What Preachers Can Learn from Tom Brady

by W. Jackson Watts

This past Sunday, for the ninth time in 18 years as a starting quarterback, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots played in the Super Bowl. He had won five of his previous eight trips to football’s biggest game (and America’s most watched sporting event), and Sunday he won his sixth. 12 times he has played in the conference championship game (the game you must win to advance to the Super Bowl). 15 times he has led his team to a division title.[1]

You don’t have to be a football fan to begin to understand how astounding these accomplishments are—and this is without considering his individual achievements as a player (e.g. passing touchdowns). Many great players, quarterbacks included, have never played in a Super Bowl, much less won one. It’s something Brady does every other year, literally. I confess that I have never considered myself a fan. Frankly, I’m like many football fans who are tired of seeing the Brady-led Patriots in the big game. But then I heard this report a few weeks ago: Before the playoffs began, when his team had a week off to rest, Brady met with his throwing coach “to fine-tune and sharpen his fundamentals entering the playoffs.”[2]

This phrase may seem innocuous, but let’s contextualize it: On his week off, a veteran quarterback who is the most accomplished at his position—and perhaps any position—preparing to play in the biggest game he has previously played in eight times, met with a coach who specializes in throwing the football. This isn’t practice; this is the pursuit of perfection.

What does Tom Brady’s commitment to excellence in football, especially at this point in his career, have to do with Christian theology and ministry?

Excellence in the Pulpit?

Preaching is at the heart of pastoral ministry. It’s fitting that we focus largely on the content or substance of what is preached. We might call this the theology of one’s preaching. Yet a holistic theology of preaching includes what we say and how we say it. This intersection of content and form, or sermon development and delivery, is the subject matter of homiletics.

Most students and scholars of preaching (homileticians) describe preaching as more than a calling or spiritual gift. Certainly it is both, but they also characterize it as an art and craft. For thousands of years oral communication has been viewed as a skill that could and should be cultivated and bettered. Some traditions emphasize the principles of rhetoric that predate the New Testament, going back at least as far as Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). But within church history we find many preaching books that deal not only with proper biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), but also with the “art and science of sermon construction.”[3]

I contend that the church would be greatly edified by not only layman embracing and using their spiritual gifts, but by pastor-teachers continuing to make the most of the gift God has given them. After all, preaching and teaching are the pastor’s “main function.”[4]

In this respect, Tom Brady’s excellence in football, and quarterbacking particularly, is instructive. To be clear, Tom Brady himself is not a Christian as far as I know. Ironically some observers describe him as being “religious” about football.[5] However, we shouldn’t allow someone’s potential idolatry to obscure some valuable lessons.[6] Just as the Lord through common grace teaches us many important lessons and blesses all mankind (e.g. Mt. 5:45), preachers can learn some constructive lessons from Brady.

Long-Term Effectiveness (Longevity)

Brady’s effectiveness is especially incredible because he is performing at a high level at age 41 (he turns 42 in August). To put that into perspective, most successful quarterbacks generally play around 15 seasons, meaning they retire around age 35. Hall Fame quarterback Troy Aikman retired at 34; Terry Bradshaw was 36. Dan Fouts was 36. Peyton Manning managed to play until age 39, though he was a shell of himself by his last season. Decline is generally expected near the end of an athlete’s career, especially in a sport like football where players are literally facing violence every Sunday.

Quarterbacks certainly depend on the players who protect them while they pass, as well as the rest of their team (more on this below). But Brady has redefined how modern quarterbacks and quarterback coaches see the position. In recent years extensive attention has been given to his unique diet and workout regimen. Known as the “TB12 Method,” Brady’s commitment to disciplined eating, sleeping, and exercise has rubbed off on many of his teammates and other young players. Though many see professional athletes as people who play hard on game day, and party all night, Brady is a picture of discipline and stability. He never drinks alcohol during the season—unheard of for most players. And when he is not at the teams’ facilities, he apparently spends his time at home with his wife and children. He has repeatedly said he doesn’t know why he cannot play at a high level until age 45.[7]

