What are the qualities that make a good preacher?

This is a common enough question, but it is not one that Scripture answers directly. Indeed, the Bible poses a much more important question: “how shall they preach unless they have been sent?” (Rom. 10: 15, my emphasis). Now the matter of sending is not optional, for by this definition, there is no real preaching at all without it. The Greek word here translated preach (khrussw) reinforces the same idea, for it means to proclaim as a herald. As sent, the Christian preacher is thus not a free agent but one under instruction and direction. Like Philip, he must go where and when he is told to, and like Paul, he must not go when and where he is forbidden (see Acts 8: 26, 29; 16: 6). And yet what we find now is that preachers go where they are asked to by men, instead of travelling where they are sent by God. There is nothing wrong with being asked to come, but it is dishonest to pretend that asking is the same as sending. If preachers will not go until and unless they have been asked, then it is clear that asking has usurped sending. Yes, the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip to join him in his chariot, but Philip had already been sent to him (see Acts 8: 29, 31), and yes, Paul was asked to go into Macedonia to serve (see Acts 16: 9), but that was in a vision, and bears no relation to the modern practice of operating a preaching calendar. A good preacher is always a sent preacher. Some may protest that reverting to NT practice could make ‘gospel meetings’ disorderly, but the perceived problem is of their own making for such formal ‘services’ are not found in the Bible. The evangelist simply preached, where and when he was directed to preach, and in the manner in which he, with a good conscience, saw fit to do so before his Master. We need preachers who are sent much more than meetings that follow a standard format. This is certainly not a call to give up the standard gospel ‘service’—for if the Word of God is read and spoken about, then God can use the occasion—but there does need to be serious reflection over its imperfections and limitations. The practice in the NT was to go out to the people, rather than expect them to come in.

   Now the question ‘What are the qualities that make a good preacher?’ will, to some minds, reinforce the erroneous notion that preaching is a performance that can be formally trained for. Nothing could be further from the truth. The first Christian preachers simply got on with preaching. Thus Paul “straightway in the synagogues … preached Jesus that he is Son of God” (Acts 9: 20, my emphasis). Peter and John were “unlettered and uninstructed men” but they were so full of what they had received that they could not “refrain from speaking of the things which” they had “seen and heard” (Acts 4: 13, 20). It was inconceivable that they should be anything but fervent “in spirit” (Rom. 12: 11). This had nothing to do with working themselves up into a passion for they had good news to impart to a dying world which made them “urgent” in proclaiming the word (2 Tim. 4: 2). These are indispensable qualities in a preacher. Of course, allowances need to be made for the natural disposition of character, and for differing degrees of ability, but the fact remains that apathy and passivity have no place in the preaching. The Word of God is given to stir up the faithful and convict the godless, and it is a poor thing when the preacher himself appears neither stirred up nor convicted, or, worse, is simply an actor. “How beautiful” says the apostle, are “the feet of them that announce glad tidings of peace, of them that announce glad tidings of good things” (Rom. 10: 15). This quotation is from Is. 52: 7, and the Hebrew word there for announce signifies news that brings happiness to its hearers (as in 1 Sam. 31: 9). Clearly such a message will be most effective if its bearer is evidently rejoicing in the news himself!

   It also follows that the preacher who is livingly in the good of the glad tidings will hold nothing back. Thus, when Paul preached to the Athenians (see Acts 17: 23), the word used there for announce means to tell openly and thoroughly. Sadly, we live in days when the message announced is often incomplete—and sometimes deliberately so in order to not offend. The audacity and arrogance of this attitude is astounding. Yes, the Gospel is offensive to the natural man (see 1 Cor. 1: 23; Gal. 5: 11) but what right have we to pervert the message? So “do I now seek to satisfy men or God? or do I seek to please men? If I were yet pleasing men, I were not Christ’s bondman” (Gal. 1: 10, my emphasis). Better to be no preacher at all but faithful to the Word in doing the “work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4: 5)! And how solemn to have God–given ability without being faithful in its exercise! A good preacher delivers “Jehovah’s message” without addition or subtraction. As “Jehovah’s messenger” (Hag. 1: 13), he can do nothing else.