I have seen great churches all across this nation totally change after the pastor who built the church to its greatest days went off the scene, or passed away. That may happen at First Baptist Church, but I have done my best to prepare my people for the pitfalls ahead. I have preached in the great churches of the last generation. I have seen many of those churches decay. I have seen the change that has come in those churches. I have watched carefully what has caused that change, especially in the case of the pastor passing away or retiring.
The first time that I met Dr. Lee Roberson, he was forty-three years of age. Dr. Roberson stayed for many years at the Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, but the day came when Dr. Roberson felt he could no longer do the job because of his age. He was around seventy-five years of age, and he felt that he should turn it over to somebody else. One Sunday night he and Mrs. Roberson walked out the center aisle together, and his ministry there, after over forty years, was over. I had the privilege to preach over 125 times at the Highland Park Baptist church at Chattanooga.
When I met Dr. G. B. Vick for the first time, he was about forty years old, but the years came and went. He pastored the largest church in the world at the time, the Temple Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. I was preaching in Rock Springs, Wyoming. I called my secretary, Mrs. McKinney, and she told that she had just received a phone call from the Baptist Bible College at Springfield, Missouri, where Dr. Vick was speaking. Dr. Vick was at his desk and suddenly fell over dead. He had pastored there for over thirty years.
For forty-two years I have watched a generation of churches rise and fall. I doubt there is a man in this generation who has preached in more churches in America than I have. I doubt there is a man who has counseled more pastors than I have. I have watched a generation of churches decay. I am going to do everything I can to see to it that fifty years from now the First Baptist Church of Hammond will still have the altar full every Sunday and still be the same as it is today.
Change is a state.
Change is constant.
Dissatisfaction is a state.
If you are not satisfied with what you have, you will not be satisfied with what you get. If you are not satisfied with the job you have, you will not be satisfied with the job you get. If you are not satisfied with the house you have, you will not be satisfied with the house you get. If you are not satisfied with the car you drive, you will not be satisfied with the car you get. Change is a state.
When you change, you never get where you are going, because when you get where you thought you were going, you do not want to stop, so you keep on changing. What starts the change? What causes a church to change?
(1) The people want a change. Something in people causes them to want a different kind of man. It is like politics. When the Republicans are in, they get blamed for everything. When the Democrats get in, they get blamed for everything. The same thing happens in a church. It is easy for the people to get enamored with a man who is totally different than the preacher they had before. Suddenly you have change almost just for the sake of change.
(2) The people will not follow the new pastor even if he is what he ought to be. The former pastor did things a certain way, and the people will not follow the new pastor because he does them differently. They are accustomed to the way things were done rather than to following the man of God.
(3) The people call a good speaker or a good personality. Preaching is the most important thing in the church, but the best preacher in America could not operate a church like First Baptist Church, unless he knew something about business. A church should not call a pastor just because he has a personality with charisma, or because he is a good preacher. Too often churches make the calling of a pastor more of a personality or popularity contest.
I have known some great soul-winning churches which have gone down because the church called another kind of preacher. Some have changed because they called a good man the people would not accept. Others have changed because they called a pulpiteer only, and a not a man who could operate the business and administration of the church.
(4) Some churches change because the church falls in the hands of a few people who are either wealthy or influential. I knew of a church that lost its soul winning because it allowed seven wealthy men to choose the pastor. They changed its entire direction and practically destroyed everything that the great pastor before had built. Most of the people wanted an old fashioned fundamental preacher, but the control was in the hands of those seven men.
2. The pastor changes. Churches change because of what is behind the pulpit. I am not the best Christian in the church, but I am the Pastor-Bishop-Builder of the church. I keep my hands on everything that goes on in the church. I go out to the college to keep the direction right there. I meet every week with the administrators of all our schools to see to it that they keep on the right track. Every ministry of the church must be watched, or something will creep in that could change the church.
You cannot imagine the pressure of an independent, hell-raising, barn-storming, window-rattling, shingle-pulling, temperamental, fundamental Baptist preacher. There is more pressure on a man who preaches the truth of God’s Word than there is on any other single profession in the world. The greatest leaders in this world are not in White Houses and in palatial mansions; they are in the parsonages of America.
There are several ways that a preacher can change.
