A gospel preacher should be a preacher of the gospel! The point is that whether full-time or part-time, experienced or a novice, married or single, located or itinerant, eloquent or plain, cultured or uncultured, educated or self-learned: the one thing that defines a gospel preacher is that he communicates the truth of God’s word by the best means available to him. All else that might contribute to the effectiveness of his ministry is secondary to the power that is in the message itself. “For the word of God is living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12). “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word…” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
A gospel preacher should be a faithful Christian. Such as are otherwise are hypocrites and insults to the message, being in themselves “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18). Preaching as a profession has an unsavory reputation in much of society. Certainly it is unfair for the name of a good man to be stained by the grime found on other men’s character, especially those portray themselves as preachers. In morals and ethics God demands no more of a preacher than is demanded of any brother or sister, but the realities of society demand particular care for a gospel preacher that his integrity, speech, manners, appearance, and moral uprightness be unquestioned. “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” (Titus 2:7-8).
A gospel preacher should be prepared. Jesus kept the apostles in training for three years. Timothy needed time with Paul before he could be left on duty at Ephesus. It appears that John Mark was anxious to get started, but not prepared to stay the course. In time he would become more useful (Acts 15:36; 2 Tim. 4:11). This is not to say education must be formal. It is to say that a man who thinks preaching will just come to him naturally will end up a natural disaster! A brother told of going to hear a certain denominational preacher who was denouncing “college-bred preachers.” He said, “I thank God, I’m an ignorant man. Lord, make me more ignoranter!” A voice from the back said, “Lord, you’ll shore have a hard time” (H. P. Reeves, Gospel Advocate, July 18, ‘63). Great men who have done great work first had to be prepared (Ezra 7:10).
A gospel preacher should be a student who never graduates, who has a never-ending thirst to know more…more of the Bible, more of how to communicate, more about answering error, and more about being a better person. “First principles” are not enough (Heb. 5:12ff). One who teaches others wants to bring them to his level of understanding, but what happens when they get there and he doesn’t know how to take them higher? It has been said that a good preacher preaches from the overflow, meaning he has first been filling himself with Scripture. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things” (Matt 12:35). Study is more than putting together a sermon outline. It is building a treasure from which rich things can be shared with hearers. A gospel preacher should approach the Book, and related books, as where gold can be found by hard digging. Thus, “Give attention to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13). Someone told of an older preacher who, speaking to some younger men, boasted that he had reached the age when he no longer needed to study. His very statement showed he hadn’t studied enough. Paul, in prison and with not long to live, asked Timothy to bring him “the books, and especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). The other side of 2 Timothy 2:15 is that a preacher ought to be ashamed if he has not learned to handle the word of God correctly.
A gospel preacher should be a member of the congregation wherever he is, which means the same kind of responsibilities as other members have. His place is not as an outsider hired as an independent contractor. He is a member of the body, a brother in the family. The fact that he may eventually move to another place does not give him independent status. He will participate as others are expected to participate, whether in attendance, giving, visiting, personal evangelism, benevolence, building maintenance, etc. One who is salaried to be full time should expect in some things to do more than is possible by those whose time is less available. In every life there are unfair expectations, but one should be slow to insist, “I wasn’t hired to do that.” Jesus taught that menial work is meaningful work (Jn. 13:12ff). Jack Lewis wrote on the word doulos (“slave”) as applied to preachers. “One well-known preacher has stated as his rule of life that if anyone asks him to do something, he tries to do it if he can at all do so. He is a slave to his people” (Firm Foundation, Sept. 2, ‘80). Here is what Paul said about his time with the Thessalonians. “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:7-9).
A gospel preacher should be one who edifies the church. Most preachers speak to basically the same audience from week to week. If he speaks to 100 people for thirty minutes he consumes fifty of their man hours. At only $10 per hour that’s $500 they might have made doing something else. The point to be made is that when a preacher has the opportunity to use people’s time he needs to give them something of value. Charles Spurgeon said, “Spend more time in the study that you need less time in the pulpit.” People come to be fed and they need a balanced diet. Paul told the Ephesians: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:20). Illustrations and thoughts on current events may have some place in preaching, but people need Scripture. “The preacher of small subjects is doomed. The great themes hold the field; and they hold the field simply because people, tired to death of trifles, need a tonic of ‘big things’” (Reeves, ibid).
A gospel preacher should be an evangelist, one who goes to the people to win them to Christ. “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). It’s a work to do “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Peter had to go to Cornelius’s house. Philip the evangelist preached to crowds in Samaria, but he had to get into the eunuch’s chariot near Gaza. Much can be done by sound preaching from a pulpit, but also, as Paul did, in setting up appointments for Bible study (Acts 28:23).
A gospel preacher should be ready to defend the faith, i.e., “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17). Readiness is not only willingness, it is preparedness. One cannot keep up with every folly invented by men (Eccl. 7:29), but he should know about and be ready to answer the more prominent issues in the ecclesiastical world, as well as hobbies which trouble the brotherhood. Knowing how to give an answer (1 Pet. 3:15) includes knowing how arguments ought to be framed. More importantly, however, he must be able to bring to bear what God’s word actually says. Jesus knew where to find the text that needed to be read (Luke 4:17). When Pharisees insisted on their own traditions, Jesus used Old Testament history to expose their inconsistency (Mark 2:23ff). In fact, it was by book, chapter, and verse that he silenced His greatest adversary (Matt. 4:1-11).
Finally and in summation, a gospel preacher is a “man of God.” Paul adopted the Old Testament term for prophets and applied it to Timothy, who was preaching at Ephesus (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:16f). A gospel preacher is a professional, not because of the source of his income, nor by having been ordained to that position; but because he has chosen to give his life to sharing “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
David serves the Charlotte Avenue congregation in Rock Hill, SC, and is the former editor of the Carolina Messenger.