Preaching, similarly, is a profoundly physical act. It involves extensive concentration during preparation, but in sermon delivery a significant amount of physical and emotional energy is expended. I heard one veteran pastor once say that during the average sermon just as much adrenaline is released as is during a typical eight-hour work day.[8] Consider, then, the fact that many pastors will preach or teach at least three times a week, 50 weeks a year, over several decades.[9] And this isn’t even factoring in how preaching is stacked on top of other highly demanding tasks such as pastoral care and counseling, outreach and evangelism, administration, and more.

How then can preachers prepare to minister for the long-haul if they have not committed themselves to physical and emotional health for the long-haul?

Certainly the time comes for all pastors when they can no longer serve a ministry in a full-time capacity. As pastors age, they must rely on the Lord’s guidance, as well as the wisdom of their spouse, church leaders, pastor friends and colleagues to discern when they should consider retirement from the full-time pastorate. I’ve heard a thousand times that pastors tend to stay too long at a church near the end of their ministry. This also happens in football. Many times quarterbacks are practically carted off the field as their team erodes before they retire and move into a different vocation.

While pastoral ministry, and preaching specifically, is certainly not a perfect analogy to quarterbacking for a professional football team (no analogy is perfect), the primary comparison is this: Preachers must take care of themselves and churches need to take care of their preachers if they expect to have long-term fruitfulness in the pulpit.

Discussing a pastor’s health or well-being with him is awkward for concerned lay people and church leaders. It sounds like a criticism, not loving concern. However, pastors should cultivate healthy self-awareness and humility so as to avoid being defensive. They should be honest about their age, weight, stress-level, and energy-level. They should welcome input, carefully consider it, and evaluate how it may influence their ability to serve well. Church leaders and members should always express concern privately, and do so having carefully weighed their words. They should be sure to voice concerns from a place of love that has been expressed in tangible ways previously such that their pastor perceives it as just that: caring admonition. Finally, both parties should realize that a refusal to say something is the very opposite of love. Leaving concerns unexpressed doesn’t mean that people hate their pastor. However, true love leads us to communicate honestly with those whom we love.

All preachers hope for longevity, but this will likely be influenced by some forces outside of their control. Genetic factors and certain unavoidable health conditions may influence one’s employment in unexpected ways. However, we must not dismiss the Scriptural connection between wise living and long life. Many of the Proverbs, for example, suggest a meaningful link between how we live and how long we live (and by extension, work). We can often observe this link through general revelation, so the medical field can teach us much about our bodies. So insomuch as it is within our control, we should cultivate healthy eating patterns, a commitment to regular rest and sleep, and intentional exercise.

Church members, consider giving your pastor a sabbatical after he has served for a certain number of years. Pastors, consider asking for one if you feel the wheels coming off physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. Church members, giving a gym membership for Pastor Appreciation Month could be a useful gift. A pastor’s mood and mindset toward his work shouldn’t radically change over time if he is walking in the Spirit and observing sound principles of physical and emotional health. Preaching is, in its own way, a contact sport. It should be treated as such.

Parts two and three of this article will post on forthcoming Tuesday mornings. Be sure to check back then!

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[1] Brady’s remarkable and historic run is even more impressive when he consider that he was not the starter for his team until his second season in the league, making his statistics look even more gaudy when one considers the percentage of times in his career he has lead his team to these achievements.

[2]Mike Reiss, “Tom Brady spends time with throwing coach during playoff bye week,”  http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/291728/tom-brady-spends-time-with-throwing-coach-during-playoff-bye-week; Accessed 22 January 2019.

[3] Among Free Will Baptists we have had several men who have taught and written in this field, and so this article is simply an addition to that tradition of thought and practice.

[4] Robert E. Picirilli, ed., Randall House Bible Commentary: Galatians through Colossians (Nashville: Randall House, 1988), 198.

