What Makes a Great Preacher? – Part Five

by Chris Thomas June 1, 2016

The Preacher’s Life

A preacher's life beyond the pulpit matters. It matters more than we often give it credit. It would seem, at least by my observation, that there is a great chasm between those who deliver great preaching and those who are great preachers. I've seen wicked men, actors, who have taken manuscripts and delivered heart-rending performances on screen and stage, yet surely they cannot be considered great preachers. Great preachers must have more than correct subject matter, thorough preparation and passionate delivery. Great preachers must firstly live lives worthy of imitation.

In this we must defer to Paul, the great missionary preacher of the first century.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, ESV, emphasis added)

Paul could confidently look at the Thessalonian church and know they were the 'real deal'.

How? Because Paul knew that their transformation had come 'not only in word'. Something substantial had occurred, something had been proven – and I believe that the weight of Scripture would tell us that this proof is more than surface-level fanaticism. And the marriage between word and deed is not an isolated event either; it happened elsewhere.

How I Lived Among You

As Paul met with the Ephesian Elders on the stony beach of Miletus, it was not only his teaching he exhorted them to remember:

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:18-21, ESV, Emphasis added)

Paul's consistent example in life was how he led into his final exhortation to these dear Ephesian friends. Not only did he appeal to his own way of life, but also the consistency with which he lived it: "…how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia…"

Astounding. The whole time! From the first day!

Imitate Me

The Ephesian exhortation doesn't stand alone:

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:14-16, ESV)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV)

Paul saw the demonstration of the Gospel in his life as an aspect of his 'fatherhood' of the Corinthian believers. Paul knew we would need more than 'guides', men who would simply point the way. Instead we would need 'fathers', men who would show us the way.

To this end, Paul would challenge a young Timothy as he wrote his first pastoral letter to this up-and-coming pastor/preacher:

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16, ESV)

This is a lifestyle lesson. This is concerning one’s conduct. How would Timothy fare in these matters? It would seem quite well. In Paul's second letter to Timothy we read this:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness… (2 Timothy 3:10, ESV)

Your Life Preaches All The Week

The great Scottish pastor and preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne once declared,

Study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this. Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two; your life preaches all the week. Remember, ministers are standard-bearers. Satan aims his fiery darts at them. If he can only make you a covetous minister, or a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry forever. Ah! Let him preach on fifty years, he will never do me any harm. Dear brother, cast yourself at the feet of Christ, implore his Spirit to make you a holy man. Take heed to yourself and to your doctrine.

For a preacher to be great he must take heed to his own life as well as his doctrine.

Preacher: Give fervent and persistent attention to your life outside of preaching. It is not enough to simply preach good doctrine – your people need to see consistent demonstration, not just hear good explanation.

This post is part one of a six-part series entitled, What Makes a Great Preacher? Click below to read other posts in this series.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six