In 1994 when the allied forces were busy preparing to D Day landing targeted for the coasts of Normandy, one general addressed the troops who were gearing for the assault. He said to them and I quote, “When you are in Normandy, remember that you have got no friend except God and your rifle!” In a sense, to me, this best summarizes what preaching is all about. It is God, equipping his servant with the gift of preaching and then giving him his message, to take to a people who are reluctant listeners and at worst hostile ones!

By definition the word preaching means to herald or to proclaim a message. It also means to be bold in speech as used in Acts 9:27 (Vine, 1973: 201). With reference to public preaching, the word refers to a man of God publicly teaching God’s word with exhortation and application. But preaching is not just informing people; it is rather a means to compel the listener to think differently about their life, their decision-making, and ultimately their behaviour (Whitney, 2005: 3).

Preaching is the primary vehicle that God has chosen to deliver his gospel message to sinners, calling them to repentance and faith, and to deliver his word to Christians calling them to sanctification. To put it in the words of Charles Simeon Holdt, 2005: 8), “The purpose of preaching is to humble the sinner, exalt the Saviour and promote holiness.” Let us look at each of the saving and sanctifying purpose of preaching in a little more detail.

Gospel Preaching

I have stated that preaching is the primary vehicle that God has chosen to deliver his gospel message to sinners, calling them to repentance and faith. From the outset the good news – which is what the word “gospel” means – was propagated in the New Testament through preaching as the primary means.

The forerunner to the Messiah, John the Baptist, was a preacher. He preached to sinners and, as he did so, sinners were turned to God (Matthew 3:1-2). The Lord Jesus was also a preacher. The Bible says, “From that time on Jesus begun to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:27). We also read, “But [Jesus] said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea” (Luke 4:43-44).

When Jesus sent out the apostles, he sent them out to preach. He said to them, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 10:7). Later, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Peter report about Jesus that “He commanded us to preach to the people” (Acts 10:42). The apostle Paul used preaching as the main method of reaching out to the lost. Hear him testify in 1 Corinthians 1:17. ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Throughout church history, all the great movements of God in saving people and strengthening his church have been built upon great, God-anointed preaching. The colossal transformation in the church that occurred through the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc) was a work of God upon souls wrought through preaching. When the Great Awakening blazed through England and the American colonies, it begun burning from and was sustained by the fiery preaching of men like Whitefield, the Wesleys, Edwards, the Tennents, and others  (Whitney, 2005: 6). So we see that God saves people through the preaching of his word. The apostle Paul wrote, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Instructional Preaching

This is preaching aimed at the edification, sanctification or building up of the saints. The sanctification of the saints is to be accomplished mainly through the preaching of the “whole counsel of God”. In Acts 20:20, the apostle Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his God given methods. He said, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you.”

In Ephesians 4:11-12 the apostle Paul tells us, “It was he who gave some to be …pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Similarly, young Timothy was encouraged to “Devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Why did the apostle Paul say all these things? It is because, “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So whether it is the conversion of the sinner or the sanctification of the saint, preaching is the primary method that God has ordained to accomplish both. Churches that try to substitute preaching with other methods of communicating the truth (e.g. drama, film shows, music, debates, etc) are not only being disobedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, but are also digging their own graves!

Qualifications of a Preacher

Who then qualifies to discharge this awesome responsibility of preaching? Or, in the words of Scripture, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Let John Newton give us the preliminary answer to this question. He says, “None but he who made the world can make a Minister of the Gospel. If a young man has capacity, culture and application, that may make him a scholar, a philosopher, or an orator; but a true Minister must have certain principles, motives, feelings and aims, which no industry or endeavours of men can either acquire or communicate. They must be given from above, or they cannot be received” (Bridges, 1991: 24).

How then can we identify a person who is to be a preacher in the church of Christ? The following are some of the qualifications we must look for:

  • He must be a Christian: The apostle Paul was first saved from being “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13) before he was “appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11). Having an unconverted preacher is the surest way to kill a church and perhaps explains the current sad state of many churches which many years ago were evangelical. Not only must a preacher be a Christian, he must be a mature Christian and not a babe in Christ (1 Timothy 3:6). Charles Bridges comments (1991: 27), “A babe in grace and knowledge is palpably incompetent to become ‘a teacher of babes’, much more a guide of the fathers. The school of adversity, of discipline, and of experience, united with study and heavenly influence, can alone give ‘the tongue of the learned’.”
  • He must lead a consecrated life: He must lead a life that is surrendered or consecrated to the Lord. Preaching is essentially God speaking through a human vessel. God will only use such vessels as are set apart for noble use (2 Tim 2:21). Before the Lord could say to Isaiah the prophet, “Go and tell this people…” the seraph had first to touch his mouth with a live coal and assure him with the words, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” A consecrated life means he is continuously dependant on God and his Holy Spirit to bless his ministry. A practically holy life is also critical because the preacher is to be a living example of what he preaches (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7).
  • He must be called to preach: Martyn Lloyd Jones has this to say on this, “A preacher is not a Christian who decides to preach. He does not just decide to do it; he does not even decide to take up preaching as a calling. What happens rather is that he becomes conscious of a ‘call’. A call will normally take the form of pressure or disturbance within your spirit, a ‘restlessness’ that compels you to desire to preach” (1972: 103). It must be confirmed by the brethren around you as they suggest that you must start considering the preaching ministry.
  • He must be male: Since we live in a modern society which is fighting for equal rights between men and women we must state the obvious. The Scriptures are clear that only gifted males are called to the public preaching ministry of the church (1 Timothy 2:11-14).
  • He must be gifted: Preaching is a spiritual gift (Ephesians 4:11). The one endowed with the gift is given an extraordinary ability to understand and expound the Scriptures. He is also given public speaking abilities and the necessary mental abilities required for detailed study of the Scriptures and other relevant material (2 Tim 2:15).
  • He must be sound in doctrine: One who is to preach must be sound in his doctrine. It is the word of God that he is called to preach and he must do it correctly by bringing truths out of it and not error. Titus was told in Titus 2:1, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”
  • He must have general knowledge: In addition to knowing the Scriptures very well, the preacher must also acquire a lot of general knowledge. This will include current affairs, science, history, etc. Ignorance is not a virtue, especially for a preacher!
  • He must love the people he preaches to: Compassion marked the preaching ministry of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 9:35-38). It also marked the ministry of the apostle Paul (Romans 9:1-4). Compassion has always been the “fuel” that drives the true preacher of God’s word.
  • He must totally depend on God for success: The apostle Paul frequently requested prayer for his preaching. In Ephesians 6:19-20 he asks the Ephesians, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel… Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

So in all these qualifications and requirements, we see that preachers are born and not made! Yes, like a rough diamond, they can and must be polished until they shine brighter, but the diamond must be there in the first place!

 

Conclusion

In a sense, we see that the preacher is like that soldier with his rifle poised to invade Normandy. The soldier is conscripted by his general, equipped by his general, trained by his general and given his marching orders by his general. Similarly, the preacher is saved, called, equipped, trained and assigned his area of operation by his God. There is only one vital difference to this comparison. In the case of the soldier, his general remains behind when he goes to battle. But in the case of the preacher, his God goes with him into battle and fights, as it were, side by side with him, and promises him, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age”.

Bibliography:

1. Bible, NIV international Bible Society, 1984

2  Bridges, Charles: The Christian Ministry: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991

3. Lloyd-Jones, D.M.: Preaching and Preachers; Zondervan, 1972

4. Holdt, M (Ed). Preaching and Preachers: February 2005 journal

5. Vine, W.E.: Expository Dictionary; Oliphants, 1973