I’m deeply concerned about the fact that many of our greatest and most biblically faithful preachers and teachers are dying off! When I think of the most respected Christian leaders in the world at this present moment, I am saddened to realize that many of them have given the last public message that they will ever give, and that – in reality – the new generation of “great” Christian leaders looks vastly different from the great preachers that we are losing.
Our great, beloved evangelist, Billy Graham, has officially retired from public ministry. Arguably the most effective living Bible teacher, John R. W. Stott, is now 89, in declining health, and living in a retirement community south of London. Thankfully, Dr. J. I. Packer, who many (myself included) consider to be our greatest living theologian, is still healthy and active….but at the age of 84, for how many more years will he be able to teach others?
Even among preachers, many of the best in our day will soon be retiring. Consider, for example, Charles Stanley and Ed Young, Sr. Both of these men preach sermons deeply grounded in Scripture, and both of them are fathers to sons who are also growing in public recognition as pastoral leaders. Yet, in an effort to reach “their generation” more effectively, Andy Stanley and Ed Young, Jr. both tend to prefer on-stage theatrics and props to faithful, expositional preaching of God’s Word.
I have seen Ed, Jr. – during his various televised “worship services” – use a live game of “ping pong” to illustrate marital conflict, an on-stage Ferrari to illustrate “a lust for material possessions”, and even a bed – on-stage, with he and his wife sitting next to each other on it – to preach a message about sex. Does this new style of communication hold more appeal to younger adults? Apparently, it does, or their churches wouldn’t be filled to maximum capacity and building additional “satellite campuses” (…an increasingly popular trend among young church leaders, I’m afraid) for their churches. Still…is it better? Does it honor God – and God’s Word – as well as the preaching of their fathers? I think not.
In the Falwell family, the “theological baton” has already been passed. Dr. Jerry Falwell, a faithful preacher of God’s Word (though admittedly a bit more “politically involved” and quick to speak than he might have, at times, needed to be), died very suddenly a few short years ago, and his son, Jonathan, was immediately thrust into the position of senior pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church. The couple of times that I bothered to watch Jonathan Falwell preach on the church’s TV program, he had a giant, human-sized Blackberry on stage with him, and used the graphics on that machine’s screen as his “power points” for the talks that he gave (I hesitate to even categorize those messages as sermons…). I can’t speak on behalf of the audience present in the worship service there, but that approach – as well as the content of his presentations – held absolutely no appeal to me whatsoever. Is this really the future of “evangelical” preaching? Should it be?
Oh, how I miss the passionate, biblical preaching of the late Adrian Rogers! I did not agree with Bro. Rogers in every point of his doctrine (primarily in his opposition to a couple of points of Calvinism…), but there are few – then or now – who have been able to proclaim the truths of God’s Word with such clarity and conviction. Not long before the death of Dr. Rogers, we lost the wonderful, rich preaching and Christian example of Dr. Stephen Olford. I pray regularly for the Lord to help me grow into a preacher who honors God and His Word as did these two great men of the faith!
Sadly, we also just lost another great biblical expositor – Dr. John Phillips – who wrote so many wonderful biblical commentaries and books that preachers make good use of. At the risk of planting a rather unpleasant thought in your mind, just how many more sermons will we be blessed to hear from such great expositors as R. C. Sproul….John MacArthur….Jerry Bridges…Haddon Robinson….Warren Wiersbe…or Jerry Vines?
Clearly, time keeps ticking on, and we all are assured to die, so long as the Lord tarries a bit longer prior to His final return. So, we shouldn’t really be surprised to see these men leaving us – and we shouldn’t too deeply mourn their leaving us, since they are promised such blessings of eternal reward and joy in the life to come, and we will – in the Lord’s time – join with them, provided that our own souls are genuinely entrusted to the love of our Savior. Still, while I do – in a sense – celebrate the final “homecoming” of these great men of the faith, I can’t help but be increasingly troubled as I see the increasing trends among pastors and church leaders today.
It seems very clear (unfortunately) that young ministers following in the footsteps of the truly great preachers of the past are in frighteningly short supply…and, worse yet, many churches are actually SEEKING leaders who are more attuned to the cutting edge cultural trends of our day than the deeply-rooted biblically-based ones of the past. As a young minister myself, I certainly appreciate youthful vibrancy, fresh ideas, and new passion in a ministry setting. However, even I realize that no amount of cultural savvy or insight into the latest “church growth trends” will ever surpass the faithful, consistent, deep preaching, teaching, and application of God’s Word, and I am shocked and afraid to see how few ministers in my age bracket seem to share this conviction.
I am very pleased to say that – in spite of this sad state of affairs – there is still hope! For me, the hope lies in the fact that there are still many young, yet widely respected, Christian preachers who hold up God’s Word above all cultural trends of our day. In my mind, that is reflected in the mature preaching and leadership of such men as Alistair Begg, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan (my friend and “pastoral hero” from Mississippi), Thabiti Anyabwile, Steven Lawson, Philip Graham Ryken, Derek Thomas, and – of course – John Piper. I am also increasingly encouraged by the really young guys (closer to my age) who are already taking bold, biblical stands for Christian truth. Consider, for example, the two celebrated books by (my new friends) Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, boldly titled, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) and Why We Love the Church (In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion)….talk about a desperately needed breath of fresh “spiritual” air in our day!
And, of course, I am always newly encouraged whenever I meet a pastor – no matter the size of his church or the fame of his name – who knows that the church rises and falls according to its devotion to the Word of God. I am encouraged in this regard by my new father-in-law, Stephen Rumley, whom I may not agree with on every point of doctrine, but whose commitment to Scripture and biblical church leadership (and family leadership!) keeps me in constant awe. I am encouraged in this way by numerous other pastors I know who stay true to Scripture in their preaching and lifestyle, even when there’s increasing pressure from their church members to follow a more worldly approach. And – most of all – I’m encouraged, because God’s simply not finished with all of us yet. He’s continuing to teach, mold, and mature all of us – me included – into precisely what He wants each of us to be.
The church is STILL alive and well (contrary to what some writers of our day would have you believe), and we are STILL his choice instrument for growing disciples and changing the world increasingly into the likeness of Heaven (however far we still have to go!). Yes, we are certainly losing some of our most beloved examples of Christian leadership, but their powerful legacies will hopefully linger – through their recorded sermons, books, and the lives that they have personally impacted – long after the Lord has called them home.
I’m convinced (and believe that the Bible teaches) that the greater our faithfulness to Him in this life, the longer the legacy that we leave behind will be a blessing to others – and the longer we will be “remembered” for the ways that God used us. May we all continue to seek to be biblically faithful in the days to come, may we desire to listen to the preachers and teachers who are most devoted to searching the Scriptures (Even though listening to them might require a bit more effort on our part, it’s ALWAYS worth the effort!), and may we never lose hope that, while the Billy Graham’s, John Stott’s, and J.I. Packer’s are nearing the end of their pastoral journeys, there are still a few undiscovered “David’s” in our midst, and God is faithful to raise up just the teachers we need in just the time we need them. Praise be to God for His FAITHFUL men!