My dad was holding a gospel meeting somewhere in the Carolinas and he asked me to preach the Sunday evening sermon of the week he was gone. It was April 12, 1987, and I was a Junior at Bradwell Institute (high school) in Hinesville, Georgia. He gave me one of his sermons and I basically, with little change, got up and preached it. I remember being scared out of my mind. I had no formal training (which is obvious from the grammar and pronunciation). Afterward, the congregation flooded me with compliments, which says everything about them and nothing about my abilities. But, it encouraged me. It helped solidify my desire to preach and became the foundation for my willingness to go preach around the area over the next year-plus (preaching in such places as Glennville, Jesup, and Brunswick, GA). It led me to choose Faulkner University, to major in Bible and meet great preachers and teachers like Wendell Winkler, Ken Randolph, Carl Cheatham, Leonard Johnson, Eris Benson, Donnie Hilliard, and others. My family led me to believe that gospel preaching was an honorable, important occupation. So did the Hinesville church of Christ, on that occasion and subsequent ones. So did brethren in those places where I filled in.
What an important lesson for families and congregations today! Paul asks some questions of eternal consequence: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Romans 10:14-15). I pray that more adults will send a clear message to young men: preaching is important, respectable, and valuable! It should be considered as an option exercised by normal and even talented and intelligent individuals.
We’ve been engaged in full-time ministry for 28-plus years, and it has blessed our lives tremendously! It’s thrilling to watch our three sons giving themselves to that life, too. Let’s send more preachers!
(It’s hard for me to listen to, but it should encourage anyone who says, “I don’t have any talent for preaching!”)
I make a notation “GM” along with the date and place on the paper copy of my sermons to indicate that I preached that sermon in a gospel meeting. It is one of my homemade preacher shorthand notations. Growing up a “PK” (“preacher’s kid,” of course), I’ve got a lot of GM memories. I would not trade anything for them, especially the indelible imprint they made on me in shaping the adult I have become. Let me encourage you to bring your children and yourselves to our gospel meetings for what they will mean to your faith and for the part of you they will forever become. To me, the GM of gospel meeting stands for a few other things, too.
• Great Memories. When James Watkins held a meeting for us in 1984 in Franklin, Ga., I led singing that Sunday night. I was 14, and this participation was a big deal to me. I led, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” and in verse three mistakenly bellowed out, “All ye fruitless trees and cedars.” Once when the air conditioner was out, we opened the side doors on either side of the pulpit for relief in that muggy July, west Georgia heat. This was an open invitation for the horse fly that landed on the calf of my leg during the chorus of “the song before our opening prayer,” which bit mercilessly until I could swat it during said prayer (which was by no means a quiet slap).
I remember attending a meeting in Carrollton, Georgia, and being jolted by Bobby Duncan’s dramatic cries of “the boy is home!” in his powerful telling of the story of the prodigal son. I remember, though, I was no more than 5 or 6, the smell of hay and watching members set up a portable baptistery for a tent meeting my dad preached in Aragon, Ga. I remember the family car rides when we rode to others’ meetings. I remember the baptisms, restorations, preaching, and fellowship so much a part of these special times.
• Giant Men. Through this venue I first became acquainted with men who became my heroes: Frank Chesser, Perry Cotham, Howard Swann, James Watkins, Bobby Duncan, Truman Cobb, Franklin Camp, Winfred Clark, Wendell Winkler, Glen Posey, Ken Thomas, V.P. Black and others. I remember playing basketball with Ken Thomas, who had to play in his socks and still took us all to school (he also demolished me in a game of “punt, pass, and kick”). I recall having me heart stirred and being convicted of sin by the penetrating preaching of Frank Chesser.
I vividly recall being amazed by Perry Cotham, who seemed to me even three decades ago to be a very old preacher (I saw him preach in California when he was in his late 90s). I will never forget being touched by Franklin Camp’s tender heart as he told the story of Christ’s crucifixion. I was wowed by J.J. Turner’s ability to turn a phrase. There was the time when I walked by James Watkins’ hotel room and saw him diligently studying his Bible in the middle of the afternoon. These men were spiritual giants to me.
• Gospel Message. Even as a child, I learned so much from the sermons I heard. I saw things in a new way because every preacher has his own unique style, history of study, and method of delivery. I was challenged by the Bible-centered approach these men faithfully took. I got my first glimpse at sermon organization, taking crude notes and main points from sermonic masterpieces. Meeting after meeting, year after year turned my heart and mind more and more to the Bible. Even then, I saw, at least to a juvenile degree, the effectiveness of this method of evangelism and edification.
Give your children, your mate, your non-Christian friends and neighbors, and yourself the pleasure of experiencing these unparalleled joys. The Godhead and the heavenly host pay particular interest to each service of every gospel meeting. Let us join them there and grow from hearing anew the wonderful story of love. It will stay with you for a lifetime.
I–nteresting (illustrations are to grab attention or make the point memorable; beware of being one-dimensional–always quotes, poems, sports, etc.)
L–asting ( the preacher joke is that you can re-preach most sermons, you’ve just got to change the illustrations. Why? We remember good illustrations. An illustration can help make a Bible lesson live on in people’s hearts)
L–earning (the purpose of the illustration is to aid in teaching the lesson; the illustration is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end)
U–nderstandable (in that [a] people understand why the illustration was used where it was; does it fit & help establish the point?; [b] especially older illustrations or illustrations taken from those who speak formally or loftily need to adapted to your vernacular and way of speaking and not sound like you copied it out of an illustration book)
S–upportive (Don’t overdo illustrations; it’s not about the illustrations, but about the Bible lesson you are delivering; Some get this concept backwards)
T–ruthful (Be careful that your illustration will pass the truth test; Some people are jaded about “preacher stories,” finding them hard to believe or learning themselves they aren’t true; Verify as best you can the illustration you use and if you cannot verify then be careful not to pass it off as a “true story.”)
R–ealistic (In addition to truthful, make sure the illustration is “reasonable,” something people can relate to; Ex.–In cross-cultural situations, especially in 3rd-world countries, illustrations about extravagances or items said to cost “X” when the same item is either much cheaper there or is so extravagant that your audience can’t relate)
A–ssorted (Vary types of illustrations: poem, current events, historical events, quotes, parables, fables, jokes [in moderation], Bible accounts)
T–asteful (avoid overly shocking, graphic, suggestive, morbid, salacious illustrations; Wendell Winkler once said, “Avoid creating in one’s mind what you are trying to condemn” [Ex.: illustration about sexual immorality or the like])
I–lluminating (The purpose of the good illustration is to shed light on a Bible truth; It should help produce an “aha” that drives home your point)
O–pportunistic (Take advantage of current events, congregational situations, holidays, etc. Use wisdom, common sense, and discernment to know what is and isn’t off-limits; Note: Concerning “congregational situations,” only in exceptional circumstances would I use a “negative” one rather than a positive or neutral one).
N–ecessary (Without them, lessons are dry and lifeless; Like windows without curtains; They can make all the difference in whether or not the point sinks in, convicts, and moves the heart of the hearer).