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essentials of preaching – john tucker



In my role teaching preaching at Carey I often find myself discussing questions like: What are the essential ingredients of effective preaching? What are the fundamental qualities of a good preacher? I had the opportunity a while back to discuss these questions with a dozen or so committed and effective preachers – the Carey School of Preaching’s reference group. This is what we came up with:

Effective preaching:

Focuses on the living Word. It points people to Christ, as the telos or goal of the Scriptures, the centre of the gospel.

  • Submits to the written word. It is fundamentally shaped by the Scriptures – usually, but not always, a particular passage of Scripture.
  • Connects with listeners. It is attentive to their needs as participants in a process of communication. It honours their context.
  • Engages with culture. Effective preaching addresses the assumptions, idealogies and idols of an audience’s deep culture. It speaks to the wider world.
  • Communicates ideas effectively. It is clear and engaging.
  • Brings a fresh, relevant, life-changing word. The goal of preaching is to see lives transformed by the truth of the gospel. Good preaching is both pastoral and prophetic. It comforts and afflicts. It slays and makes alive.
  • Constitutes an act of worship. Both for preacher and people.

Good preachers are:

Anointed. There is a mysterious sense of God’s blessing and the Spirit’s empowering about their preaching.

  • Called. They have been called by God. Preaching, for them, is a priority. This calling is recognised by the people of God.
  • Humble. They are aware of their weakness and prayerfully depend on the Spirit’s empowering. They are submissive to the words of Scripture, allowing the word to shape them before they speak to others.
  • Authentic. There is congruence between what they say in the pulpit and who they are out of it.
  • Passionate. Great preachers love the Lord with a passion. They love his church, and they are passionately committed to the mission of God.
  • Patient. They deliver their message with urgency and conviction, but with grace and love. They recognize that it takes time for the seed to germinate, grow and bear fruit.
  • Sensitive. Good Kiwi preachers are sensitive to the Spirit, on the one hand, and to their listeners, on the other. They are aware of the issues and culture of contemporary Aotearoa, and seek to bring God’s word into contact with their listeners’ world.
  • Inclusive. They are motivated by love to enfold all their listeners with the gospel. They do not exclude people by their language, attitudes, dress or manner.
  • Sacrificial. ‘Someone must suffer for the sermon. If it is not the preacher who is willing to pay the price then it will be the congregation.’ Effective preachers recognise and embrace the cost of preaching.
  • Diligent. They give themselves to the study of Scripture and culture. They are readers, learners, hunter-gatherers. Yes, they are gifted and creative. But they carefully and faithfully nurture those gifts for the sake of their preaching and God’s glory.
  • Confident. They are gripped by a high view of God’s word and are confident of its power to impart life when faithfully preached.

I like these lists – I think they capture the heart of preaching. But I’m not sure that either is complete. It would be so good to develop a fuller statement of what we aspire to as preachers. So I’d love to hear what you think. What would you add?


  1. Helen Brereton says:

    Hi John,
    Thank you for this daunting list!
    I would perhaps add ‘generous’ to your list. A good preacher gives of herself, her time, her passion, her knowledge, her testimony because she desires only good things for her listeners. Whether an itinerant or resident preacher, she preaches not primarily to make converts, but because, like the extravagantly generous Godhead she proclaims, she wants the best for the people she will preach to. She gives of herself so that her listeners are inspired, equipped and encouraged to grow in Christlikeness – because that it what is truly beneficial for the gathered people.

  2. John Tucker says:

    Generous. I like that, Helen. It captures something essential in the preacher’s message and manner and motive. And it stresses the importance of love. John Newton once said that his congregation would take almost anything from him, however painful, because they know “I mean to do them good.” I guess for me it raises the question: How do the people I serve in preaching know that I love them?

    1. Helen Brereton says:

      That’s the sort of preacher I want to be when I grow up, one from whom the people will take almost anything because they rest in the assurity of my love for them rather than the authority of my position. 🙂

  3. stu says:

    Hey John,

    I know it’s an old post, but as much as i admire ‘generous’ and ‘inclusive’ (yep, Brian McLaren fan!), and I’ll ALWAYS err on that side now, at what point does the message become exclusive, prophetic and even worse (perish the thought that a minority voice might be right in Baptist circles!), correct?

    We preach to our congregation and world, perhaps even to whom we ‘hope to attract(as is one school of thought)’, but the “uncomfortable comfortableness” is a difficult thing to pitch for. The quality of ‘agitator’ or ‘abrasive’, whilst supported in scripture with admonishments, is not listed in the list…where do these people fit?

    so, can preachers preach outside of their community? if so, how far, if not so much, what are the limits?

    I’d appreciate your thoughts…(actually, I’d appreciate your thoughts!!!)

    (yep, been there done that and still not sure where the balance is)

  4. john says:

    Hi Stu,

    You raise lots of issues here. Let me focus on the main one. Yes, I think it’s important for preaching to be – at times – uncomfortable, even abrasive. Preachers are prophets, or should be. We speak God’s word to his world. That will both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

    So, as the list says above, effective preaching will engage with culture. Effective preaching will address the assumptions, ideologies and idols of an audience’s deep culture. It speaks to the wider world. Good preaching is both pastoral and prophetic. It comforts and afflicts. It slays and makes alive.

    I guess that means good preachers will be – at times – abrasive agitators. But is there a note of love and compassion in their agitating, a hint of tenderness and grace within their critique? If not, I suspect that something is very wrong.


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