August 16, 2017

The Heart of Paul – Interview with Charles Willis



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Charles Willis is the author of The Heart of Paul, a workbook on the life of the Apostle Paul designed to be used in Teenage Bible Classes. The workbook encourages open discussion of relevant issues for the spiritual development of Christian teens.

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TM: Tell us about your background.

Christian parents?
I am the third child of Donald and Marilyn Willis. Both were raised up in Christian homes and served God all their lives. My father preached the gospel full time beginning at age 16 in East Texas and retired from preaching in 2009. During his life he served as an elder and led many individuals to the Lord. My father passed from this life in 2011. In her life, my mother has demonstrated the essence of Christianity in her godly attitudes and heart to serve others. I count myself as fortunate to have been raised in a household that believed in God so strongly.

Siblings?
I have three siblings: Cathy Price, Don Willis, Jr., and Christie Estes.

Where you grew up?
I was raised in and around Houston, Texas. Most of my formative years were spent in Conroe, Texas, just thirty minutes north of Houston. I am a graduate of Willis High School (in Willis, Texas) and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education from Sam Houston State University.

Wife & children?
While in college I met Dee Hopper whom I married in 1988. She has been a Christian since not long after we met and it has been a great joy to see her faith grow. She is a wonderful example to me and has been of tremendous support both when I taught school and even more as I labor as an evangelist.  God has blessed us with two wonderful children. Our son, Joshua, has just completed his first year of studies at Florida College. Our daughter, Rachel, is completing her Junior year of High School. Both have obeyed the gospel and have a rich faith of their own.

How you decided to preach?
I decided to preach after teaching Jr. High Band for ten years. I had done some preaching on the side and was feeling guilty as I drove to work every morning. I felt there was something better I could be doing with my time. I love teaching music, but I was teaching the wrong subject. I determined, with my wife, that if we were ever going to desire to preach, we were going to have to take a leap of faith. If I was not successful at preaching we felt I could easily return to teaching music.

TM: Where are some places you have lived and labored as a preacher?

One week after school dismissed in 1998, I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and began laboring as the evangelist for the Northside Church of Christ where I remained for four and a half years. The brethren there were very helpful and encouraging to me and allowed me the opportunity to study deeply and engage in a lot of one-on-one teaching opportunities. In January of 2003 I moved to New Caney, Texas where I continue to labor today. In many ways it was like coming home. New Caney is located about thirty minutes East of Conroe. My father started the work in New Caney while I was in High School and my wife was baptized that church building while we were in college. Some of the individuals were still in New Caney and it has been a great blessing to labor among them. Many individuals have obeyed the gospel in my ten years in New Caney, in part because of the tremendous loving attitude that exists in the congregation - a love for each other and a love for the truth. I am continuously thankful to God that I am allowed to count as brethren such wonderful people of faith.

TM: What is an enjoyable aspect of preaching for you?

The teacher in me loves "the light bulb moment" when someone learns something new or suddenly grasps a concept. I love seeing people get excited about God's word. This is most often seen in private studies and is an enjoyable aspect of my efforts as an evangelist. The question is about an enjoyable aspect of "preaching." I like to think my efforts make a difference in the lives of people. There is a satisfaction to my efforts that I've never experienced anywhere else. This remains a motivation that drives me to do my very best in everything I do as an evangelist. My words (written or spoken) may just touch someone's heart so that they are encouraged to serve God. I don't know that I would say this is "enjoyable," but it is a very important aspect of my work. I would have to say the most "enjoyable" aspect of "preaching" is the time available to study Scripture for myself and the association with God's people.

TM: What is a challenging part of preaching?

A challenge for me is to keep the message meaningful. I was not always a preacher. I "sat in the pews" until I was almost thirty years of age and I heard some excellent preaching, and I heard some that was not very good. I strongly remember some of my thoughts during the weaker lessons about "why is this being presented," "what am I to take away from this," "what does this mean for me." I work very hard to bring applications that are meaningful, relevant and pointed. I don't want to waste anyone's time, but more importantly I view every opportunity to preach as a moment in time afforded me by God to speak His truth. I don't want to waste His time with meaningless words or sermon points with no "meat." This is a constant challenge for all preachers, but one which is very personal to me.

TM: What was the motivation behind writing this workbook?

My book was conceived as an effort to examine the attitudes which Paul expresses about himself. We have so much information about Paul, it is well worth our time to examine what is revealed about his heart. Everyone agrees he possessed a faith which many believe is personally unattainable. Everyone agrees his heart pleased God. We should by all means learn what we can from what has been revealed. The workbook is a topical examination of twelve principles ranging from submission, to the conscience, and  prayer, but in each topic the main Scriptures examined are statements Paul makes about himself. The book is a study of his example. My motivation for writing the book was two-fold. 1) I wanted to examine these things for myself and determined to lead others in that journey with me. So I have taught this material as I was studying. 2) I believe a class environment is an excellent place for brethren to be encouraged as we hear each other speak of our faith and belief in Scripture. I am a strong proponent for on-topic discussions in our Bible class environment. I created these materials to purposefully generate good biblical discussions. A question that can be answered "yes" or "no" has it's place, but generally does not force a contemplation of God's word. Through an open discussion format I have found I often am shown things in a text I had not seen, though I had studied deeply. For me, it is a class format that works very well in my local work. Over the years, I've heard from some who also state good Biblical discussion was experienced when they used my materials. It is hoped through publishing this book a larger number of people will benefit.

TM: Was there one aspect of this project that was especially hard?

The first three lessons have many similarities, and some may want to argue it is one lesson covering three weeks worth of material. The topics are inter-related, but can be profitably studied in the way I have divided the material in three lessons on "An Obedient Heart," "A Submissive Heart," and "An Humble Heart." That division of material was the hardest to separate. The remainder of the topics were much easier to arrange.

TM: What was the most enjoyable part of the project?

Finishing it. Bringing my efforts to the point of bearing fruit. Not in publishing a book, but in seeing the book used and lives being impacted in that way. When we finished our study of this material in New Caney, it marked the end of long effort and I felt as if I had accomplished a good thing. Bringing this book to more readers is similarly fulfilling.

TM: Did you teach through the material as you were developing it?

No. My process is to write the material in advance. I write a lot of material for our local use and am generally writing three months or more before it will be used. I prefer to hand out a finished workbook rather than individual lessons as we go through the quarter. So the material was completely developed before I taught it. After I taught the study, I made corrections (not just grammar, but concepts and additional references that were brought up in the course of the study). So these lessons have been used profitably before I ever submit them to publication.

TM: Is there anything else you would like to address?

I love feedback. If you work through any of my books, I would welcome a comment about what you thought. I also want folks to know I am available for questions about the study, or about any of my books. I can be contacted at CLW@NCTV.com.

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