Seven Distinguishing Habits of Highly Effective Pastors

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.

photo credit: 7 via photopin (license)

Posted on March 16, 2015

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • I am blessed.thanks

  • Sergei Safronov says on

    Good notes! I would add one more habit. It is to think strategically!

  • Thank you Thom for your articles. My staff and I enjoy reading them here at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin TX. Thanks for your ministry and I pray God’s blessings on you, family, and your ministry.
    Danny Forshee
    Romans 1:16-17

  • I believe one of the most important qualities of a pastor is one who seeks to honor the Lord more than he honors the people of his church. Levi the priest failed to restrain his sons in regards to their sin, and the man of God rebuked him by saying that he honored his sons more than the Lord. (I Sam 2:27-30).

    Pastors honor the Lord by remaining loyal to God and His Word, even if he must stand alone to do it!

  • Great list! A couple of these characteristics have been a challenge for me. Seeing the list made me take another look at my effectiveness in those areas…plus a couple more. It is healthy to take a survey of your effectiveness every once in a while, and to be challenged to improve. Thank you for your insights.

  • Great read. Very insightful. It cuts to the core issue plaguing pastoral leadership today: a lack of character.

    Thanks for your continued thoughts and leadership Thom.

  • David Troublefield says on

    This posting didn’t really say what the effective pastors described by the list of seven traits are/were effective at.

    100% of senior pastors seem effective at sermon preparation, as they all have something to say for about 30-45 minutes each Sunday morning and no scheduled worship services are cancelled “because the preacher couldn’t get ready…again.” Most senior pastors seem fairly effective at keeping themselves employed, though their tenures on staff might be at least a bit longer humanly-speaking (realizing they follow God’s directing from congregation to congregation). But today, at least in the SBC, it appears not so many senior pastors can honestly be described as “effective” if the reference is to their Ephesians 4 duties to equip the saints for our works of service–which, it is assumed, results in the numerical growth of the congregation (cf. the current SBC emphasis–focused especially on senior pastors–on revitalizing our churches before it is too late for them, based on stats provided by NAMB indicating 72% of all SBC congregations [so, 33,000+ Southern Baptist senior pastors] are plateaued/declining numerically). Is there some other really meaningful thing at which effective pastors are effective? Just wondering, because I think it particularly should be what the Bible says in Ephesians 4.

    Thanks for the good work, Thom.