When Preaching magazine was launched in 1985, a look at our list of contributing editors gave you a sense of who would be listed among the most influential preachers in America. That original group included Stuart Briscoe, Maxie Dunnam, Jim Henry, David Allan Hubbard, John Huffman, D.E. King, James Earl Massey, Calvin Miller, Lloyd John Ogilvie, Stephen F. Olford, Haddon Robinson, J. Alfred Smith, John Wesley White and William Willimon, along with several more.
Thankfully, many of those preachers are still on the scene, though others have gone to be with the Lord. A quarter-century has brought great changes to the preaching landscape, and today’s list of contributing editors includes names that would have been unknown to most pastors 25 years ago: Rick Warren, Bryan Chapell, James MacDonald, Robert Smith, Dave Stone, James Emery White and Ed Young, Jr. (though his pastor dad would have been a good candidate for the original list—and is now among our senior consulting editors).
Identifying the 25 most influential preachers of the past 25 years is a challenging assignment. There were some who were major influencers of preaching in 1985 who would be little known to today’s new generation of pastors; likewise, there are some major influencers today who weren’t on the scene 25 years ago. (Actually, some of them were in grade school.) As we were gathering data and compiling the nominations in this process, we tried to ensure balance so neither end of the era is neglected.
Because the primary focus and audience of Preaching magazine has been the American pulpit, this is the context in which these preachers are recognized. Many gifted and influential preachers have served faithfully around the world and, in terms of Kingdom impact, may have touched far more than many of those listed below. We may not know them, but God does.
Here, then, are the 25 most influential preachers of the past 25 years:
#1 Billy Graham
He just as easily could be at the top of any list of the most influential preachers of the past half-century; when Preaching cited the most influential preachers of the 20th century (in our first issue of the 21st), Billy Graham came in at number two. In a recent LifeWay survey of the most influential living preachers, Graham topped the list. When considering preachers who have influenced the rest of us, Billy Graham simply stands in a category unto himself.
John Huffman describes Graham’s “integrity of life and passion of expression that not only led millions to faith in Jesus Christ, but challenged so many of us to be faithful in our ministries. His founding of Christianity Today and his various conferences bringing together evangelicals from around the world make him tops on most of our lists.”
#2 Charles Swindoll
The dominant role of media in the contemporary church is reflected in the influence of Chuck Swindoll, whose “Insight for Living” radio program and countless books have helped a generation of preachers in its understanding of what biblical exposition should look like.
Long-time pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California, Swindoll became president of Dallas Theological Seminary and now serves as senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas (a suburb of Dallas). His radio program, books, and Internet resources continue to influence thousands.
#3 Rick Warren
Rick Warren is a model and guru for today’s new generation of preachers and church planters who are seeking to create churches that will reach the unchurched of their own generation. Founder of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California—now one of the largest churches in America—he is widely known as author of The Purpose Driven Church (which shaped the views of thousands of pastors about how the church can be changed) and the huge best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life.
Warren’s most significant influence on today’s pastors may be through his creative use of the Internet, including his weekly newsletter that has more impact than any other online publication or pastor Web resource I know of. His own sermons, made available via the Web, have become models for many young pastors in the United States and around the world.
#4 Gardner C. Taylor
A profound influence on the African-American pulpit, Gardner Taylor is a model of eloquence and passion in preaching. He served as senior pastor of Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church of Christ from 1948 to 1990 and is former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Taylor is now retired and living in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Taylor reflects the influence of a leading pastor prior to today’s diverse communications era. He served twice as National Radio Preacher for NBC, delivered the 100th Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale and has lectured at many colleges and seminaries. In 1979, Time magazine recognized him as one of the seven best Protestant preachers in the nation and conferred on him the title “Dean of the Nation’s Black Preachers.” Few black preachers of the past 25 years would have offered a list of great preachers without including Taylor at or near the top of their list.
#5 John MacArthur
Radio has been one of the major media tools used by preachers in the past quarter-century, and few have been as influential via this medium as John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and teacher on the “Grace to You” program.
Never afraid of controversy, MacArthur has engaged in a variety of theological debates through the years via his speaking and writing. His approach to verse-by-verse exposition has attracted many, and through his media influence and The Master’s Seminary, which he established, MacArthur is preparing a new generation of young preachers for ministries focused on biblical exposition.