It is a commendable thing for one to desire to preach the gospel. Yet not everyone should do it. James wrote, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Preaching the gospel is a serious matter.
How would one become qualified to preach the gospel? Many denominations require that their preachers (or pastors/ministers) complete some sort of training at a college or seminary. Some of our brethren believe a preacher should attend a certain college or complete some type of preacher training program or that these somehow make him more able to teach. But if we really want to know what to expect of one who desires to preach, we need not look any farther than the word of God. The New Testament provides a description of one who is qualified (fit) to preach the gospel.
Disclaimer: In talking about this, I am not referring to all teaching that a Christian might do. All of us can teach in some capacity (1 Peter 3:15). We are responsible to do what we can with the opportunities we are given. For this article, preaching the gospel is more than teaching we might do in everyday situations. It is the work done by an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:2-5) – the public, open proclamation of the gospel. It is the type of preaching for which one may be financially compensated (1 Corinthians 9:14). Having a clearer picture of what we are trying to determine, we can get into our question: Who is qualified to preach the gospel?
A Gospel Preacher Must:
Be a man – More women are ascending to leadership roles in religion. Yet the New Testament prohibits this. Paul wrote, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). He told the brethren in Corinth, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak…it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). This is not to say that women are inferior. Rather, God has simply placed the responsibility to preach the gospel upon the shoulders of the men.
We could also look at this requirement in a different light. A gospel preacher must be a man, but simply being a male does not qualify one to preach. He must also act like a man, as Paul told the Corinthians to do (1 Corinthians 16:13). This involves maturity, selflessness, and the willingness to endure the hardships which would surely come (2 Timothy 4:5).
Know the word – Paul instructed the evangelist Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). One must know the word before he can preach the word. We must speak “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, KJV). The only way this can be done is to know the word. The apostles were guided into all the truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), but not everyone was guided directly as they were. Timothy was told to study in order to learn how to accurately handle the word (2 Timothy 2:15). This is what we must do – study the words revealed by the Holy Spirit. One who wants to do the work of an evangelist must know the word he is to be preaching.
Be loyal to Christ – Paul said he could not serve Christ while trying to please men (Galatians 1:10). Yet some seem to be loyal to other preachers or groups. This leads them to ignore the sins and errors of these men. We can see this with the different reactions of Peter and Paul to the party of the circumcision (Galatians 2:11-14). Those of the circumcision were a group of Jewish Christians who taught that Gentiles must be circumcised and taught to keep the Old Law. Peter feared them (Galatians 2:12) and did not expose them. As a result he led others into sin (Galatians 2:13) and he himself “stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). Paul, on the other hand, openly confronted Peter for his sin (Galatians 2:11) and exposed the false teachers (Galatians 2:4-5; 5:2-4). If one desires to preach, he must be loyal to Christ above all others.
Be ready to preach – All Christians should be ready with an answer for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), but this readiness is especially true for gospel preachers. After all, they have a greater responsibility (James 3:1). Paul told the saints in Rome that he was “eager (ready, KJV) to preach the gospel to [them]” (Romans 1:15). A gospel preacher must be ready to do what Paul did, preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, NKJV). Preachers today must be ready to do the same. They must teach the whole of God’s word, even the parts that others may find unpopular, controversial, or difficult. Now, will a preacher necessarily have all the answers on every topic? Of course not, but he must be willing and able to study to find the answers he does not yet know when the question arises. A man qualified to preach the gospel must be willing and able to preach whatever is revealed in God’s word.
Be humble – One who preaches is trying to draw others to Christ, not to himself. Paul told the Corinthians he worked diligently to win them to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). A preacher must be trying to show others the truth, not simply win arguments. Arguments, even debates, may be necessary at times (2 Corinthians 10:5); but a preacher’s purpose should not be just to prove someone else wrong or show others how smart he (the preacher) is, but to lead them to accept the truth. Humility is also necessary because a preacher must be able to realize that he could be wrong. We are all fallible humans. As was mentioned in a previous point, Peter had to be confronted by Paul because he was in the wrong (Galatians 2:11). Peter was an apostle, yet he needed correction on this occasion. If a man cannot admit when he is wrong and change, he is not fit to preach the gospel.
Not hinder the gospel – A preacher must not live in such a way so as to cause a hindrance to the gospel. Paul told the Corinthians, “We endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12). He must live blamelessly and uprightly, “giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3).
Some Things that Are Not on the List:
Must be an excellent speaker – Many want an eloquent speaker who can easily keep their attention. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this. However, when someone talks about a preacher and the first thing he has to say about him is, “He’s such a good speaker,” a red flag goes up in my head. The emphasis must be on the message, not the messenger. Does he preach the word? Does he have a good working knowledge of the Bible? Does he do a good job explaining and teaching the Bible? These things are more important than his oratory skills. Paul wrote, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
Must be formally educated – Denominations have their own training programs (usually a school) for their preachers, pastors, etc. Some among churches of Christ are dangerously close to this as well. They want to know if a preacher has been to Florida College. If not, then has he gone through a preacher-training program. This is never required, or even hinted at, in the New Testament. We cannot require more than God does. And we must not think less of men who have not had such training. Paul did not follow Jesus around and see His example and hear His teaching while He was living on the earth as the other apostles did. Even so, he was “not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5).
Must be popular – This seems to be necessary, at least for one to preach at a larger congregation. After all, an unpopular preacher may hurt the numbers. But were any of the apostles popular? Any other gospel preacher mentioned in the New Testament? How about Jesus? Was He popular with the people? On the contrary, by popular opinion, the people demanded His crucifixion (Matthew 27:20-23). Popularity is not a proper gauge for the worthiness of one to preach the gospel.
We have looked to the New Testament to see what God’s word says about the requirements of a gospel preacher. In short, he must be able to present the Lord’s message in its entirety, in its purity, regardless of the situation or opposition, in humility, and without distracting from it. One who is able to do these things should make a fine gospel preacher even if he may not meet all of man’s requirements. One who is not able to do these things should probably abstain from preaching until he is fit to do so. After all, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).