During 30 years of publication, Preaching magazine has featured and interviewed dozens of preachers and others who have made an impact in the homiletical world. From pastors to professors to pollsters, we’ve talked with and about those who have influenced the way we proclaim God’s Word in our own day.
So, who are the people who have had the greatest influence on the world of preaching? In the past several months, we have invited a wide variety of people, including pastors, professors and our contributing editors, to offer their own suggestions about those who have had the greatest influence on preaching during the past three decades. From the dozens of names they nominated, we’ve narrowed the list to 30 people who have been the most significant influencers of preaching in the past 30 years.
This is not a scientific list, and we can guarantee you’ll find names with which you disagree. There also will be names you think should have been on the list and weren’t; see the sidebar with this story to learn how you can remedy that by offering your own nominations. Our one ground rule was that the person still must have been preaching during the 30+-year span of Preaching magazine, though some retired or died during that time period.
That being said, here is our proposed list of the 30 people who most profoundly influenced preaching in the past 30 years. Rather than rank them in some kind of order of magnitude, we are presenting the list in alphabetical order.
Pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Dallas until his death in 2003. While his name may not be widely known outside the African-American community, this powerful preacher launched an annual conference that has attracted thousands of pastors and introduced them to expository preaching. Robert Smith Jr. says his “expository messages moved congregations cross-culturally and cross-racially. He was able to live within the biblical character long enough to emerge with effective first-person biblical sermons that were narrative in their style and biblical in their substance.”
Professor of homiletics and liturgics emeritus at Vanderbilt Divinity School. His book Homiletic Moves and Structures was influential as it introduced to many the notion of moves within the sermon. Bryan Chapell notes, “Borrowing from the field of conversation theory, his homiletic gave the liberal tradition a way to communicate scriptural ideas in an existential system untethered from transcendent truth.”
For many years professor of preaching and then president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, now pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois. His book Christ-Centered Preaching is used widely in seminaries. Robert Smith writes, “his renewed emphasis on Christ-centered preaching has greatly helped to stem the tide of anthropocentric (human-centered) preaching.”
Until his death in March 2015, he was Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and a Disciples of Christ minister. His book As One Without Authority was a pivotal text in the new homiletic movement. William Willimon observes that he was “virtually the father of inductive preaching, narrative preaching” among late 20th century preachers.
From 1992 to 1994, he served as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He died in 2002. David Allen writes, “When the history of [20th] century Southern Baptist preaching is written, one name will stand at the top of the list: W.A. Criswell. His expository preaching ministry became world-renowned. Perhaps the single most significant impact Criswell’s preaching had was to foster expositional preaching within the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond.”
Senior pastor of 10,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, which began in 1976 with 10 members, and speaker for a national radio broadcast. The first African American to receive a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary (and a past teacher there), he carried the DTS emphasis on expository preaching to new audiences and became a model of effective biblical exposition within the African-American church.
World-famous evangelist and founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, now 96 years old. Preached to millions via crusades, television, radio and films, and became the best-known preacher to generations of Americans. According to Bill Bouknight, “No one in history has shared the gospel with more people across the world. He defined Christian orthodoxy and the proper response to the gospel for most Americans.”
A Christian Reformed pastor and now professor of preaching emeritus of Calvin Theological Seminary. In a 2008 interview for Preaching, we called him “one of the most important and influential authors today in the area of biblical preaching. His book The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text was Preaching’s 1989 Book of the Year, and in recent years he has turned his attention to the issue of preaching Christ from Old Testament texts.”
Founder and senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, whose original campus is in Edmond, Oklahoma. One of the pioneers of the video venue, his church now has 19 locations in five states. Bryant Wright says he has “built the largest church in America (multi-sited) and speaks at Catalyst conferences all over” the nation, teaching thousands of pastors. His church is also originator and sponsor of YouVersion, the most widely used Bible app in the world.
Founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, and chairman of the board for the Willow Creek Association. He was a pioneer and a model for an entire generation of seeker-sensitive congregations, targeting unchurched people. Stuart Briscoe says Hybels’ “preaching ministry at Willow Creek has been emulated by many [during] the [past 30] years.”
Founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan (started in 1989) and chairman of Redeemer City to City, which starts new churches in New York and other global cities and has launched more than 250 churches in 48 cities. Bryan Chapell says his “Intelligent, original and compelling insights into contemporary culture have made a new generation relish and respect thoughtful preaching.” Dan Kimball believes Keller “gives us an example of preaching that is faithful to study and theology, yet also is sensitive to tone, heart and especially when teaching on difficult topics.”
D. James Kennedy
Founder and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (started in1960), which he led until his death in 2007. As many as 3 million people viewed his sermons weekly on a national TV broadcast. According to Stan Guthrie, Kennedy “put together perhaps the best known and most widely used evangelistic training curriculum in church history (Evangelism Explosion). EE officials say millions have come to Christ using this program, which has spread to every nation on earth.”
Professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology of Emory University. He has written more than a dozen books, and his book The Witness of Preaching is widely used in seminaries; it was listed by Preaching magazine in 2010 as one of the 25 most influential books of the past 25 years. In 1996, Long was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English speaking world by Baylor University.
A Methodist pastor and long-time professor of preaching at Saint Paul School of Theology until his retirement in 1998. His book The Homiletical Plot shaped the views of many preachers regarding narrative preaching, particularly in the mainline churches. Bryan Chapell says he “caught the wave of the narrative theology movement and gave preachers of vastly differing theologies a way to present Scripture winsomely, though often without its inherent authority.”
A preaching minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, dubbed “America’s Pastor” by Readers Digest, and with more than 92 million books in print. His dozens of best-sellers often began as sermon series. Dave Stone says, “His willingness to pause and let a thought sink in has stretched me in my delivery,” and Bill Bouknight observes, “His writing and winsome preaching, his expert choice of words, and his fidelity to Scripture have been exceptional.”
Pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., and founding president of The Masters College and Seminary. An advocate of verse-by-verse exposition, his radio and TV broadcasts are heard on more than 1,000 outlets in the United States and internationally. Dan Kimball cites his “faithfulness to expository preaching” and the value of his many commentaries, which are widely used by preachers. His annual Shepherds Conference has impacted thousands of young evangelical pastors.
James Earl Massey
A Church of God minister and dean emeritus of the Anderson School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. Former dean of the chapel at Tuskeegee University, he is the author of 18 books and for five years was the speaker for The Christian Brotherhood Hour. Robert Smith Jr., calls him “a foremost proponent for cross-cultural preaching and racial reconciliation who has bridged the gap between the academy and the church.”
A pioneering megachurch pastor who taught for many years at Southwestern Baptist Seminary and Beeson Divinity School before his death in 2012. He wrote more than 40 books, including The Singer Trilogy, which earned him the nickname “Poet Laureate of the Evangelical World." Ed Stetzer talks about “his unabashed fervor for the Word of God and his desire to make Christ known among the nations,” adding that he was “a wonderful wordsmith” who “would use the element of story in such a way that cold facts and dry doctrine came to life in ways rarely seen.”
Founder and teacher of DesiringGod.org, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, and for 33 years pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bryan Chapell says his “Courageous and zealous preaching combined with scrupulous exegesis have made him a model for many”; and Robert Smith Jr. says, “His emphasis on the supremacy of God in preaching has helped forge a path for preachers to make the centrality of God primary and not secondary in their preaching.”
Since 2014, the president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board; prior, he was pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Author of the best-selling book Radical and originator of the widely followed Secret Church events. Stuart Briscoe calls him “a fine example of a younger generation of preachers who tackle the challenging problems of the day”; and Dennis Phelps discusses his influence “because of his reintegration of classic rhetorical theory with biblical exegesis and theology into mission-passionate and de-culture-influenced gospel preaching.”
