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The 25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years

When Preaching magazine was launched in 1985, a look at our list of contributing editors gave you a sense of who would be listed among the most influential preachers in America. That original group included Stuart Briscoe, Maxie Dunnam, Jim Henry, David Allen Hubbard, John Huffman, D.E. King, James Earl Massey, Calvin Miller, Lloyd John Ogilvie, Stephen F. Olford, Haddon Robinson, J. Alfred Smith, John Wesley White and William Willimon, along with several more. (See the sidebar to see the full list of original contributing editors.)

Thankfully, many of those preachers are still on the scene, though others have gone to be with the Lord. A quarter-century has brought great changes to the preaching landscape, and today's list of contributing editors includes names that would have been unknown to most pastors 25 years ago: Rick Warren, Bryan Chapell, James MacDonald, Robert Smith, Dave Stone, James Emery White and Ed Young Jr. (though his pastor dad would have been a good candidate for the original list—and is now among our senior consulting editors).

Identifying the 25 most influential preachers of the past 25 years is a challenging assignment. There were some who were major influencers of preaching in 1985 who would be little known to today's new generation of pastors; likewise, there are some major influencers today who weren't on the scene 25 years ago. (Actually, some of them were in grade school.) As we were gathering data and compiling the nominations in this process, we tried to ensure balance so neither end of the era is neglected.

Because the primary focus and audience of Preaching magazine has been the American pulpit, that is the context in which these preachers are recognized. Many gifted and influential preachers have served faithfully around the world and in terms of Kingdom impact may have touched far more than many of those listed below. We may not know them, but God does.

Here, then, are the 25 most influential preachers of the past 25 years:

#1 Billy Graham
He just as easily could be the top of  a list of the most influential preachers of the past half century; when Preaching cited the most influential preachers of the 20th century (in our first issue of the 21st), Billy Graham came in at number two. In a recent LifeWay survey of the most influential living preachers, Graham topped the list. When considering preachers who have influenced the rest of us, Billy Graham simply stands in a category unto himself.

John Huffman describes Graham's "integrity of life and passion of expression that not only led millions to faith in Jesus Christ but challenged so many of us to be faithful in our ministries. His founding of Christianity Today and his various conferences bringing together evangelicals from around the world make him tops on most of our lists."

#2 Charles Swindoll
The dominant role of media in the contemporary church is reflected in the influence of Chuck Swindoll, whose "Insight for Living" radio program and countless books have helped a generation of preachers in its understanding of what biblical exposition should look like.

Long-time pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, Calif., Swindoll became President of Dallas Theological Seminary and now serves as Senior Pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas (a suburb of Dallas). His radio program, books and Internet resources continue to influence thousands.

#3 Rick Warren
Rick Warren is a model and guru for today's new generation of preachers and church planters who are seeking to create churches that will reach the unchurched of their own generation. Founder of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif.—now one of the largest churches in America—he is widely known as author of The Purpose Driven Church (which shaped the views of thousands of pastors about how the church can be changed) and the huge best-seller The Purpose Driven Life.

Warren's most significant influence on today's pastors may be through his creative use of the Internet, including his weekly newsletter that reaches more pastors than any other single publication or Web resource. His own sermons, made available via the Web, have become models for many young pastors in the United States and around the world.

#4 Gardner C. Taylor
A profound influence on the African-American pulpit, Gardner Taylor is a model of eloquence and passion in preaching. He served as Senior Pastor of Brooklyn's Concord Baptist Church of Christ from 1948 to 1990 and is former President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Taylor is now retired and living in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Taylor reflects the influence of a leading pastor prior to today's diverse communications era. He served twice as National Radio Preacher for NBC, delivered the 100th Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale and has lectured at many colleges and seminaries. In 1979, Time magazine recognized him as one of the seven best Protestant preachers in the nation and conferred on him the title "Dean of the Nation's Black Preachers." Few black preachers of the past 25 years would have offered a list of great preachers without including Taylor at or near the top of their list.

#5 John MacArthur
Radio has been one of the major media tools used by preachers in the past quarter century, and few have been as influential via this medium as John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., and teacher on the "Grace to You" program.

Never afraid of controversy, MacArthur has engaged in a variety of theological debates through the years via his speaking and writing. His approach to verse-by-verse exposition has attracted many, and through his media influence and The Master's Seminary, which he established, MacArthur is preparing a new generation of young preachers for ministries focused on biblical exposition.

