These Are Not the “Twelve Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World”

The survey has absolutely no business claiming to have singled out anything like a top twelve preachers list.

If I somehow had a God’s eye view of all preaching taking place at this time in my native language, I would easily identify not just twelve, but twelve times twelve preachers other than those named in the survey who are toiling in relative obscurity to greater effect.

 

I have little doubt that this is a list of twelve highly effective preachers: Alistair Begg, Tony Evans, Joel Gregory, Tim Keller, Thomas Long, Otis Moss III, John Piper, Haddon Robinson, Andy Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Ralph Douglas West. I have even less doubt that they are not the “twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world” that a recent survey claims them to be.

An update of a 1996 survey that followed the opening of Baylor University’s George Truett Seminary (in which Long, Robinson, Swindoll, and Taylor also appeared), this one invited responses from members of the Evangelical Homiletics Society and Academy of Homiletics. I’m sure those experts on preaching developed terrific criteria and nominated deserving candidates.

Yet even on that basis, Baylor has absolutely no business claiming to have singled out anything like a top twelve preachers list.

Start with the simple fact that a few hundred experts could not possibly hear even a single sermon by even a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of women and men currently preaching in the English-speaking world. This ranking exercise — like most others — reveals far more about how the respondents perceive reputation than any meaningful measure of actual effectiveness.

So you look at a list like this, and you’re tempted to intuit the biases and preferences of the respondents. To make something of the fact that it produced a list with as many dead men (Robinson) as living women (Taylor). Or that so many are Americans, and none come from the many Anglophone regions of the Global South. Or that a survey by Truett Seminary somehow found that one-sixth of the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world happen to teach at… Truett Seminary.

But there are even deeper reasons to find this not just a pointless, but dangerous exercise. It feeds a false understanding of the nature and purpose of preaching.

Whatever else it is, preaching is an intensely local activity, inextricably bound up with worship, formation, missions, and the other activities of the local church. I have no business being in any pulpit, but in my recent burst of sermonizing, the only place I truly felt like I might have been even marginally effective was in my own church: proclaiming good news in a context that I knew well; exhorting sisters and brothers with whom I have a relationship. Not that I didn’t enjoy sharing an hour in the lives of those other congregations, but I was a guest speaker, not really a preacher.

So for reasons of statistical sample size, but also because of the very nature of Christian preaching, I feel confident in saying this:

If I somehow had a God’s eye view of all preaching taking place at this time in my native language, I would easily identify not just twelve, but twelve times twelve preachers other than those named in the survey who are toiling in relative obscurity to greater effect.

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