A Conversation with Warren W. Wiersbe
Michael Catt: Where did you grow up and the influences of your early childhood?
Warren Wiersbe: I grew up in northern Indiana, where on a clear day you could see your feet. We were surrounded by oil refineries, chemical factories, steel mills. We knew nothing about pollution. We lived through it. I don’t know how we did but we lived through it. My father was a milkman. He worked for thirty-five years for the Borden Dairy and he was lactose intolerant. He could not drink milk and he could not eat ice cream and I inherited that. My family was a God fearing family but not what you would call a religious family. They sent us to Sunday School. I have two brothers and a sister. Our parents sent us to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School. I had some relatives who knew how to pray and I’m sure they prayed for me. Especially my Aunt Lydia who was a godly, godly woman. I was converted to Christ at a little before my sixteenth birthday. I went to a Youth for Christ Rally and heard Billy Graham preach the gospel. I’d heard the gospel all my life. I’d been confirmed in the church but it never took. But that night I trusted Christ and He saved me. My early childhood was one of difficulty. Not because of my family, although being the baby of the family is not easy. Both of my brothers were very athletic, very mechanical, my father was quite mechanical and I was that 65 pound weakling that Charles Atlas used to talk about in his advertising. So I spent my early days in the library. Not the baseball field but the library. But apparently this was God’s plan because I learned to read, to enjoy reading and grew up some what of an introvert, some what of a recluse and yet God had His plan.
Michael: Tell me about your call to ministry. People talk about various ways that they were called. Tell me about yours.
Warren Wiersbe: Well, folks don’t believe this but I felt a call to ministry before I was saved. I had an uncle, who was a pastor, my Uncle Simon. My mother’s side of the family is Swedish. My father’s is German. But my Uncle Simon Carlson was a frequent visitor in our home. He had pastored the church I grew up in which was started by my great grandfather. So being related to the Carlsons, Larsons and all these Swedes, we kids got away with murder. But Simon unknowingly was an influence on me. I just always thought God wanted me to be a preacher. I found out that my great grandfather Johann Carlson had prayed that there would be a preacher of the gospel in every generation of our family and there has been. Now Betty and I are praying for our grandchildren that God would call some of them into His service. So I had this call to ministry and, like the fellow in the parable, I was too proud to beg and I did not know how to fix cars – so I said, “I think God wants me to be a preacher.”
Michael: You mentioned Betty. She obviously plays a big part in your life.
Warren Wiersbe: Indeed!
Michael: Tell me about how you met.
Warren Wiersbe: We both went to Northern Baptist Seminary which was then located in Chicago. I had spent a year at Indiana University and God said, “I don’t want you to get a university degree. Go to Northern.” Northern had a program then, they don’t have now, a five-year program that was concentrated. You had college and seminary at the same, which was fun taking Hebrew and Greek at the same time as World History. My course was five years. Betty’s was four years. Now interestingly enough her maiden name is Warren. So in one of the classes that we had together they seated us alphabetically and so it was Warren and Wiersbe next to each other and we just got to know each other. One thing leads to another. Someone said life is one fool thing after another and love is two fool things after each other. So we got acquainted. She worked in the school library and that’s where I lived, in the library. I used to walk her home from the library to her dormitory. Getting a wife is something like being saved. You make a decision and then you discover you’ve been chosen. And this is what happened. We just knew we were made for each other. Of course the Lord knew it because I have no sense of direction and she has built in radar. We have been in the middle of London, the middle of Africa, and she would say, “This is the way we go” and she’s right. I think one of her hardest crosses to bear is my lack of sense of direction. If I would do the opposite of what I do, I’d be all right. But she is an excellent detail person. I see the big picture. I have the imaginative kind of mentality that sees the big picture and let somebody else develop the matter. She’s detailed. I’m glad of that. She takes care of all the business of the home and the house, and if I signed a check, I don’t know what would happen to it. She takes care of all that, which has freed me up to do my work, to get my writing done.
Michael: You hear so much about divorce and the family falling apart in the ministry today. How do a pastor and his wife, and family maintain a healthy relationship?
