This article examines the spiritual preparation for preaching and sets forth strategies by which they can be incorporated into the life of a messenger of God.
The preacher in the pulpit of a local church should be a genuine man of God, meeting certain spiritual qualifications. First, he must possess genuine salvation. While an unsaved man may preach from a pulpit, his words will ring hollow; and his message will be nothing more than religious verbiage. Frank Pollard believed that the man who dares to stand in a pulpit to declare the Word of God must have experienced the God about Whom he preaches: “An unsaved preacher is an armless person teaching the art of pitching a baseball. It is a bankrupt person teaching economics and investment. It is an alcoholic lecturing on abstinence. It is a guide showing people things he has never seen, taking them to places he has never been.”1
Second, God must have called the preacher to preach. Gilbert Guffin observed the necessity of the divine call:
Of vital importance to a comprehensive preparation for the ministry is the fact that it shall have a deep and abiding sense of its divine call. That ministry which has not a profound assurance of the divine urge within it is doomed in the course of time to lose its sense of urgency and possibly to come to failure. When God’s prophets speak and labor under an undoubted conviction of their heaven-given commission to speak His message in His Name, they will be indomitable and their message commanding and dynamic.2
Without a direct call from God to preach, the man who fills the pulpit will feel inadequate and be inadequate. When pressures come or opposition arises, the uncalled man tends to take personal offense and leave the service of God. Jerry Vines wrote about the importance of a clear call from God:
Every preacher must have certainty about his call, a confidence that will make him willing and able to pay the price of hard work. Your perspective about your call to preach largely determines how you approach the pulpit. If you are going to be effective as a preacher of the gospel, you must understand that you have a prophet’s call. Preach with an awesome sense that God is preaching through you.3
The preparation of the preacher includes developing and maintaining certain spiritual disciplines in his life. First, he must pray. Prayer, the lifeline that exists between the preacher and God, enables the preacher to have a prophetic word. In the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, prayer was a vital part of the spiritual life of great men of God. Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, Peter, and even Jesus made prayer the focus of their life. If these men recognized the importance of prayer, the modern preacher must also come to that recognition. James Stewart codified the reason the preacher must be a man of prayer: “The basic reason why a minister must pray is not because he is a minister (that would savor of official piety, always an odious thing), but because he is a poor, needy creature dependent on God’s grace.”4
Second, the preacher must pursue personal holiness in his life. The only way to overcome the scandals of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart is for preachers to practice what they preach. No other characteristic of the preacher’s life, nor any amount of pulpit skill, can overshadow the importance of personal morality. Paul Powell emphasized this truth: “Cleanliness is a prerequisite for usefulness to God and service in his kingdom. It is not important that we be silver-tongued orators or golden-throated singers. What really matters most in God’s service? That our lives be clean.”5
Third, the man who would proclaim the Scriptures must yield to the control of the Holy Spirit. Preaching is a spiritual work. The message preached comes from a spiritual book. The preacher must recognize that he performs a spiritual ministry. Success in spiritual ministry demands that the Holy Spirit be in control. Oswald Smith referred to the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the preacher as the “anointing”:
Anointed men are not satisfied with education and training. They know that something more is needed and that God cannot use them until they have experienced the anointing. So they wait in the presence of God until they have been endued with power from on high. Then they go out and accomplish more in a few weeks or months in the demonstration and power of the Spirit than they could have accomplished in the energy of the flesh in years.6
Fourth, the preacher must be a man of the Bible. His love for the Bible should be obvious to those who hear him. He must be thoroughly convinced that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. This conviction should overwhelm his entire life. While the preacher may have doubts about certain denominational struggles, or even about some theological interpretations, he must never harbor doubts about the truthfulness of the Bible. The man who possesses such doubts about Scripture should have enough integrity to step out of the pulpit until those doubts are resolved. The pulpit should never be used to raise questions concerning the veracity of Holy Scripture.
The Bible provides the foundation of preaching. The foundation and authority of preaching rests in the truthfulness of the Bible. John MacArthur affirmed this truth from a negative point of view: “The loss of its biblical foundation is the primary reason for the decline of preaching in the contemporary church. And the decline of preaching is a major factor contributing to the church’s weakness and worldliness. If the church is to regain its spiritual health, preaching must return to its proper biblical foundation.”7
The spiritual life of the preacher does not erase the importance of being mentally prepared. Mental preparation finds its roots in personal character. A preacher’s approach to studying Scripture reveals his integrity. The honest man of God approaches the Scripture with an intent to discover what the Scripture says. Opening the biblical text in order to discern its content is called exegesis. Not all preachers, however, approach the Word of God in this manner. Biases, preconceived opinions, and personal agendas skew some preachers. These preachers read into the Scripture things it does not say, a process called eisegesis, instead of letting the Bible speak for itself.
