When I was a student majoring in Bible at Freed-Hardeman College (it now goes by University), occasionally I received invitations to preach at small churches. When I drove to those appointments, which often were as far as a hundred miles away, I would pop an eight-track tape cassette into my player to help me stay alert. I played a variety of songs, but I had one song that I played every time I drove to preach: Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.” Its description of people coming from throughout the countryside to hear the dynamic Brother Love preach invigorated me and help me focus on what I would say as well as the needs of the people to whom I would say it. It reminded me that a variety of people with all sorts of agendas would assemble for worship that day. The reference to crying babies reminded me that not all would be there because they chose to be. The song told me (and Neil Diamond may not have had this in mind at all) that all these people needed to hear God’s message of love through Jesus and that I might help them hear it or block their reception of it by what I said and how I said it. The lyrics challenged me to preach compassionately but fervently.
Among the biblical passages that shaped my approach to preaching was 2 Timothy 4:1-8. Those verses resonated with me early in life as I heard my mother and my great-grandmother Taylor discuss how my great-grandfather loved those verses. Joe A. Taylor came to be identified with the phrase “Preach the Word” in many of the congregations to which he preached in Arkansas, Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio, and Florida. Verse 7 was engraved on my father’s tombstone: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” These verses emphasize that preachers must proclaim the message of the Lord with faithfulness; they also warn that that the task demands spiritual stamina and love for God. When one considers their message in the greater context of 2 Timothy, he discerns the importance of the heritage of the faithful: Timothy learned the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother; he learned from the apostle Paul to teach faithful men who could teach others.