(1) He loses his motivation. Dr. Elmer Towns said that hardly any pastor continues to see his church grow after his fortieth birthday. Why? Because the pastor loses his motivation. It is easy for a young preacher who is pastoring his first church to be excited with the newness of the challenge. Just the idea of being a pastor and the opportunity to preach are enough to keep him motivated for a while. That is some of the best preaching he will ever do. His entire motivation is to preach what he believes is right and what the people need.
After awhile, the difficulties of the ministry begin to wear on him. The honeymoon with the people begins to wear off. The newness is gone, and people start to get upset with him for not doing things the way they think things should be done. Soon, he starts to get discouraged or disillusioned. It is not much fun to him any more. That is what happens to pastors.
I work incredibly hard to stay motivated because I want to go out with the same zeal I had when I started. I want to go out hating the Devil just as much as I did when I started. I want to go out hollering as loud as I did when I started. It is not an easy thing for a preacher to keep himself motivated.
(2) He loses his vision. Proverbs 29:18 says, Where there is no vision, the people perish. That means when a leader has lost his vision for the members, the members perish. It does not mean that if I have no vision for myself, I will perish, but if I have no vision for my people, they will perish.
I have visions for my church. I have visions for the young people. My heart is broken when the young people do not fulfill the visions I have for them. I have visions for the kind of young ladies that our young men will marry. I have visions for the kind of young men our young ladies will marry. I have visions for Hyles-Anderson College. I have visions for Hammond Baptist Schools. I have visions for the First Baptist Church of Hammond. I have visions for the kind of Christians I want my people to be.
It is so sad to see preachers who have lost their vision. The motto for my ministry has always been: I will not use my people to build my work; I will use my work to build my people. When I stood outside and watched our building burn to the ground back in 1964 did not shed one single tear, but I have sat in my office and wept for hours because of a person in the church who went astray. My vision is not for buildings; it is for my people.
What happens is the work becomes more important to the preacher than his people. His prestige, or his standing in the ecclesiastical neighborhood, becomes more important than his people. Money becomes more important than the people. I never dreamed my church would become as big as it did, but I had a vision that the young people would turn out right. The older a preacher gets, the more difficult it is to maintain the vision.
(3) The pastor loses his bite. A preacher needs to be able to keep on preaching hard even as he grows older and begins to mellow. The older I become, the more difficult it is. The more I love my people, the more difficult it is. I do not want to scold my people because I love them. A preacher has to keep his bite. A preacher without a bold streak will not amount to anything. Too many preachers start getting soft, and, before they know it, they have changed.
(4) The older people settle down. I preached at most of the greatest churches in this nation over the past forty years. I have also gone back and preached in many of those same churches after they changed. Here is what happened to them. They started out with a group of young people who were excited about building the church and winning the lost. They had the bus routes, went soul winning, and built the Sunday school classes. Over the years, they retired to the pew. They are fundamental people, but they are not busy for the Lord like they used to be.
The best way for a church to change is for the older people to quit the choir, quit their soul winning, quit their bus routes, quit their Sunday School classes, quit bringing folks to church, and quit getting excited about big days. I have seen it happen. I have seen those older people settle down. I have seen the people that used to go soul winning not go soul winning anymore. If you want your grandchildren to have a great church, you have got to keep it great until they get there. How important it is not to allow the people to retire from the work of God!
(5) No new families come to replace the older ones that settle down. The secret of the First Baptist church of Hammond, Indiana, rests in the new, young couples and families that come to the church. Many years ago I started a young couples class with forty-seven people. That young couples class is now the class that meets in our auditorium. A few years later we started another couples class. Brother Colsten now teaches that couples class that used to be a young couples class. Most of the people are in their fifties or over. A few years later we started another one, and now Brother Moffitt is teaching that class of middle-age people. Then we started another one, and another one, and we kept on starting them as the years went by.
That is the secret. We always have several hundred new people in the church who came in with the new wave, and I am always on a honeymoon with that new wave.
I am concerned about having a crowd that is red-hot for God, the Bible, the Gospel, and soul winning. Fifty years from now I want there to be a man in the pulpit of the First Baptist Church who is still preaching against mixed swimming; against women wearing shorts and pants in public, and that if you are not a soul winner, you are not right with God. As long as I live, I am going to do all I can to keep it that way.
I love our children. I want them to have First Baptist Church like my generation has had. If that is going to happen here, or anywhere, it will not be on accident, but on purpose.