July 6, 2012

How to Be an Effective Preacher: Be Passionately Thrilled by the Word

by Mike Riccardi

By God’s great grace, I’ve recently been entrusted with the privilege of preaching God’s Word regularly to His people in a wonderful Sunday School class of dear saints at Grace Community Church. As I begin the process of repeated study, preparation, and proclamation, everything in me desires to honor the Lord and to truly benefit His people. Even as I’ve been preparing for this week’s message, the sanctifying effect of studying God’s Word has been evident, as He has seen fit to amaze me again and again by the richness of His revealed truth.

Thinking on these things, I was reminded of a clip from a Q&A with John Piper, in which someone asks him where and how he learned to preach. The response he gives is something that I think (a) everyone currently in a regular preaching ministry or (b) everyone who aspires to that place of service should listen to intently. A transcript of the relevant portion (1:54 to 3:03) is below.

“I think the way I became a preacher was by being passionately thrilled by what I was seeing in the Bible in seminary. Passionately thrilled! When Philippians began to open to me, Galatians opened to me, Romans opened to me, the Sermon on the Mount opened to me in classes on exegesis—not homiletics but exegesis—everything in me was feeling, ‘I want to say this to somebody! I want to find a way to say this! Because this is awesome! This is incredible!’

“So preachers today that go everywhere but the Bible to find something interesting or something scintillating and passionate—I don’t get it! I don’t get that at all! Because I have to work hard to leave the Bible and go somewhere to find an illustration because everything here is just blowing me away. And it’s that sense of being blown away by what’s here—by the God that’s here and the Christ that’s here and the Gospel that’s here and the Spirit that’s here and the life that’s here—being blown away by this, you just kinda say, ‘That’s gotta get out. That’s gotta get out.’ …

“I don’t think there’s much you can do to become a preacher except: (1) know your Bible and (2) be unbelievably excited about what’s there, and (3) love people a lot.”

If I may just share my heart with you a bit: as I listen to this everything in me says, “Yes!” This is how a preacher that honors God is made, because God is honored when He is beheld and marveled at—treasured to such a degree that His glory compels praise and expression.

As a beginning, inexperienced preacher, I don’t know much. But one thing I do know is that I will not be an effective preacher if I fail to be blown away by the vision of an all-glorious, all-satisfying, high-and-lifted-up God, as He has revealed Himself to be in His Word. I must be thrilled, as Piper says, by God’s own magnificent presentation of Himself in the text. And I must worship over the Word in my study so that I can worship over the Word as I’m preaching. Because it is only as the preacher worships over the Word as he proclaims it that the people will worship over the Word as they hear it proclaimed.

I love what Piper says about being thrilled in his exegesis classes and not his homiletics classes. You know what that shouts out to me? A preacher cannot be fabricated. Preachers are not man-made. You can’t study really hard to become a preacher. No matter how good a communicator you are, how clever you can turn a phrase, how good your outline is, or how white your teeth are, God and God alone makes preachers. When Christ ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives and He gave gifts to men. And He gave some as pastors and teachers (Eph 4:8, 11). Pastors and teachers are Christ’s divinely-made gifts to His Church. They are not men who thought they could turn a phrase well and didn’t mind the idea of talking for a living and so decided to take up preaching.

The implications of that are wildly significant. It means that the Church must depend on Christ for the provision of such men. Do you, dear Cripplegate reader, want to be a preacher? I do. With all my heart I do. But it’s not up to you. It’s not up to me. All I can do is prayerfully, with fear and trembling, get on my face before the Lord Jesus and plead with Him to open my eyes to behold wondrous things from His Word, and to affect me rightly with those things, so that I might be able to properly proclaim the excellencies of Him that called me out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).

I am at His mercy to make me a preacher. Preacher. Pastor. Shepherd. These are not merely titles. They are an identity. A God-given identity.

And if God hasn’t granted that identity to you—if He hasn’t given you the spiritual sight to be blown away, to be passionately thrilled by what He’s revealed of Himself in the Bible (and not the television, the newspaper, the culture, and, worst of all, your own imagination)—don’t seize the pulpit. For your own sake and for the sake of your congregation, don’t seek to give to the people of God out of your own strength that which only Christ can give out of His.

Know your Bible, be unbelievably excited about what’s there, and love people a lot. And trust the Lord of the Church to provide all three by grace.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Mark Twombly

    Beautiful.  One thought from the Old Testament, one from the New:
     – O.T. – Ezra 7:10.  We see the word of God working in, through, and out of Ezra, in that order, as a wonderful example for us.  We don’t study primarily to teach, but to change. I have found in this that God changes me – and by His grace others – even while I am teaching!
     – N.T. – Ephesians 4:11-16.  The primary gifts, including that of teaching, are not merely supernatural abilities, but supernaturally empowered people with the ability and character to bring God’s word to people in a transformative way.  These are all from, through, and to HIM!

    Inside out, by His grace, an expression of Himself – beautiful.


    • Thanks for those, Mark. They were both on my mind as I wrote the post. And, of course, you were too. I continue to thank the Lord for the way He has used you to shape my thinking in these ways.

      We’ll have to catch up soon.

  • Gavin

    Wonderful post Mike. As a new preacher myself I completely identify with you and the overwhelming task that you are talking about. God bless you in all of your endeavors.

  • Guest

    F A N T A S T I C!  Thanks!

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  • elainebitt

    I am thankful for people like John MacArthur, whose first and foremost passion in life is to know our Lord. And in that process, we benefit.

    May our God bless many more men with that desire and passion, that’s my prayer.

  • Gspollutri

    Thank you so much Mike! I really enjoy it. Praying for you and your wife for this incredible and amazing gift from God to honor Him in a church like Grace. God bless you preaching and ministry. With great love………
    your Italian friend