ultifaceted is an understatement when used to describe IPC’s Senior
Pastor Bill Carl. When asked what he would be doing if not serving as a pastor, Dr. Carl was uncharacteristically stumped. For a minute. Then,
the list became too long for one lifetime. His family might argue that there is no other answer—Dr. Carl’s father, brother and sister are Presbyterian ministers, and his other sister is married to a Presbyterian minister. His wife’s answer: a teaching tennis pro.
Carl is an accomplished tennis player, and he is widely regarded as an outstanding communicator on any topic. With his passion for helping
people become the best they can be, it is not difficult to imagine Bill Carl joyfully spending his days helping people perfect a spin serve, a drop shot or a topspin lob.
Although ultimately he did go into “the family business,” when Carl started college, he planned to be a music major, having studied piano for 9 years already. The class that really
excited him, however, was Greek. He saw two possible career choices with a Greek major: teaching or preaching. As things turned out,
he did both.
After getting his B.S. in Religion, Philosophy, and Greek and a Masters in Greek, Carl obtained a
doctorate in Rhetorics and
Communication from the University of Pittsburgh, then spent eight years as an Instructor and Professor of Homiletics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and at Union Seminary. According to Wikipedia, “Homiletics (Gr. homiletikos, from homilos, to assemble together), in theology, is the application
of the general principles
of rhetoric to the specific
department of public preaching.” In other words, he was teaching preachers. For ten years before he came to IPC, Carl served as President of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he was
preparing pastors. While Seminary President, he led a $43 million capital campaign and increased the endowment by $25 million, fortifying foundations. In between, he was Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas for 22 years. At First Presbyterian, Dr. Carl oversaw the largest social ministry program in the nation, living out the commandment to “love thy neighbor.”
Along the way, he developed an innovative technique for memorizing
sermons that he has shared with doctors, lawyers, politicians, business executives and all sorts of other public speakers. To understand how memory and the brain work, Dr. Carl read 50 books on neuroscience. Carl says many people at IPC were astonished when he began a recent sermon sitting in the front pew, then walked around the sanctuary a bit before finally making his way up to the pulpit. “Giving a sermon or a speech without notes is not hard—anybody with a brain can master the technique,” he assures. People are afraid of losing their place or forgetting part of their message, but Carl tells them not to worry. “Just keep talking until you say something. You’ll eventually find yourself back on track.”
Dr. Carl’s gift for preaching is not just technique. Content is equally important. When writing any speech or sermon, he
constructs it using a framework taught by St. Augustine, author of the first
textbook on homiletics: a good sermon must teach the mind, touch the heart and move the will. Carl “emphasizes, however, that no matter how effective, preaching (or evangelism) is only half the church’s role in the world—the other half is social justice work. Although he did not grow up in a community where social ministry was a priority, Carl feels lucky to have “inherited” churches and communities in which such efforts are an important part of Christian witness.
Trying to help people do the right thing is important to Dr. Carl. In his spare time, he serves as an ethics consultant to several corporations, as well as the Duke University Medical Center, and he is planning to write a corporate ethics book. The books Carl has already written fill a good-sized shelf, and there are more in the works, including a screenplay that won the Telluride Indiefest Screenwriting Contest
and a novel entitled The
Assassin’s Manuscript. Carl began writing fiction with the encouragement of Alex Haley, who recognized a good writer and storyteller when he met one. A longtime fan of spy stories, Carl did extensive research, traveled to 6 foreign countries and interviewed several real-life assassins. The Assassin’s Manuscript is a mesmerizing tale about a CIA hit man who becomes a
pastor. If that juxtaposition seems implausible at first, consider Dr. Carl’s own resume: he has varying degrees of proficiency in Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Russian,
Korean, Mandarin, Hakka and Malayalam. He practices most of those languages
every day. The list of places Dr. Carl has traveled to preach, lecture, consult and speak includes 45 states and nearly as many countries. He is a memory expert, and he has three years of Tae Kwon Do training. The advice most often given to writers is to write about what you know. Maybe preacher/spy is not just a fictional combination…
When asked about his
favorite passage of Scripture, Dr. Carl’s deep affection for his flock was evident. He chose Philippians 4:4,
“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again, I say, Rejoice.” “There are way too many grumpy people in the world,” he says. “Part of my job is to liven people up.” One of the ways Dr. Carl does this—and his favorite part of being a pastor—is calling each member of the church on his or her birthday, including children. At IPC, that’s about 2700 birthday calls, or roughly 15 every day, 365 days a year. He loves it. “No matter what kind of day I’m having, when I call the church members on their birthdays it perks me up.”