FIRST-PERSON: W.A. Criswell studied & preached the Word, guarded his pulpit & staff
LONDONDERRY, N.H. (BP)--Having surrendered my life to the gospel ministry at age 10 and begun my preaching/teaching ministry in my 12th year, W.A. Criswell's book "Why I Preach The Bible To Be Literally True" made an eternal impact on my life.
Later, the Lord led me to attend the Criswell College where I enjoyed the privilege of meeting Dr. Criswell and hearing him preach on many occasions. As I was finishing up my education at the college, Dr. Criswell taught for the first time at the school. I rejoiced to be in the first class he offered at the school. No matter what the setting, in class, at the church or at a function, Dr. Criswell always made time for me when I wanted to speak to him. I rejoice that he is at home with his Lord, but I am saddened at the loss, especially to the Evangelical Church at large.
I learned many key lessons about ministry life from Dr. Criswell, but five stand out in particular.
"Preach The Word"
W.A. Criswell centered his life and ministry on this admonition by the Apostle Paul. Criswell always emphasized the importance of preaching the inerrant, infallible, eternal Word of God. His legendary seventeen-year trek through the Bible, verse by verse, from the pulpit of First Baptist Dallas bears witness to his faithfulness to this Biblical mandate. Moreover, at every opportunity he encouraged other pastors to make the Preaching of the Word the central aspect of their ministry.
"Give Yourself To Study"
Dr. Criswell often shared, "When I first became the pastor here at this beloved church I told the people my mornings are mine..." During all the years of his leading FBC Dallas, it was his practice to devote his mornings to prayer and study. His study contained no phone, and, from the time of his morning entrance until his exit near noon, he would not allow his prayer and study to be interrupted except in a dire emergency. W.A. spent those morning hours studying the Word of God in the original languages. He also was a keen student of other disciplines including literature, history, archeology, science, etc. From this varied study he would draw numerous illustrations that enhanced his explanation of the Scriptures like no other preacher of his day. Watching him, listening to him and hearing his admonition helped me develop the desire to "give myself to study."
"The Pulpit Is Mine"
The Good Doctor confidently declared, "...the pulpit is mine." He would never fail to speak of the intent of such a statement. Dr. Criswell made it clear that when He was in the pulpit he would proclaim the Word as he understood the Lord would have him preach. When the Lord laid a sermon on his heart, he would not be intimidated into silence. He preached the messages that God gave him - no more and no less. As the pastor of the church, he also understood his responsibility before God as to who stood in the pulpit in his absence. Though he might seek suggestions for a preacher to fill his pulpit, the final decision rested with him. He understood the seriousness of his responsibility before God for what was spoken from his pulpit and he conveyed that seriousness to thousands of pastors including this one.
"The Staff Is Mine"
Dr. Criswell held firmly to a third conviction, "...the staff is mine." He took his calling and responsibility before God seriously, and understood that his staff greatly influenced the outcome of church ministries. He further understood that the Lord would hold him accountable, as the Senior Pastor, for the various ministries of the church. So, he insisted that the choices of when to call new staff, who to call, how the staff would function and when they were to be let go, rest in his own hand. With this policy firmly in place Dr. Criswell always maintained an excellent staff throughout his tenure as pastor. In fact, over the years several of the greatest leaders of the SBC have served with Dr. Criswell.
"Outlive Your Opposition"
From the pulpit, in the classroom, at his famous School of the Prophets, and in individual conversation I heard Criswell say, "The secret to longevity in the ministry is to outlive your opposition." Criswell faced sometimes very strong opposition. Yet, W.A. Criswell remained at First Baptist for over 50 years. He just would not let go of the vision the Lord placed in his heart. He just wouldn't quit the call God placed on his life. On January 10, 2002 he passed from this life at the age of 92 having fought the good fight and run the good race. W.A. went to his heavenly reward as one of the great hero's of the faith.
I thank the Lord for these and other lessons He taught me through the life and ministry of Dr. Wally Amos Criswell. I'm also thankful for the influence God allowed Dr. Criswell on the lives, ministries and preaching of countless others called to serve in the ministry.
Ballard is the founder and pastor of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church of Londonderry, NH and the current president of the Baptist Convention of New England.