The people's voice of reason

A Hero Remembered

I enjoyed O.S. Hawkins’ new biography of legendary pastor W.A. Criswell, a role model for my generation of pastors. Criswell served 50 years at First Baptist, Dallas, and was an itinerant preacher and an avid writer. Hawkins is remarkably honest about Criswell’s successes and failures.

Criswell taught young preachers to devote Saturday nights to rest, and weekday mornings to time alone in study and prayer (he maintained a home office for his study).

I tried to follow this guidance for many years, and now believe this wasn’t the best course for me. Whereas a pastor must devote time to study, he must also be available to relate to people with needs. I suppose it’s a difficult balance, and I’m afraid I was more “holed away” in my early years than I might should’ve been. Of course, Criswell had a large staff to take care of things when he was unavailable, unlike many single-staff pastors today.

Criswell also taught us to preach expository sermons; that is, taking a passage of scripture and explaining the clear meaning, verse by verse and book by book. He even took 17 years to preach through the entire Bible!

I don’t believe expository preaching is the only way, or even necessarily always the best way.

I think Rick Warren is right when he asserted New Testament preachers were topical. They didn’t take a passage and preach through it. The only exception, perhaps, is Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth. He read one passage from Isaiah and then had a one sentence comment about his being the fulfillment of it. But Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, for example, is topical, dealing with various faith issues.

Modern preachers often choose to talk about faith or forgiveness or the work of the Holy Spirit, pulling together verses from several books of the Bible.

I generally do topical messages on Sunday, and expository study on Wednesday. We’re now in the middle of Exodus in midweek Bible study, having begun in Genesis 1. I don’t plan a 17-year study, but I do see the value in both expository and topical preaching.

Criswell also in later years had further exhortation for pastors. He said he’d chosen wrongly to order his life with God, church and family, and should’ve ordered it as God, family and church. Hawkins wrote about some challenges Criswell had with his family, and the aged pastor spoke his regrets.

Family difficulty isn’t unusual amongst ministers. I’ve read that evangelist Billy Sunday’s son died cursing the God his father preached.

Pastors have to realize their family are church members, too, and give as much time as possible to be influencers at home.

This is a struggle, indeed, but a worthy goal. -30-

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is



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