A Preaching Legacy | An Interview with Philip Pointer

Preaching Magazine Articles, Interviews

A Preaching Legacy

An Interview with Philip Pointer

Phillip Pointer is a fourth generation pastor, and since 2012 he has served as the Senior Pastor of Saint Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has an active preaching ministry in churches and conferences around the nation. He was interviewed recently by Preaching Executive Editor Michael Duduit.

Michael Duduit:

Describe your own call to ministry and what it’s like to follow in the family footsteps into the pulpit.

Philip Pointer:

I was assured of my call to preaching ministry as a teenager, and I was very reluctant, because I’m fourth generation, actually, on both sides of the family. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and then my mother’s brothers, her father, and her grandfather, my great-grandfather maternally, were all preachers. I’d never had a rose-colored glasses view of ministry. I was very aware of the difficulties and pitfalls and pains of pulpit ministry and pastoring, so I was very, very reluctant and in some ways I would say even defiant about my own personal call.

I’m grateful that my family never tried to pressure me into ministry. I didn’t have any pressure or anything like that, but the call to God on my life was individual and unique. And so finally when I yielded to that call, there was a great deal of benefit of having the collective wisdom of my family and then a personal sense of pressure, perhaps, to live up to the name. But that was internal. It never came from my family, through my father, my mother, or anything like that. It’s been more of a blessing than a burden to come from my lineage. I am the recipient of an amazing inheritance of wisdom and experience in the pulpit that has served me well when I listened to those who’ve come before me.

Michael Duduit:

What is your philosophy of preaching? What do you try to do when you step into the pulpit?

Philip Pointer:

There are two major things that I want to do. I want to be faithful first of all to God, and therefore to God’s word. And then I want to be clear. I’m striving for faithfulness to God. I believe preaching is an act of worship and not just an act of service to people. It’s an act of worship to God. I want to be faithful to God, the God who graciously rescued me from sin by his grace through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But then I also want to be clear, so that while worshiping God I can benefit those who are listening. Those are my two aims. I want to be faithful to God, which then requires faithfulness to the biblical text, and then I want to be as clear as I can and helpful to demonstrate that faithfulness.

Michael Duduit:

If we were to visit Saint Mark one Sunday, what would it be like? What would we hear, what would we experience?

Philip Pointer:

Saint Mark is a wonderful church. I actually stand on the shoulders of amazing leaders. The church now is 127 years old, and I follow in the footsteps of giants, as it relates to the preaching ministry. One of my predecessors is Dr. Maurice Watson, and then my immediate predecessor is Steve Arnold, and they were just great communicators, great pastors. And Dr. Watson is, of course, one of our nation’s leading preaching voices. And so I was blessed to follow men who were, again, clear and faithful.

The worship is designed around sound theological expression of who God is and honoring God for His rescuing work through Jesus Christ. We intend in the preaching moment to communicate the glory of God and the work of Jesus Christ in such a way that those who are believers are made stronger and better followers, and those who are unbelievers get a clear presentation of the gospel so as to make a decision prayerfully to follow Jesus.

Michael Duduit:

Do you mostly preach in series?

Philip Pointer:

Oh, absolutely. It’s difficult for me to write a single sermon that’s not a part of a series. I think that developing mature believers happens over the course of time. This is a marathon and not a sprint. So I believe in doing series that allow for persons to have periods of reflection, to engage biblical concepts over the course of a month or longer even.

So I preach through books of the Bible. Naturally, I preach through Romans, I preach through Ruth and Mark. But then we’ll do topical series that are made up of expositional sermons. If I’m teaching on stewardship or spiritual gifts, which is our theme for this year, even if the series is topical, the sermons would be expositional expository preaching.

So that’s my approach. I think that builds healthy believers as they engage not just single sermons from time to time but with series. And then I think it’s the best way to give people a healthy diet that allows them to read the Bible with understanding, because our Bible wasn’t written in chapters and verses. Those were added later for the sake of convenience. The books of the Bible were one unit, mostly intended to be read, engaged in their totality. And so I want to give people a full understanding of what a book is about, so that when they return to that book they have a greater grasp of its intention.

Michael Duduit:

When you do one of those thematic series, typically how long is that? How many weeks would that cover?

Philip Pointer:

It depends. Sometimes I take a single text and do it over three or four weeks. Earlier this year, for instance, Jeremiah 1:1-10, I did that over four sermons. Recently Mark 10:35-45, that was three sermons. So it can be three weeks, four weeks. If it’s a topical series that I’m doing expositional sermons in, probably no longer than five weeks, six weeks or so. But of course, if it’s a book of the Bible, then as long as it takes to get through that book. We wouldn’t rush through that.

Michael Duduit:

How long is a typical sermon for you?

Philip Pointer:

I really aim to be 30 to 35 minutes max at this point. I think just the science of persons’ attention spans; literally the science is that social media literally has rewired our brains and shortened our attention spans. So I really aim to be 30 to 35. I’d love to be 25, I just haven’t quite gotten there yet. I’m doing my best to edit and to be more precise with words.

I grew up in an era where eloquence and being creative with turns of phrases was a plus, and that’s still true to some degree, but you just don’t get to turn those phrases as many times as when I was growing up in church. You want to be clear first. You want to be as creative as is helpful, but most of all you want to make sure that you don’t lose people along the way by just pontificating and trying to demonstrate my eloquence.