Warren Wiersbe: I think the most important thing is that the wife feel a sense of calling. We have friends who have gone through the unfortunate painful experience of ministerial divorce, and often the wife just wanted to have her own career. I had one friend in ministry, we were often together in conferences, his wife didn’t even go to church. She’d show up occasionally. It’s got to be a team outfit because you are one in marriage and in ministry. After you get married, you no longer say “mine” or “yours”; it’s ours. The first two letters in wedding are WE and from then on it is WE. So if I make a mistake, we made a mistake. If she wins a great victory, then we won a victory. We’ve always been a team. Another thing is we have not allowed our four children, (two boys, two girls), to think that church is one thing and home is another. I hear pastors say that their home is tearing down the church or the church is tearing down the home. We’ve never experienced that, because they are both ministry. What makes for a good church? Love, truth, discipline. What makes for a good family? Love, truth, discipline. The best thing I can do for the church I pastor is to build a good home. The best thing that I can do for my home is to build a good church for my children to grow up in. There’s no competition. If you’ve got enemies in the church who are looking for something to fuss about, that’s where they’ll fuss. Our four children always understood that we were serving God together. I tried to be a good father. I was gone a good deal the first years of our family because I was in Youth for Christ, and in Youth for Christ we all had three jobs. The children never complained. They always said, “When we needed you, you were there.” We just never felt that kind of church-home competition. Betty and I pray together. We have our devotional times separately and then together in the morning, and we pray together at night. We keep an open book. She’s going to get a special crown for all the things she’s had to endure. But we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in 2003. The Lord’s been good. Thirty-five years ago I was in the hospital because a drunken driver hit me going 90 mph. The hospital chaplain told Betty, “He’s not going to make it through the night.” Very encouraging fellow. But I made it through the night and the next night because people were praying. That was a good experience for our family, I think. It was good for me.
Michael: It doesn’t come through in your books, but you have an incredible sense of humor and wit. So many people in ministry take themselves so seriously. They don’t know how to laugh at themselves. They don’t know how to laugh at funny situations. Why is it important to have a good sense of humor? Our friends Vance Havner and Lehman Strauss had a healthy sense of humor.
Warren Wiersbe: So did Charles Spurgeon. A lady criticized him one day for his funny remarks. He said, “Madam, if you heard what I held back, you would think more highly of me.”
God has a sense of humor. If you don’t believe that, go to the shopping mall, sit there and look at the people. It will convince you that God has a sense of humor. Humor is based on contradiction, seeing the other side of a situation. In one of the churches I pastored, we would have our staff meeting on Monday morning. We’d spend the first twenty minutes laughing over what happened the day before. Because people are people and situations are situations. I remember the Sunday morning at Moody Church when John the Baptist came in. This guy came in wearing a white robe and carrying a big pole and he said he was John the Baptist. We knew he was a fraud because he had a head.
In the home you need a sense of humor. The person who can’t laugh at himself or herself is not being honest. There are times when I have to get off and chuckle at some of the dumb things I’ve done. God graciously has overruled. The danger of humor is that you become a stand up comedian in the pulpit. We don’t need that. There is nothing funny about the Gospel. It’s serious business. There’s joy but not humor. Now Jesus had a sense of humor. No question about that. But it was a Jewish style of humor which was a form of exaggeration. I think that if we cannot laugh together as staff people, as church people, as a family, we’re going to have a difficult time doing other things together.
Michael: Let’s talk about people who influenced you. College seminary professors, preachers. People that helped form the direction of your life.
Warren Wiersbe: How far back do you want to go?
Michael: However far you want to go.
Warren Wiersbe: I had a third grade teacher, Mary Bennett was her name, who one spring morning, had the whole class stand up, about thirty of us, and she marched us down to the Public Library. It was probably six blocks from the school. She told all of us to sign up for a library card. Now that was a tremendous influence she never realized.
In sixth grade, I had a teacher whose name was Marie Jablonski. She was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Once a week she would have each of us write an essay about anything, or she might assign a theme. Something funny you saw during the week or whatever. When I graduated from the sixth grade into the seventh grade she stopped me and told me she had a whole file of my essays. She said, “I’ve been saving your essays because I think you ought to be a writer. When you go into Junior High and High School, spend a lot of time in the library. Do a lot of reading and do some writing.” So I did that. God did the rest. Those two teachers were a tremendous help.
When I was in Northern Seminary, Dr. Lloyd Perry was my preaching professor and he became a friend. Actually he was my faculty counselor the first year I was in school. When I went in for the first interview, it was the usual routine. “How are you, son? How did you happen to come to this school?” But the first question he asked me was, “How’s your devotional life?” I said to myself, “I like this guy.” We talked about the Lord and about the Bible. I took every course he offered. He became a very close friend. We actually wrote a book together. He was a tremendous influence on me and though in glory, he still is. All of my preaching experience is based on what he taught me.
