Peculiarities of a Preacher
The Gospel preacher is unique. He should be distinguished from the gifting of pastor and the office of elder. He may be one or the other, or both of these, but he is to be identified by his singular passion for the proclamation of the Gospel message. He is different than a Bible teacher. Most pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are preachers.
There are a number of names throughout Christian history linked to great preaching, like: Tertullian; Chrysostom; Jerome; Augustine; Ambrose; the Lollards; Luther; Calvin; the Puritans; Whitefield; Simeon; Spurgeon; Lloyd-Jones; Boice; MacArthur; and Lawson. The reason we know these names pertains to a number of factors: their knowledge of the Scriptures; eloquence; earnestness; and perseverance.
The foremost passion of the preacher is the Word of God. He spends his days in the Bible. He reads it. He meditates on it night and day. He works with it by writing sermons and interacting with other theologians from the past through their writings. He listens to sermons preached by those he esteems. He learns the Word in every possible way. It is a labor of love, even a labor of worship as unto the Lord.
It is customary in the post-modern American church to have more of an entertainer than an exegete in the pulpit (if there even is a pulpit!). An exegete is one who works with the text to pull out the meaning of words, phrases, and clauses. A preacher knows the intrinsic value of the original biblical languages. He looks at a word and his first thought is, “I wonder what this word is in Greek. I wonder how many times it is used. I wonder who in the Bible used it. I wonder what words are related to it. I wonder how unique the word is to the Bible, the church, or the ancient near east culture.” The man of God is a man of the Word.
The Gospel preacher is eloquent. I make no apologies for this attribute. If a man cannot stand in front of a congregation of people, he is not a preacher. If he cannot articulate complete and coherent thoughts from the Bible, he is not a preacher. If he is merely a storyteller, he is not a preacher. If he is without unction, he may be an excellent Bible teacher, but he is not a preacher. The prophet Jeremiah wrote of the preacher’s burden, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him, or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire, shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it (Jer 20:9).” This is the unction of the Holy Spirit. Only the Gospel preacher has it, and He is like a man filled with fire on the inside.
A gentleman may be educated, intelligent, a storyteller, a wordsmith, a rhetorician, and eloquent in every oratorical element; but without the Word and Spirit causing heat and light to emanate from him, he is no preacher. He may be a Christian business executive, a teacher, or a dentist at heart, but without a burning from God and a burden for souls, he is only a platform speaker with some good information to give.
Of course, false teachers tend to excel in eloquence, which is what makes them more dangerous to the flock of God. Congregation members must know the Word of God for themselves, like the Bereans, in order to safeguard against the false prophet. Satan himself poses as an angel of light, and entertains the naïve with his carefully crafted lies. Eloquence alone cannot make a true preacher. The Word must be in the preacher, who is undone by this, like Isaiah, who was burdened by God’s holiness, and the fact he had unclean lips in the midst of a people who shared his condition (Is 6:5).
The preacher is earnest. He may be fun loving, friendly, and a master punster at home or with friends, but the preacher is no humorist in the pulpit. He is a solemn testifier to sin, death, judgment, and eternal punishment in hell and the lake of fire. With the levity of the post-modern American pulpit, these doctrines are missing or only made mention of in passing. Entertainers want bigger audiences, but preachers want souls saved.
The authority of the preacher is under scrutiny by his hearers. Without an earnest demeanor, the preacher’s credibility is lost. This is true, even if he is a biblical scholar and most eloquent speaker. The preacher is like Moses at war. The lives of men are at stake in the battle, and Moses carries the burden of success or failure in his weary arms. God forbid the preacher waste even one sermon with this shortsightedness.
The future of Israel often weighed in the balance, for the people of God, listening to the man of God. Would they listen? Would they obey? Was the prophet concerned with his hipster clothes? Was the prophet lamenting whether he had reached new heights in video technology creativity? Would the people laugh at his jokes? Would they be impressed with his crafty anecdotes? The rhetoricians craft was of utmost importance in the Greek culture of the Roman Empire. It appears to be so in the entertainment culture of the American church, too.
The preacher must be true to the Word of God. This means he preaches the bad news before making his earnest appeal for his congregation to be reconciled to God via the good news. There is little tolerance in the American church for the bad news of the Bible. Congregations have long feasted on cotton candy sermonettes, and this must change before the death of Christian America is ushered in by the blood guiltiness of negligent watchmen on the wall (Ezek 3, 33).
