‘The Dean of the Nation’s Black Preachers’, Gardner C. Taylor, Talks About Desolate Spirituality, “Aridity,” and the Hope of Heaven

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Doing ministry means walking through times of darkness and dryness. During seasons of spiritual desolation, what can a church leader offer the congregation? And is there any personal encouragement to be found in these “parched places”?

Sometimes the most comforting voice to hear during thin times is someone who has been there. Gardner Taylor is a man who has been there.
The Rev. Dr. Taylor served the congregation of the historic Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, New York, for 42 years until his retirement in 1990. His legacy beyond the pulpit includes civil rights activism, more than 2,000 archived sermons, preaching at President Bill Clinton’s pre-inaugural festivities, and helping to found the Progressive National Baptist Convention along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Taylor is seen as one of the most influential homileticians of the 20th century, and was dubbed by Time magazine as “dean of the nation’s black preachers.” He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000, to recognize his outstanding contributions to American society.
But this career was not without struggle. During his ministry, Taylor experienced fierce opposition, discouragement, temptation, and grief. Now a man of 93, he has watched many of his friends die, he lost his beloved wife of 55 years in a tragic accident, and he has experienced the gradual withering effects of his own aging process.
Leadership Journal’s Marshall Shelley and Chicago pastor Michael Washington met with Dr. Taylor at his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to explore his seasoned perspective on doing ministry in the middle of a personal wilderness.
As you look back on your personal journey, were there times of particular dryness? Did you ever have wilderness experiences?
Many. I have known a great deal of solitude. My religious experience has been primarily the Lord’s pursuit of me, and I’ve been elusive sometimes. Sometimes he’s trapped me. It hasn’t always been pleasant. There are ways I would have run better if I could have.
I’ve come now to the place where I’m attending funerals for the last of my contemporaries. I can almost feel the water of the river lapping at my feet even now.
I’ve gone through periods of dryness, and they were very exacting, very costly. But in those arid times I still had to do my work, my preparation to preach. I found that I preached not only out of the fullness of the Lord, but I preached also out of the aridity, out of the emptiness.
Tell us what you mean by preaching “out of the aridity.”
Sometimes there are arid stretches where God does not seem real. Our Lord expressed it supremely at Calvary: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Over and over again, I’ve experienced that. But if my preaching in those times has had any attractiveness, it has been because people have heard me express what many of them were going through. Often with pain, I might add.
Source: Christianity Today Leadership Journal | Interview by Marshall Shelley and Michael Washington