NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Max Lucado became pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio in the late 1980s, he had one unusual request. He wanted no paycheck.
Already an established author, Lucado asked that his church salary go toward other church expenses – for example, hiring another employee. His living expenses would come from book sales. That's the way it's been ever since.
"I haven't received a salary since 1990," he told Baptist Press during a visit to Nashville, Tenn., in April.
Lucado's church is Church of Christ – but not a typical Church of Christ. For starters, musical instruments are used (although there is still one a cappella service). Also, the church has a baptistic view of baptism – that is, that baptism isn't required for salvation.
Recently, his church, which has some 5,000 members, even changed its name from "Oak Hills Church of Christ" to simply "Oak Hills Church."
"We've received criticism, of course," he said. "But our thinking is that we're not here to please other churches or other church leaders in other cities. As a church in San Antonio, our goal is to reach San Antonio."
Christians of all denominations have embraced Lucado's work. He has written more than 50 books – with more than 39 million in print – including his latest, "Come Thirsty," (W Publishing Group) which came out last year.
"[The book has] a pretty simple premise, and that is what we feel in the body for water, the soul feels for Christ," he said. "Jesus said, 'If any man is thirsty let him come to Me and drink.' And so, this book basically gives the reader a prescription and permission – a prescription on what to drink and permission to drink."
Using the acronym WELL, Lucado calls on Christians to drink from God's Work on the cross, Energy (the Holy Spirit), Lordship and Love.
Lucado writes two books a year, including a children's book. In addition, a gift book bearing his name – many times a devotional – also is published.
"It's usually a repackaging of our prior works," he said.
Following is a partial transcript of BP's interview with Lucado:
Baptist Press: What transpired for Oak Hills Church of Christ to rename itself Oak Hills Church?
Lucado: "I was really struck that many people would not visit our church because of the name. They had a bad experience somewhere with the Church of Christ. I've never had an allegiance to the name. Oak Hills has never fit into that mold of a Church of Christ. ... There are people in the Church of Christ who believe that they're the only ones going to heaven. We never believed that. I never believed that. We were never exclusively a cappella in our music, but a lot of Churches of Christ are. We always had instrumentation.
"We never taught – the buzzphrase is baptismal regeneration, where you go into the baptistery lost and come out saved. We never taught that. Now, I'm not saying there were not people in our church who believed that. ...
"So we didn't quite fit the mold of the Church of Christ, so it didn't make sense to us that people should not come and visit the church because of the name. But it took a long time. I first proposed the idea to our church leadership back in 1993. The Lord continued to bless the church and it continued to grow, and it was a healthy, happy church. And they just didn't feel like it was time to change the name until about 10 years later.”
Baptist Press: Would you still consider yourself or the church a part of the Campbell/Stone movement? (The names of those who began the Church of Christ movement.)
Lucado: "To a degree, [yes], because we have never apologized for that heritage. In its purist sense it's a real healthy heritage. When you go back and read the writings of Barton W. Stone and Campbell – it was a great revival that broke out in the early 1800s, right up here in this area, in fact. I guess you could say we're as much a part of it as we ever were. But the congregation has always had a sense of autonomy.
"The church has really grown since that [name change]. We went from about a 3,600-member church to a 4,200-member church within three or four months after changing the name, and then pretty soon we were up to about 5,000. I think there was that pent-up concern about the name of the church that was keeping people away.”
Baptist Press: Does the name “Church of Christ” sometimes cause controversy and criticism for you as a prominent writer and speaker?
Lucado: "I've always had plenty of ministry opportunities, but I have suspected a disconnect when people say, 'I don't understand your understanding of grace when you come out of a Church of Christ background.' I've tried to help them see, first of all, that not all Churches of Christ are alike – just like not all Baptists or Methodists or Lutheran churches are alike – and then also, that there is a great movement of grace, discovery going on among Churches of Christ right now. And it's exciting to watch."
Baptist Press: You preached a sermon in the mid-’90s about baptism. What led you to preach that?"(The sermon, available on the church's website, explained Oak Hills' understanding of the role of baptism.)
Lucado: "I think our church just felt like we needed to have a clearer stand. There are those who have taught that baptism is necessary for salvation, as if baptism adds to the finished work of Christ. We have felt that baptism is necessary for obedience, but that baptism doesn't add to what Christ does for us in the cross, and doesn't add to what a person receives by faith."
Baptist Press: Have you ever changed your position on this?
Lucado: "I think I can say I have changed my position. I think when I was a missionary in Brazil, I came to a better understanding of grace that I didn't have before I went to Brazil. There was some latent legalism in me – and there probably still is – that I found when I was in Brazil. When we were in Brazil, our little church wouldn't grow. We thought, 'Why won't it grow?' So we started studying the Gospel, and I personally found out that I was kind of overlaying the Gospel with regulations and rules. And so I repented of that, and we began teaching the Gospel. Then, the church had its own mini-revival. It was a wonderful experience for me. I can say that in my own life, I have gone through a personal discovery of grace."
Baptist Press: This is an issue that could make both sides upset – a lot of readers and a lot of people in the Churches of Christ. Have you seen that?"
Lucado: "I think people are very understanding. We've received criticism, of course. But our thinking is that we're not here to please other churches or other church leaders in other cities. As a church in San Antonio, our goal is to reach San Antonio. Our goal is to raise up 10,000 members who will pray every day for 10 people, and thereby impact 100,000 people – which is a tenth of our city. That's our dream as a church. We're about halfway there now. ... I'm sure we've disappointed some people along the way. We didn't mean to, but we wouldn't do it differently."
Baptist Press: Does your church hold to a Church of Christ view of eternal security?
Lucado: "I don't. Now, this is an ongoing conversation in our church. I believe that if a person is genuinely saved they're eternally saved, and that the work of the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 1:13, 'When you believed you were sealed with the Spirit' – that sealing is effective and eternal. If a person is genuinely saved, then nobody can snatch them out of the Father's hands. That's a discovery that I have made in the last decade or so that I don't think I embraced early on. But when you discover that salvation belongs to the Lord and doesn't belong to you, that is good news.
"As a church, I think we're working through that. We are really an elder-led church. We have 14 elders, and they weigh through all of our doctrinal issues and teachings. I couldn't say that our church, as a teaching position, teaches eternal security. They know where I land on it, and I teach it."
Baptist Press: How do you find time to write so much?
Lucado: "I don't play much golf. All of my sermons become books. That helps. I have a great ministerial team. And the elders at the church, all they want me to do is preach. That's been our arrangement. ... I preach about 40 Sundays a year. I'm gradually working toward maybe 35, because we're wanting to train some other young ministers.... About four weeks out of the year I just write, and that's in January and February. What I do is I take the sermon series from the year before, and I turn that into a book. If the church needs to hear it, then maybe it will speak to the broader market."
© 2005 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.