Over the past couple of years I’ve done a series of interviews so that you can “meet” men like John Piper, Carl Trueman, Wayne Grudem, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, David Powlison, and Thabiti Anyabwile. These are men I deeply love and respect. We asked them a set of questions that resulted in some very insightful answers.
But I also like asking these questions of “ordinary” pastors, men less recognized who are laboring faithfully in their local churches. There is nothing ordinary about these men. I consider them extraordinary! I think their work serving the local church is the most important work being done today, work that is worthy of high esteem (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).
Today I want you to meet one extraordinary ordinary pastor: Phil Sasser.
Phil serves as the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Apex, North Carolina. He has served at that church for 16 of his 29 years in ministry.
Phil and his wife, Cassie, have been married for 40 years and have five children and 15 grandchildren.
Meet Phil Sasser.
Phil, please describe your morning devotions. What time do you wake up in the morning? How much time do you spend reading, meditating, praying, etc.? What are you presently reading?
I have some insomnia, so wake up time can vary somewhat. Usually I get up between 6 AM – 7 AM. The first 45 minutes in my office is spent in reading, meditation, and prayer. The M’Cheyne Reading plan has served as a base for my daily Bible reading. This year, I am supplementing M’Cheyne by reading two pages from Herman Bavinck’s Our Reasonable Faith. I have a daily prayer agenda that varies with each day of the week.
What book(s) are you currently reading in these three categories: (a) for your soul, (b) for pastoral ministry, or (c) for personal enjoyment?
(a) Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards (this is about my fifth time reading through it) and The Work of Christ by G. C. Berkouwer.
(b) Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D. A. Carson
(c) Truman by David McCullough
Apart from Scripture, what book do you most frequently re-read and why?
Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray is one. Murray’s treatment of the atonement is outstanding even though the book is relatively short. It is very rich in content and insight. Murray also covers doctrines such as our union with Christ, adoption, and glorification which sometimes are omitted from discussions on the atonement.
When you finish a book, what system have you developed in order to remember and reference that book in the future?
By the grace of God I have a good memory. Or is it that I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten? But if it is a particularly good quote, I copy it and put it in my sermon files on the pertinent subject or text.
If you could study under any theologian in church history (excluding those men in Scripture), who would it be and why?
John Calvin, because of both his depth and breadth of theological writing. There is a wonderful simplicity in his commentaries. He is writing to the ordinary pastors of his day, so he “cuts to the chase” quickly. Calvin’s commentaries have a focus on the gospel and the doctrines of grace. On the other hand, you can soar with Calvin in The Institutes.
What single piece of counsel (or constructive criticism) has most improved your preaching?
C.J.’s emphasis on the centrality of the gospel has obviously affected every aspect of my pastoral ministry. That is especially true of my preaching. I grew up, spiritually, in an atmosphere where the gospel was often marginalized or overshadowed by other, more secondary doctrines such as spiritual gifts, discipleship, eschatology, or ecclesiology. While these are important biblical themes, they must never supplant the gospel in focus or priority in preaching. We must never assume the gospel and, as C.J. has emphasized, there should be a sighting of the gospel (the cross & resurrection) in every sermon. This emphasis has done more, I think, to improve my preaching than any other counsel or criticism.
To be continued tomorrow in part 2...