The Characteristics of Pentecostal Preaching, Part 1
By Steve D. Eutsler
In this article, I focus on what should be true of Pentecostal preachers, not what may be true. Not every preacher lives up to his or her calling in or out of the pulpit.
At the same time, the discussion will go back and forth from preaching and to preachers. No one can separate the two. When people think about one, they also talk about the other. For instance, it is impossible to speak about the King without talk of His kingdom (cf. Daniel 2:44,45).
For years believers in Pentecostal churches knew what Pentecostal preaching meant. They often associated it with loud volume, rapid speech, and quick delivery. Since most early Pentecostals came from poorer, less-educated levels of society, these easily identifiable traits worked well for a practical, if not a precise, definition.1 With Pentecostals now coming from all levels of society, volume and mannerisms provide little assistance with defining Pentecostal preaching. Because of these changes in society, many older Pentecostals think their preachers have lost the essence of Pentecostal preaching. Younger members, however, may feel confused over this issue due to the many different>
This article addresses the characteristics of Pentecostal preaching. In the process, I also explain how to develop Pentecostal preachers in the modern setting.
We may define Pentecostal preaching as follows: the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ with a conscious reliance on the Holy Spirit for practical results.2
Pentecostal Preaching Is Biblical3
Pentecostal preachers study and proclaim the Word of God
Explanation: Not every Pentecostal preacher studies and proclaims the Bible like he or she should. But those true to their calling do. Preachers have no “Thus says the Lord,” unless they study their Bibles and hear from God. But when they do, God reveals to them in the study what they must repeat in the sanctuary.
When Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, He preached from the Book of Isaiah (Luke 4:14–30). During the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17–48), Jesus preached from the law of Moses. Jesus was a Bible preacher. The apostles in the Book of Acts preached from the Bible (cf. Acts 2:14–41; 3:11–26; 4:8–12, etc.).
Pentecostal preachers must avoid the errors of fanaticism or heresy in their preaching, such as: promoting legalism, being dogmatic, setting dates for the Lord’s return, etc. The best way to avoid such mistakes is to preach the Scriptures, exalt the Savior, and be led by the Spirit.4 Paul told the young preacher Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul encouraged him to prepare like this right after he instructed him to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 2:2).
The process for studying and proclaiming the Bible needs to include three steps. First, read the passage several times. Find out what it says. Second, interpret what it means. The context of the passage will help in this regard. Third, make practical applications for today. For example, see 1 Timothy 6:10. Notice that the love of money is not the root of all evil, but “a root of all kinds of evil” (emphasis added). When students ask what this means, they usually conclude that money is not the cause of everything wrong in the world. Money had nothing to do with the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden. When the question of application arises, careful Bible students point out how the love of money not money itself serves as one of the roots of evil. Money is not evil; it is simply a tool. Its owner determines its use. If Pentecostal preachers follow these simple steps and pray for the Spirit’s guidance, they can be confident that their preaching consists of the Word of God.
Illustration: Like Ezra in the Old Testament, Pentecostal preachers devote themselves to studying Scripture until they have a word from the Lord (Ezra 7:10). Then they preach it clearly to their hearers (Nehemiah 8:8).
In the New Testament, Luke investigated the life of Christ before he wrote his Gospel “so that [Theophilus] might know the certainty of the things [he had] been taught” (Luke 1:1–4). After studying the eyewitness accounts and hearing from God, he penned his Gospel like one long sermon to persuade his readers of its truthfulness.
Application: Before preachers stand in the pulpit, they must have something to say. The only subjects they can preach with authority are those the Bible addresses. Therefore, preachers must study Scripture carefully and preach it clearly.
Pentecostal preachers emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit
Explanation: Jesus was not only a Bible preacher; He was also a Pentecostal preacher. The Holy Spirit conceived Him. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him. The Holy Spirit led Him. The Holy Spirit enabled Him to cast out demons. The Holy Spirit anointed Him to preach. His whole life was lived in the Spirit.5
Throughout the Book of Acts, the apostles relied on the Holy Spirit for guidance. For example, the Holy Spirit guided Philip to preach in Samaria (Acts 8:4–40), and the Holy Spirit stopped Paul when he wanted to enter Bithynia (Acts 16:6–10). These men preached under the direction of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:29; 10:19,20; 11:28; cf. 21:4). The apostles understood that the Spirit had come to take Jesus’ place not only as their Comforter, but also as their Teacher and Guide (John 14:15–17,26; 15:26,27; 16:7–11).
