By Dr. Roger D. Willmore
By a slight perversion, the sweetest graces may bear the bitterest fruit. The sun gives life, but sunstrokes are death. Preaching is to give life, but it may kill. The preacher holds the keys; he may lock as well as unlock. Preaching is God’s great institution for the planting and maturing of spiritual life. When properly executed its benefits are untold. When wrongly executed, no evil can exceed its damaging result.
It is an easy matter to destroy the flock if the shepherd is unwary or the pasture is destroyed. It is easy to capture the citadel if the watchman is asleep or the food and water are poisoned. The preacher is invested with gracious prerogatives, exposed to great evils, involving so many grave responsibilities. It would be a parody on the shrewdness of the Devil- a libel on his character and reputation- if he did not use his master influences to adulterate the preacher and preaching. In the face of all this, Paul’s exclamatory question, Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:16) is never out of place…
The great hindrance is in the preacher himself. He does not find within himself the mighty, life-creating forces. There may be no deficiency in his orthodoxy, honesty, cleanness, or earnestness. But, somehow the man- the inner man- in his secret places has never broken down and surrendered to God. His inner life is not a great highway for the transmission of God’s message, God’s power.
Somehow, self, not God rules in the holy of holiest. Somewhere, all unconscious to himself, some spiritual nonconductor has touched his inner being. The divine current has been arrested. His inner being has never felt its thorough spiritual bankruptcy, its utter powerlessness. He has never learned to cry out with an ineffable cry of self-despair and helplessness until God’s power and fire come in, fill, purify, and empower. Self-esteem- self-ability in some wicked form- has defamed and violated the temple that should be held sacred for God.
Life-giving preaching costs the preacher much- death to self, crucifixion to the world, the travail of his own soul. Only crucified preaching can give life. Crucified preaching can come only from a crucified man.
E.M. BOUNDS, chapter, Our Sufficiency is of God
This article first appeared in the October 2004 issue of SBCLife, published less than two months following Dr. Olford’s death in August. The entire article and additional testimonies can be seen on line by searching for “A Tribute to Stephen F. Olford,” or by going to SBCLife archives. Dr. Olford was my friend and mentor for 35 years. I still miss him greatly. I pray that this tribute will be a blessing to you. I pray for those of you who never knew Stephen Olford that you might take steps to acquaint yourself with his books, sermons and other resources. Go to http://www.stephenolford.com for more information.
A TRIBUTE TO STEPHEN F.OLFORD by Roger D. Willmore
His was no ordinary life. In fact the extraordinary happenings that seemed to characterize his life and ministry began when he was still in his mother’s womb. Stephen Olford was born to missionary parents, Fredrick and Bessie Olford, on March 29, 1918. Fredrick Olford’s basic knowledge of medicine and the experience he had gained on the mission field caused him to anticipate that the birth of their first baby might be accompanied by complications. Rather than taking a chance, he and Bessie made up their minds to make the thousand-mile trek from Angola to the British colony of Northern Rhodesia. Fred walked every step of the way while Bessie was carried in a hammock by A-Chokwe men.
The first seventeen years of his life were spent in the heart of Africa where he witnessed the marvelous power of God working through the lives of his godly parents. His experiences in Africa flavored his preaching. I can remember when I first heard Stephen Olford’s voice on the old reel to reel tape player in 1969; I as a senior in high school. His accounts of miracles from God among the A-Chokwe people captured my youthful imagination. I learned later how those experiences forged his character.
Stephen Olford left the home he had known and loved in Angola to live in England where he would pursue a career in engineering. In college his thesis project was carburetion. He developed a special carburetion system and took up motorcycle racing to demonstrate the efficiency of his invention. On his way home from a race on a cold rainy night he crashed his motorcycle and lay injured on the road in the rain for several hours. Pneumonia quickly set in. Doctors announced, “Two weeks to live.”
