Last spring I was blessed with some time away in another city for some rest. It was a wonderful opportunity to go and visit another church, one I’m very interested in, with one of the greatest preachers of our day. It was a real treat to see what God was doing in another place and how they were stewarding their blessings. It gave me so much to think about.
One of the things I pondered was the topic: What Makes a great preacher? I came up with two marks or qualities I thought were key in defining a great preacher.
A great preacher listens to God. I suppose that is somewhat obvious but I’m not convinced that all preachers do this. By listen I mean really, really listen. They take their Bible text deep inside them and listen to what God is saying. They have a healthy, deep, prayer life of devotion to the Lord. Then, somehow, God speaks to them and tells them what they are to say, and how they are to say it. And they have the courage to say what they hear God saying. A great preacher lets God speak about what He wants to speak about.
People listen to a great preacher. I don’t mean that he simply draws a crowd or has a fan club. This isn’t about being popular. What I mean is that people put into practice what they hear from God through him. In other words, people believe the preacher. They believe he’s telling the truth. For instance, when the elders of the great preacher hear a sermon on the importance of evangelism, they don’t come to the next meeting and say, “Great sermon as always, but we really aren’t interested in reaching our neighborhood with the gospel.” Rather, they seek to put into practice what it is that they have heard. The great preacher’s audience hears the word of God and believes that the preacher is a man of God with a vision from God. The preacher says, “Thus says the Lord,” and the people confirm this by the the way they live their lives.
Today, in reading over these old notes, I realized that I’m not sure there really are two marks. I think that perhaps there is only one mark of a great preacher: he listens to God. Whether or not people turn from evil or are inspired to follow Jesus is really the job of the Holy Spirit. The preacher simply tells what he has been told. People will do what they will. The prophets, all of them except Jonah, never saw the people put into practice what they were told to say. In the New Testament, audiences were much more likely to “turn and be saved,” but not in every case. Paul certainly was nearly killed on more than one occasion. All that being said, it could very well be the reality that the greatest preachers will never be famous. They will be marginalized or crucified and may never have a large congregation but they will always be faithful to speak the truth they have been given. Even if no one ever listens.
I recently found there is an excellent blog post about the signs of a "reliable" preacher by Billy Graham's grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, pastor @ Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. You can see it at: http://www.crpc.org/blog/?p=748