Last night I was privileged to participate in an event celebrating Darrell and Carla Sparks’ 25 years of ministry at the Dearborn Baptist Church of Aurora, IN. That congregation has been exceedingly blessed and well-served for its entire existence by the leadership of Brother Darrell, as well as the support and leadership provided by his precious wife Carla.
Dearborn is a special church to me. I was (almost) fourteen when that congregation was organized into an autonomous, independent Baptist church. I heard Darrell preach in view of a call. Well I remember those early meetings with this young (and thin) pastor and his young, tall, and always smiling wife with their three small children. Darrell is no longer young (nor thin). His three children are no longer small. All are married, and two of them have small children of their own. Carla is exactly the same!
What remains the same for Darrell is his love of the truth. From the beginning I noticed in his preaching a difference from the preaching to which I had grown accustomed. He actually explained what the Biblical text meant, and how that applied to my life. He answered the questions: “What does this teach us about God?” and “So what?” He was – and still is – a systematic expositor. Now, I would not have described his preaching with any of those terms and phrases at the time. It’s not that his preaching has changed over the years, but that my awareness of it has matured over time. While I would not have characterized Darrell’s sermons as systematic exposition – because I didn’t know what those terms meant then – I would have, and still do, describe his preaching like this: “After he has preached, I understand what God’s Word is saying, and how it applies to me.” There is no higher compliment a preacher can be paid from another human being.
Dearborn is also a special place to me because that is where I met Dianna Lewis, who would become, a year after we met, my wife. Darrell led our pre-marital counseling, and he officiated our wedding ceremony. Since we were posted to Ft. Myer, VA, Dianna and I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 1991. Four years later we were back in Dearborn County, IN, and back at the Dearborn Baptist Church. Our family had grown by one. Luke was only five months old.
Darrell and Carla were the first ones, besides family, to welcome us home with phone calls and invitations to their house. Well I remember sitting in their living room on March 1 of 1996, rooting hard for Syracuse to upset the Kentucky Wildcats. That was the only time I have cheered for the Orange, and little good it did me. UK won.
When we returned to Indiana in December of 1995, Darrell had just started to preach through the Gospel of John. Being in church on a consistent basis, and under the steady, clear exposition of God’s powerful Word, I rededicated my life to Christ, and a few months after that surrendered to the Gospel ministry. Darrell mentored me. Carla mentored Dianna. We still enjoy and reap the benefits from those relationships. Darrell interrogated me and preached the charge at my ordination. He was present, and preached, when I was installed as the pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in Greencastle, IN.
So it was a thrill and a privilege to be part of an evening dedicated to honoring a couple who have spent their lives serving Christ and His local church; a couple who are and always will be dear to Dianna and I. Congratulations, Darrell and Carla! Lord willing, we’ll do this again 25 years from now!
During his 25 years at Dearborn Baptist, Darrell has preached every word of the New Testament! His family produced an anthology of his pulpit ministry, and I was asked to pen the foreword to that collection. That is what follows.
I merely stared and blinked. The only immediate answer my mouth could form was, “Well…um…I’ll have to…I guess…I’ll have to think about that.” I was stupefied by a simple question: “Which of Darrell Spark’s sermons is your favorite?” That question was asked weeks ago. It still lacks an answer.
The inability to answer is not due to an innate indecisiveness on my part. Ask me “Who is your favorite shortstop?” and the name “Barry Larkin” will instantly roll off my tongue (with honorable mention to Davey Concepcion). Ask me “Who is your favorite basketball player?” and I will answer without delay “Larry Bird.” What is my favorite color? It is crimson red, of course. Does this just prove that I enjoy sports more than the Word of God? Not even close!
I cannot tell you what my favorite Bible verse is either. There are many favorites. I am always enamored with the book currently being studied, but to declare one as more beloved than another is hard to do. The same is true in regards to Darrell’s sermons. The book he was preaching and the passage he had just exposited were always my “favorites.” That is because Darrell is a gifted expositor of God’s Word. One who, according to Nehemiah 8:8, reads from the word of God distinctly, and clearly gives the sense, so that the people understand the reading.
That is what Darrell has done and continues to do. His passion for the word of God and the God of the word has driven him to a daily study of scripture. He studies to understand what God’s word says so that he might apply it to his own life and then clearly and passionately proclaim it to his congregation. In twenty-five years of pastoring the Dearborn Baptist Church, that congregation’s only pastor, my friend and mentor Darrell Sparks has preached over 2,800 sermons. All of them have been understandable yet comprehensive biblical expositions that are accessible to everyone in the pew. A significant chunk of my life has been spent listening to, re-listening to, and reading those sermons. For me, there is no clear-cut favorite. There is only the consistent example of faithfulness and fidelity to the Bible. Never did I hear Darrell preach his opinions. Always I heard him proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Paul reminded the elders at Ephesus that he had “not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Likewise, Darrell has preached, to one congregation, every verse of the New Testament! This is an accomplishment with few equals, if any, in Independent Baptist ranks. How blessed the people of Dearborn Baptist Church are to be led by a pastor who has, to quote the Apostle Paul once more, “kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
Darrell is one of the most relevant preachers I know, and his sermons will always be so, because biblical exposition has always been and will always be relevant. This compilation of sermons represents the fruits of a ministry built on the truth of God’s word. They are a timeless treasure. Not because they are from the pen of Darrell Sparks, but because they represent sound, biblical exposition.
Darrell I want to say thank you for being my friend and mentor. Thank you for your faithful, diligent study of God’s word, and for your unwavering commitment to preach the word one verse at a time. I rejoice in God’s goodness to the people of Dearborn Baptist Church these past twenty-five years; hopefully the first of many more years of continued ministry there. Continue to “preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).