What makes a great preacher?

Preacher types, like us, predictably toss around the phrase “he’s a great preacher” like hippies throwing a frisbee on the quad. It just sort of goes with the territory. The frequency of such statements seems to increase when Bible conferences are in session. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the phrase but it seems to mask the emphasis of Scripture.

Depending on how you understand the Greek construction at the end of Ephesians 4:11, Paul seems to be calling us “pastor-teachers.” It might even be worth meditating on the order of that. Also joining the chorus is Peter who says elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet 5:2). In sum I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that the dirty work of the sermon is forged not only in the study but in giving your life to the sheep. If we carry-out Peter’s flock analogy, do we honestly think the sheep are comforted and corrected merely by our words? The presence and detailed care of a shepherd(s) is what bolsters the weight of the various admonitions.

Think of the last time you tossed out the “great preacher” phrase. Is your favorite preacher a great pastor to his sheep? Do you even know how he treats his congregation? Do you know if his fellow leaders respect his work amongst the sheep? I realize that if you stare long enough at a Rembrandt you will discern flaws in the work no matter how excellent the piece appears. The more I have reflected on this in my own life and ministry, it seems that the men who are exemplary in shepherding and preaching are rarely on tour. They’re not out building ministries their doing ministry.Your more likely to find them sweating it out every week in their own pulpits and with their own congregations. We need to avoid a critical spirit when we think about this but wouldn’t it be great if all the “great preachers” of our generation were even greater pastors?

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott Christensen on December 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Great post. It seems to me that the work of shepherding cannot be disconnected to preaching. The more you faithfully shepherd your flock in other ways, the more that impacts your preaching. It would be interesting to ponder that notion more and then to articulate all the ways it does so.

  2. I agree Scott, I’m wondering why there is such a disconnect for so many. Something else I have been thinking about is how preaching is always defined apart from the context of pastoring. It’s as if it is some stand alone discipline only marginally connected to the organism of the local church.

  3. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 9, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Paul and Scott: On a related note, I find it interesting that I don’t enjoy filling someone else’s pulpit nearly as much as I do preaching in my own. I’d almost always rather just be at home with my family, among the flock God has called me to shepherd. It’s just a completely different dynamic, at least in my experience. Good stuff, Paul.

    (And thanks also, Paul, for the chapter by Boyce, which I read the very night I received it; also good stuff.)

    • Matt, I’m glad you enjoyed the Boice chapter. Did you get the Krakauer book? I wasn’t sure if that was one you had.

      • Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 9, 2010 at 5:02 pm

        I did indeed get the Krakauer book. I read it several years ago. Was that was one of the books I sent to you? I can’t remember. By the way, here’s one for your next vacation: Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment (by James Gaines). Phenomenal read.

        P.S. And yes, Boice, not Boyce.

      • You sent me the one on Everest which was really good. I’ve added Gaines to my list.

      • Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 9, 2010 at 5:22 pm

        Then I now have two copies of Into the Wild! I’ll pass one of them on to a worthy recipient. Unless you want it back.

    • Right now, I’m reading Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World which is thick and has few pictures but I’m making it through. It’s the first book to make some sense of Sumer and Egypt, at least to me.

      • Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 9, 2010 at 5:39 pm

        Oh man, don’t tell me you’re becoming one of those homeschool wackoes! She’s actually got some great stuff; we use her for history with the kids. I’m reading Paul Johnson’s book on Churchill right now, which is fantastic, but it leaves me wanting more. I wish his book were three or four times longer.

      • We’re not the blue-denim-jumper-wearing kind or the “take back America” kind. We’re grunge homeschoolers.

  4. Matt,

    I meant to also say that I agree you about preaching in other pulpits. Though I rarely do preach away, I always feel disjointed when I do. Preaching connects because 1) the clarity of the message 2) the familial context in which it is delivered.

    • Posted by Matt Waymeyer on December 9, 2010 at 5:04 pm

      Amen, especially to No. 2. I also find it difficult to parachute into a book and do a stand-alone message, which is why a psalm is often a good option.

  5. Thanks for throwing out all these great book recommendations. I love ‘listening’ to you guys talk about books, because I rarely read anything that is not connected to some theological issue I am tackling or a book on my shelf that I haven’t read. I added all of the books that you guys are talking about to my amazon wish list and am saving for a Kindle. Thanks for the sharpening!!!

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