Successful Preachers and their Varying Results
“He’s a really successful preacher, he has a thriving ministry with amazing results.” What are you picturing? A small, shrinking congregation? Probably not. But why not?
In Scripture the success of a preacher is measured in faithfulness to God’s calling (1 Cor 4:2; 2 Tim 4:2-3). No other factor influences the scale of success in God’s eyes. Here are some examples of bibical preachers and their varying results.
In Acts 2 the Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, “opens his mouth” and addresses a large, open-air crowd of pilgrims, in the name of Jesus Christ. He proclaims the historical and recent events, (including the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus) and the implications of those events, (that they were guilty) and the instruction or application of that knowledge (that they should repent and be baptized).
This is preaching in a nutshell: a faithful, clear proclamation of God’s work, in the power of God’s Spirit, explaining the implications, and giving application. The effects were dramatic, as the audience was “cut to the heart” and in repentant angst asked, “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Another example, equally dramatic, but with opposite effects is recorded in Acts 5, when Stephen follows the same pattern Peter did, but with a decidedly different outcome. In this case the audience was also “cut to the heart” and then stoned Stephen to death for his efforts.
Jonah had an outreach campaign with some note-worthy effects. He was rebellious, selfish, and ungodly. But eventually, after some time at sea to clear his head, he reluctantly “cried out against Nineveh” which sparked a great awakening leading to the salvation of many–some estimates put the conversions between 600,000 to 1mill, making it the most “successful” crusade in history.
A fascinating case is found in Acts 17 where all three effects are seen at one setting.
Paul, preaching before the Aereopagus in Acts 17:32-34, presents the gospel with eloquence and conviction. After hearing the same sermon one group of his audience is said to scoff and mock, another portion is indifferent and dismisses him until a possible future hearing, while a third group believes the gospel and follows him.
The task of the preacher is to be faithful, clear, and honest. The role of the Spirit is to convict, challenge, and convert. Sometimes that partnership will result in great numbers coming to the Lord, and at other times the crowd may shrink, as when Jesus pruned his followers with an injunction to “eat my flesh” (John 6:53).
Church-growth is about growing the people, not growing the numbers (Eph 4:11-13).
May God raise up a generation of preachers who care little for the accolades of man, and crave only the smile of the Lord.