You probably have noticed that preachers come in all shapes and sizes. There are big, gregarious, sweaty-foreheaded preachers. There are short, slim, soft-spoken preachers. There are creative preachers who always have a slick gadget or a clever object of illustration. There are King James preachers who love Thees and the Thous of Thy Holy Word.
So what makes for a faithful preacher? Because God has called preachers to be faithful rather than successful, how can we be sure we are staying true to the call? Here are a few biblical criteria to keep us on track:
The preacher should give people a bigger picture of God.
"For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Cor. 4:5).
Ultimately, people need to be told repeatedly that the God of Scripture is bigger than all of our earthly problems. While preachers are wise to speak about complex issues of the culture, the need for people on Sunday morning is actually quite simple: Their minds need to be re-programmed to the idea that God is in control, that He loves them immensely, and that nothing is impossible for Him. How quickly we forget these truths!
With the constant barrage of media messages, the average person struggles to maintain a biblical perspective about life. Our world drifts off kilter fast, but the preacher has a powerful role in bringing the listener back to the center while proclaiming the unchanging gospel.
The preacher should train people to turn to the Bible when problems arise.
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The question I must answer as a pastor every Monday morning is, "Are people being pointed to the Word when work dries up, the child is diagnosed, or when in-laws sabotage a vacation?" The Bible is able to meet all of their needs; a pastor is not. As the preacher brings forth the Word week after week, people increasingly should be convinced that "all Scripture is God-breathed" and that His Word is able to equip them for every good work.
The preacher should show people how to read, study, and handle the Bible for themselves.
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).
The Bible is a very difficult book to read. Let's face it, we find it easier to read a New York Times' bestseller than Leviticus or Amos. A keen understanding of Scripture requires a certain level of skill and a special illumination of the Spirit. In corporate worship, the preacher should challenge people to cry out to God for the wisdom that flows from Isaiah, Deuteronomy, and Revelation.
In addition, the preacher should demonstrate how God has penetrated his own heart with the truths he presents. His interpretation not only has been defended in the sermon, but it has been digested. The congregation sees this Word after it has been made flesh, and this heightens their interest, as well as his credibility. He handles the Word with precision.
The preacher should teach all parts of the Bible and show how unique and wonderful each section truly is.
"For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:20, 27).
Personally, I could camp out in James for a decade. I love that book. It is short, fast-paced, and practical for everyday life. However, the Book of Malachi was inspired by God, too, and was placed in the Bible because it contains essential truth for spiritual growth.
The preacher should deliver a well-rounded meal throughout the calendar year and proclaim all parts of the Bible, not just his or her particular bread-and-butter passages. The best preachers make themselves servants of the Word and handle it all with reverence.
The preacher should challenge people to own the truth by responding to the message.
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22-27).
What good is knowledge if it does not lead to life change? Every person who went to school can recall a particular math or science lecture that left students wondering, "What good will that do me?" Unlike that moment, church attendees should leave on Sunday knowing the message they just heard demands a real and practical response. That reaction will vary from person to person and might include an inward decision to trust God with this week's electric bill; it might be an act of humility demonstrated through a heartfelt apology; or it might be an act of generosity as one writes a check to a specific ministry. There must be some reaction when the Word is preached. Faithful preachers do not hesitate to bring the challenge.
The preacher should prove that the Bible is ancient yet it speaks to us today.
"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day…They are not just idle words for you—they are your life" (Deut. 32:46-47).
Flip through the Bible for five minutes, and you will find this book contains all kinds of bizarre history. There are golden cows, weird temple furnishings, and visions of wheels in the sky. The preacher must do more than prove he or she has studied all week. The preacher must show how this study of history impacts the present and the future.
It was Harry Emerson Fosdick who declared, "Only the preacher proceeds still upon the idea that folks come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites." That is so true! Pastors must work hard at the task of application and contextualization. What does this passage have to do with his or her life on Monday? Effective preachers answer that question carefully. The bottom line is that just because you appear on television or have your face pasted on a billboard does not mean you are an effective, faithful preacher of the Word. Pastor, be true to your call and be sure you are fulfilling your God-given role as proclaimer of the Word.