By Dick Blackford
Among preachers there is a wide variety of interests, preaching styles and abilities. The desires of brethren to listen to a particular preacher is often gauged by these. One is either turned on or turned off by one or more of them. It is of interest to notice that none of these says anything about the content of the sermon(s). That may tell us more about ourselves than we would like to admit. But it will help to know if we have been deceived and made something more important than truth.
Preachers are often noted for different things. For example:
1. Some are scholars. We are greatly indebted to those brethren who are well studied in the linguistics of the Old and New Testaments, men who are capable of writing commentaries that help us in our study of the Scriptures and preparation as gospel preachers. There are not very many scholars and their work is most valuable. There is certainly room in the kingdom for them.
2. Some are eloquent. We often feel at a disadvantage when we see false teachers who can so eloquently spread false doctrine. It is great to have men of the ability of an Apollos among us who can make the way plain and understandable and “mightily confute” those who are in error (Acts 18). There is room in the kingdom for men with great speaking ability.
3. Some are not eloquent. Paul was one of those. The Corinthians said his “letters were weighty and strong but his bodily presence weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Con 10:10). He admitted that he did not “come with excellency of speech” (1 Cor.2:1). Some-times we hear the compliment and criticism toward some brother that “he is a better writer than he is a preacher.” That was being said of Paul. But who would say we don’t need men like Paul today? Though he was not eloquent it is interesting that the Lord used him to carry the gospel on three journeys, to be the apostle to the Gentiles, and to write most of the New Testament.
4. Some are known for their debating ability. There are men who are especially good at thinking on their feet and can quickly analyze an opponent’s arguments and expose his false teaching. Sometimes they are criticized for being “brotherhood watchdogs.” Or, as I have heard them sarcastically referred to as “the pit bulls of the brother-hood.” But we are greatly indebted to these men for being willing to place themselves in vulnerable situations. Had it not been for them we might not be able to recognize the New Testament church today. Many more Christians and congregations might have gone into apostasy had it not been for their work. It is difficult to find harder work that is less appreciated than debating. Some of the most valuable books and tapes in my library are debates. They often make the truth, shine brighter. Surely, there is room in the kingdom for these brethren.
5. Some are known for being personal evangelists. These have been especially successful in studying “one on one” and converting souls to Christ. They are often less into “in-house” controversies but are confuting error on an individual basis. There are many people who never planned to attend an assembly of the saints. Had it not been for those willing to take the time and seeking personal private Bible studies, some would have never heard and obeyed the gospel. No doubt some who are reading this are indebted to such a person. There is plenty of room for them.
6. Some are known for their interest in world evangelism. It is easy to become nearsighted and feel like everything revolves around where we are. I’m glad there are brothers who have broader vision and can scan the horizons for the most fertile fields for the gospel. I enjoy reading their reports. Contrary to some misconceptions (and minus the abuses, of course), working in a foreign land is no vacation, especially in those countries which have been suppressed by communism or are not nearly as developed as the U.S. The gospel is not an American gospel. It does not need to be hoarded in America. There is room in the kingdom for brethren who will be inconvenienced by taking the gospel to foreign lands.
7. Some are known for building up strong congregations. They have a knack for getting brethren to “jell” together and work in unity toward worthwhile goals. They often have a tender approach that lends itself to reconciling estranged brethren. These preachers work hard and are able to keep brethren focused on things which are edifying. “Let all things be done unto edification” (1 Cor.14:26). We owe them a lot. Scoot over and make room for them.
God has chosen men of different, and sometimes opposite, temperaments and manners. Hosea could make a tender and passionate plea from a broken heart while Amos “shelled down the corn” and gave heated rebuke. Hosea spoke of God’s loving kindness while Amos, knowing nothing of what was “politically correct” called the fashionable ladies “cows” and scolded his brethren for their “beds of ivory” and other forms of materialism (Amos 4:1; 6). Moses was not eloquent and was slow of speech and tongue. Aaron could speak well (Exod.4:10,14). However, Jehovah has not seen fit to say a whole lot about preaching styles or speaking ability (but he has had somewhat to say about attitudes). It was not as important to God as it is to men and is a judgment matter.
The Corinthians were unable to accept that God had made room in the kingdom for preachers of different style and manner and they clung to their favorite preacher who did it the way they thought it ought to be done. They were rebuked for being carnal (1 Cor.1:11,12; 3:1). Of course, they could not tolerate Paul’s “inadequacies.” Have you ever seen yourself in the Corinthians?
Each preacher described has particular dangers facing him. The temptation to the man who specializes in building up a local congregation is that he could become so wrapped up in creating a closely knit group that the church may end up being built around him. A “mutual admiration society” that thrives on conviviality, with a smattering of spiritual food thrown in is not what the Lord had in mind. Being so focused on the local group, he could have a lack of interest and concern for the work others are doing in difficult places.
The danger to the world evangelist is that of feeling like the grass is always greener elsewhere. He might be tempted to belittle those who have not given up on their native homeland and are not as enthusiastic to do what he is doing.
The danger to the personal evangelist is that since he is dealing with first principles most of the time, he may not grow as he should. Perhaps you have heard it said of a preacher, “He knows how to get them baptized but he doesn’t know how to keep them.” If he becomes too interested in numbers for their own sake, he might be tempted to compromise just to get someone in the water.
The danger facing scholars and debaters is that they may become more concerned with doctrinal academics and shut themselves off from the people by staying holed up in an office somewhere. They may view themselves more as apostles to the brotherhood rather than as local preachers with local responsibilities.
The danger to the eloquent speaker is that too many pats on the back may ruin him. He faces the temptation to continually seek the praises of men (Jn.12:42,43). He may become more concerned with being dynamic in the pulpit than with substance in his sermons. He may also bring out “preacheritus” on the part of his followers.
The danger to the man who is not eloquent is that he will not see the need for good communication skills. He could also become discouraged and not put his best into the work.
What’s A Preacher To Do?
Of all the types of preachers we have described, which one would you rather be? Well, the Lord has not emphasized one above another. The ideal in the Lord’s army is to “Be all that you can be.” Try to be a composite of all the good qualities we see in these descriptions. One should be as studious as he can, develop his speaking ability as well as he can, be ready always to defend the truth against false teaching, seek opportunities to study with individuals in private Bible studies, concentrate on being a local evangelist by getting close to the brethren and trying to bring out the best in them, and be mindful of other fields that are white unto harvest.
That’s a tall order. The apostle Paul comes closer to fitting this description than anyone I know. Though he had no reputation for eloquence, wouldn’t you have loved to have heard him on Mars Hill (Acts 17)? His sermon was a masterpiece. His timing and topic were as appropriate as could be. To these highly educated and sophisticated philosophers he spoke on their ignorance about the only thing that really matters. Surely the Lord knew what he was doing when he selected Paul. And the Holy Spirit knew what he was doing when he had Paul say, “Be ye imitators of me…” (1 Cor.11:1; Phil.4:9).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 20, p. 4-6
October 20, 1994