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Ray Stedman is one of my modern day heroes of the faith for his modeling of the plurality of elder form of church government (which speaks to his humility, love and respect towards his fellow elders) coupled with rock solid and insightful expository preaching. It was a great privilege to read this biography of a man’s man who showed the discernment of lifting up the truth of God while maintaining a blameless character of personal integrity. The book did not gloss over his personality – making him to appear perfect – nor did it elevate him to some unrealistic leadership pedestal; Mark Mitchell obviously knew Stedman intimately from ministering at a church which was an “outgrowth of Ray Stedman’s ground-breaking Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California.”

This book is a must read for those who would like to learn at the feet of a man who truly fulfilled the pastoral exhortation of 2 Timothy 2:2:

“And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

One of my earlier ministry projects was compiling and distributing for free a database software application that indexed a wide range of excellent expository sermons. This Visual Basic project was called Biblekey and originally was distributed via back in the days when Pastor John Kapteyn was developing this site. I had chosen Ray Stedman’s sermons as one of the seed databases for this project. You can search Stedman’s works online by referencing Peninsula Bible Church’s Discovery or the Ray C. Stedman Library that catalogs all of his teaching

I identify with so many of his convictions and approaches to preaching and ministry that it is difficult to know how to summarize this book. I am going to just cite a number of quotes that leaped out at me from the book with a few editorial comments where applicable:

“Though conservative in his theology, Ray Stedman was a radical in the area of ecclesiology . . . He believed the work of the ministry should be done by people in the pews rather than by professionals and that the role of pastors is to equip the saints to use their spiritual gifts. In keeping with this conviction, Ray deplored all things ecclesiastical, even refusing to be called the senior pastor of PBC. He avoided anything that promoted hierarchical separation in the church, and he insisted that the church be led by servant-leaders (called elders) who were responsible to Christ, the Living Head of the body.” (p.15)

Today you find many more pastors who would echo these same sentiments. But you would not find many men who in a practical sense have really been faithful in modeling these ministry convictions. A church with the type of functioning plurality that PBC seems to have been able to implement is a rare breed. A good test: when Ray Stedman left the active pastoral ministry of the church the existing elders were able to carry on without conducting a pastoral search for a replacement.

“It is a testimony to Ray’s vision for team ministry and his working out of that vision, that when he retired the church did not set out to search for another ‘superstar’ preacher or senior pastor, as a church that large and influential would normally do.” (p.158)

“Ray’s commitment to equipping the saints also extended to the training of pastors. He loved mentoring young men who desired to teach the Scriptures, and he believed that pastors should be trained in the local church rather than in the seminary.” (p.15)

Yet he wasn’t inflexible in this preference. Where it made sense he promoted the advantages of seminary training and came to a fairly balanced perspective in this area. But he refused to adopt the worldly model of academic excellence as the benchmark for spiritual leadership.

“This was his point: that the seminary followed the university model rather than the pastoral model. If you see it in terms of medicine, it would be ridiculous to train a guy in medicine without a hospital. When it came to training pastors, Ray was way ahead of his time, because today almost all major seminaries require extensive practical ministry experience for Master of Divinity students.” (p. 114-115)

Still there is more value in being mentored in a specific local church context than just some general ministry experience requirements.

“The typing and shorthand that I learned at Winifred High School kept me employed through most of the Depression, and led to my serving as a Court Reporter in the Navy.” (p.28)

My own typing skills have greatly enhanced my output – both in the workplace and in ministry opportunities. Parents . . . teach your young children to type well!

Ray benefited from mentoring under some spiritual giants like Dawson Trotman (p.46) and had close friendships with many well-known speakers like Howard Hendricks from Dallas Seminary (who wrote the Foreword to this book).