The president of our school was Dr. Charles Koller. Now Dr. Perry was a friend, but Dr. Koller was up on a pedestal to us. We saw Dr. Koller as Enoch coming back or Noah. He was a godly man and a great preacher. That man could preach! He taught the senior preaching course and I learned so much from him. He rubbed off on me. So those two men were very helpful.
A third professor taught in the Christian education department, Dr. Warren Filkin. Let me back up. As a child and teenager I was an amateur magician. I used to go out and do magic for banquets and churches and parties, and so forth and made a little money on the side. Dr. Filkin was a very good magician, a professional, so he and I had a lot of good times together. He showed me how to be practical in the ministry and not take myself too seriously. God’s still on the throne. The sun came up this morning. I have to confess that some friends and I used to pull some terrible pranks on him in class. But that’s another story. Then when Dr. Filkin retired from active seminary teaching, I asked him to join the staff at Moody Church, and what a blessing he was. So those men have rubbed off on me.
There are several women whose prayer support and encouragement meant a lot to me. I was converted in Youth for Christ and the people who had founded our local Youth for Christ program were very godly, praying people, and I know they prayed for me. I had mentioned my Aunt Lydia and there are others. Some day in heaven I’ll probably find others that did the same things. That taught me that as you go through life, try to be a good influence on people. People took time for me so I take time for people. People listened to me. People tolerated my stupidity and my mistakes. That’s what I have to do.
Michael: Vance Havner said, “You don’t have to chase key men when you know the one who holds the keys.” It is obvious God has opened doors all through your ministry. You did not do what so many men do, play the religious political games, pursuing, handing out your resumes. Tell me about the men and the places where you found favor and God just opened up doors that you look back now and say, “God was in charge. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
Warren Wiersbe: Well, I’m grateful for the four years I spent on the staff in Youth for Christ International. From 1944 to 1960, when Youth for Christ was just surging, men like Torrey Johnson, Billy Graham, influenced my generation. It’s the closest thing to revival I’ve ever seen. You could not explain what was going on. Bob Cook used to tell us, “If you can explain what’s going on, God didn’t do it.” We’d pray and God would open doors. We’d pray and God would silence the enemy. Each month, they closed the office down and went to a local church and spent all day in prayer. We also had all-night prayer meetings. You don’t pry doors open, you pray doors open. I’ve never candidated for a pulpit or promoted to get places to preach. God did it all.
I was a member of the first church I pastored even before they called me. I’d been raised in the church of my ancestors. I didn’t quite agree with their theology. As I read my Bible and I said, “No, these are my convictions.” So I moved to a different church in town and they immersed me and I became a member. The man who was pastor was there for about eighteen months. That seemed like an awfully short time, but those eighteen months turned the church upside down. People were saved. The church grew. They built an educational plant. The church was meeting in a tin building that the city had condemned. When Pastor Johnson left, the deacons said to me, “Well, you’re going to seminary, so why don’t you preach when we don’t have a candidate.” So I guess I was candidating every Sunday and didn’t know it. Then they called me. So in 1951 I was ordained. Betty and I were married in 1953 and we stayed at the church until 1957. We went to Youth for Christ and in four years met everybody you ever wanted to meet. It was just so thrilling. Then we went to Calvary Baptist in Covington, mainly because Dr. D. B. Eastep, the pastor, had hand picked me. We’d invited him to our church in East Chicago, Indiana, for a Bible conference. He stayed with me and Betty in our honeymoon apartment and put up with us. I had no idea he was evaluating us. I have a quotation from a fellow named Marsden that says: “Make every occasion a great occasion. You can never tell when somebody may be measuring you for a bigger place.” One day, Dr. Eastep phoned and told us he’d had a heart attack. He wanted us to come down and preach. Well, I went down and preached. I guess I was candidating. I don’t know. Finally, he said, “We’d like to have you come.” So I went to be his associate. Six months later he died of a heart attack and I was called to pastor the church.
As for our going to Moody Church, in Chicago, the precious pastor George Sweeting had invited me to preach. I went on the weekend of Fourth of July, the worst day possible. I walked into that building and something said, “This is it.” I felt like I had been there all my life. I did not candidate officially, but I did talk with the elders, the committee, and later I was called. So God has a way of opening doors. Publishing is the same way. God just opens the doors.
Michael: Tell me about things that you think a young pastor needs to learn early. There are some things you only can learn over time. We know that. But there are some things that he’s got to get a grasp on early in his ministry.