[5] Bob Smietana, “For Tom Brady, football has become religion. No, really.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/02/02/for-tom-brady-football-has-become-religion-no-really/?utm_term=.5af11a5b462b; Accessed 22 Jan 2019.

[6] Others familiar with Brady’s career might be reluctant to engage in such a thought experiment for other reason as well. He has been suspended once for slightly deflating footballs below regulation standards.  Yet no serious football analyst believes he has cheated his way through his career. The scale of his achievements simply cannot be explained away by one or two questionable incidents.

[7] Brady’s obsession with overcoming the typical health and chronological limits on playing football have been chronicled in a Facebook Live series called Tom vs Time.

[8] Rev. Danny Dwyer made the following statement at the 2018 Missouri Pastors’ Retreat in Rocky Mount, MO. I believe he said he had heard this from someone with a medical background.

[9] I am assuming here that the pastor takes at least two weeks’ vacation. Even if he is out of the pulpit more due to guest speakers, he still has other preaching and teaching responsibilities for his church, his local association, perhaps a nursing home ministry, and other such opportunities. This also includes weddings and funerals.

A Must-Read Paper on the Lord’s Supper

by Matt Pinson

Cory Thompson, pastor of First Free Will Baptist Church of Poteau Oklahoma, presented a well-researched paper on the meaning and participants of the Lord’s Supper entitled, “The Lord’s Supper as Meaningful and Open.” The main use of this paper for Free Will Baptists is his discussion of open communion, a historic, distinctive confessional commitment of Free Will Baptists.

Thompson explains that this has been the main division on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper between Free Will Baptists and Baptists from Calvinistic historical backgrounds (this would include those once-saved, always-saved Baptists who do not subscribe to all five points of Calvinism, but who nonetheless emerge from a denominational background of confessional Calvinism).

Most Baptists have historically held to closed communion, not opening the Lord’s Table to those who have not been properly baptized. Free Will Baptists of the Palmer movement in the South, Freewill Baptists of the Randall movement in the North, and the American General Baptist movement, on the contrary, have practiced open communion, opening the Lord’s Table even to those orthodox believers who have received effusion or aspersion as either infants or adults. This doctrinal development in America is interesting, given that there was no consensus on this question among Baptists in seventeenth-century England, with both General (Arminian) Baptists and Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists having both open and closed communionists in their fellowships.   

Thompson discusses the drift of non-Arminian Baptists toward an open communion stance but explains that this is borne more of theological drift than of doctrinal study and conviction. There is, however, a revival of interest among Baptists in closed communion, owing to that movement’s retrieving their confessional tradition of faith and practice. The drift, however, has not been confined to non-Arminian Baptists or those from closed-communion backgrounds. We have experienced it as well. Thompson states:

The transition of many traditionally closed communion Baptists is likely not due to the exegetical and theological validity of the open communion view, but to the rise of consumerism, pragmatism, tolerance, and liberal drift in the church.  And if the closed communion churches are drifting to open communion, where are traditional open communion churches drifting?  It is not unusual to attend a Communion service where the importance and sacredness of the event is undermined by no discussion of the gospel the elements represent, no call for self-examination, or it is conducted in hurried or cavalier manner. Unfortunately, this scenario is commonly reflected in churches holding the open communion position. The historical significance and theological meaning of open communion is in danger of being lost. The term was once equated with a hospitable orthodoxy, accepting all gospel-centered believers to the Lord’s Table.  Now it is associated with watered-down and liberal theology. With this in mind, it is necessary to articulate a biblical, theological, and meaningful view of open communion in order to preserve the integrity of the Lord’s Table (42).[1]

Thompson presents an engaging, scholarly doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, the best Free Will Baptist presentation, in my opinion, in the past century. He begins with an exegetical treatment of his topic. From the New Testament passages on the Supper, Thompson defends a traditional Baptist understanding that eschews real-presence or sacramental understandings of the practice, but is not a bare memorialism. Thus, the Lord’s Supper richly and beautifully remembers, symbolizes, and reenacts Christ’s substitutionary atonement and its salvific benefits, but it is also a corporate communion of the faithful that proclaims the gospel, “ensures the regular rhythm of repentance and faith,” and focuses on the church’s eschatological hope. Thompson rightly chides recent authors for underemphasizing the communal aspects of the Lord’s Supper. He includes my own writing in this admonition, and he is right: we have been guilty of not emphasizing enough the public, communal aspects of the Eucharist.