Michael Duduit:

How far out do you plan your sermons or series?

Philip Pointer:

I’m going to plan my preaching for 2020, starting in July. July, August, September, I really want to kind of be settled, because at Saint Mark we have our annual theme. We have a yearly theme as a church; my preaching is going to address that theme, ideally, in various ways and from various angles. I want my media team, my music ministry, all of those constituent elements of the worship experience to have time to develop supportive, creative material around those sermon series. So ideally, July through September, I’m going to do my best to have, maybe not an extended outline, but at least a preaching plan for the next year during those three months.

That’s my hope, so that when I meet with my team at the end of the year, I’m giving them a long view of where we’re going, what we’re intending, so that they can have enough time to pull their elements together, to try to make the sermons live. We try at Saint Mark to be holistic so that the sermons don’t live in isolation. The entire ministry of the church is built around the ministry of the word, so that even in our life groups, which are our primary discipling mechanism at our church, and our ministry activities, we want them to reflect our annual theme, which is being borne out and explained through preaching.

Michael Duduit:

What do you find to be the greatest challenge for you in preaching these days? Where do you struggle the most in preaching?

Philip Pointer:

Well, personally I’d really love to be sharper. I guess this is not unique to me as I talk to other colleagues, but I’d really love to be sharper in introductions and conclusions. That’s a growing edge for me. Introductions are so vital. Again, because of the shortening attention span of the audience, it requires the preacher to be really, really precise and connect with the hearer. As all preaching, of course, is an act of worship, it’s also an act of service to the people, so it’s worship of God in service to the people, and I want to serve the people in the best possible way. I don’t want them to not pay attention to what God wants them to hear, because I haven’t done the hard work and haven’t been diligent about connecting them to the text in those first few moments of the sermons. So introductions are a big deal for me, and I’m really working hard to become better at introducing sermons.

Michael Duduit:

On the other side of that question, where do you find your greatest joy in preaching?

Philip Pointer:

You know, there’s an observational ability to see that aha moment for an individual, or perhaps even for the audience at large, to see people kind of get it. Man, there’s no joy greater in ministry to me than for someone to say, “Oh, now I understand.” Whether it’s a particular aspect of a passage, whether it’s the gospel in general, because I think we make a lot of assumptions that people have actually heard the true gospel. And to see people say, “You know, I never really heard someone explain the gospel, and now I understand,” that’s a remarkable moment, and it’s a humbling moment to know that God would use someone as flawed as I am to communicate eternal spiritual principles to people that God loves and that Jesus died for.

Michael Duduit:

What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned about preaching through the years?

Philip Pointer:

It’s God’s work. You know, we pray, we plan, we prepare, we do the heavy lifting of exegesis, study, language work, dig for divine truth and craft, shape, collect illustrations, all of those things, but no amount of our human effort makes preaching work. It really is a work of the Holy Spirit. I have a collection of friends, and we laugh about it. Whenever I think, “I’ve got a very good sermon today, this is an excellent sermon,” it falls flat. When I think, “This is so mundane, and this isn’t going to move anyone, it’s not going to …” then God does something special with what I think is unremarkable.

It’s God’s work, and I think that’s the thing I’ve learned the most and I try to hold onto in the preaching moment, there behind the sacred desk and even in preparation. God, this is your work, so I’m going to do all I can to prepare and be clear, but if any good is going to come from this sermon singularly or this series as a whole, it’s going to be because you do the work in the hearts of your people. I think that’s the most important thing I’ve learned.

Michael Duduit:

Who have been your influencers as you’ve shaped your preaching ministry?

Philip Pointer:

Well, I’m the beneficiary of a wonderful legacy, so my primary preaching influence is my biological father, who’s also my childhood ministry, Dr. Carey Pointer, Jr. He is the best preacher I know. I understand I say that with a great deal of subjectivity, but I was born under his preaching, I was saved under his preaching, I was called under his preaching, I’ve been installed in the churches I’ve pastored under his preaching, discipled under his preaching. He is my primary preaching influence.

I’ve also been blessed to be mentored by great preaching minds and faithful communicators. Dr. Carroll D. Baltimore from Virginia has been a great preaching influence in my life. Persons like Dr. Steve Lane, who was a professor of mine at Washington Bible College, Phil Bena, another professor of mine at Washington Bible College. And then those who on a more national level that perhaps folks would know, Dr. Ralph West was a great influence for me. Dr. Maurice Watson, of course. There are so many. You know, I’m a preacher-holic. I’ve listened to and been influenced by so many creative, sharp communicators of the gospel that I’m just blessed to have them as examples in my life.

Michael Duduit:

One last question. Imagine an angel shows up on your doorstep one day and says, “Pastor P., you have one sermon left to preach.” What would it be?

Philip Pointer:

What do I want to preach? You know, I think Romans 5, “Having been justified by faith, we have access into this grace in which we stand,” down into verse 8, “God commends his love, demonstrates his love for us, in that while we be yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” That text, if I were permitted to try to do it justice, and I’ve preached it many times, but I’ve not done it justice, the wonderful picture of God’s justifying grace and the explicit demonstration of divine love in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I’d like to say that would be what I’d do my best to communicate before the Lord took my time from me in the pulpit. If I could just get that out more clearly and more faithfully, I think that’s what I’d like to talk about.