Most Effective Preachers

Baylor Seminary’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary surveyed almost 180 sermon experts belonging to the Evangelical Homiletics Society and the Academy of Homiletics. And the results are in! According to the Spring 2018 national survey the most effective preachers in the English speaking world are;

1 – Dr. Alistair Begg, senior pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

2 – Dr. Tony Evans, founding pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas.

3 – Dr. Joel C. Gregory, George W. Truett Endowed Chair in Preaching and Evangelism at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

4 – Dr. Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York.

5 – Dr. Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Director of the Early Career Pastoral Leadership Program at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia.

6 – Dr. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois.

7 – Dr. John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

8 – Dr. Haddon Robinson, previously Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

9 – Pastor Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church.

10 – Dr. Charles Swindoll, senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas.

11 – Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, professor, author, and theologian.

12 – Dr. Ralph Douglas West, founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas.

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Jonathan Edwards and Preaching to Culture

In Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller shares much of what he has learned about preaching. One of my favorite parts is found in the footnotes. In case you do not read footnotes, you might want to read the following about Jonathan Edwards. Namely that he changed his preaching style when he moved to Stockbridge, MA in 1751.

Yes, the author of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” became gentler when he began preaching to the Mohican and Mohawk Indians on the edge of the frontier. According to Keller, his sermons became briefer and more compressed. He began to use more images and metaphors. Not only that, he started to choose images he hoped would resonate with the Indians. This is evident in his sermon “Warring with the Devil.” From the text in Luke 11 he depicts the strong man as Satan who is fully armed and a powerful warrior who has taken us captive. “Sin is therefore imaged as the state of being in thrall of an armed enemy.”

And then Edwards introduces grace and salvation. These of course come through Christ “A greater armed man, who can liberate us.” We are told that Edwards did not often discuss warfare, yet, “The Indian warrior culture provided his rhetorical opportunity.”

As much as I like these highlights from “Warring with the Devil,” I like what Keller tells about Edward’s first sermon to the Indians even more. In “The Things that Belong to True Religion” he does not begin with detailed exegesis, he does not add a treatise on doctrine or give multiple bible proofs. “He does something he had never done before – he begins with an extended story, the story of Cornelius… a racial outsider, a ‘heathen warrior,’ who finds faith in Christ.”

Edwards goes on to outline human history as the spreading of the gospel. From a family to a nation to Europeans like Cornelius. He talks about his own people, the English, who once worshipped idols but now follow Jesus. “Now, Edwards argues, the gospel is spreading from the Europeans to the Indians.” This is brilliant. Edwards identifies with the Indians. Even more, “This account puts the hearers themselves squarely in the middle of the great story of the world and of what God is doing in it.” Edwards shows his listeners that they are part of God’s plan.

About Sermon Prep

I am serving in a generous congregation that wants to make sure they compensate the preacher fairly. A question then, that came up more than once was “How long does it take to prepare a sermon?” Others may disagree, but I think it’s a difficult question to answer. In order to preach a sermon the preacher must pull from every place visited, every person met, every conversation held, every family get together, every book read… for every sermon the preacher pulls from a lifetime of experiences.

I suppose one could start the clock on a Monday, select a text, consult outside resources, and arrive at a finished product by Sunday. But that sounds like a recipe for a boring sermon.

Because of this dilemma, well-meaning consultants like Bill Tenny-Brittian and Bill Easum have offered consultation. Their solution, spend less than two hours a week on the sermon. Preach a sermon from a great preacher who writes great “sermons that rock people’s lives” (their words not mine). A short list of such preachers include Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Adam Hamilton (their list not mine).

I want to point out I think they are well meaning Christians who want to see the church grow. They demonstrate common sense. They are helpful in terms of efficiency. They demonstrate acceptable ethical suggestions. But the fact remains, this is not the way to prepare a sermon. It is the un-carnational version of sermon prep.

The preacher should be who they are in the pulpit and never pretend to be someone else. A sermon is local and specific and incarnational. The sermon brings together God and text and congregation in a specific place and time.

Still, we cannot deny the necessity of reading, listening to, and learning from others. I like what Scot McKnight says about this. “To be sure, nearly every sermon emerges from books and sermons and ideas and all sorts of things that are used. But it is bricolage, it is quilting,it is convergence – it is precisely those things and not simple usage of others.” I rather like that description of piecing a sermon together. He goes on “Taking someone’s sermon destroys the bricolage and turns it into a canned, deceitful act of creating a false image in front of God’s people.”

This is exactly why preachers should spend time with the people. If they do not, I am not sure they will have anything to say. This is why preachers read and watch movies and follow plot. This is why preachers listen carefully to text and carefully to the stories of people. This is why nearly any activity becomes a new source for sermon prep. Only by spending the necessary time to engage in these things will they be able to participate meaningfully in the conversation between text and people on a Sunday morning.