Eisegesis makes it impossible for the preacher to focus on the content of the text. He focuses, rather, on what he thinks that the text should say. This practice of theological dishonesty prohibits mental preparation. It may not be possible to eliminate every trace of bias, but the preacher of integrity attempts to do so:
The goal in determining how to approach the process of interpretation must be to minimize subjectivity as much as possible. To be sure, as long as God chooses to use human instruments in the preaching event, some element of subjectivity always will be present. Because we are imperfect beings, we forever will bring to the biblical text certain biases, preconceived ideas, cultural influences, limited world views, and other factors that shape our hermeneutical paradigms.8
The man of God must remember that his responsibility is to interpret Scripture, not to pervert Scripture.
A mentally prepared preacher has unleashed his imagination. Understanding and applying biblical passages involves creativity as Warren Wiersbe noted: “Imagination is the image-making faculty in your mind, the picture gallery in which you are constantly painting, sculpting, designing, and sometimes erasing.”9
The disciplines essential in spiritual preparation manifest themselves in the mental preparation of the man. Prayer enables the man of God to become focused on the task at hand. Without the ability to focus, the preacher cannot apply true hermeneutical principles.
The location of the preacher’s study facilitates his personal preparation. Two suggested locations are the home and the church. Definite advantages and disadvantages exist for both designated areas. Vines advocated a secluded room in the church as the best study area. He noted that a study at the church that doubles as the pastor’s office “can be used if no other place is available, but you will find study extremely difficult when much activity is going on. Well-meaning members of the congregation inevitably will come by to visit for a few moments, which often stretch into an hour or more. A better situation is to have your study in a secluded place, away from the traffic flow.”10
Certain prerequisites must be met, however, for the church-study situation to be adequate. First, the pastor must separate his study area from his office. Second, he must have a strong, disciplined secretary who can protect him during his designated study hours. Third, the entire staff must recognize the sanctity of the pastor’s study time and do everything possible to eliminate interruptions.
Many preachers prefer the home as their study area. The disadvantages to this location are family-related. Small children may not understand why they are deprived of your attention father when you are at home., and your spouse may not divert intruders as would a strong-willed secretary.
Every pastor must make his own decision about the location of his study area, but strong consideration should be given to the home-study concept. W. A. Criswell offered the following counsel:
Without doubt, and I cannot emphasize the conviction too much, the best place for the pastor’s study and library is in a separated room in his home. The preacher who has his study at the church uses his finest morning hours to shave, bathe, comb his hair, tie his shoes, start his car, drive to the church, unlock his door, and look nice for any stranger who may wander in. I do not need my mind to be fresh and rested to comb my hair and tie my shoes. I can do those things when I have studied myself stupid.11
At no other time during the day will the mind be more rested and refreshed than in the morning, immediately after waking up. If this writer had his own ministry to do over, he would insist on having his study at home.
The preaching of the Word of God is the greatest responsibility God ever gave to a person. Preaching demands preparation. The preacher must prepare his heart and his mind. The preaching event becomes the grandest spiritual experience, both in the life of the preacher and in the life of the congregation, when spiritual preparation is finished. God is pleased, Heaven rejoices, Hell trembles, and the earth is blessed.
Robert C. Pitman is Pastor of Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, TN., and teaches Preaching and Pastoral Leadership at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
1. Michael Duduit, ed., Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992), 136.
2. Gilbert L. Guffin, Called of God (Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1951), 37-8.
3. Jerry Vines and James Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 46.
4. James S. Stewart, Heralds of God (New York: Scribner, 1946), 201.
5. Paul W. Powell, Building an Evangelistic Church (Dallas: Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1991), 82.
6. 0swald J. Smith, The Man God Uses (London: Marshall, Morgan, & Scott, 1932), 19-20.
7. John MacArthur Jr., Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry (Dallas: Word, 1995), 254.
8. Vines and Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, 106.
9. Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching and Teaching with Imagination (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 25.
10. Vines and Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit, 83.
11. Criswell, W. A., Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors (Nashville: Broadman, 1980) 68.
Blackwood, Andrew W. Expository Preaching for Today. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1953.
___. Preaching from the Bible. New York: Abingdon, 1941.
Bryson, Harold T. Expository Preaching. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995.
Criswell, W. A. Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville: Broadman, 1980.
Duduit, Michael, ed. Handbook of Contemporary Preaching. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992.
Guffin, Gilbert L. Called of God: The Work of the Ministry. Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1951.
MacArthur, John Jr. Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry. Dallas: Word, 1995.
Powell, Paul W. Building an Evangelistic Church. Dallas: Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1991.
Smith, Oswald J. The Man God Uses. London: Marshall, Morgan, & Scott, 1932.
Stewart, James S. Heralds of God. New York: Scribner, 1946.
Vines, Jerry, and Jim Shaddix. Power in the Pulpit. Chicago: Moody, 1999.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Preaching and Teaching with Imagination. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.