunday night, but during a funeral sermon delivered by my preacher, Delmar Debault.  

The sermon text was John 10:10 where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly” (New American Standard Bible). The way my preacher talked about the meaning of that word abundantly in relation to my grandmother’s life is what captured my heart.  

He talked about how, after a dramatic conversion, my grandmother’s life completely changed and she went on to live a life that was—I’ll never forget his words—a “cut above” anything she had ever experienced. He talked in very practical ways about how her new life in Christ was far better than anything she could have created or imagined on her own.  

That was the first time I heard someone talk about the meaning of words in the original language, and it remains the most powerful funeral message I’ve ever heard.  

I also remember being home from college in the summer of 1977 and attending a large evangelistic rally. My family lived in Houston, Texas, at the time. The evangelist that night was a man named Richard Hogue. I didn’t know anything about him and, to be honest, I still don’t. But when he got up to preach to an audience of several thousand people, he captured my heart with a message about the urgency of following Jesus. I had never heard anyone preach with such passion. It consumed me.  

When the service was over, I remember going down front to get as close a look at him as possible. I know that sounds silly, but I was a 19-year-old kid and I wanted to see him up close.  

Later, as a student at Ozark Christian College, I was privileged to hear some incredible preachers. I have mentioned four of those preachers in previous columns: Ron Carter, Tom Moll, Dave Bycroft, and Ken Idleman. They all made an impact on my life because they preached in a way that made me want to preach.  

As a young preacher, I took my family to the North American Christian Convention every year so I could hear preachers like Wayne Smith, Ben Merold, and Bob Russell. I remember attending one North American Christian Convention, I’m not sure the year, and hearing John Caldwell preach about the need for an “evangelistic church.” I bought the cassette tape and listened to it multiple times on my drive home to Texas.  

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. I can honestly say that a big part of why I’ve spent 44 years as a preacher is because preaching changed my life.  

MY CONVICTION 

There certainly have been times of discouragement in my preaching ministry. And there have been many times when I felt inadequate for the task. But I have always had the conviction of heart that preaching still matters. The content matters because we preach the life-changing truth of God’s Word. And the communication matters because we share those truths as winsomely and persuasively as possible while trusting the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts of the listener.  

I doubt my home church preacher, Delmar Debault, had me in mind when he preached my grandmother’s funeral service using John 10:10 as the theme verse. And Richard Hogue didn’t know any more about me than I knew about him when he preached about following Jesus on that summer night in Houston. And while John Caldwell has since become a dear friend to me, he didn’t know who I was when he preached about the need for an evangelistic church at the NACC. But I remember each of those sermons because preaching changed my life.  

So, to all my preacher friends, wherever you may be on your journey, be encouraged because your preaching matters. And when you face moments of doubt, remember these words from the late pastor and author Adrian Rogers: “You never know the ripple that will touch the shore of eternity when you drop that stone of grace into somebody’s heart.” Preaching has the power to change lives! 

3 Comments

  1. Karen

    Great reminder to keep on preaching on because you never know how one life can make a big difference for the kingdom.

  2. Derrell Brame

    Chris, Thank you for the article. I’ve been preaching for 46 years. You are correct…it does change our lives. I am curious why you are retiring from preaching at such a young age. I am no longer in a larger church, but I’ve been at this church for just over 11 years. It is less than 100 people. I fill a need for them and they fill a great need for me. With so many struggling churches and many struggling to find a preacher, I am just wondering about your reasoning. I too struggle with when is enough enough. The man who preached at this church before me was in his 80’s when he retired. Again, just curious as to why…if it is too personal thank you for your consideration. Again, thank you for the article.

  3. Jason Carnley

    Delmar and his wife taught me in Lake Wales, FL, when I was about 5. Told us about some things they experienced on the mission field. They were the real deal.

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