This interview was recorded live from the exhibit floor of the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas. Robert Gallaty is Senior Pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
Michael Duduit: Hi, welcome to Preaching Magazine, a video interview. I’m visiting today with Robby Gallaty. Robby, thanks so much for visiting with me.
Robert Gallaty: Thanks for having me.
Michael Duduit: Listen, you have done a lot of stuff in the area of discipleship and just have some great books that you’ve done, and I know you have a wonderful program in your church on that. Tell me a little bit about how you see the relationship of preaching with discipleship in a local church.
Robert Gallaty: Yeah. So I love preaching. I’ve got degrees in preaching. I’ve always been an advocate. I believe preaching, as I tell people, is the centerpiece of the disciple-making process, but it’s not the only piece of the disciple-making process. And so what really challenged me years ago is I did kind of a study of the ministry of Jesus, just how he ministered. And as an expository, textual preacher like you, I believe not only are the words inspired or the message of Jesus is inspired, we believe that, but the method he used is inspired, right? So like the fact that he goes to a well and just happens to meet a woman there. It’s not by happenstance, right? So not only is the message is fine, but the method is inspiring.
So I tell pastors this, we can’t expect to experience the blessing of the ministry of Jesus if we’re going to divorce ourselves from the method he used, right? So he was meticulous about making disciples. So I started studying them the method of Jesus. He rarely spoke to the crowds. Think about this, you really can name on one hand how many times he spoke to the crowd. So you have the preaching of the feeding of the 5,000, you have the feeding of the 4,000, and you have the Sermon on the Mount, maybe John seven Feast of Tabernacles. But outside of that, you’ll be hard pressed to find Jesus speaking to a large crowd. Now, I’m not diminishing preaching to a large crowd.
But follow me, he moved people from the large crowd preaching to the smaller venues. So Jesus had a group of 120, Acts 1, and 70, which I call the congregation. But here’s what’s mind-blowing, Jesus restricted nine-tenths of his time to 12 guys. And out of that 12, he had a group of three. So I started asking myself the question, how much time do I spend investing in a small group? And at that time, it was a little bit of time. I was pastoring and preaching and visiting and shepherding and hospital visits and funerals and weddings. And so I really realized that in order for my preaching to have impact globally, I need to have a personal relationship individually with people. And what I tell pastors is this, without contact you’re going to have very little impact, right? But if you want to have impact or your preaching gets to know your people better.
So, all that to say, preaching is the centerpiece of disciple-making, but it’s not the only piece. And for the pastor listening and the leader watching now, if you really want to have an impact on your preaching, get to know your people personally. The shepherd smells like sheep. We’ve got to be around the sheep.
Michael Duduit: That’s very good. Now, I know one of the things that you work on and with the other pastors on your team is this whole area of continuous improvement, how we keep getting better. Talk a little bit about what you do in that area.
Robert Gallaty: Yeah. So like you, I’m a lifelong learner. I tell you, I teach our boys this. Even at a young age, I teach them that leaders are learners, or better yet readers are leaders. And I get them to recite this in the home because I want them to know the day … And I believe this like you, the day you stop learning is the day you stop leading, right?
And I just know this from agriculture and from the way things grow, but healthy things grow. So the day I stopped being healthy, I’m not going to grow. So all that to say I’ll always try to learn. But frankly, when you get out of the seminary, it’s very difficult to grow as a pastor. I went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. When I went there, Michael, I was a one-year-old Christian. I don’t even know how Dr. Kelly led me in the school to be honest with you. I was removed from a $180 a day, heroin and cocaine addiction. You know my testimony, radically saved, got in a car accident, addicted to pharmaceutical drugs, street drugs, and then radically saved. One year later, I go to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and I’m there. So I’m like a blank slate. I went through all the classes from start to finish, finished my Ph.D. seven years later, and I got out with a degree in expository preaching.
But here’s the challenge, when I got out of school, like most preachers, I stopped learning. But I read all the books in school, I read all the resources, I studied preachers, but when I got out of school I stopped growing. And most pastors, if they’re honest, where do you grow, right? So I developed what’s called a feedback loop, and I want to say I’ve learned more now since I’ve been out of school since 2011 that I possibly couldn’t learn in school for those seven, eight years.
And here’s how it works, everybody in every church has a feedback loop if you set it up. And the way it works is I have guys that I trust, some of them are here with me at the convention, and they’re staff guys who I know have my best interest in mind. They’re trying to help me get better and they have the right, I’ve given them the right, to speak freely into my life and into my messages.
So here’s how it works, it always starts on Monday. Every Monday I meet with this group of guys who help me create the sermon. Now, this is important because the Bible is an oral book written to an oral culture. The Bible was meant initially to be heard not just read because remember most of the people, we know this, heard the Word of God. They didn’t just read the Word. They didn’t have pocket New Testaments. They don’t have the Bible. So it was meant to be heard, and I found that when you have a context of guys speaking the Word of God to one another, exegeting the Word of God verbally, you hear and learn things you would otherwise not get, right? So it starts on Monday. When the guys come in on Monday, we always start with two questions, give me one thing to keep from Sunday’s message and one thing to work on, right?
Now, I don’t say one thing that’s good and one thing that’s bad because I’m already sensitive about the message, right? I don’t want people Ken Collins said, “When you preach a sermon, it’s like birthing a baby.” So you don’t want anybody messing with your child, right?
Michael Duduit: That’s right.