#6 Adrian Rogers
With a remarkable voice and a gift for expressing biblical insights in an engaging manner, Adrian Rogers became widely-known through his radio and TV ministries. Bill Bouknight observes that, "His ‘Love Worth Finding' program is still sending his sermons around the world five years after his death."

Rogers spent 32 years as Senior Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, growing the congregation from 8,000 to more than 29,000. In addition, he served three terms as President of the Southern Baptist Convention and was a key leader in the conservative resurgence movement that shifted the SBC in a new direction in the 1980s and 90s.

#7 Haddon Robinson
Haddon Robinson has used the classroom and printed page to exert a profound influence on the American pulpit during the past 25 years. His text Biblical Preaching (Baker) is the most widely-used preaching textbook of the last quarter century, helping to prepare thousands of young preachers to develop "Big Idea" sermons. (In the March-April 2010 Preaching, the book was cited as the most influential preaching book of the past 25 years.)

As a professor of preaching at three prominent evangelical seminaries, Robinson further influenced many of those who now teach preaching in colleges and seminaries. Michael Milton writes, "Arguably the greatest preacher in North America, Dr. Robinson has influenced pulpits all over America and through his ministry at Gordon-Conwell and Denver Seminary before that."

#8 Andy Stanley
Although he only founded Atlanta's North Point Community Church in 1995, in the past 15 years Andy Stanley has become a major model for a new generation of young pastors and preachers. He has led the way in the development of satellite churches and video venues, trends which are becoming ubiquitous forces in church life in the early 21st century.

Starting as Minister to Students at his father's First Baptist Church in Atlanta, the younger Stanley adapted many of his insights for communicating with youth in shaping a homiletical style for reaching unchurched young adults. His book Communicating for a Change (Multnomah) offers a guide to his preaching style. Through his leadership at the Catalyst conference, he continues to influence thousands of young pastors in shaping their own ministries. Dan Kimball writes, "I also find his preaching refreshing. I never would be embarrassed to have someone who isn't a Christian listen to an Andy Stanley sermon."

#9 John R.W. Stott
Although no longer active due to health issues, in 1985 John Stott was still a major influence on preaching, perhaps even more outside the United States than in this nation. By 1975 he had resigned as Rector of All Souls Church in London and assumed a more international leadership role, with a special concern for churches in the developing world.

Stott's book Between Two Worlds (Eerdmans) has been a major influence on our understanding of preaching in the past quarter century, and Stott himself has been a model of faithful biblical exposition. Mel Lawrenz observes, "Stott's teaching is a baseline for me. His ministry is marked by faithfulness and character over a lifetime, and a vision to see the majority world with respect long before others did."

#10 W.A. Criswell
As pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas for more than 40 years (he became Pastor Emeritus in 1995) W.A. Criswell helped create a model for a successful urban church rooted in strong biblical preaching. The church grew from 7,800 to 25,000 during his pastorate, at one point becoming the largest congregation in the world. For more than 50 years, Billy Graham had his membership at the Dallas church.

Criswell was an expositor who preached through books of the Bible throughout his pastoral ministry. He founded Criswell College as a place to train a new generation of Bible preachers. Rick Warren, who felt Criswell's influence as a young man, has called the Dallas preacher "the greatest American pastor of the 20th century."

#11 John Piper
As Pastor of Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., John Piper has been a powerful influence on young pastors through his writing and speaking. Mike Milton says: "His messages are examples of solid, biblical exposition. His passion for missions and preaching has influenced many for the advancement of the Kingdom of God."

#12 Charles Stanley
Pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, and widely known through his "In Touch" radio and TV ministry, author  of several books Charles Stanley was third in LifeWay's recent survey of most influential living Protestant pastors.

#13 Stephen F. Olford
Born in Zambia to British missionary parents, Olford ultimately ended up in the United States as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, where he modeled an urban ministry centered on biblical exposition. He later established a training center for pastors which impacted thousands in equipping them to be faithful preachers of God's Word. Cliff Barrows said, "Stephen Olford left his footprint upon my heart and life, as he has on people around the world. I thank God for this dear man who has impacted Billy's life and my life all these years."

