(A sermon at the installation service for Brian Bill as the pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church, Rock Island, IL.)
When I was student at Dallas Seminary four decades ago, I spent a lot of time in the library. I’ve always been fascinated by old books, especially old books that are not well known. One day I was browsing in the stacks of the Mosher Library when I came across a little volume called Quiet Hints to Growing Preachers in My Study. It was written by Charles E. Jefferson, a man almost completely forgotten today but who in the early 1900s was a highly-regarded pastor in New York City. It is a measure of his importance that when Warren Wiersbe published his book Walking with the Giants, he devoted an entire chapter to Jefferson and his ministry.
It was a little book, and from the looks of it when I pulled it from the shelf, it appeared that no one had checked it out in many years. That fact alone proved irresistible to me. So I checked it out, read it, and decided I needed a copy. That was long before personal computers, the Internet, and long before you could order books on Amazon. So I gathered my change and did the only thing I could do in those days. I took the book to the copy machine and copied every page. Eventually I collated it using one of those plastic punch binders. I carried the book with me through all three of my pastorates in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Over the years I came to regard it as one of the best books on how to be a good pastor I’ve ever read.
I mention all this because we are met today for a high purpose. We are here to install the next pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church. That’s no small thing. It’s a big thing we’re doing here, and we ought to think of it in a big way.
It is always a big thing to install a pastor, but this is a special moment because you don’t do this very often. Your previous pastor served here for 44 years, a record that is hard to match anywhere. It’s a wonderful thing when a church and a pastor get along so well that they can last that long together. Pastor Mel Brown set a high standard not only of longevity but of pastoral faithfulness.
Said another way, we ought to have a big time this weekend because we don’t expect to do this again for a long time. While it’s true that Brian may not be here for 44 years, I do believe he has come to a very great church, and I fervently hope and pray that he will be here a long time.
On that point, though this is not particularly important, I had the pleasure of helping in the installation service at Brian’s previous church, an event that took place about 14 years ago. Since I am 60 years old, I want Brian to know that I do not expect to be available to help him out 44 years from now.
And that brings me back to Charles E. Jefferson and his book of “quiet hints” to growing preachers. One of my favorite chapters is called “Near to Men, Near to God,” which is Jefferson’s advice on how to be a good pastor to your congregation. Let me give you a few nuggets of his wisdom:
“A preacher of Christianity must live as close as possible to men. Isolation to him is fatal.”
“Knowing men is the preacher’s first and most important business.”
“It is the man in the street whom the preacher must know, and if he does not know him no other sort of knowledge will make him a successful preacher.”
“If a preacher really deserves to serve his people, he will not count time lost which is spent in their company.”
“The closer he comes to them the larger his opportunity to give them what they need. What they are fearing and hoping, feeling and thinking, enjoying and suffering, loving and hating, reading and dreaming, all this can become known to him only as he comes into contact with them, and to know these things is more important than to know nine-tenths of all the books can teach.”
“In short it is the gospel of love which the preacher is most in need of. Not until he loves is he truly born of God.”
There is a lot there to think about, and much more in the chapter. Even though Jefferson wrote his book in 1901, what says is just as true today. It is good for a pastor to consider these things as he begins a new ministry. Perhaps you have heard it said this way, “No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.” I think the operative phrase is the last part—“Till they know how much you care.”
You can read the rest of the sermon online.