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A central part of Christian worship is the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. The Apostle Paul wrote to the young preacher Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work..” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
As the pandemic of COVID-19 has spread through the United States, the preaching ministry of Lakeside Baptist Church has moved from onsite to online.
In a recent interview, we asked Pastor Tom Beetham about his path to the pastorate and his priorities and preparation for preaching.
When did you first sense that God was calling you to become a pastor?
That is a tough question. Pastoring always scared me because I thought it would mean I would need to say things to people that would be hard to say. I am a “peace lover” and I don’t enjoy stirring up difficulty. So for a long time I thought it would be impossible for me to pastor… I didn’t want to! But over time I saw through experience in teaching God’s word in different settings that it was a gift God had given me. People would say things to me to affirm that. I have a shepherd’s heart for people and I love to teach God’s word. God has given me those desires. And it is very satisfying to use the gifts the Lord has given you.
Where did you do your undergraduate study? What was your major?
I went to WMU (Western Michigan University) in Kalamazoo, Michigan for my undergraduate degree. I initially was uncertain of a career, but I ended up majoring in communications and minoring in psychology and English. It was during this time that I got involved in a campus ministry called Campus Crusade for Christ (now renamed simply CRU) and learned how to share my faith with others, make disciples, lead small groups and went
Tell us about your preparation for the ministry in graduate school:
I started going to seminary not as a career move, but just to learn. I had lots of questions as a younger Christian that I wanted answered. After about two semesters, it moved into a career thing and a calling (ministry). This was at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, the graduate school of Cornerstone University. I graduated with an MDiv which stands for Master of Divinity degree. This is a three year graduate degree designed to prepare students for the pastoral ministry.
Seminary was a great experience which fired in me a love for God’s word and a strong appetite to learn and study. I had about seven or eight classes in Biblical Greek. About five in Biblical Hebrew. My ancient language skills are not nearly as strong as they were then, but they are still helpful. The program included three systematic (topical) theology classes, two historical theology classes (what the church has believed and taught throughout its history), hermeneutics (Bible interpretation skills), preaching courses, ethics classes, missions, counseling and some independent studies classes. What a blessing it was to be able to spend that time enjoying those topics.
You typically preach sermon series through a book of the Bible. What is expository or expositional preaching?
I love this question! Expository preaching simply put is to preach the message of the Bible, rather than my own opinions. The message of the preaching text should be the same as what I preach. Some preacher’s sermons glance off a Bible text and then take a completely different direction. I don’t want that to happen in my sermons. The Bible is God’s word, not my own opinions dressed up as a sermon. To the extent that my preaching message lines up with the Bible passage, then and only then am I really preaching God’s word. We want a message that comes from God, not Tom. And Tom’s only source for getting God’s message is from the Bible. So, I study hard and pray that I would understand the text correctly and then preach that meaning faithfully. I’m not inventing anything new… just trying to apply to the church what God has already said in scripture.
What are the benefits of expository preaching?
Topical preaching can be done faithfully. Some preachers are good at that. They can take a topic and then carefully exposit (or set forth the meaning of) a Bible text or two to illuminate that topic. There is a place for topical sermons, though I don’t feel I’m very good at them. I usually feel more comfortable preaching the text as it is in the Bible, including its overall flow and context. That way it most easily guards me from taking Bible texts out of context. That is very dangerous for many preachers! God didn’t give us verses. He gave us books, with paragraphs and connections. I always like to say that I would prefer to preach the Bible paragraph by paragraph rather than verse by verse, for that reason. Context must be treated as king. A verse can far too easily be distorted when it is lifted out of its context and used for a variety of purposes. It’s not wrong to preach on just one verse, but that preacher better know the context very clearly and help his people to know it too.
What are some of the tools you use in preparing a sermon?
Well, I like to use a Bible. Ha ha! How’s that for obvious? Actually, to access the Bible, I like to use two main tools for help. First, I love to read widely. Old Testament theology and New Testament theology books have been massively helpful for me to get a grasp of the big picture meaning of the Bible. Systematic Theology books also have been profoundly helpful (and readily understandable for anybody in the church!) I am also in a process of reading a major Bible commentary on each book of the Bible, even books of the Bible I am not preaching on. It gives me great overall perspective for my sermons and helps me to make connections between the Old Testament and the New. Finally, and probably most obviously, I read Bible commentaries on the passages that I am currently preaching. I have benefited massively from Darrell Bock’s two commentaries on Luke, as well as one by Robert Stein and N.T. Wright.
Besides commentaries, I also like to consult different translations of the Bible. We are so blessed with solid translations in English. Having both a translation that is more toward the “word for word” side of things (like the ESV or another version) and another one that is more toward the “thought for thought” side of things (like the NIV or another version) is a great way for the strengths and weaknesses of different translations to balance out.
Is it okay for people to email you with questions about your messages?
Absolutely! Some people in the church already do this, and I love it. Please always feel free to ask questions, express discomfort with something I’ve preached, ask for clarification, or give an encouraging word!
(In a future interview, Pastor Beetham will offer practical suggestions for effective Bible study in the life of the Christian.)