Laying on his death bed, Stephen Olford received a letter from his father in Africa. Fredrick Olford knew nothing of his son’s condition. It took three months for a letter to travel from Africa to England. But in God’s sovereignty the letter contained words that would forever change the life of Stephen Olford. His father wrote, Only one Life, ‘Twill soon be past, Only what is done for Christ will last. Stephen Olford read those words and fell under deep conviction. He slipped out of bed, dropped to his knees, and cried out to God. He prayed, Lord, You have won and I own You as my King of Kings and Lord of lords…and Lord if You will heal my body, I will serve You anywhere, anytime, and at any cost. God answered his prayer and from that day until August 29, 2004, when he went to be with the Lord, Stephen Olford’s life was ablaze for God.
In 1959 Stephen Olford came to the United States to pastor the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. He embarked upon this new chapter in his life with wife Heather and sons Jonathan and David at his side. It was from the famed Calvary pulpit that Dr. Olford’s anointed expository preaching began to impact people around the world. His days at Calvary made the world his parish.
It is appropriate that we as Southern Baptists pay tribute to Stephen Olford. His passionate and powerful expository preaching, along with his evangelistic zeal, made him a favorite on Southern Baptist Convention platforms across the country. He spoke at the SBC Pastor’s Conference numerous times and he was a frequent speaker at state conventions and conferences. I had the privilege of serving as conference president in Alabama, and Stephen Olford was keynote speaker for two of the sessions. Our conference theme was PREACH THE WORD.
It is the testimony of countless pastors and evangelists and missionaries in our Southern Baptist Convention that they really came into the blessings of the Lord under Dr. Olford’s ministry.
I am writing this article on behalf of my fellow Southern Baptists to honor the life and ministry of God’s faithful servant, Dr. Stephen F. Olford, and to express gratitude to God for giving such a wonderful gift to His Church. I also want to express our appreciation to his wife Heather and their two sons, Jonathan and David for sharing Dr. Olford with us.
In 1988 the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical preaching was founded in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember with clarity Dr. Olford casting the vision for a ministry of promoting biblical exposition and practical training for pastors, evangelists, and lay leaders. From the beginning Dr. Olford’s motto was, Ministry to Ministers is Ministry to Multitudes.
There are three beautiful banners prominently displayed in the Olford Center chapel which contain three foundation truths that guide the Olford ministry. The three banners contain the words: Jesus is Lord; Be Ye Holy; and Preach the Word. The life of Stephen Olford epitomized the truth of each of these banner statements. The powerful anointed preaching that characterized his preaching ministry emerged from a holy life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The passion of his life was to preach the Word. He often said,
Southern Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to God for the life of Stephen Olord. He has ministerd effectively on our convention platforms, in our churches, and in our seminaries. His friendship, his counsel, his godly life, and his anointed preaching have made an indelible impression on all of us. It is true that the world was his parish and he ministered to the masses, but who can forget that beaming smile, that radiant personality, and that loving hug. He never lost sight of the value of the individual. I will always remember the many times I have been with him after a conference when everyone else would be gone and Dr. Olford could be found sitting with a hurting pastor in need of counsel. He would embrace the crowd and then he would embrace the individual.
Lord, thank you for the faithful, selfless, and sacrificial service of your servant, Stephen F. Olford. Amen
He being dead yet speaketh…and the admonition is clear. Preach the Word!
Only One Life, by Dr.John Phillips, the biography of Stephen Olford.
Heather Olford went Home to be with the Lord on December 21, 2013
The importance of expository preaching was impressed upon me early in my ministry. I surrendered to God’s call upon my life at age seventeen. About the same time, I was introduced to one of the most noted expository preachers or our day, Dr. Stephen Olford, who at the time was pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City.
I met Dr. Olford at a Keswick Christian Life Convention in Birmingham, Alabama. I was awe struck by his preaching. It was Stephen Olford who introduced me to the method of expository preaching and who modeled anointed expository preaching. There was born in my heart a desire to be an expository preacher and for the past forty plus years I have endeavored to follow the pattern of my mentor.
