TUMBLING SHOALS, Ark. (BP) — In a quiet little town two miles north of Heber Springs, Ark., a church with a congregation of no more than 75 on an average Sunday morning has been providing training for pastors for the past 19 years.
Through the Expository Preaching Conference (EPC), Tumbling Shoals Baptist Church has helped train more than 1,500 pastors in biblical preaching and ministry.
“Many of the pastors who attend the EPC are not, and probably will not be, seminary-trained,” said Brad Johnson, pastor of Tumbling Shoals Baptist, about the event held this past spring. He said the conference is “often the closest they will come to being formally educated in biblical preaching and ministry.”
Those who attend sit under the teaching of Hershael York, professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and David Miller, a preacher and president of Line Upon Line Ministries.
Each participant receives a copy of Logos Bible study software.
The conference began in 1997 as the brainchild of Miller, who has preached expository sermons for 51 years. After serving as director of missions for Little Red River Association for 25 years, often counseling preachers on how to preach from the Bible, Miller retired in 1995 and began looking for another mission position to fill. He then held the first EPC by hosting 15 men and their wives. The event now welcomes about 50 participants and their spouses annually. The conference is sponsored fully by Tumbling Shoals Baptist Church and Miller’s ministry, Line Upon Line, which focuses on the deliberate verse-by-verse preaching of God’s Word.
“Expository preaching is in direct contrast to ‘prodigal preaching,’ where you read one verse and depart from it, nevermore to return, and preach more on your own opinion than God’s Word,” Miller said. “It is also not ‘skyscraper preaching’ … when you tell one story on top of another. I like the old-school. I believe that when folks come to church, they ought to open their Bible, and the preacher ought to preach seriously out of that text.”
The April 28-30 conference at Tumbling Shoals is one of four annual conferences hosted by Miller and York throughout the country. Latino and Vietnamese churches are among those that send pastors for training. The conference often has to turn people away, and has a waiting list for subsequent years that fills up regularly, Johnson said.
Josh Raspberry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Corning, said the conference “made [him] re-appreciate expository preaching.”
“The reminder has helped me as I prepare each week,” Raspberry said. “Instead of trying to force my viewpoint on the passage, I look for what’s in the Word and what needs to be shown to my congregation by exposing the text and breaking down what the original author was trying to say to the original audience to show how that applies to us.”
Travis Johnson, education and youth minister at Grace Baptist Church in Camden, Ark., described the conference as “encouraging and supportive to all of the ministers who were there.”
“They really ministered to us during that time, and it was not only a refreshing time but also a learning time,” said Johnson, who has been a pastor for 18 years. “I think it’s great for any minister, whether they’ve received previous training or not, and the ministry of the church…. It will probably do more for discipleship across the country and in those churches represented at the conference than anything we can do.”
Jeremy Bradshaw, a past attendee of the conference, wrote in a blog post that the conference often attracts “pastors who are burned out or beat up to help restore them and send them back out.”
“They train men up in their own congregation who sense a call to preach,” he noted. “They don’t order prepackaged curriculum to teach from … their teachers are trained to teach expositionally through Scripture and are doing just that. Their textbook is the Bible.”
For more information about the event, contact Tumbling Shoals Baptist Church at 501-362-3987.