Warren Wiersbe: Well, I think one of them is that he has to find his own voice. The danger of a younger preacher is that he becomes an echo, not a voice. John the Baptist called himself “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Jesus is the Word but we’re the voice, and every preacher has a different voice, a unique style. When I was teaching preaching at several seminaries, I would assign the same text to five people, another text to five more, and they would all come in with their messages, and they were all different. If you and I were to take a text and work on it, we would come up with two different messages. Why? Because we have two different mindsets, two different hearts. I’d be afraid if all my students came in with the same outline. I would consider it was probably plagiarism. So the preacher must find his own voice. I learned early that I’m not an evangelist. God did not give me a gift of evangelism. A friend of mine became ill. He was going to have a city-wide meeting in a small town in Indiana and he asked me to fill in for him. The meeting was the best kept secret in town. I preached great sermons for a week and nothing much happened. And God said, “That’s not your calling. Let somebody else be the obstetrician, you’re the pediatrician. I want you to feed my lambs, feed my sheep and help them to grow.” So I found my voice.
Every preacher has to keep in mind that he’s second in command. Joshua learned that at Jericho. He turned the corner and there stood Jesus with a sword. Joshua hit the ground and submitted to God’s will. God blesses that young preacher who doesn’t try to imitate Dr. Criswell or anybody else. Just be yourself. Find your voice. Exercise your gifts and realize that there are people in the church who can do many things better than you can. Let them do it. That’s their gift.
Michael: You minister at a lot of pastor’s conferences and you have contact with a lot of preachers, how do you help them deal with unrealistic expectations and difficulties?
Warren Wiersbe: On their part or on the part of the people?
Michael: On the part of the people.
Warren Wiersbe: I think we’ve always had that. I think that was part of Paul’s problem in Corinth. Paul wouldn’t let them pay him. He would not receive money from them because he did not want to look like one of the itinerant money-grabbing philosophers. The church wanted to be able to brag about what they were giving Paul, and he headed them off. Their expectations were not met because Paul was not a philosopher, or an orator. His speech was apparently somewhat defective. I think that a pastor has to face his leadership and say, “Look, it’s not my expectations, it’s not yours. What does God want?”
How do you measure ministry? For one thing, we’re looking for maturity. Ephesians chapter 4 describes this. A legalistic church can measure results. You can count how long you’ve prayed and how many tracts you gave out, how many meetings you attended, but that’s not maturity. A truly spiritual church – that’s difficult to measure. You can’t measure by how many come down the aisle. It’s not how many went under the water. Those are good things, but maturity is important in a church. In the Committee meetings, do we act like Jesus? Do we in the board meetings, the church business meetings. When we have differences. It’s like marriage. One of the marks of maturity in a marriage is how people handle their differences. These are difficult to measure. One of our problems in churches today is that young executives get into places of leadership and they think the church should be run like ComAir or the bank, or IBM, and it isn’t. The bottom line is not money. The bottom line is not customers. The bottom line is God glorified in our mature lives. A pastor friend was told by the board, “You’re through!” No warning. Just, “You’re through.” Why? “You’re not cutting it.” “Well, what do you mean by cutting it?” Well, what did they mean by cutting it? Then they called a “hot shot” kind of guy with religious fireworks. That’s not building a church. Anybody can build a crowd. All you have to do is get a Christian sword swallower, a Christian tightrope walker, somebody who can recite the Beatitudes while he’s standing on his head on a glass of water, and you can build a crowd. But that’s not building a church.
In the Gospels, often when Jesus saw a huge crowd, He preached some of the hardest sermons He ever preached. There was a huge crowd at the Sea of Galilee (Mt. 13) and Jesus is in the boat. The disciples were saying, “We are really successful! Look at that big crowd!” Jesus said, “Let me tell you a story,” and He gave His parable of the sower. Three fourths of the seed Jesus was sowing would not bear fruit! While we’re sowing, the devil is also sowing. Our Lord always tried to cut the crowd down to size. There is nothing wrong with a crowd. Spurgeon used to say those who criticized statistics are usually those who have none to report, and there is some truth to that. Where there’s life there’s growth. We ought to be seeing people saved and baptized, but that’s not the only measurement.
Michael: On two instances you have followed long term, revered and respected men.
Warren Wiersbe: What a privilege!
Michael: Most people, if you get in a ministerial circle, will say the guy who follows someone who has been in a place for a long time is going to be a sacrificial lamb. He won’t last. Then somebody else has to come in. Why were you successful?
