I see them often (not because I am looking to move!). They are the “ads” for preaching openings, as congregations try to summarize what they are looking for in just a paragraph or two.
In a large number of these ads, you’ll find words like, “The [name of church] is looking for a younger man who will reach young families.” You might also find descriptions like “dynamic preaching style” or “accessible sermons.”
And if you poll a large number of Christians about the type of preacher they are looking for (or not-so-secretly wish they had), they will spend far more time talking about his style or his presentation or even the way he looks than they will about one very important factor: Does he preach the Truth, no matter what?
I’m afraid that, in our image-conscious and style-centered culture, we have put those things as the highest priority, even when looking for someone to preach.
Now, let me say this: preaching style can be important, and every preacher needs to seek to improve or even adapt at times. If the members can predict what you’re going to say every week because you always preach the same style (or, worse, are riding a hobby horse), that’s a sign that the preacher is not growing.
But too many Christians are more concerned with the externals than they are with whether or not that man spends time in the Word and preaches the Truth, even if his style may not be on par with the greatest world-class speakers we’ve ever heard.
It should be very concerning that if we were to look at what most congregations want in a preacher, that some of the greatest men of the Bible would never even be invited for a “try out.”
If John the Baptist sent his sermon entitled “You Brood of Vipers!” to an eldership along with his resume, do you think they would call him to come and try out for the open pulpit position? Yet, Jesus said that “among those born of women none is greater than John” (Luke 7:28). Do you think that someone like John might be needed?
What about Paul? Those who heard him speak said, “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10). We can’t have that as the public face of our congregation, now can we? We need someone who looks strong and who is a great orator, right? But don’t you think a preacher like Paul could do some good where you are?
Even the Lord Jesus Himself might not be welcome, if you think about it. When He starts talking about divorce or lust or even calling people hypocrites, do you think He would be allowed to stay very long? The cell phone of each elder would be blowing up with complaints!
Preachers should care about externals, but only to a minor degree. I remember growing up and hearing the late and beloved brother Wendell Winkler admonish young preachers to make sure they weren’t “slovenly” in the pulpit, but that they looked like they were serious, because the work they were doing is serious! A preacher should seek to grow in his abilities and talents.
But if the first thing we consider when we think of a “good preacher” is style and looks, we have missed the point of Gospel preaching! It is first and foremost about the proclamation of the whole counsel of God to save the souls of men and women.
Elders, I urge you to encourage your preacher to spend time in the Book and to not be afraid to preach the truth, boldly and in love. Help him know how to balance bold proclamation with loving rebuke, and how to balance sermons that “reprove, rebuke, [and] exhort” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Preachers, I urge us to seek to grow in our talents but to never lose sight of how we are to be sharing all of the Gospel, “in season and out of season,” and not to shy away from what might be difficult to present. (You know, those sermons that you not-so-jokingly call your “U-Haul specials.”) Seek help in how to have “complete patience and teaching” when the times come that people are not enduring sound teaching (2 Timothy 4:2-3), while never compromising Truth.
And Christians, I urge you to think about your attitude toward the preacher. He may not be the best orator you’ve ever heard, and he may get a little predictable at times. He may not dress in the latest styles or have a modern haircut. (And, horror of horrors, he may still wear a coat and tie instead of a sweater or skinny jeans!) He may even come down on you a little hard at times. But he loves the Lord, and he loves you enough to preach the truth to the best of his ability. If that’s true of him, thank him and love him for it.
No, he isn’t John or Paul or Jesus. But he’s a servant of God, and that’s what every congregation needs in the pulpit.
AUTHOR: Adam Faughn