WHAT IS EXPOSITORY PREACHING?
A few working definitions of the term Expository Preaching will enable us to better understand its importance.
Stephen Olford said, “Expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God’s Word with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical, and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response.”1
Phillips Brooks in his lectures on preaching, delivered before the divinity School of Yale College in 1877, stated, “It is not hard to find a definition (for preaching). Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. It has two essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of those can it spare and still be preaching.” 2 Phillips Brooks saw a unique and important relationship of the man to his message. He said, “Truth through personality is our description of preaching. The truth must come really through the person, not merely over his lips, not merely into his understanding and out through his pen. It must come through his character, his affections, his whole intellectual and moral being. It must come genuinely through him. 3
Haddon Robinson says, “Expository preaching is the communication of biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality of the preacher, and then through him to his hearers.” 4
The Apostle Paul states the biblical mandate for expository preaching in Second Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (NKJV)
WHY IS EXPOSITORY PREACHING IMPORTANT?
An expositor of God’s Word is someone with a moral responsibility to and to man. To God he is responsible for handling the Word of God correctly and in a manner which makes him, the preacher, the mouthpiece for God.
The expository also has a responsibility to man to preach the truth of God’s Word. People are looking for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.
I disagree with the idea that the preacher determines the needs of his people and then selects a biblical text from which to address the needs. The preacher cannot accurately discern the needs of people. Only God can do that.
I believe it is better to move from the Scriptures to the issues of life. If a pastor is a disciplined expositor, preaching his way through the Bible in a systematic manner, he will eventually address the problems his people face.
Dr. Jerry Vines gives another reason why expository preaching is important. “Thousands of churchgoers throughout America are desperately hungry for good preaching. They are looking for a Bible study, a church or some service where their souls can be fed from the Word of God. Much of the preaching of our day is dry, irrelevant, and deadening. 5
May we never under estimate the importance of expository preaching of God’s Word. Strongholds are torn down, families are put back together, lives are changed, and hope is restored as a result of anointed expository preaching.
John R.W. Stott, a noted author and expositor clearly states his view on the importance of expository preaching. “I believe that preaching is the key to the renewal of the church…If it is true that a human being cannot live by bread only, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God. I have seen congregations come alive by the faithful and systematic unfolding of the Word of God.” 6
I agree whole heartedly with Dr. Stott. Any pastor who faithfully preaches the Word of God will value the impact of the preached Word. He will have the joy of watching the transforming power of God’s Word in the lives of his people. This leads me to my last point.
WHAT DOES EXPOSITORY PREACHING DO?
Expository preaching has many positive effects on both the preacher/pastor and his people. The personal benefits to the preacher in terms of preaching materials, time management, and sermon preparation are numerous. However, I want to address the benefit of expository preaching for the person in the pew.
I am troubled by the trends of our day that replace the Bible with projection screens, and listening guides. There is nothing wrong with these or any other teaching tools, as long as they do not displace the use of the Bible.
Expository preaching helps people to know their Bible. It enables them to see the Bible as a whole, and in its context. It also equips Christians to grow and mature in their relationship with Jesus Christ. The pastor as an expositor has a golden opportunity to take his people deep into the things of God.
One of the great joys of my life and ministry is to watch people over a period of time as I systematically preach the Word of God. I love to watch their spiritual metamorphosis as they change more and more into the likeness Christ. I love to hear the “rustling of the leaves” (turning of the pages) on Sunday when the sermon text is announced. I love to see people enter the House of God with Bible and notebook in hand. I love to see the gleam in their eyes when discover the great truths of God’s Word for the first time.
I believe in expository preaching. May we who are called to be preachers of the Word—PREACH THE WORD!
1. Stephen and David Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching, p.69
2. Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching, p.5
3. Ibid, p.8
4. Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, p.20
5. Jerry Vines, A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation
6. Stephen and David Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching, p.68