What makes for great preaching? Or, asked another way, what makes a preacher great? The question is not what makes for a great communicator, stage personality, or after-dinner speaker. Nor is the question what makes for a good minister or chaplain.
By great preaching, we mean preaching that most accurately presents the Word of God and brings it to bear in the most compelling way. Thus, a great preacher is one who preaches great sermons. Consider these four essentials of great preaching:
1. Great preachers preach with conviction. Like the prophet Jeremiah, great sermons come from a man with fire in his bones. The preacher is gripped by the truth of the text and compelled to preach with authority and urgency. His hearers know he’s not going through the motions. They sense he’s been moved by the text, and so should they.
On one occasion, in 18th century London, the famed skeptic David Hume went to hear George Whitefield preach. The powerful evangelist was known throughout the English-speaking world for his fiery, evangelistic preaching and for the revivals that followed. An onlooker asked Hume if he was going to hear Whitefield preach. After Hume answered in the affirmative, the onlooker said, “But why? You don’t believe.” Hume reportedly answered, “You’re right, but that man (Whitefield) does.”
Nothing is more pathetic than a man preaching from a Bible he doesn’t believe. No one wants to sit through such a sermon, yet that’s the all-too-common scenario in mainline Protestantism and is a key reason why their worship attendance has plummeted over the past half-century. Great preachers preach with conviction.
2. Great preachers preach with confidence. Flowing from the preacher’s conviction is his confidence. Confidence isn’t something the preacher talks into himself moments before he ascends the pulpit. The preacher’s confidence is found in the power of Scripture, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the steady assurance God has called and equipped him. The preacher’s confidence is reinforced by the certainty that he has faithfully studied the text and rightly prepared himself and the sermon. Preaching with confidence is precisely what Paul charged Titus to do, writing, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
Most especially, the preacher’s confidence is rooted in his convictions about Holy Scripture. It’s impossible to preach a powerful sermon from a weak book. It’s impossible to preach with true, biblical confidence if you’re full of doubt about God’s Word.
3. Great preachers preach with clarity. Apostolic preaching, as recorded in Acts, was unmistakably clear. The Apostolic pattern included Old Testament exposition, connecting the passage to Christ, and then clearly setting forth what the hearers should do: repent and believe the gospel. But clarity in presentation can only come if you first have clarity in the text. John MacArthur has often said the secret of his ministry was, in his early years, establishing discipline in the study and purposing to keep his gluteus maximus in the chair until he hammered out the meaning of the text.
If the preacher is unsure what the text means, he’ll be unable to present the text in a clear way. Furthermore, if he’s unsure what his hearers should do with the text, he’ll be unable to call for a clear and compelling response. Great preaching is built upon clarity of interpretation and then clarity of application. Great preachers preach with clarity.
4. Great preachers preach with compassion. It’s easy to preach in itinerate and conference settings where the expectation is to bring the thunder. Yet, great preaching is consistently bringing the Word to bear with compassion –touching and shaping the hearts of God’s people week after week. That’s why, in a sense, great preaching best occurs in a congregational setting, with the simple, consistent preaching from God’s man to his congregation.
As Paul instructed Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” Chuck Swindoll famously said to a group of ministers, “If you preach to broken hearts you’ll never want for a congregation.” In other words, preach with compassion and your people will give you a better hearing, a more receptive response.
Whether a preacher should aspire to greatness is debatable. Whether a preacher should aspire to preach great sermons is not. Preaching with conviction, confidence, clarity, and compassion are essential elements of great preaching.
Editor's Note: This originally published at JasonKAllen.com