#14 William A. Jones
Pastor for more than 40 years of Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn, William Jones was a powerful (and deep) voice in the African-American church. He was cited by Ebony as one of the nation's best Black preachers and was in constant demand as a speaker and evangelist. He was a past President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and founder of the National Black Pastors Conference.

#15 Bill Hybels
Founding Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and pioneer of the seeker-sensitive church movement, Bill Hybels' writing and resourcing of other churches through Willow Creek Association has touched the lives of thousands of pastors. John Huffman says Hybels should be recognized for "modeling what it is to be a passionate communicator and vision caster who has rallied a whole generation—with new preaching methods and organizational styles—to reach those who otherwise would not have been as open to the gospel."

#16 Fred Craddock
Fred Craddock may be part of the mainline church, but his writing on inductive preaching has strongly influenced the preaching style of thousands of pastors over the past couple of decades. In addition, Craddock is an engaging and effective preacher and one of the best storytellers anyone ever will hear.

#17 Mark Driscoll
Not only did Driscoll pastor Mars Hill as it grew from zero to megachurch in America's most unchurched city in less than a decade but he also has launched a national network of church planters that is touching cities across the nation. Reformed, emerging and controversial, Driscoll is a model for thousands of young pastors who read his books and listen faithfully to his podcast sermons. Driscoll may well be an example of how preachers will influence other preachers in the 21st century.

#18 Jack Hayford
For 30 years as Pastor of The Church on the Way in Los Angeles, Jack Hayford provided an example of faithful biblical preaching for his fellow Charismatic pastors. Chancellor of The Kings College and Seminary, which he founded, Hayford also is author of more than 50 books and more than 600 hymns and choruses, including the popular song "Majesty."

#19 William Willimon
Now the United Methodist Bishop for North Alabama, William Willimon became widely known among mainline and evangelical pastors as Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. His incisive biblical sermons have influenced many, as have his challenges to his fellow mainline pastors to make sure their preaching is rooted in scriptural truth.

#20 E.K. Bailey
Though most pastors won't know his name, E.K. Bailey was a powerful influence in launching a new birth of expository preaching in the African-American church. Long-time pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas (until his death in 2003), he started an annual conference that continues to attract hundreds of black pastors each year and gives them the tools to become more effective biblical expositors.

#21 D. James Kennedy
Mike Milton says that "through Coral Ridge Ministries and other media and ministry outlets, Dr. Kennedy became the most listened to Presbyterian minister in history." His Evangelism Explosion movement became a powerful influence for many years on how churches did personal evangelism.

#22 Barbara Brown Taylor
Although she never pastored a megachurch, Barbara Taylor teaches at a small Georgia college and has been a favorite preacher in mainline circles for two decades. This Episcopal priest has written a dozen books, with several popular works on preaching including the publication of her 1997 Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching.
 
#23 Warren Wiersbe
Former pastor of Moody Church and then radio voice of "Back to the Bible," Wiersbe's teaching through countless books—particularly his "Be" series on biblical books—has shaped the biblical understanding and preaching of thousands of pastors. Billy Graham called him "one of the greatest biblical expositors of our generation." Through his books, radio ministry and conferences he has been a pastor to pastors for a generation.

#24 Lloyd John Ogilvie
After 23 years as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Calif., Ogilvie became Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, a role from which he retired in 2003. Through the 1980s and 90s, his more than 50 books were devoured (and adapted) by preachers in much the same way as books by Swindoll or Lucado are used today. John Huffman says that Ogilvie "has taken seriously the discipline of preaching, extending a solid combination of biblical and relational truth beyond the pulpit into the public arena of the business, entertainment and political world."

#25 Tim Keller
Founding Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, which has grown to a weekly attendance of more than 5,000, Keller has shown that biblical preaching still can make an impact in a secular urban environment. In addition to his best-selling books, his commitment to church planting has led to more than 100 church plants in cities around the world. Michael Milton wrote: "Tim's preaching was for years under the radar, but not hidden from the influencers in media, the arts and the ‘higher' culture of America from New York City. Now his ministry is flowering, and his preaching—insightful, culturally sensitive and yet strongly expository—has become some of the most listened to sermons in America via iTunes podcasts."

So that's our list. Who did we miss? We'll include a feature at Preaching.com in June on the other names that have been suggested but didn't male our list of 25. Feel free to send along your suggestions; we may add your names to the online list, as well!

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