Friday Five Interview: Ray Pritchard

June 25, 2010

It is my privilege to interview a pastor whose ministry I have long admired. I discovered Dr. Ray Pritchard while I was on staff and editing a Christian publication and was delighted to excerpt some of his books. I began following his blog. He began blogging way before blogging pastors were cool.

Dr. Ray was the senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL for many years and is the author of numerous, best-selling books, including [amazon ASIN=”0802415350″]An Anchor for the Soul[/amazon], which is distributed around the world and translated in many languages. Ray is frequently interviewed on radio stations across the country and is a prolific speaker at conferences around the world, including Word of Life. Dr. Ray now is the full-time director of Keep Believing Ministries which equips pastors and church leaders around the world with a resource-rich website, Ray’s books, and a speaking ministry that takes him around the globe.

I have personally benefited from Dr. Pritchard’s ministry. He has been a rich source of wisdom and advice on pastoral ministry, writing, and life. I consider him a great friend. I also regularly peruse his archive of sermons and blog posts for insight into my own preaching.

1)      Ray, you were blogging way before blogging pastors were cool. Now your ministry is completely online is serving pastors and Christian leaders around the world. Did you ever envision it would grow this big?

Several years ago, when I was speaking in New York, a woman who knows about our ministry said to my wife, “The Internet was made for people like your husband.” I smiled when I heard it because it’s basically true. My fascination with the Internet began when I started blogging in late 2002 when I was still a pastor in Oak Park. Even on that limited scale, I was amazed at the reach of the Internet. I found out that without much effort, I ended up with people around the world who came to the website every day to see find out what I was doing. We had people in Germany who followed my blog. They were actually interested in my thoughts, travels, reading, observations, and personal news about my family. That made me a believer in the awesome power of the Internet to reach people. Everything that has happened since then has tended to confirm that observation.
Now back then I had no idea of how large this ministry would become. That was long before podcasting, iTunes, instant messaging, iPods, YouTube, and long before Facebook.

A while back someone asked me when we were going to start a radio or TV ministry. I answered that I hoped never because the Internet levels the playing field. Take the largest ministry you can find. What they do on the Internet, we can do as well because the Internet is so affordable. So even though we’re a tiny blip on the radar compared to Campus Crusade, we can do the same sorts of things they can do. And compared to radio and TV, we can reach people around the world for pennies on the dollar. That’s why I think the Internet is the single greatest tool for the gospel in our generation. I like to tell people that Keep Believing Ministries has no buildings and owns no property. Our headquarters is wherever my laptop happens to be.

It’s amazing how the ministry scene has changed in the last few years. These days a church without an Internet presence is like a church without electricity. People won’t take it seriously.

2)      You keep an insane schedule of travelling and speaking in churches and Christian organizations. In your view, what’s one good trend and what’s one bad trend you see in the evangelical church?

I’m impressed by the seriousness of the younger generation. As a Baby Boomer myself, I’m not all that impressed by what my generation has produced. But when I look at the under-35 generation, I see young men and women who are deadly serious about Christian discipleship. They don’t want glitz, they don’t want entertainment, and they don’t want light sermons. They want to be challenged by a church that calls forth their best and highest for Christ. And they don’t want programs but they do want real community. I think it’s a good sign that some of the strongest churches in America are being built by younger pastors.

On the flip side, I am very concerned about the trend toward theological compromise over issues of biblical authority. Inside the evangelical community there are those who doubt that Jesus is really the only way to heaven. And we debate homosexuality because we’re under such pressure from the culture and from nice people we know who have come out as gays and lesbians. Some of them even went to our evangelical schools. In the days to come, churches and pastors will be put to the test over biblical authority. Too much of our current Christianity is driven by feelings. We want people to feel good and be happy with us. But the faithful pastor must sometimes challenge people with the hard truth of God’s Word.

3)      As a former pastor, what do you think is the toughest part of the ministry here in the 21st century?

This one is easy. I tell young pastors all the time that expectations are higher and patience is lower than ever before. Because of the Internet, the best pastors in the world can come streaming into your computer 24 hours a day. You can listen to Andy Stanley or John Piper or the late Donald Grey Barnhouse or Adrian Rogers or Chuck Swindoll all day long. Those incredible communicators can make your local pastor seem rather boring by comparison. Now I’ve already said I think the Internet is a huge blessing—but it does offer challenges. I think young pastors have to hit the ground running. The days are long gone when a new pastor gets a 2 year honeymoon period. Now it’s more like 2 months. So that’s an issue.

A larger issue is cultural. Because people are bombarded with information, they tend to be worn out, overcommitted, and easily distracted. It’s important for churches to find out what they do well and focus on doing that. Better to do 3 things very well than 15 things below average. Comparison is a fact of life. You can’t get around it and it’s a waste of time to try. But we can use the current ministry environment to focus on building strong community, strong leaders, and empowering people to serve the Lord.

4)      I’ve always enjoyed your sermons and your books because you have a real fluid way of sharing the truth to the common person. Do you think you’re talents as a writer enhance your preaching?
I’m a big proponent of writing things out. I started out 32 years ago by writing a weekly column for my first church in California. That continued for 27 years in all three churches I pastored. I began writing out my Sunday sermon back in the 80’s, long before I published my first book. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that in his early years, he made a practice of writing out (longhand) one of his Sunday sermons. Writing focuses the mind, clears the cobwebs, forces you to think about your message, and teaches you how to communicate clearly. And all of my 27 books have come directly from my preaching ministry. I never had the time or energy to write separately from my pastoral ministry. My books are an extension of my preaching and my preaching starts with my writing. I strongly advise all young pastors to write their sermons, write for the bulletin, and then to post their writing on the Internet. Start now. Don’t wait until you have a book contract. Forget about that. Write your sermons. Post them. And soon you’ll hear from people around the world. It works. I’ve seen it happen in my own ministry.

5)      What is the one piece of advice you would give to a young pastor today?

Get to know the character of God. Nothing matters more in the long term than knowing God—who he is, how he works, his character, his attributes, his nature. Make God the object of your study and you will have a foundation for a lifetime of ministry. That matters far more than learning techniques or programs or even gaining a knowledge of the culture. Fads and trends come and go, but the man who knows his God will never lack for a place to minister. This is a lifetime pursuit, not merely a course of study in a seminary. Pray to know God deeply. An old hymn says, “Learn what God is like.” Do that and you will be a blessing to people wherever you go and whatever you do.

Bonus Question: I had to ask this. You moved from Oak Park in the Chicago suburbs to Tupelo, Mississippi. Do you miss the Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish and Portillo’s Italian Beef?

I have found that each region of the country has its own special cuisine. Here in Mississippi we do catfish really well. And we’ve got excellent barbecue and the best chicken biscuits with gravy I’ve ever had. But compared to Chicago, we have no pizza at all. So yes, I do miss Chicago deep dish pizza and Portillo’s for sure.