This is part of a series called Faithful Shepherd Friday, which attempts to learn from faithful shepherds of Christ’s church laboring in obscurity.
Today’s faithful shepherd is Philip Crouse Jr. He resides in King, NC with his wife, Mandy, and their 4 children—Adalee, Bryce, Caris, and Everly. He is currently serving as pastor of Germanton Baptist Church in Germanton, NC. He is an adjunct professor in the Piedmont Divinity School of Carolina University. He has a PhD in Applied Theology in Preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he focused on missional hermeneutics and preaching.
Where do you serve as pastor and how long have you been there?
I serve as pastor at Germanton Baptist Church, a small, rural church located in Germanton, North Carolina. I have been pastor at GBC for a little over two years, but served previously as youth pastor for 13 years.
How do you go about sermon preparation?
Let me start off by saying that I am a planner. I believe that the Holy Spirit who sometimes leads me to change my sermon at the last second for various reasons, is the same Holy Spirit who helps me to know my church and understand what books of the Bible are especially appropriate at a given time. Meaning, I plan my sermon calendar up to a year or more in advance. For example, right now, I am preaching verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians in 2021 with small detours for Easter, Summer, and Christmas.
I preach through books of the Bible 90% of the time. So I know what passage I will be preaching the following Sunday.
My first step in sermon preparation is always praying for the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text, so that I might understand it. Next, I will read the entire context of the passage multiple times. For example, I am currently in the middle of Paul’s praise for God’s salvation found in Ephesians 1:3–14. Even if I am only preaching verses 5–6, I still read the larger context to make sure that I am keeping Paul’s entire thought in view as I hone in on a smaller thought.
After reading the passage multiple times, I try to make an outline of the passage which more often than not turns into my major points. After I have my outline, I begin filling in specific details from the passage under each main point, establishing subpoints that are especially important, and also, making note of important biblical connections that will help my people see the Bible as a unified book. For example, as I preached on adoption into God’s family from Ephesians 1:5–6, I made the important connection to Deuteronomy 7:7 where God reminds Israel that He chose them, not because they were great and righteous, but solely out of His love.
When I feel like I have a good grasp on the passage and I have filled out my outline, I turn to commentaries. I always use a mix of technical, pastoral, and devotional commentaries of the books I preach through. For Ephesians, I currently have ten different commentaries that I refer to throughout the week. What I glean from commentaries helps me know whether I was on the right track in my thinking about the passage. Pastoral and devotional commentaries are also great places to find powerful illustrations and applications that can really bring the passage to life.
At this point, I am 75% done with the sermon. As I try to wrap up my sermon, I turn my attention to specific ways my passage connects to the person and work of Jesus Christ and the mission of God. I ensure that my explanation and applications help my hearers better understand the gospel and how it applies to their life. I try to picture various people who might be listening to my sermon and how the truths of my preaching passage speak to a particular hurt, sin, or situation in their life. Because I believe the entire Bible is somehow connected to the mission of God and what God accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I seek to help my people better understand God’s mission and their place in it.
Finally, I work on my introduction and conclusion. I think through interesting ways to grab my congregation’s attention from the opening words, and how I can wrap everything up in such a way that helps them process the sermon.
What book has impacted your preaching or pastoral ministry? Why do you think it is important for pastors to read this particular book?
The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. No book has opened my eyes to the connection between pastoral care and preaching like The Reformed Pastor. Taking Acts 20:28 as his starting point, Baxter charges pastors to guard themselves and their flocks, recognizing they have been entrusted by God with the care of God’s treasured possession—the Church. Throughout the book, Baxter simultaneously explains what pastors should do to care for themselves and their people and how they can go about doing it to the best of their ability. Precisely because Baxter devoted himself to knowing his people through pastoral care, he came to be known as one of the greatest preachers of the Puritan era. He knew his people, knew the Word of God, and knew how to make disciples through preaching and pastoral care.
What figure from church history has been a source encouragement for pastoral ministry?
This might be cheating, but Richard Baxter. Here’s why. We live in a day where some pastors spend their entire week studying and preparing for their sermons, delegating other matters of pastoral care to other pastors or deacons. But Richard Baxter recognized early on the importance of preaching and pastoral care to the task of shepherding God’s church. His sermons and books have encouraged me that God’s people will grow spiritually if pastors will boldly, faithfully preach the Word of God and pour themselves out as servants to care for their people. His model of pastoral ministry has greatly encouraged me.
If you were speaking to someone new to pastoral ministry, what encouragement would you give?
I would offer two encouragements. First, commit to knowing your people. Brian Croft has said that it might take a new pastor five years to earn the trust of the people so that they see them as a pastor and not just a preacher. But it’s worth it and necessary. Call them, write them, visit them, and spend time doing ordinary things with them. Knowing our people is essential for preaching and pastoral care. Is it hard and frustrating work at times? Absolutely. But it is the call of the shepherd to know his flock and use that knowledge to best serve them and lead them to Christlikeness.
Second, don’t play the comparison game. Social media, and even conversations with other pastors can make our efforts and ministries seem small and inconsequential compared to others. Comparing ourselves to other pastors and our churches to other churches will only lead to discouragement, the loss of joy, and even worse, pride. Thank God every day for the ministry He has entrusted into your care. Serve faithfully with the gifts God has given you in the ministry context He has planted you. And never forget Paul’s words, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
How can we pray for you?
Pray that I can lead GBC out of our current evangelism rut. For decades, GBC has operated under an events-based evangelism and discipleship model; plan a big event, and pat ourselves on the back when lots of people come, even if no one leaves connected to our church. Pray that God might use me to awaken our hearts to see the importance of making disciples, and the willingness to change.