The Sweet Torture of Sunday Morning: An Interview With the Late, Great Gardner C. Taylor

Gardner C. Taylor

Over the coming weeks, Leadership Journal will be highlighting their Top 40, the best articles of the journal’s 36-year history. They will be presented them in chronological order. Today, Leadership Journal presents #39, from 1981, an interview with the incomparable Gardner C. Taylor.

In a 1979 story, Time magazine described Gardner C. Taylor as one of the seven best preachers in America. Yet Taylor, pastor of the 10,000-member Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, admits preaching has never been an easy task.

“As a young man I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with my calling to preach; as a new pastor here in Brooklyn I felt the tugs to join in the political life that swirled around our community; and even now after thirty-two years here at Concord, I rarely feel fully delivered in my sermons.”

In spite of these difficulties so common to the preaching ministry, Taylor is thankful for the life to which he’s been called. “The Lord does not misfire. I’m thankful more and more every day he made me a preacher.”

Taylor is a large, grandfatherly man, who commands as much respect for his genuine spirituality as for his considerable preaching skills. Called “the dean of the nation’s black preachers,” Taylor was born in Baton Rouge, attended Oberlin Graduate School of Theology, and came to Concord Baptist after pastorates in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Elyria, Ohio.

Leadership editors Terry Muck and Paul Robbins went to Brooklyn to interview Taylor. It was a profound experience. The external trappings of greatness are all there: a multimillion-dollar church built under his supervision in 1954; a two-story nursing home adjacent to the church, built in 1975; a 155-student grade school run by Lora Scott Taylor, Gardner’s wife.

Taylor is pleased with these things he calls “God’s blessings.” But many will tell you God’s richest blessing on Concord Baptist Church of Christ is Taylor himself.

Do you think you’re a better preacher today than you were thirty years ago?

I know I am. But I’m not as good a preacher as I want to be. After I preached yesterday afternoon, I said to myself, “I didn’t get at it the way I should have.”

That will probably encourage readers.

I feel that way often. Now and then I get a wonderful sense of having been delivered fully through a sermon, but it doesn’t last long, and by Tuesday or Wednesday that sermon begins to look awfully wooden and stale in retrospect. But I know I’m a better preacher now.

How do you know that?

I have a sense that I’m preaching closer to the heart of the gospel; I deal more intimately with the deepest concerns of people. In mv early years, I had a fascination for form and eloquence that was really not heart deep, I’m afraid. They say the reason baseball pitchers walk other weak-hitting pitchers so often is they’re trying to impress them with their great stuff, so they try to make the ball dance on the plate. They end up walking people who couldn’t hit a ball standing still. Some preachers have a similar problem of wanting to be a Fancy Dan and show their stuff. I’ve sensed my own growth away from that need.

What word would you use to describe a preacher who doesn’t try to be a Fancy Dan?

Selfless. A remarkably gifted colleague, Sandy Ray, was at Cornerstone Church in Brooklyn for thirty-five years. I listened to him year in and year out, and I never heard a false note or saw a false move. I never sensed that this man was playing to the galleries. I know also a preacher of enormous talent whose preaching, although attractive, has never achieved the force, the thrust, which I thought was in him in his student days. I listened to him two or three years ago, and I think I found out what is wrong—he’s using fancy footwork, he’s showing he can do it. I’m sure he doesn’t realize it, but there’s always half a smile on his face as if to say, “Watch, now, what I’m going to do.”‘

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Leadership Journal
Terry Muck and Paul Robbins

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