Insights into Ray Stedman -- The Preacher

Those who knew Ray Stedman saw him as a very ordinary man. People never addressed him as Reverend or Doctor, or even as Mr. Stedman. He was Ray. Rather than standing at the church door following the service, simply to shake hands with everyone, Ray waited near the front to answer questions and be available to those who sought him out. Some of Ray's most effective ministry took place while most people were still filing out!

Ray had an encyclopedic mind, and was able to instantly recall to memory poetry, ancient history, musical lyric and literature. An example of his quick wit and keen memory is heard here in this rare humorous recording of the hilarious 'spoonerism' story of Prinderella and the Cince — click the arrow below to listen:

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When asked to speak impromptu, Ray could scribble a few notes on the back of an envelope and deliver a polished message on most biblical topics.

Ray told pastoral interns at PBC that they should expect to study at least 20 hours for every hour in the pulpit. He was committed to a high standard of expository preaching (see On Expository Preaching and The Primacy of Preaching), different from what often passes for expository preaching today.

In considering a new preaching series, Ray would often ask many people all sorts of questions so as to understand their issues and needs. Ray then would prayerfully seek the mind of the Lord, finally choosing a book of the Bible which would best speak into the congregation's life with relevance and effectiveness. He was committed to teaching the whole counsel of God, encouraging pastors to preach from all books of the Bible. Ray never boasted, and one might think him a very ordinary person – until one heard him speak. He never “talked down” to his congregation, as if from a higher office, recognizing that as demeaning to God’s flock. He was embraced as “one of the people.” Ray taught and modeled against the unbiblical division between clergy and laity, championing instead the “ministry of the saints” (Eph.4:11–13). He spoke in plain English, each message laid out as a banquet table for all. Each age group could learn and grow, and folks rarely ever fell asleep! He seldom used fancy words, not wanting to seem as if he knew much more than others.

Early in his PBC ministry the elders determined that Ray should spend about a quarter of his time each year teaching away from Palo Alto. Ray's heart, and most of this time away, was devoted to teaching young pastors around the world how to preach effectively. His reduced “time at home” had the unfortunate effect that Ray therefore never preached from some books of the Bible. But PBC's "loss" was the church's gain.

In his message preparation, Ray only referred to commentaries as a final step. Rather, he would begin by reading his complete Bible text over and over, pondering difficult sections and praying for wisdom and clarity. In his teaching, Ray relied strongly on the meaning of the original languages, even more than did many commentators. (Ray has been known to have gently corrected the translators of newer Bibles where they may have missed certain nuances of the original Hebrew and Greek.) From the text he anticipated questions he was likely to hear, and always welcomed such inquiry. Ray encouraged critique from both his staff and others, and weighed seriously their comments. Not seeing himself as elevated in status, Ray treated these encounters as an interchange between brothers.

The earliest online recorded message from Ray (38 minutes) is The Body of Christ; it seems as fresh and applicable today as it was in 1958! Each Sunday when the time came to preach, Ray simply stepped up and began speaking in a conversational voice, easily connecting with the congregation. For many years Ray’s preaching notes consisted of simple 3x5 cards mainly containing quotations he planned to use. His sermons were so flawlessly delivered they seldom needed editing before being put into print. Each following Sunday the now-printed sermon was made available, along with dozens of earlier sermons, in racks that covered both walls of the large entry lobby to the auditorium. This website library is the electronic version of those racks, now making Ray's teaching even more accessible to a people still hungry for these timeless gospel messages.