Pentecostal preaching emphasizes the prophetic work of the Spirit. The prophets addressed a person’s obedience to the will of God. They were not shy to call attention to sin. They were quick to correct with clear instructions concerning the will of God.6 Since the Spirit inspired the prophets of old to speak, Pentecostal preachers see themselves as their modern heirs.
Pentecostal preachers are also prophetic in how they appeal to people who are spiritually dead to help them live again. Like Ezekiel, a preacher may not know if certain bones can live or not, but God knows and this is knowledge enough for a Pentecostal preacher (cf. Ezekiel 37). Thus, Pentecostal preachers preach like God wants to raise the dead every time they preach.7
Illustration: The prophet Micah, as did the prophet Zechariah, pointed out that the Holy Spirit enabled his preaching (Micah 3:8; Zechariah 4:6). Jesus stressed the role of the Holy Spirit in His final discourse before His arrest and crucifixion (John 13–16). The Holy Spirit assumes His place as a Counselor and Guide (John 14:16–18; 16:13). He also convicts sinners of their guilt through the preached Word (John 16:5–11). Paul also honored the work of the Holy Spirit in his ministry (1 Corinthians 2:10–16). The Spirit enables believers to understand the things of God.
Application: As Jesus said to His disciples, “ ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ ” (John 15:5), so believers today can do nothing without the Spirit of God. The Spirit illumines the Scriptures for believers. The Spirit guides believers in making good decisions. The Spirit anoints their efforts in personal evangelism. In fact, the Spirit leads believers throughout the day. Hence, Pentecostal preachers are careful to feature His role in the life of believers.
Pentecostal preachers are creative
Explanation: Because Pentecostal preachers are Bible-based and Spirit-led, they are creative as well. The Bible and the Spirit are creative. The Scriptures inspired by the Spirit use a wide variety of methods to reach their hearers. The Bible contains laws, stories, poetry, proverbs, and prophecies. So Pentecostal preachers use different types of messages to communicate the gospel. We recognize many preachers because of their story-telling skills. Like Jesus, some use object lessons. Others include drama in their messages. Pentecostal preachers were among the first preachers in the 20th century to use cars, vans, and trucks to take the gospel everywhere. They were among the first to preach on the radio and then later on television. Since the Spirit is omniscient, there is no end to the variety and creativity of Pentecostal preaching.
Illustration: Aimee Semple McPherson serves as the classic example of the creative Pentecostal preacher. She used costumes, props, charts, and various other things to get the point across in her sermons. In one of her sermons, “A Certain Man Went Down,” she used a chart that pictured roads to Jerusalem and Jericho with signs along their ways. Her illustrated sermons in Los Angeles became so popular that the transportation company added extra trolley cars to the line each time she announced a new sermon.8
Application: Creativity draws interest. Pentecostal preachers realize that people will not be saved, healed, or filled, unless they first attend services. But how do you get them there? Many Pentecostal preachers respond as Aimee did, “Whatever it takes to gain their interest!” (Within reason, of course, and in keeping with ethical practices.) They can use a wide variety of sermon patterns, biblical texts, and interesting topics. They can use charts, slides, chalk drawings, object lessons, drama, skits, stories, costumes, sound effects, dialogue, etc.
The purpose of Pentecostal preaching is to please God9
Explanation: The purpose of Pentecostal preaching is to please God. Preachers can only attain this purpose when they preach the Bible.10 God serves as the first person preachers should be concerned about when they preach. People should be their second concern. If preachers faithfully preach God’s Word, they will exalt God and edify people (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:3).
When the dispute over the care of widows arose, the apostles refused to neglect God’s Word. They appointed others to serve tables (Acts 6:1–7). To be faithful, Paul resolved “to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Pentecostal preachers remain true to the Bible and are brave enough to preach it publicly. God is the main one they please.
Illustration: Jeremiah preached whatever God placed on his heart no matter what the consequences might be (Jeremiah 1:17–19). Some of these were severe (Jeremiah 11:18–23; 20:1–6; 26:1–24, etc.).
Peter and the apostles refused to compromise their preaching. They told the Sanhedrin when called on to give an account of their preaching, “ ‘We must obey God rather than men’ ” (Acts 5:29). Later Paul stood up to Peter in public over the issue of salvation by grace when he began to waver on this issue (Galatians 2:11–21).