One of the most significant features of his exegetical section is his treatment of the “examine yourself” language in 1 Corinthians 11, especially in the context of open communion. “It is wrongly assumed by some open communion advocates,” he argues, “that the call for self-examination is only an individual concern or a person is their sole judge, therefore, no administrator or congregation reserves the right to forbid” (51). But he argues that this is a misinterpretation of the passage. This gets to the heart of the most important part of Thompson’s paper, where he probes the Free Will Baptist open communion view and attempts to reinvest it with its original intent.

Thompson rightly argues that open communion has devolved in much recent practice into an individualistic doctrine that basically says that it is between the individual and God whether or not the individual has a right to participation in the Lord’s Supper, unless he is under church discipline. Even converts who have never been “baptized”[2] under any mode may be permitted to the Table in this view: This is between God and the individual believer, and individual belief and conversion is the only prerequisite for participation.

Thompson argues that this is a move away from the historic view. Rather, the original intent of open communion was to allow orthodox Christians who differed on the doctrine of baptism to commune at the Lord’s Table. The idea was that one’s error on the meaning and mode of baptism should not keep him from being able to commune as a true believer at the Lord’s Table. Thus the import or the slogan “Baptism no bar to the Table” is not saying that it does not matter whether one is baptized or not, but that if one has been “baptized” in a church that does not practice believer’s baptism by immersion, he or she can still be admitted to the Lord’s Supper.

Thompson cites John J. Butler, the foremost theologian of the Randall Movement of Free Baptists in the North. Butler argued that admission to the Lord’s Supper should be limited to those “who are in regular standing in any evangelical church” (58). He averred that “it is the duty of all persons, on obtaining a hope in Christ to become connected with some visible church; if they refuse or neglect to do so, they live in disobedience, and one living in known disobedience cannot be recognized as a Christian” (58). Membership in a local congregation “affords prima facie evidence of Christian character and entitles one holding it to the communion in any evangelical church.” Butler says, “The practice of some in allowing professed converts before uniting with the church . . . is to be condemned.”[3] To be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, one’s membership should be in a congregation that holds “both theoretically and practically the doctrines essential to salvation.”[4]

Thompson also cites the 1834 Randall Treatise, which states: “It is the usual practice of our connection, at the time of communion, to invite all Christians of good standing in any evangelical church, to partake with us; as, in general such persons only are known as true believers.”[5]

(Thompson was researching open communion in the Palmer movement but was unable to include it in the paper in time for his presentation. In subsequent correspondence, I shared with him that the Palmer movement was in agreement with his position. One instance of this that I shared with him was the section on “What Free Will Baptists Believe—and Why” in Thad Harrison and J. M. Barfield’s History of the Free Will Baptists of North Carolina.[6]) As Thompson summarizes, “When the congregation approaches the Lord’s Table the administrator should warn unbelievers not to partake, lead the congregation to self-examination, and invite all Christians who are members in good standing of a gospel-centered church.”

Thompson has presented the Free Will Baptist Church with an outstanding introduction to the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper from a confessional Free Will Baptist vantage point. His primary contribution to the Free Will Baptist conversation is his insistence that, even as we advocate open communion, we need to restore the meaning and significance of this beautiful practice in the worship of the church. Furthermore, we need to question whether individualism has moved us toward a “me and Jesus, we got our own thing going” approach to open communion and move back to the doctrine’s original intent as inviting all Christians in good standing, regardless of their denominational affiliation and thus their doctrine of the meaning and mode of baptism, to the Table of Our Lord. (I think we need to try to persuade Mr. Thompson to writing a doctoral dissertation on this topic.)

