Updated: Feb 5
As a young preacher, continuing to hone the craft and the art of delivering God's Word in a manner that is faithful and clear is a continuous process. From pulpits in high schools to various Bible studies, I have had the privilege of preaching God's Word with some consistency for at least the last 11 years. Apart from writing, preaching is the only thing I believe God has called me to do for the rest of my life. With that, I have been greatly influenced by various preachers over the years. The following list is not exhaustive, but it will at least give you a glimpse of some of the primary influences at very key points in my life.
These preachers are in the order that I have encountered them.
DR. GOODWILL SHANA
I remember the very second time I walked into a Word of Life Church service in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I was a young Christian, but the way this man preached captivated me. I had never heard anyone speak like that, and for the first couple of years of my Christian walk, I binged on his sermons while I slept at night, and listened to them while I walked to school.
As a young preacher at 17 years old, this was the primer into "public speaking ministry" for me. What stood out about Dr. Shana was his eloquence and captivating communication skills when he preached. He had a way of speaking that not only captivated your mind but captured your heart. While high school taught me written English, I would sincerely say that listening to this man taught me how to speak in public in the Queen's language.
DR. JOHN PIPER
While I got my love for preaching developed within the Word of Faith circles, sometime in 2010 I was bumping to a new song by Lecrae called "Don't Waste Your Life." I read or heard from somewhere that this particular song was based on a book by John Piper and a couple of Google searches later, while in a lecture room on campus at the National University of Science and Technology, I pulled up www.desiringgod.org and my life was never the same.
I got into a rabbit trail reading all the free resources and eventually watching sermons by an old white guy with a very strong voice and a theological eloquence which I had never heard before. I remember asking some of my friends in my circles then if they knew of this guy and the answer was negative. Nobody knew him. But what began to happen to me internally during this time would change the trajectory of my life forever.
Through listening to sermons and reading books by John Piper, slowly but surely, my former theological convictions crumbled. What I thought the church should be was challenged. What I thought of ministry, life, leadership, relationships and more importantly, my part in the mission of God changed drastically. Then in 2013 I broke away from people that I loved because of the weight and gravity of the changes in my theological views. My thinking had changed to the point where staying in my old church would have been hypocritical and misleading.
PASTOR JEFF SCORZIELL
PJ, as we call him, played a significant role as I transitioned from my former Word of Faith circles into the reformed/baptist circles. Sitting under him was the very first time I heard expositions of God's word in a live sermon.
He opened up his life and poured out both time and resources into growing me and giving me opportunities to lead and preach. It was in his library I saw (for the first time) the whole collection of Charles Spurgeon's sermons. It was with this man that conversations about Scripture became "two-way," rather than "one way" where the "pastor is never wrong".
I was amazed at the effort he put(s) into preparing for his teaching and up to this day, I know no man personally who puts in the amount of time in reading and spiritual disciplines like he does. What a safe landing pad and learning place he was for a confused young man whose whole belief system and life was turned upside down in a matter of months. He helped me to begin to think more deeply about using commentaries and other resources in preparing to preach. He helped me to think more deeply about the text and its application — what he calls "the take home" — the main point which people go home with.
PASTOR MATTHEW CHANDLER
As soon as I delved into the "reformed world," you could not avoid bumping into David Platt, Mark Driscoll, or one tall, lanky white guy named Matt Chandler from The Village Church in Flowermound, TX. While I enjoyed listening and learning from all these brothers, there was something about Chandler that made him stand out. His clarity in speech, wittiness, and ability to simplify subjects that were otherwise presented as complicated was just something I had never seen.
I listened to whole series of sermons from The Village Church like it was nothing. And what began to happen internally for me was that I began to not only seek to be charitable with those who I do not align with on secondary issues, but I began to be less impressed with the "reformed crowd" which spoke lofty theology but also sounded unloving towards others of differing theological inclinations.
Listening to Chandler, I also, and more importantly began to hone my own philosophy of ministry; a philosophy that sought to have the gospel at the center of every sermon and at the center of every interaction in the groups I served. I knew I loved the gospel, but the teaching of Matt helped me align what I believed with what I prioritized. Phrases like "gospel-centered dot-dot" began to be a part of my vocabulary, and I began to seek the same for my life. How do I center relationships around the gospel? How do I center everything in my life around this life-changing good-news? Matt Chandler's "Recovering Redemption" changed the way I understood and articulated the very basic tenets of the Christian gospel.
One of the coolest experiences I had was when I woke up one Monday morning in October 2016 to a video message from Matt Chandler and Josh Patterson! What an encouragement that was! A very good friend of ours, Robin Cunningham, had somehow managed to get them to make the video and send it to her and she sent it to me! Again, what an encouragement!
PASTOR SIHLE XULU
When I moved to Durban, South Africa to work with my brother Sihle at Grace Chapel, I had an obvious desire to grow in many ways, including in my preaching of God's Word. I knew Sihle was a great guy and a man of God, but I had no idea how much of a really great preacher he was! Working with and preaching with Sihle was helpful for me in two ways.
Firstly, he gave me opportunities that I hadn't had much of up to this time. Most of my preaching was relevant to teens or young adults, but I had never done much preaching to adults. I was very grateful to to Sihle for this opportunity for me to grow in this area. He also had really helpful feedback and was open to feedback himself even though he was the Lead Pastor. I saw and continue to see humility in Sihle. He had a healthy pulpit openness that definitely stood out. Sihle gave me a lot of feedback on my preaching and one of the very first things he called me out on was my use of "Ummmh" in between my linking sentences! I needed to hear that, and it was helpful.
The brother also introduced me to some of his friends who later became our friends, Nigel Richardson, Ed Ender, and Jeremiah Von Kohn who we wrestled with texts with and got some of the best feedback any growing preacher could ever receive in a very healthy environment. Most people have feedback for the preacher after a sermon, but not many people know how to constructively critique for the sake of building. I found this with these brothers and it was eternally beneficial.
One week I preached from an Old Testament narrative and the feedback I got from Sihle was that I was rushing through the text and not telling the story as I expounded it. The next time I preached another narrative I did the exact opposite, I told the story and spend more time doing that instead of giving more time to the exposition — and he helped me see all that. I am so thankful for the brother's friendship and camaraderie in this journey!
PASTOR HB. CHARLES JR.
Over the last couple of years, trying to figure out my voice and working on honing communication skills, I have often been caught up in the web of wrestling; trying to not be too western in my communication skills to an African audience. Preaching to African audiences is not like preaching to western audiences but it is hard to navigate this tension because most theologians we read and love speak with an unintended western undertone and style. African culture is a story culture. It is dialogical. It uses tone, volume, and sometimes animated expressions to tell stories. Western cultures are more didactic in their learning and monotone, sermonic deliveries can carry the day. It, therefore, follows that preaching to Africans in a way that they can effectively hear the text of Scripture might need the preacher to consider his style and delivery carefully.
I want to be careful with this myself. I want to be authentic in my expression, clear on the listening practices and standards of my audience, and yet faithful to the Scriptures.
While navigating this, the preaching ministry of HB Charles Jr. has been a game-changer for me. What I like most about HB is that he embodies a faithfulness to and clarity of the Scriptures which somewhat almost transcends the African and western listening practices. I continue to learn a lot from him. His podcast, On Preaching, is a staple to my weekly listening as he discusses various topics that concern preaching. His book, by the same title, is just as majestic and a good primer. HB is faithful in his craft. His sermons sound so coherent they make you want to throw away anything you have ever written to preach. What a preacher!