I've often wondered what makes a preacher great.
I've seen and heard hundreds of preachers over the years; some stand out in my memory, others have faded away. What made the difference?
Over the course of this series, I'd like to consider what I believe to be some of the deciding factors when considering the effectiveness of a Preacher of the Word of God. Now I understand that the issues I've chosen to highlight aren't the only things that could be considered under this topic, however, these are the ones I've been thinking through and felt burdened to share.
But before we start, I thought it pertinent to lead with some warnings.
Beware of the Word 'Greatness'
Anytime someone uses the word 'greatness' when describing Christian ministry, we should proceed with caution. 'Greatness' in God's economy is vastly different to how we are prone to think of it.
Jesus needed to correct the disciples’ thinking on this subject as they argued among themselves about which of them would be the greatest:
You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25, ESV)
Test Your Heart
As I mentioned, I have often wondered about what makes a great preacher. Here too, we need to proceed with great caution.
Psalm 139 paints a beautiful picture of David's transparency before an all-knowing God. We can learn a lot from David's plea:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (ESV)
I've needed to sit still before the Lord on this issue and honestly ask Him to search me out. Why do I want to know what makes a great preacher?
As a preacher and writer, I know the seductive voice of 'recognition' all too well; she calls to me constantly. In this matter, I desperately need the illumination of the Spirit on my wicked and corrupt heart.
Is it His name I want to exalt? Or is it my name?
Jesus was able to say of John the Baptist:
What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in the kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you." Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11, ESV)
Why was Jesus able to say that? What was so great about John? Here's a clue: among all the famous recorded words of John, we have this little gem – “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, ESV)
John was a powerful preacher; and although he was eventually beheaded, he was also an immensely popular preacher in his day - 'all Israel went out to hear him preach in the desert'. But somewhere along the way, John placed himself under the searching eyes of God and could honestly declare, "I must fade away".