Thompson is part of a widespread movement of younger Free Will Baptists who want to engage in “renewal through retrieval” in an attempt to renew and reform the Free Will Baptist Church by retrieving the best of our Sufficiency-of-Scripture-saturated tradition. Every Free Will Baptist minister interested in this vital project should read this paper.  


[1] Page numbers follow the listing in the Symposium Digest.

[2] The reason I place “baptized” in quotation marks is because Baptists believe the Bible teaches that only believer’s baptism by immersion constitutes authentic baptism.

[3] John J.  Butler, “An Examination of the Terms of Admission to the Lord’s Supper,” in The Free Communionist or Unrestricted  Communion of The Lord’s Supper With All True Believers Advocated; And Objections of Restricted Communionsts Considered: In Four Essays (Dover:  Free Will Baptist Connection, 1841), 41-44. Italics added by Thompson. 

[4] Butler, Natural and Revealed Theology, 428. 

[5] 1834 Randall Treatise, 110.

[6] (Ayden, NC: Free Will Baptist Press, 1898), 155-78.

Matthew McAffee’s “Creation and the Role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8”: A Review

Kevin L. Hester

Dr. Matthew McAffee, Provost at Welch College, presented one of the most compelling papers at the 2018 Theological Symposium sponsored by the Commission for Theological Integrity. His paper, entitled “Creation and the Role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8: What Can We Learn?” was one of two heavily exegetical papers presented as part of the program. In it, McAffee draws parallels between the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8 with the Genesis account of creation. While he recognizes that the primary purpose of the exhortation to wisdom found in Proverbs 8 is not to provide didactic material on the nature and scope of creation, McAffee asserts that there are a number of implications that can be drawn from the text that have important ramifications for the process of creation, the textual criticism of the Old Testament, and the relationship of the Genesis creation account to other Near Eastern creation stories.

McAffee outlines the role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and connects it with the two other speeches from Wisdom in Proverbs including 1:20-36 and 9:1-6. The Proverbs 8 discussion is unique because of its reference to the creation of Wisdom before the foundation of the world. While he recognizes that the purpose of the passage is not to present a holistic theory of creation, he argues that the text’s apologetic argument for wisdom rests upon a particular understanding of creation.

McAffee provides robust lexical analysis on several Hebrew terms used in reference to creation. These are analyzed in their Biblical and Near Eastern contexts to clearly show that the author of the wisdom literature expresses an ex nihilo view of creation. He then demonstrates a number of lexical parallels between Proverbs 8 and the Genesis narrative which indicate the author’s resonance with the Genesis narrative.

McAffee’s interpretation of Proverbs 8 and his investigation of its parallels with the Genesis account of creation produce a revisionist conclusion that rejects, on the one hand, the critical consensus of any documentary hypothesis that views the wisdom literature as predating the composition of the Genesis narrative. On the other hand, his work also provides a compelling argument for distinguishing the Genesis account of creation from Babylonian and other Near Eastern creation stories. Thus, McAffee’s work here leads to three important implications.

First, the traditional canonical order of Genesis preceding the wisdom literature better explains the parallel between Proverbs 8 and the Genesis account. Otherwise, following the critical tradition’s dating of Proverbs prior to Genesis produces a significant anachronism wherein, “the presumed older text (Prov. 8) preserves a purportedly late Hellenistic view of creation, while the assumed younger text (Gen. 1) preserves a much earlier Babylonian one.” (p. 145)

Second, the purpose Wisdom’s pre-existent role in Proverbs 8 shows a vision of ex nihilo creation over against other near eastern creation accounts that image creation as the ordering of chaos or construction from pre-existent matter thus distinguishing the Biblical accounts. The text’s usage of the Genesis account, once established, demonstrates that the author of the wisdom literature is reading the Genesis account of creation as ex nihilo documenting a consistent view of creation that is distinctive and prior to other expressions of cosmogony.