Application: God asks Pentecostal preachers to preach on difficult subjects from time to time like the fate of the heathen, divorce and remarriage, or the relationship of believers to a hostile government. He expects preachers to have the courage to obey. They must prefer that people know them as God-pleasers rather than people-pleasers. As Jesus warned His followers, “ ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell’ ” (Luke 12:4,5).
The method of Pentecostal preaching is clear11
Explanation: Even the common people heard Jesus gladly (Mark 12:37). Why? Because they could understand Him. He spoke in parables about everyday people and places. Paul refused to use the enticing words of human wisdom lest it confuse God’s message (1 Corinthians 2:4). Paul wanted people to understand him clearly (cf. 1 Corinthians 14). As Paul and his companions went from country to country in the Book of Acts, people were able to understand their message. They reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues (Acts 17:1–4; 18:4, 19; 24:25). God changed many lives because they preached a clear message. How can people respond if they do not understand the meaning of the words (1 Corinthians 14:6–12)? Plus, if we “[set] forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Paul the apostle even requested prayer from the Colossians that he might preach the mystery of Christ clearly (Colossians 4:4).
Illustration: Preaching should be like a pair of glasses. It should bring things into focus — make them clearer. Preaching should also be like a magnifying glass; it should make things easier to see. And preaching should be like a flashlight; it should make things visible. In other words, preaching should dispel darkness with the light of the gospel.
Application: To preach clearly, preachers must first understand their own message well. Then they must think about how best to present the message to their congregations. While preaching, they should note whether the listeners seem to understand it. If not, preachers should try to adapt their message as much as possible to ensure that their congregations understand. How? By using easily understood language and plenty of examples native to the culture.
The attitude of Pentecostal preaching is bold
Explanation: Pentecostal preachers are bold preachers (Acts 4:29).12 Paul asked others to pray for him that he might preach with boldness as well as clarity (Ephesians 6:19,20). The Jewish Sanhedrin noticed the boldness of Peter and John (Acts 4:13). Jesus spoke as One with authority (Matthew 7:28,29). Why then should Pentecostals not preach with boldness? As Paul warned, “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:4). People’s eternal destiny hangs in the balance. Eternity is at stake. It is no time for cowardly preaching when people are headed for hell. The world needs bold and fearless preaching. If someone’s house were burning, a person would not hesitate to boldly shout, “Fire! Fire!” Can Pentecostal preachers do less when a person’s eternal destiny is at stake?
How can preachers become bold in their preaching? By praying to the Lord of the harvest and becoming concerned for the eternal destiny of people (Matthew 9:37,38).
Illustration: C.M. Ward, a longtime radio preacher, once felt led of the Spirit to interrupt one of his radio sermons to encourage some young man listening not to jump off a bridge and end his life. A few days later, Ward received a letter from a young man. It explained how the unexpected intervention saved his life at the last moment. Ward had prevented him from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to his death.13
Application: Pentecostal preachers are bold enough to take risks for God. As they preach, they are open to the possibility that the Sprit may lead them in an unexpected manner. And whenever they feel led of the Spirit, they say or do whatever God asks of them.
Steve D. Eutsler, D.Min., Global University, Springfield, Missouri
Editors Note: “The Characteristics of Pentecostal Preaching,” Part 2, will be available in EJ Online, Winter 2014.
1. For a sociological study of early Pentecostalism, see Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001).
2. Cf. Jesse K. Moon, “The Holy Spirit in Preaching,” Paraclete (Fall 1977): 26.
3. Many of the insights in this section come from James Forbes, The Holy Spirit and Preaching, rev. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004), passim, and, Jay E. Adams, “Theology of Preaching: Nine Beliefs at the Heart of Biblical Preaching,” 1–4; available from www.PreachingToday.com; Internet; accessed 19 January 2004.
4. Ray H. Hughes, Pentecostal Preaching, rev. ed. (Cleveland, Tenn. Pathway, 2004), 156.
5. Forbes, 37,38.
6. Ibid., 43.
7. Ibid., 57–65.
8. O.C. Edwards, Jr. A History of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004), 576–8.
9. Jay E. Adams, “Theology of Preaching: Nine Beliefs at the Heart of Biblical Preaching.”
10. Ibid., 1.
11. Ibid., 3.
13. Charles T. Crabtree, Pentecostal Preaching (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 2003), 38.