I am thankful for the two preaching classes I took in seminary. I’m also thankful for many of the fine preaching books I’ve read over the years. And I’m thankful for many of the preaching conferences I’ve attended. Each of these tools has contributed to my own DNA as a preacher.
Though I am thankful for classes, books, and conferences, I am not convinced that any of them “make” a man a preacher, let alone a good preacher. Classes are helpful for teaching sermon preparation skills and offering public speaking input. Books are helpful for learning about preaching skills, techniques, priorities, or emphases (among other things). And conferences can be very inspirational and convicting. But I am convinced that most preachers become better preaches by doing two things: preaching regularly and learning from good preaching role models. This post focuses on the latter.
I have had the privilege of hearing many good preachers over the years. Some of them I’ve heard live. Others I’ve heard primarily through various media. Some of them I’ve heard week in and week out. Others I’ve only heard only once or twice. Of all the good preachers I’ve heard, I think five men have positively influenced my own preaching more than any others.
In this post, I will begin with the first two preachers who shaped my approach to preaching. In a second post, I will discuss three of my other preaching role models. Though there are many good things I could say about each man’s preaching, for the sake of brevity I’ll focus on one or two aspects of each man’s pulpit ministry that particularly influenced me.
For most of my high school years, I was a lost legalist who was active in my church’s youth group and trying desperately to earn my salvation through good works, primarily of the religious kind. Beginning with my junior year, I began driving a delivery truck for my father’s auto parts business. I spent several hours a day in a company truck listening to the radio-much of it Christian radio. I began listening to several preachers, but by far my favorite was Adrian Rogers.
Dr. Rogers frequently preached through books of the Bible, and he preached through them with authority. I appreciated his rock-solid convictions, his boldness, and the way he combined deeper-than-average biblical teaching with hotter-than-average evangelistic fervor. As I was struggling with my own understanding of the gospel, the Lord used Dr. Rogers’ sermons through Revelation as a key means in my own conversion. By the time I was finished with my freshman year of college, I was an itinerant preacher and soon-to-be youth minister. I was a bona fide “preacher boy,” and I wanted to preach a lot like Adrian Rogers, even though I didn’t have that voice. Oh, to have that voice.
Shortly after I became a Christian, I felt the Lord calling me to the gospel ministry. As mentioned above, I was preaching fairly regularly for a young collegian. I was also continuing to listen to good preachers on the radio and television. Because we lived in Southeast Georgia, most of our television stations were based in Jacksonville, FL. One of them televised services from the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. While I was getting dressed on Sunday morning, I watched Jerry Vines’ sermon from the previous Sunday night at FBC Jacksonville. He quickly became my other favorite preacher.
Dr. Vines also preached though books of the Bible. In fact, it was really through listening to Dr. Vines that I first discovered the difference between an expositional sermon and a topical sermon. I loved the way that you really learned about a book of the Bible as Dr. Vines worked his way through it. And like Dr. Rogers, Dr. Vines was also concerned about being both an evangelist and a teacher. (As an aside, Dr. Vines was also funny-sometimes really funny-but without coming off like a wannabe comedian. His humor almost always helped to clarify the sermon’s point, and I never got the impression he was trying to be funny for the sake of scoring laughs.) It was largely through regularly listening to Dr. Vines’ preaching that I decided I not only wanted to be a preacher, but an expositional preacher. When I became an interim pastor at 20 years old, I immediately started preaching through books and sections of the Bible. I still have many of the outlines I prepared for those (awful!) sermons on Ephesians, the Ten Commandments, 1 John, Philippians, and the Parables.