Warren Wiersbe: Well, we’ll find out in glory whether I was successful! Of course, with Dr. Eastep, he had been there thirty-five years and he prepared the way for me. The church accepted me because they trusted him to know the will of God. When I made changes, they were not big publicized events. I was very careful. After ten years at Calvary Baptist Church, when I did resign, people said, “It’s so wonderful, you just picked up Dr. Eastep’s ministry and you didn’t change a thing.” But we did! Some young pastors think they’ve just got to prove themselves and straighten out the church. I used to tell my students when I was teaching, “Go into a church and spend one year getting to know the people. Don’t take down any fences until you know why they were put up. Learn the history of the church. The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. Live with it. Get to know people. When I went to Moody Church, I visited the elderly people. Now that was a difficult thing to do in that huge metropolitan area. But I would go see dear Miss White. She was nearly a hundred years old. I’d visit with these dear people and discover the heartbeat of the church. Then when you’ve learned to love them, you can start making changes.
The most difficult succession was at the Back to the Bible. Mr. Epp founded the work and was the director for forty-five years. I remember the day he gave his resignation. It was difficult, very difficult. But I knew that I was going to be a transition leader. I knew that I was going to be a bridge builder. So I took the work and made some changes, did the best we could and then recommended they get Woodrow Kroll.
I think if a pastor realizes he doesn’t have to prove anything that God will do the rest. Lehman Strauss used to say to me, “Preach and pray and plug away.” That’s what I’ve done. It’s good advice.
Michael: Tell me about the distinctiveness of the Moody Church.
Warren Wiersbe: The Moody Church was founded by D. L. Moody long before Moody Bible Institute was formed. D. L. Moody of course had about a sixth grade education. They claimed he could say Jerusalem in one syllable. I’d liked to have heard that. He always said “Dan’l” instead of “Daniel.” He founded the church because the people he’d won to Christ in the city of Chicago wouldn’t go to the other churches. They said, “The people don’t love us and we don’t understand what the pastor is talking about.” So Moody was forced to start his own church. D. L. Moody had a gift that every preacher needs, the gift of seeing potential in people. People would trust Christ and Moody would put every one to work. His philosophy was, “I’d rather put ten people to work than do the work of ten people.” As the church grew, it became a center of fundamental doctrine and evangelism. The greatest days, I think, of Moody Church, were under Paul Rader. When Paul Rader came before World War I the building was not big enough, so they gave the building to the Moody Bible Institute and moved a mile up the street and built a tabernacle to seat five thousand people. Paul Rader preached to five thousand people five nights a week. Many people were saved. His plan was to scatter them, start new churches and evangelize Chicago.
He left and he was followed by P. W. Philpott who felt they should centralize the ministry. Moody Church was one of the first mega churches of this century. They built the present building. The pattern of the Moody Church building is St. Sophia in Constantinople, and it is a lovely building. It seats about four thousand people. Under P. W. Philpott who followed Rader, it was packed. Under H. A. Ironside for eighteen years, it was packed. But that wasn’t quite the same as evangelizing Chicago.
Currently, Irwin Lutzer is doing a marvelous job. He’s been there over twenty years. The uniqueness of Moody Church is that in one church family, we had people from thirty different denominations and didn’t fight about it. We had every kind of person you could think of sitting there because it was a United Nations. I learned so much there. I learned to appreciate my African-American brothers and sisters because we had a number of them in the church. I integrated the board. I think my first baptism was an African-American couple. My first wedding was. This was new for me. I’d just come from Kentucky, a border state. God taught me so much at Moody Church – the people and staff were wonderful.
Michael: From your pastoral experience and your writing experience, you’ve invested so much in pastors, such as E. K. Bailey’s conference and Jim Cymbala’s conference. You do others around the country. I see so many people that would like to learn from older men in the ministry, but there’s either an unwillingness or an insecurity. Why is it important, when we get some experience under our belt, to invest in younger ministers?
