This afternoon I enjoyed a wonderful lunch with two young men who are thinking about preaching. It was arranged by a good friend who preaches where they worship, and it included another dear friend who has preached for many years. The two young men asked us some excellent questions today about ministry in the word, and this post is the result of that stimulating conversation.
What would you say is the most important quality a preacher should possess?
Let’s stipulate some qualities that should be givens, like genuine conversion to Christ, a deep love for God, and personal holiness. I don’t mean that we should take these virtues for granted – far too many preachers have proven to be wolves in sheep’s clothing for anyone to assume that all preachers are truly committed to the Lord. But surely we can agree that following Jesus with a pure heart and life is a baseline quality for preachers to possess. After all, a preacher is a Christian before he is a preacher.
So granting that a man is devoted to God, what attribute is absolutely vital to doing the work of preaching? We concluded that it is curiosity. Curiosity about the word, and curiosity about people.
Curiosity About the Word
This is not a thought that is original to me (as is the case with most of my thoughts!). Many years ago I was a summer intern at a congregation in Columbia, Tennessee, where my mentor was a wonderful man of God named Harold Comer. One day as we were discussing what it takes to be a good preacher, Harold said (as best I can remember), “A preacher doesn’t need to be academically gifted, but he does need to be curious.”
Preaching the word of God requires the hard work of digging into the text of Scripture. This means lots of long, lonely hours of study. Such work only happens when it is prompted by a curiosity to know what the word says.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
I have known lots of men who were not blessed with great education or sizzling intellects but who were perceptive students of the word because of an insatiable curiosity to know what God has said. They didn’t have sharp minds, but they did possess iron butts – a willingness to sit for long hours of study – because they thirsted for understanding.
Curiosity About People
But there is another aspect to this inquisitive impulse that is vital, and that is a curiosity about people. The goal of preaching is to share the fruit of the study of the text with other people in a way that they can understand, and with a view toward helping them grow into Christlikeness. This can only be done when a preacher knows his congregation, and this requires curiosity.
Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus contain many instructions about how to relate to all sorts of people.
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
There are some men who are very studious, but they never learn how to relate to people very well. They are curious about books, but not about the stories reflected in the lives of the members where they preach. To connect the word of God with the hearts of people, we have to be interested in both.
You can see the concern for people and the word in passages like 2 Timothy 2:24 –
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.
It isn’t always easy to know how to balance these priorities. Just as it requires time to learn the word, it also takes time to know what’s going on in the lives of the people you teach. But without curiosity for the word and for people, preaching is ineffective, either lacking in substance or relevance. I hope today’s lunch was informative and encouraging to my new friends, but I know it was invigorating to me to be reminded of these commitments.