“I detest denominationalism thoroughly and irrevocably and have little patience with men who constantly blow a denominational trumpet.” (p.49)

His early Christian years under the influence of the Navigators were inseparably connected with the Scofield Reference Bible and dispensationalist theology. (pp.50-51)

“Ray and Elaine lived on campus, along with seventeen other families, in a place affectionately nicknamed ‘Trailerville.’ This ‘village’ was simply a group of seventeen trailers under a grove of pecan trees, located at the place where Chafer Chapel stands today. Life at Trailerville was anything but glamorous.” (p.59)

You can ask my wife Karen about our own experience in “Trailerville” out at Winona Lake, IN while attending Grace Theological Seminary. “Anything but glamorous” is an extreme understatement. But the seminary students hung together and helped one another out.

My favorite story is when someone (a relative who will remain nameless) angrily stormed out of our trailer and slammed the storm door – breaking all of the glass in the dead of a winter blizzard. Before I could even move … my friend from the adjoining trailer (who had witnessed the event out of his window) was already on my doorstep installing a replacement door that he just happened to have in his shed! Oh for the days of crawling under the trailer and wrapping the heat tape on the pipes! Not!

To this day, Karen maintains that the water in that park caused major health problems (fertility issues and even cancer for a few couples). (We would not have dubbed our trailer village “Conception City” as did Ray Stedman – p.60.) We always portaged our drinking water from a nearby spring – providentially sparing our health. Our water pressure sometimes was so poor that Karen could hardly wash her hair in the shower.

“Ray preferred preaching through the books of the Bible; and like McGee, his preaching was marked by simplicity, a conversational tone, and homespun stories and humor.” (p.65)

His mission statement for the beginning fellowship group that later grew into PBC of “To know Christ and make Him known” (p.72) closely paralleled the theme of the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship under the leadership of Dr. Donald B. Fullerton.

His family life (p.75) gave rise to some communication and relational issues that evidenced that he was a work in progress just like the rest of us.

His interaction with Miles Stanford who advocated some “Deeper Life” convictions (p. 82) showed the tension in Ray Stedman between not subscribing to a second baptism of the Spirit (post salvation) and yet still recognizing the essential dynamic of the gracious and sovereign work of the Spirit in the area of sanctification.

Ray Stedman developed his approach to expository preaching from a number of sources including G. Campbell Morgan (p. 88).

“But even prior to his years at Dallas, Ray was becoming convinced about the primacy and power of exposition. . . I learned from him not only how to discover the patterns of thought-development in a biblical passage, but how to organize those patterns into contemporary presentations that would touch directly upon the issues of life today . . . Ray defined exposition as ‘preaching that derives its content from Scripture directly, seeking to discover its divinely intended meaning, to observe its effect upon those who first received it, and to apply it to those who seek its guidance in the present.’”

“From the onset of his ministry, Ray’s method was to preach through entire books of the Bible. He would often alternate between the Old and New Testaments so that his congregation would receive a ‘balanced diet’ of God’s Word. This has great advantages over textual preaching in that it forces one to handle the difficult themes of Scripture as well as the more popular ones. Further it keeps truth in balance since it follows the pattern of Scripture itself in mingling several themes in one passage, and thus makes possible the apostolic goal of ‘declaring the whole counsel of God.’” (p.89)

Apparently Ray was much more of a storyteller than a strict homiletician with the type of tighter exegetical outlines that is more my style. (p. 91) But he was a “master at bringing needs to the surface” and his style was powerfully blessed by the Lord. He was also a master illustrator (pp.94-97).

“Ray also loved to play chess, and he rarely lost.” (p.128)

That must be one of the biblical requirements for preachers . . . I just can’t seem to find it in the text!

“One of the indicators of Ray’s commitment to the truth was his commitment to church discipline.” (p.137)

“He deplored church growth tactics. The whole purpose of COBE was to call churches back to what he believed was fundamental to their calling: the preaching of the Word of God, without which numerical growth was nothing but a fleeting and fleshly human endeavor.” (p.153)

For an example of his preaching from the OT, check out the appendix “How to Kill a Lion an a Snowy Day.” (p.203ff)

As you can see, this book hits on a wide range of valuable ministry topics. Any preacher who wants to be found a faithful steward who builds wisely on the foundation laid by Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3) would do well to meditate on some of the life lessons highlighted from this in depth look at the life and ministry of Ray Stedman.