Warren Wiersbe: It is Biblical. 2 Timothy 2:2. “The things that you have heard of me among many witnesses the same commit to faithful people who shall be able to teach others also.” So you have four generations there. When I was a young pastor, there were two pastors in our area who spent time with me. Of course, I thought I was going to save the world in two weeks! The man who baptized me, Dewey McFadden, spent time with me. I could call them about problems. I could even stop unannounced and walk into their office and they welcomed me. When Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter came to town in 1955, I met him. I’d heard him at Winona Lake and I’d read his books. I admired him. I really think Sidlow Baxter is the greatest Bible teacher I ever heard. I asked him one day, “Would you have time to talk?” He said, “Oh dear brother come.” So I drove out to where he was staying and he spent two or three hours with me talking about books, preaching, and studying. Then he said, “Is that your automobile?” I said, “Yes.” It was the first new car I ever owned, a ’55 Chevy. He said, “Could you teach me how to drive while I’m here?” So I spent every afternoon with Sidlow Baxter for a week teaching him how to drive. Those hours were priceless. I said to myself, “If ever I get to the place when any body wants to talk to me, I’m going to do it.” So others have fed me, others have encouraged me, and I just try to encourage others. Jesus never kept anybody on hold. When you dialed His number, He was there. I’ve tried to be available.
Michael: On the subject of mentoring, how would you encourage a pastor to mentor?
Warren Wiersbe: Some pastors are not equipped to mentor. They are thinking only of the way they do things. Mentoring means, ” I’m a friend. I’m creating an atmosphere where you and I can grow together.” Betty and I have the privilege of working with the university and college students in the church we are members of in Lincoln, Nebraska. We have between five and six hundred of them. I mentored about a dozen of the young men who were interested in the ministry and now two couples are out being trained. We’re hoping more will go. One of the problems today in the church is that we want the younger generation to listen to us, but we won’t listen to them. So I have breakfast with some of them and they help me catch up on the present and then I help them catch up on the past. It works. The one thing that ought to unite us is worship. We’re going to spend all eternity in heaven worshiping. Why should there be a worship war? One reason is, we who are in the older generation think everybody has to do it our way. I can go through the finest hymn book and I can find hymns that aren’t Biblical. I can find tunes that are terrible. There are some praise choruses that ought to be burned, but there are some that are excellent. So I learn from the younger generation and they learn from me. If I won’t listen to them, they are not going to listen to me. One reason we are having church generational problems is because we’re not obeying what Paul wrote to Titus. He said you treat the older women like mothers, the older men like fathers, the younger people like brothers and sisters, and make a family out of the church. Because in a family you all help each other. Big brother teaches little brother how to drive. Big sister teaches little sister how to get ready for a date. And that’s what church is all about. When it comes to these “worship wars,” perhaps the biggest problem is that the older generation is stubborn.
Michael: How do you suggest that churches learn to do that? One of the things that we’re trying to do is be multi-generational, and so many churches are saying, “We’re only going after one age group. We don’t care about reaching the others.”
Warren Wiersbe: I don’t think it’s Biblical. A professor at North Park Seminary in Chicago came out with a book a year or so ago, completely destroying this old idea you and I learned in seminary that when Matthew wrote his Gospel he was writing to a target audience. When Mark wrote he was writing to a target audience. They don’t believe that any more. The Gospels were disseminated among all the churches, among all generations, among all cultures. Jesus never said, “Now today we’re going deal with the seventeen-to thirty-year-olds.” People are people. He saw the multitudes and had compassion. I think it’s wrong for a church to break up families. Our job is to put families together so that in worship we can learn from each other. For example, if God called me to be a missionary to Zimbabwe, I wouldn’t go down there and teach them English so they could sing English songs. I’d learn what their mindset was. Betty and I were in a church service deep in Africa. It was a large, large church and the choir used glass bottles to carry the rhythm. They hit the bottle to help keep the beat. It was a unique service. We worshiped God. Who’s to say the American, Presbyterian or Baptist way of doing it is the only way? I do not recommend that you have a contemporary service separated from a traditional service. Who’s to say what’s traditional? Who’s to say what’s contemporary? Contemporary to what? So I’m against it. I think the Bible tells us we are a family. There are times when something goes on that I’m not happy about, but who am I to stand up and oppose it?
I heard of one church where they set up the praise team and they had a drummer. The pastor said to the drummer, “Don’t make a single sound. Just look like you’re doing it. I want to prove something.” Sure enough, after the service, up came the saints. “We don’t mind the praise team, but get rid of that noisy drummer!” The pastor said, “I’m sorry, he didn’t make one sound and you’re not telling the truth!” That was the end of the worship war. That little skirmish took care of the whole thing. We, who are of the older generation, think we’re the only ones right. And we’re afraid of change because change has a way undercutting our experience and our training. The training I had in the late 40’s and early 50’s doesn’t apply much today. I’ve never had a course in counseling or bio-medical ethics. We never heard of it. So when the young men come along with all these new things, they make me look dumb. I don’t want to be dumb. I want to be smart. But I’ve learned to listen and they teach me a lot.
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Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.