NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Renowned evangelist Stephen Olford says preaching is not just about a good sermon, and if preachers want to see the power of God in their ministries, they will have to not only be passionate and certain about the message, but also live a life of holiness to God.
Olford was the guest speaker at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Stanfield Preaching Lectures, held Tuesday-Thursday, Sept. 12-15 on the NOBTS campus. Speaking to a large group of prospective ministers each day, Olford outlined the aspects of what he called an “incarnational preaching” ministry, in which preachers are not only to preach the Word of God, but to live it as well.
Olford was particularly concerned with overwhelming statistics which indicate pastors are becoming more and more susceptible to worldliness. Citing Chuck Colson’s book, The Body, Olford noted the fact that pastors have the largest divorce rate among any other vocation, one in 10 pastors have had affairs with members of their congregation, and 25 percent of pastors have been engaged in illicit affairs. He also noted that the rise of the Internet has led countless pastors down the road of addiction to pornography, and cybersex has torn down many a family once grounded in the Word. This worldliness, he said, is draining the pulpit of God’s supernatural power to change lives.
“Beloved, if you stand behind this holy desk and you’re life isn’t pure; if you’re life isn’t absolutely holy as far as you know it; if are not walking under an unclouded sky with the ungrieved, unquenched Holy Spirit in your life; then, my friend, you’ve absolutely blocked the message from any authority whatsoever,” he said.
In the three consecutive days of the lecture series, Olford addressed the “posture of preaching,” the “purity of preaching,” and the “power of preaching.” If the preacher cannot understand God’s view of these things, he said, their ministry will not have the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the only being that can draw people to God.
Addressing the “posture of preaching,” Olford described an unmoved confidence in God that would serve as a constant hope to the preacher through any circumstance. Exploring the text in I Peter 3:13-17, he focused upon God’s command to “always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks.” In order to accomplish this task, Olford said the preacher must have Jesus as the undisputed spokesman in his life, and in order to do that, the preacher must spend time in devotion.
Confronting the large group of students in attendance, Olford said, “May I ask you a simple question? Did you have your quiet time this morning?”
The evangelist noted that Jesus himself was accustomed to having a daily quiet time with God and was recorded as having that time everyday. Olford recalled his time in seminary training, during one day of which he had asked his professor about a daily quiet time, wondering what to do when he didn’t feel like spending that time with God.
“He looked directly at me, his eyes narrowing, and said, ‘Pray when you feel like it. Pray when you don’t feel like it. Pray until you feel like it.’
“It’s not a matter of feeling. It’s a matter of obedience,” he added.
In addition to the question of the preacher’s walk with God, Olford also addressed the question of purity for preaching.
Exploring I Peter 1:13-21, Olford noted God’s command for His people to “be holy, because I am holy.” This command, he said, “does not leave any loopholes.”
“There is no comfort zone there,” he added. “Failure to obey is sin, and sin is opposed to holiness.”
Olford said preachers should be determined to be holy, that it should be an act of will to be in obedience to God. Noting Saul’s disobedience in II Kings, Olford reminded students that nothing pleases God as much as obedience. He compared the preacher’s willful holiness to that of the Levite priests of the Old Testament, who were not allowed into God’s presence unless they were clean. If they failed to do so, they died.
“Do you know any Levites to have entered the temple without washing his hands and washing his feet?,” he asked. “How can I take the Bible into my hand; how can I take the posture to preach without purity?”
Living in obedience to God is our command, but does not come without blessing. Olford said preachers should finally understand the “power for preaching,” which is embodied in the work of the Holy Spirit.
Olford, exploring Luke 24: 44-53, noted Jesus last words to His disciples in which he promised them the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Olford said this power was a “paternal promise,” coming directly from God the Father. This power, he said, was absolutely essential to preaching God’s Word.
“You cannot preach a supernatural savior without a supernatural power,” he said. “Don’t speak until you are endued with power from on high.”
Olford also noted the purpose of the Spirit’s power, which is not only necessary for both Christians and the lost to come to repentance, but is also necessary to both “open the scriptures,” and “untangle the minds” of those who hear it.
“Until he returns, our task is always to open the scriptures to minds untangled by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Paul knew nothing of Thessalonica, but he took the Bible and took the Holy Spirit in his heart, and in three weeks a church emerged.”
Olford said the reason so many churches are declining through what he called “shallow discipleship” is due to the fact that preachers are not preaching the authority of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Without that anointing, there is no purpose, no power, and no authority.”
After the final sermon, Olford asked students to commit themselves to walking closely with God in the power of the Spirit, committing themselves to holiness. Students flooded the aisles in confession and repentance, praying for renewal in their ministry.
The V.L. Stanfield Preaching Lectures are an annual series of lectures at NOBTS that were established in honor of former preaching professor Dr. V.L. Stanfield, who described preaching as “giving the Bible a voice.”