The preacher is in fierce competition with the prince of the power of the air. His masterful control of the media has intensified with each advance in media technology. The preacher cannot tamper with God’s ordained method of delivery, which is preaching the Word. The inclusion of technologies for Christian ministry may be embraced in different areas, but preaching is different. It is my conviction and experience that preaching remains as it was for the apostle Paul and every faithful preacher from biblical times onward. The only visual in the preaching event should be the preacher himself. Even then he should be heard more than seen. Faith comes by hearing.
Technology seems to bring preaching back down to the level of teaching. Please do not get me wrong on the distinction between teaching and preaching. I am advocate for both, but if a man claims to be a preacher, and fills the sermon with PowerPoint visuals, he has made the preaching event into a Sunday school class. Teaching is geared for the mind but preaching reaches further to the heart. The light illumines the mind with knowledge of the truth in both teaching and preaching, but it is the heat of preaching that transfers from the man of God with fire in his bones to the heart inflamed with the expulsive power of a new affection (Thomas Chalmers).
The perseverance of the preacher is something occasionally discussed by Christians concerned with pastors leaving the ministry. In truth, I think there may only be a few people interested in pastoral attrition. It is almost as if the theological community tells the pastor to be bold and courageous with doctrine and practice. Then the seminarian or pastoral trainee finds the church ready to control and even crush him in his calling. This is reminiscent of Israel and its prophets. What good is a prophet, sent from God, if he is a man-pleaser eager to scratch the itchy ears of sinners?
Amos was told to go home. Micaiah was hated by the King of Israel. Jeremiah was thrown in the cistern by the leaders at Jerusalem. Corinth had it in for the apostle Paul. Athanasius was exiled five times by the church at Alexandria. Chrysostom was kidnapped by the Queen and sent into exile. Augustine was greatly opposed by the Donatists. Jon Hus was burned at the stake by the church. Luther stood where his conscience was at peace. Calvin was kicked out of Geneva by the church for three years. Knox was exiled.
Charles Simeon’s congregation so despised him that for the first ten years of his ministry in Cambridge, the rich people locked their pews and did not attend. The congregation of the poor had to sit on the floor in the aisles to listen to the mighty 18th/19th century preacher. He was so good, and fortunately protected by the Bishop, that the protest finally ended and the rich folk enjoyed the next 44 years of his ministry there.
The point of perseverance is crucial. The demands of a preaching ministry are grueling. This is especially true if a preacher must perform other ministry tasks (ie. administration; leadership; etc.). Local churches would be wise to search out the Lord, in prayer, for the exact right man of God, for them to hear the expository preaching ministry. This means he is a man of the Word. It means he is eloquent. It means he is earnest for the calling of God upon his life to, “preach the Word.” His magnificent obsession and singularity of purpose must be the stewardship of the Gospel. Surprisingly, many pastors are something other than soul winners. Timothy was to do the work of the evangelist, but he wanted to quit, instead. Read 1 Timothy and discern who he was up against in the politics of the church at Ephesus.
It is natural for the world to be hostile to the Gospel preacher. It is insidious for church leaders to stand against the man of God they have called to be their preacher. Did they not pray? If they did pray, why will they not obey? Clearly, from the paragraph of exemplary preachers above, we learn there is no new thing under the sun for preachers, either. Resistance to the Gospel preaching ministry is here to stay. It would be very wise for ministers in training to be aware of the treacherous journey on which they have been called by God.
Churches must love and support Gospel preachers, for they occupy a rare gift and calling. Without them, there is no vision from the Word of God. The people who resist or reject God’s messenger prefer to perish with their entertainment programs.
As it pertains to Gospel preachers, not many men are diligent students of God’s Word. Not many are eloquent in the way of the preacher. Not many feel the earnest burden to serve God and preach to lost souls, both inside and outside of the church. Sadly, the ranks can dwindle if the church’s preference is for something other than what God has ordained and sent.
The laborers in this four-fold skill set are very few, and therefore, we must pray to the Lord to send forth more who will go for Him. If ever there was a prayer God would be pleased to answer, it seems to me, it would be this prayer, “Father God, send us a fearless preacher, who loves you and loves your Word. Assist him to proclaim in every situation. Keep him earnest for the task and keep him in the Gospel preaching ministry all the days of his life. In Jesus name. Amen.”
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 21, 2021