Seven Distinguishing Habits of Highly Effective Pastors

March 16, 2015
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Determining the effectiveness of a pastor is a highly subjective exercise. While certain metrics may prove helpful, they do not tell the whole story. In that context, I reviewed my 40 years of serving churches in a variety of capacities and noted several very effective pastors I knew well. My list was lengthy: nearly 30 pastors total.

Since I knew each of these pastors so well, I began to write down traits that distinguished them from most other pastors. I wanted to know what made them tick; I wanted to know how and why they were so effective.

There are many characteristics most pastors have: prayerful; committed to the Word; dedicated to their families; high character; and others. My interest in this exercise, however, was to find the traits that set them apart from most others. When I finished this assignment, I found seven distinguishing characteristic or habits.

  1. They have genuine enthusiasm. I am not referring to the vocal cheerleader type. These pastors may be quiet, but their passion and enthusiasm for their churches, their families, and their ministries are evident in all they say and do. It is not a contrived enthusiasm; it is real and contagious.
  2. They are great listeners. When you are around these pastors, they genuinely want to focus on you. They seem to have little desire to talk about themselves; they would rather hear your stories. They can make you feel very important because they genuinely care and genuinely listen.
  3. Their identity is not their vocation. They don’t have to climb a perceived ladder of success because their greatest reward comes from serving Christ in whatever manner He directs them. You don’t have to worry about these pastors manipulating the network or the system for their own advancement. Their identities are in Christ, not their vocations.
  4. They are intentional about personal witnessing. These pastors don’t see the Great Commission as an abstract concept or something that others are supposed to do. They love to share the gospel personally with others. They are also highly intentional about personal witnessing.
  5. They have unconditional love of their critics. So many leaders, pastors included, have limited effectiveness because critics constantly hound them. They are drained emotionally and sometimes walk in fear of the critics. These effective pastors, however, include in their prayer lives intercession for their critics. They learn to love them because they are asking God to help them to have that love.
  6. They have a gentle spirit. We often forget that gentleness is part of the fruit of the Spirit. In this hypercritical social media world, aggression and negativity have become normative, even in our churches. These pastors, to the contrary, have a calm and gentleness that can only come from the Holy Spirit.
  7. They persevere. Ministry is not easy. Local church ministry can be especially difficult. There are too many wounded warriors in our churches. Unfortunately, most of their wounds have come from friendly fire (though I’m not sure the word “friendly” fits well in this metaphor). Highly effective pastors hang in there. Sure, they get hurt. Sure, they get discouraged. But they ultimately keep on doing ministry in God’s power. Though it’s cliché, they look for strength to keep on ministering one day at a time.

At the risk of redundancy, let me remind you that these seven traits are not necessarily the same as the biblical qualifications of a pastor. They are, according to my subjective research, those traits that set them apart from most other pastors. They are thus the seven distinguishing habits of highly effective pastors.

Let me hear from you on this topic.

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53 Comments

  • Paul Donovan says on

    Thank you Tom. It is very challenging to assess oneself against these qualities but it is also tempting to think that to be effective that I must now go and pin these badges on. You say their enthusiasm is real and not contrived and that their gentleness ‘can only come from the Holy Spirit.’ No doubt fruit has grown in these men over many years of being transformed by God’s grace and power as they have looked to him.
    P.S. Finding your book on church membership very helpful here in the UK.

  • Chet Andrews says on

    I like what Jeff Iorg recently said about perseverance: “The Christian celebrity subculture is a natural byproduct of a media saturated society. There are prominent conference speakers and singers that seem to be on program after program around the country. That’s not all bad. God gives some people remarkable communication skills and it’s good for all of us to take advantage of those gifts.

    One false assumption, though, that arises from watching these superstars is they are somehow the most valuable ministry leaders who are making the greatest impact. The longer I lead, the less sure I am of that conclusion. It seems to me the most important ministry leader you know is the one who visits you when you’re sick, performs the wedding for your children, stands for God’s Word in your community, or encourages you when you hit hard times.

    Don’t be fooled by the false notion that well-known means most important. Most of the significant work in God’s kingdom is being done by local leaders who are not well-known outside their community. If you are one of those people, thank God for you. If you are served by one of them, take time to say thank you to them.”

  • Chet Andrews says on

    I like what Jeff Iorg recently;y said about perseverance: “The Christian celebrity subculture is a natural byproduct of a media saturated society. There are prominent conference speakers and singers that seem to be on program after program around the country. That’s not all bad. God gives some people remarkable communication skills and it’s good for all of us to take advantage of those gifts.

    One false assumption, though, that arises from watching these superstars is they are somehow the most valuable ministry leaders who are making the greatest impact. The longer I lead, the less sure I am of that conclusion. It seems to me the most important ministry leader you know is the one who visits you when you’re sick, performs the wedding for your children, stands for God’s Word in your community, or encourages you when you hit hard times.

    Don’t be fooled by the false notion that well-known means most important. Most of the significant work in God’s kingdom is being done by local leaders who are not well-known outside their community. If you are one of those people, thank God for you. If you are served by one of them, take time to say thank you to them.”

  • Heartspeak says on

    ACD,

    I suspect that Items 2,5, & 6 are very effective in dealing with your concerns.

    (#2 Good Listener)
    (#5 Genuine love for the critic)
    (#6 Gentle spirit)

  • According to the NT, confronting false teachers and guarding sound doctrine is an important, if not indispensable, part of leading a church. How does this fit with effective pastor traits?