Recently Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University published its list of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. This roster was compiled from a national survey that garnered 179 respondents and based on criteria suggested by homiletics professors.
There are a number of issues with the list, as perceptive people in my social media feeds have pointed out. Some of the preachers do not serve a local church. (Powerful preaching – as judged by the criteria for this list – is easier when study and writing don’t have to be worked around the demands of full-time congregational ministry and the need for a fresh sermon every week.) Diversity in every measure is severely lacking. One guy on the list has been dead for nine months. And that’s just for starters.
I’ve seen some conversations about coming up with alternative criteria for making a list that more fully plumbs the depth and breadth of sermonizing. I really like this open-ended list I like from Nevertheless, She Preached, which recognizes that competitive preaching is not a sport that aligns with the gospel. I’d also like to tell you whom I think is an effective preacher:
Because I know you work hard on your preaching craft, studying scripture and honing your delivery.
Because I know you minister faithfully to and alongside the people in your care, allowing their questions and concerns to provide the scaffolding for your sermons.
Because I know you make yourself vulnerable through your proclamation while taking care not to bleed all over the chancel.
Because I know you love your church enough to comfort and gently challenge from the pulpit.
Because I know you pray for the Spirit to work through your presence and your words, bridging the distance between what you have prepared and what each hearer needs to grow in faith.
Because I know you take to heart every word of feedback about your sermons – maybe too much so – earnestly wanting to improve as a homiletician.
Because I know that God is using you to bring the reign of God ever closer.
I don’t need a list to know all these things. In fact, I don’t believe the most effective preachers will show up on any wide-swath list. They are too busy doing the work of ministry in their own contexts. They don’t have time or use for being celebrities whose names will be well-known enough to be included on a nationwide survey.
I see you, your efforts, and their fruits. More importantly, your congregation and community see you. Carry on, effective preacher.