Retired professor of preaching at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and Dallas Seminary and past president of Denver Seminary. His book Biblical Preaching is the most widely used text in evangelical seminaries and promoted the model of Big Idea preaching. The book is popular, Bryan Chapell says, “because it is so accessible, while also anchoring structure and content in the biblical text.” Robert Smith Jr. says, “One of his great gifts to the 21st century pulpit is how to preach an expository sermon in a narrative world. His Big Idea for the sermon will bear fruit in the pulpit and the classroom for many generations to come.”
Pastor of the large Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis Tennessee for more than 30 years. His sermons are still heard on his “Love Worth Finding” radio program. A past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, he was one of most popular pulpiteers in America’s largest Protestant denomination. Bill Bouknight says Rogers used his “powerful, authoritative voice” to influence a generation of SBC pastors.
At age 22 became pastor of 120-member Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., and led it to become one of the 10 largest churches in America. Known for a winsome style and masterful illustration, he continues to be a major voice among the independent Christian churches movement after his 2006 retirement. Bryant Wright cites, “his quiet and humble influence, along with his exceptional biblical exposition and building one of America’s largest churches.”
Founding pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, which with its multisite campuses is among the nation’s largest congregations and has been voted one of the most influential churches in America. He helped launch the Catalyst Conference, which attracts thousands of young pastors each year. Dam Kimball talks about his ability for “Shaping sermons so people can identify with them and want to learn.” Bryan Chapell says Andy has “an unwavering commitment to reach the unchurched” and “has combined an evangelical faith with marketing instincts and communication techniques to produce a remarkably pragmatic preaching model that many attempt to copy.”
Rector of London’s All Souls Church until his retirement in 1975, when he entered a new phase of ministry dedicated to helping church leaders in the developing world. His book Between Two Worlds was influential in shaping views of preaching in the late 20th century. At his death in 2011, Christianity Today called him “An architect of 20th-century evangelicalism (who) shaped the faith of a generation.” Stuart Briscoe says his “influence spanned the globe through his systematic expository exploration and application of the Word.”
Founding pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, since 1998, and prior to that president of Dallas Theological Seminary. His preaching is widely heard through his “Insight for Living” radio program, heard on more than 2100 outlets globally. The author of more than 70 books, in a 2009 LifeWay survey, he was identified by Protestant pastors as the second most influential pastor (after only Billy Graham). Dave Stone says, “I would listen to him on the radio and marvel at the way he made a text come alive.”
Barbara Brown Taylor
A one-time Episcopal rector who now teaches at Piedmont College and Columbia Theological Seminary. Ranked in the top 10 most influential preachers in a 2009 LifeWay survey of pastors, Baylor University listed her in 1996 as one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world, and in 2014 Time magazine listed her among the 100 most influential people in the world. William Willimon says she has had a “huge influence, particularly upon women preachers.”
Gardner C. Taylor
Pastor of Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church of Christ for 42 years, he continued to be considered the dean of the nation’s black preachers until his death on Easter Sunday 2015. Calling him “a model of eloquence and passion in preaching,” in 2010, Preaching magazine listed Taylor at fourth on a list of the 25 most influential preachers of the past 25 years. William Willimon calls him a “great African-American preacher with wide influence throughout the church.”
Ralph Douglas West
Founding pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas, now one of the largest congregations in the nation. Through his pastoral ministry and speaking across the nation, West has become a significant influence on young African-American pastors. Robert Smith Jr. calls him “a pastor par excellence and a preacher of the first magnitude. While being thoroughly biblical and doctrinally sound, he paints vivid pictures of the ancient text and contemporary living by his mastery of the art of storytelling. He is, in a real sense, one who preaches through the lenses of the expositional narrative art form.”
Founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., which provided a contemporary worship model for a generation of evangelical church plants. His book The Purpose-Driven Life sold more than 30 million copies, a record for a hardcover non-fiction book. Through his book The Purpose-Driven Church, his website Pastors.com, his online sermons, conferences and other resources, Warren has influenced thousands of pastors in the United States and around the world. Dave Stone says, “His generosity and encouragement of other preachers in smaller churches has inspired many, including me.”