Robert Gallaty: So he’d say one thing to keep, one thing to work on. Man, I’m going to tell you because you know this. There are times when you think you knock it out the park. Man, that was a great sermon. And they’ll say, “Well, you said ‘but’ 17 times.” Or there are times when you think, man, I didn’t even think that was good for anybody to hear and people say, “Man, that was one of the most exegetical impactful messages you ever preached.” So it’s good to have a feedback loop. A second reason for the feedback loop is they can identify blind spots in your preaching that you don’t see it.
So here’s the reality of a blind spot. We are blinded to the fact that we are blind to the blind spot. That’s why it’s called a blind … We can’t see it. You can’t see it, and I can’t see it. You have blind spots. I have blind spots.
Michael Duduit: You don’t know what you don’t know.
Robert Gallaty: You don’t know what you don’t know. So it’s helpful to have a group of guys that can speak into this. Now for me, it’s staff guys. I’m at a church where I have this, but I was at a church, first church, 65 people, South Louisiana on the Bayou, shrimpers, fishermen in my congregation. I was on the staff yet. So what I did have, I put together two or three trusted friends in the church. One was a deacon, two were younger guys, and I would meet with him weekly, and they would just speak into the message. They weren’t preachers or pastors, but they could work on things with me.
So I say, “Hey, how was the introduction, did it connect? How was the application point? Did you feel like that was with clarity?”
And so I started that feedback loop. And then, here’s what we do now at Long Hollow. These guys come in between the services. So we have three services on Sunday. In between the services, they come in behind backstage with me and they help critique the message and tweak the message. We have a joke sometimes that if you come to the 8:00 service, and then you come to the 11:00 service, you may hear two different sermons because they’ll say … And if you’re a preacher you know this, that illustration sounded good on paper, but it didn’t connect to the people. So that’s the benefit of a preaching feedback, and I’m just telling you if you don’t have that, I would submit to you. You’re not growing as a preacher at the level you could grow if you had people speaking into your life like that.
Michael Duduit: That’s a really powerful tool. I appreciate that very much. What do you enjoy most about preaching these days?
Robert Gallaty: You know, I think at the church I’m pastoring, Long Hollow Baptist, I’ve learned more personally about preaching myself and I think I’ve grown more than I have in all of the years before. And I’ll tell you why, I’ve learned this, this was kind of a surprising insight. And I knew this from school, but you have to contextualize your preaching particularly … And here’s an interesting insight particularly to the guy you follow too, because … And I’m going to say you have to be like the guy before you, but if you come into a situation … I followed a guy who was a masterful communicator. David Landrith was the pastor before me. There’s nobody like David. David could tell stories and weave scripture together. He was just a masterful communicator. He connected with the people. He was there 18 years. So you follow a guy like that who’s been there 18 years, it’s tough in and of itself. But then you have a guy who is a masterful communicator, and he told a lot of personal stories and people love that.
Well, I come in with a bag of tricks, a tool belt of things, and I’m not a personal story guy. I would rather opt for a Wesley or Whitfield or Spurgeon illustration, right, or the Moravian missionaries from Herrnhut, I’d tell those. And the people would be there and they’re like, so what? And what I learned is, six weeks in … So this personal story, six weeks into Long Hollow, I don’t feel like I’m connecting with people. And I’m preaching 55 minute exegetical, deep expositional messages, and I just don’t feel like I’m connecting with the people. But I have a feedback loop of trusted guys that came with me on staff, and they pull me aside after I got back from the New Year’s break and I said, “Hey, any feedback to help me connect?” I got a Ph.D. in preaching, so you think, well, you should know how to preach. But what I’m asking them is how do I contextualize the preaching, right?
And the guys came to me and said, “Pastor, I think if you do two things you’re going to connect.” And I said, “Okay, what are the two things?” “Number one, you have to get rid of the pulpit.” “Now, I’ve written about this, you don’t get rid of the sacred desk. You have to preach behind the pulpit. I’m not selling out to a chair and a …” And they said, “No, you don’t understand. You’re six foot six, 270 pounds, pastor. You don’t need a division between you and the people, you need a connection.”
So what they said is, “If you have a chair and a table,” this is what they told me, “it will force you to relax and it’s going to connect better with the people because when you sit you’re going to welcome them in instead of being over a pulpit.” The second thing they said, and this is really the game changer, they said, “If you start sharing personal stories about your life with the people, it’s going to do two things. One is, it’s going to show them you’re just like them.” Pastor messes up, we mess up because you don’t want to share personal stories where you’re the hero of the story. You never want to do that, but you’re the goofball of the story and you mess up.
They said, “The second thing it’ll do is it’ll let them in your life.” And I’m telling you, Michael, we didn’t tell anybody we were doing this. We just did it. Two or three weeks in, I had people walk up on Sunday and they said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing something different.” And so now two years later from that time, two and a half, I’ve been there almost three years, every week I try to weave in some of these personal stories. Now for me, it’s the hardest thing in the world because I don’t want a story to just … I can make any story fit. But the story that coincides with the text … And so what I do now, and this is something that’s helped me, on my phone I have a notepad that says sermon illustrations, and I just have a list of these sermons.
So I have some land that I bought some animals, and frankly, I bought the animals so I can have more sermon illustrations, right? I just have goats and sheep I learned more … But I have this running list. The time Kandi, my wife, gets pulled over by the police and the kids think we’re on live PD. I mean that these are illustrations I got logged in, and so I’m able to pull those into the story. And I feel like I’m endearing myself to them, and they’re endeared to me because of that.
Michael Duduit: Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. You can go to the PreachingMagazine.org and be able to read a more complete interview that I did with Robby that was in the Spring 2018 issue of preaching. You’ll able to read it online here. Robby, thanks so much for taking the time to visit.
Robert Gallaty: All right, thanks for having me.