In his classic text on homiletics, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, John Stott quotes Martin Luther on the nine “properties and virtues” of a good preacher (p. 24). For those of us who preach and teach the gospel, we would do well to think through and pray through this list regularly, asking that the Lord might equip us with these practical skills and moral convictions in the ministry of the Word.
According to Luther, the good preacher should:
1. Teach systematically
2. Have a ready wit
3. Be eloquent
4. Have a good voice
5. Have a good memory
6. Know when to make an end
7. Be sure of his doctrine
8. Venture and engage body and blood, wealth and honour, in the Word
9. Suffer himself to be mocked and jeered of every one
Of course, for Luther, none of these qualities on the part of the minister detracts from the reality that the real source of power lies in the Word itself. His account of the German Reformation that was precipitated by his preaching reveals this priority of the Word of God:
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise, I did nothing. And when, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a Prince or Emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing. The Word did it all (p. 25).
Luther finds the right balance in these two citations. We ought to seek to improve our skills as preachers and teachers. Being timid or boring is surely no virtue for those tasked with proclaiming the mysteries of the gospel. But at the end of the day our rhetorical skills will not raise the dead. Only the Word of the Lord can speak life into dead men’s bones (Ezekiel 37) or pierce through the stench of death to the ear of a mummified corpse (John 11).
Luke Stamps is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University (OPS). He is also a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in systematic theology. Luke is writing his dissertation in the field of Christology. Luke is married to Josie, and they have three children, Jack, Claire, and Henry.