No seminary in the world has so great a heritage of teaching preaching as The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. John A. Broadus, one of our founding faculty members and the second president of the seminary, wrote his Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons from his class notes. That book remains the most widely used preaching text in the history of Christianity and has been translated into dozens of languages worldwide. To be sure, Southern has enjoyed an illustrious legacy of preaching professors, but it has also produced some of the greatest preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Preaching is so central to Christianity that one cannot imagine the Christian faith without or separated from the task of preaching. To announce the coming of God’s anointed and the arrival of God’s kingdom, John the Baptist came preaching (Matt 3:1). When Jesus began his public ministry, he came preaching (Mark 1:14). At the center of God’s redemptive work in history stands a savior who preaches, and this reality should fill every believer with gratitude and awe. It is no wonder, therefore, that Paul, the great Apostle, declared that the gospel is spread and the church is edified through the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor 1:21).
The history of Christianity is therefore closely linked with a history of preaching and preachers. From Peter and Paul to Chrysostom and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Wesley and Whitefield, Spurgeon and Moody, Criswell and Hobbs, preaching and preachers have always been the bellwether of church health. When preaching thrives, so does the church, and when it wanes, the church languishes in tepid faith and spiritual sluggishness.
Southern Seminary’s core ministry, therefore, is training pastors to serve the Lord’s churches. Other ministries will not happen without faithful pastors who are teaching their congregations the Word of God, line upon line, precept upon precept. When pastors faithfully and systematically preach the Word, God’s people flourish and hear the voice of the Spirit calling and leading them into ministry. Knowing this has kept Southern Seminary committed to the priority of preaching and training the next generation of fiercely faithful expositors of God’s Word. Specifically, Southern seeks to inculcate and instill five qualities in the preachers who study at this institution.
The Marks of a Faithful Preacher
A preacher of the gospel must have a pastor’s heart. Throughout the narrative of Scripture, God used shepherds and the image of the shepherd to portray the relationship between his anointed leaders and his people, as well as his own relationship with them. Moses and David both learned how to lead sheep before God called them to lead Israel. Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11-18), the great shepherd (Heb 13:20), and the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). Pastors are under-shepherds caring for the Lord’s flock.
A successful preaching ministry, one that faithfully teaches the Word and sees Christ formed in the lives of those who regularly sit under that preaching, must begin in a heart that has been shaped by the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. A preacher must love and care for the flock the Lord has entrusted to his care. The call to preach is also a call to love. Since the goodness of the Lord leads us to repentance, the loving heart of a pastor should reveal that goodness. And as a pastor walks through life with them — dedicating their babies, marrying their children, attending to their sorrows, comforting their losses, and sharing their joys — his heart is enlarged for them.
Though many seminaries offer students instruction in technique and form, the number of pastors and elders on the faculty of Southern demonstrates a commitment to the churches that is unparalleled. A preaching professor, like the students he teaches, should have the smell of sheep on him because he lives with God’s flock. When students are taught by those who are themselves preparing sermons on a weekly basis and modeling the life of a pastor, they cannot miss the unmistakable commitment to bring the Word to the world. Professors who shepherd shape hearts that will love Jesus and love his people.
When preaching thrives, so does the church, and when it wanes, the church languishes in tepid faith and spiritual sluggishness.
As essential as a loving heart is to a preaching ministry, love alone cannot fulfill the calling or accomplish the task of teaching the Word. That is why the faculty of Southern Seminary works so diligently to develop a scholar’s mind in those men who are called to preach. Today’s pastor needs to know ancient languages and contemporary challenges. He must be rooted in the rigors of classical disciplines such as theology and philosophy, but he must be prepared for intellectual opposition and confrontation in areas the church has never had to face before. No previous generation of preachers has had to defend the notion that God created only two genders or face the assertion that people may define themselves as anything, nothing, or everything.
A 21st-century preacher must have a deep and intimate knowledge of the biblical text, an integrative understanding of the grand narrative of biblical theology, an orderly arrangement of systematic theology, and a keen and ready ability to engage the culture in a winsome but thoroughly biblical manner. The church needs pastor-scholars who are trained by the most academically qualified faculty possible and who meet the highest and most rigorous standards of scholarship, yet who exhibit a great humility that comes from spending much time with Jesus.
To that end, a preacher also needs a father’s wisdom. If the term “elder” (presbuteros in Greek) implies anything, it connotes the experience and judgment of one who has walked with the Lord for a significant time. A father shows patience and affection as he teaches his children, helping them to apply the facts they have learned to the life situations and problems they encounter. A wise pastor knows that he is not merely teaching the Bible when he stands and preaches; he is teaching his congregation how to study the Bible. The way he handles the Word in the pulpit is the way they will handle it in their lives. By teaching them how to recognize context, how to understand genre, how to let Scripture interpret Scripture, he is imbuing them with a wisdom that goes beyond merely memorizing facts about the Bible. He is teaching them how to live it. The church sees this kind of a pastor not merely as someone they have hired, but as one whom God has sent to grow them in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.
A seminary education, therefore, is about much more than attaining knowledge or a skill set. Biblical education must be spiritual formation that deepens the spirit as much as it expands the mind. The student needs a faculty who will help him grow in wisdom and spiritual maturity because he is going to spend his life as an elder, contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Churches and denominations are not merely tasked with maintaining the gains of the past, however. They are sent to charge the very gates of hell with the promise that those gates cannot stand in the face of God’s advancing army. In other words, preachers need to develop a leader’s insight. Leaders must have an appreciation of the past as well as discernment about where to take their people in the future. A preacher is not merely declaring what God has done, but also what God is doing. The right seminary education will teach preachers how to lead, as well as to love and to think. Just as the biblical authors were doing things with their words — correcting, rebuking, exhorting, informing, warning — so must pastors do things with their teaching.
By sitting under professors who have themselves led churches in spiritual and numerical growth, facing the problems and pressures of the pastorate, a young preacher has the great advantage of acquiring the acumen of leadership that comes from the successes and even the failures of others. Leadership is often more caught than taught, and the best way to catch it is by spending time with veteran leaders.
Finally, no seminary education is complete or worthwhile unless students comprehend the essential nature of a godly character. The most loving heart or the keenest mind cannot overcome the detrimental damage done by the lack of personal holiness. The best education cannot take a preacher beyond where his character can keep him. Learning the daily disciplines of the Christian life and of the preaching ministry provide an advantage that transcends any program, outshines any personality, and outlasts any technique.
The faculty of Southern Seminary understands that to be trusted for truth means so much more than imparting a particular set of skills or body of knowledge. It means conveying conviction and character, shaping heart and mind, teaching relationship as well as reason. It means that the sacred trust is not only to teach the truth, but to embody it.