If both the Genesis account and the vision of creation in the wisdom literature are consistent with one another and distinctive from other Near Eastern models, then this conclusion upends the commonly held belief that ex nihilo creation was a later, Greek idea incorporated into Judaism. Rather, God’s creation of all things from nothing seems to represent a longstanding Jewish belief.

Third, once the parallel between the creation accounts of Genesis and Proverbs 8 are established and the consistent view is demonstrated to be distinctive from later Greek expressions, the only remaining potential source for the Genesis narrative of creation is the Babylonian Atra Hasis account. This has been the traditional, critical approach. However, the distinctive approach to creation in the accounts from the Babylonian tradition and especially the ex nihilo reading of the Genesis account by the author of the wisdom literature raises real questions about this critical assumption. Such a position seems hardly tenable. Instead, it is more likely that the Atra Hasis and other near eastern creation models are either dependent upon the Genesis account or entirely separate from it.

Thomas Marberry’s “The Lucan Concept of Perseverance”: A Review

Kevin L. Hester

Dr. Thomas L. Marberry, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Randall University, presented his paper entitled “The Lucan Concept of Perseverance” at the 2018 Theological Symposium held at Randall University in Moore, Oklahoma. The Theological Symposium is sponsored by the Commission for Theological Integrity of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

Free Will Baptists are not strangers to theological discussions related to the perseverance of the saints and the possibility of apostasy. Theological and exegetical discussions of the topic abound, yet most of the exegetical arguments have been confined to Hebrews, II Peter, and the gospel of John. In 2013, Dr. Robert Picirilli published his book, Discipleship: The Expression of Saving Faith (Randall House), in which he outlined the importance of perseverance in faith as a necessary characteristic of a disciple. While not dependent upon this work, Marberry’s paper, focusing upon the gospel of Luke, extends some of Picirilli’s important conclusions related to the concept of discipleship in the synoptic gospels.

Marberry demonstrates that the concept of perseverance is lexically important in Acts and therefore conceptually in view in the gospel of Luke. Luke presents a number of calls to discipleship by Jesus and warnings against falling away during “trials and temptations.” Unlike Calvinist interpreters who prefer to see such warnings as either hypothetical or instrumental; or, who see such language as reflective of temporary followers who had insufficient, faulty, or false faith, Marberry concludes that Luke never makes such concessions. Instead, Luke’s understanding of faith is that “even true believers can depart from the faith and that perseverance is necessary for all who name the name of Christ.” (p. 63)[1]

Through a review of a number of Arminian and Free Will Baptist statements of faith, Marberry shows that this tradition has consistently insisted upon perseverance in faith as a necessary component of discipleship. Marberry then reviews several places in Luke’s gospel that seem to lead to the same conclusion. He discusses the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21), the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8), and the Parable of the Unfaithful Steward (Luke 12). Marberry provides important lexical analysis of key terms and compendious references to commentaries on these texts from differing theological positions. His conclusion is that Luke makes no distinction in his usage of the word faith and that attempts to read these warnings and descriptions as hypothetical or the result of false faith are driven by theological assertions unsupported by the Biblical text. Instead, Luke’s warnings indicate a real possibility for the believer’s falling away.

Marberry then briefly discusses the narrative accounts of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. He posits that both examples contribute to Luke’s understanding of perseverance. Judas turned away from his faith whereas peter repented and returned. Marberry asserts that the parallel indicates that both Judas and Peter were “true and faithful disciples of Jesus.” (p. 74) Peter, even in his failure, becomes an example of perseverance; whereas, Judas serves as a trope for apostasy.

While Marberry recognizes that “faith exists in degrees” (p. 74), the warnings of Luke’s gospel against falling away teach two important lessons. First, true believers who have true faith, can and do turn away from the truth they once received.  Second, while God’s will is “that believers endure the testings, trials, and tribulations” of this life, only those who persevere to the end shall be saved.” (p. 75)

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[1] All page numbers are derived from Symposium Digest of Papers.

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine