Seven Habits of Highly Effective Preachers

I sometimes listen to preachers with amazement, if not awe. So many of them are incredibly effective in communicating God’s Word, so much more effective than I ever was or will be. I certainly understand that assessing effectiveness is a very subjective assignment. But, simply put, a number of preachers I have observed are incredible in explaining and applying the Word. As a consequence, God changes lives and saves people.

The best I can do is to be a student of these preachers, and to share with you seven key habits I have observed in most of them. I regularly ask these preachers about the way they go about preparing, preaching, and evaluating their messages. My list is fallible, but I do hope it’s helpful.

  1. They give preaching a priority in their ministries. A pastor has a 24/7, always on call schedule. It’s easy to let sermon preparation slide with the demands of the moment. The outstanding preachers I know give preaching a very high priority. They make certain they put the hours in to communicate effectively and powerfully.
  2. They make their sermons a vital part of their prayer lives. Here is a quote from one of those preachers I believe to be one of the most effective alive today: “I cannot imagine sermon preparation and delivery in my power alone. I regularly plead with God to anoint my preaching and to guide me in my sermon preparation.”
  3. They have a routine in sermon preparation. To the best of their abilities, these effective preachers set aside many hours a week on their calendars for sermon preparation. And while emergencies will happen, they do their best to stay committed to that time. Most of them have specific days and times of day when they work on their sermons.
  4. They constantly seek input about their messages. I know one pastor whose wife listens to each of his sermons ahead of his preaching. She offers valuable input to her husband. Many of these pastors have mentors and church members who help them evaluate their messages. And a number of them watch and listen to their recorded sermons within a week after preaching them.
  5. They stay committed to a specific sermon length. The pastors with whom I spoke have sermons that range in length from 25 minutes to 45 minutes. But they all are consistent each week on their specific length. In other words, a pastor who preaches a message 30 minutes in length will do so consistently each week. They have learned that their congregations adapt to their preaching length, and that inconsistency can be frustrating to the members.
  6. They put the majority of their efforts into one message a week. Some of the pastors were expected to preach different sermons each week, such as a Sunday morning message and a Sunday evening message. But, to the person, they all told me they can only prepare and preach one sermon effectively each week. The Sunday evening message, for example, is either an old message or a poorly prepared message.
  7. They are constantly looking for ways to improve their communication skills. So they do more than just seek feedback, as noted in number four above. They read books on communications. They listen to other effective communicators. And they are regularly in touch with the context of their church and its community, so that their messages are not only biblical, but relevant as well.

The readers of this blog include some very effective preachers, and it includes many of you who listen to effective communicators. I would love to hear your perspectives on effective preaching.

Check out our $5 ebook, Sermon Starters: Outlines for Every Holiday & Occasion to kick start your sermon preparation process.

photo credit: Chris Yarzab via photopin cc

Posted on March 26, 2014

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.
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    We will be grateful to have some of your resource materials for effective church growth & plantings. Shalom.

  • Ben Unyime-Jornsen says on

    I think great preaching involves long term planning and that I did not see in your list. For me, as a preacher, when started adapting long term planning, I saw a huge difference in my preaching.

  • Thank you, Brother Rainer. I am helped, edified or at least enjoy reading most everything you have. God has and is using you in a wonderful way. I would like to reach out to Josh a bit. I have been blessed to Pastor a wonderful Church for 15 years. We began with just a few folks and have seen God do some wonderful things. We have a K-12 school that we will begin our 12 year in August. We have seen hundreds saved and baptized over the years… I could go on. But I know that the greatest growth we have seen is in me. I worked a full time job to feed my family the first couple years, part time for a bit after. I began at that time studying about 3 weeks out. I Preach, on average, 4 sermons a week. And it is exhausting. I try to stay ahead in my studies, but it does not always happen. I have begged God for wisdom since the 3rd year and He gave me some wonderful wisdom. I began training men. I take Eph 4 as my ministry philosophy, I believe it is my duty to equip people for the work of the ministry. We train all of our folks, but particularly men. The last 18 months we have been through some of the most difficult situations any Church can go through. I learned some valuable lessons through that: there is no circumstance that can destroy a Church – the way it is handled determines that. We have also seen 14 of our men Preach at different times – mostly Wednesday night and Sunday Night. This all began 12 years ago when God led for us to train men. I had no idea what I was training them for – but God did. I could not have survived the last 18 months otherwise. I have learned the importance of family. A Preacher looses his ability to effectively influence when his family suffers. If he looses his family, he looses his ministry. Nehemiah 4 is a beautiful picture of a Pastor’s responsibility to visit, help, pray with the Church members. We could go on and on, but the one thing that has helped our Church the most is when I matured to the point that I realized the thought “there are no days off or nights off in the ministry” is wholly unBiblical. There are seasons of 20 hour days that last too long. But that must be followed by a resting and rekindindling of marriage and family relations. We could never afford a vacation until I realized that I could not afford to not go away with my family. I have 4 children 12-17 and we go away for a several short trips each year and one 2 week vacation. Our Church is stronger and my family is stronger because of it. My wife and I take time away and I go away for planning and praying and quiet. Most of the guys I know who still think the way I thought are bitter, weary, many are no longer in the ministry at all and some are not even in Church. God will not bless what He does not ordain no matter how much we spiritualized it. I will be praying for you – I know too many men with that same thought who have hurt or lost thier family, their Church and their ministries.

    Lord bless!

  • To all those who are called of God.
    I totally agree with Josh it is a calling and one must dedicate his whole life to this call. It isis the highest call in the universe. A greater position than the presidency. You have a call to reunite men and woman to God to show them the way and you that are call have to give an account to God for the ministry He has given you.
    If GOD HAS CALLED YOU AND NOT MAN… will give your very best every service. There is a difference is a God called preacher and man called.

    Men and woman aew hungey for the truth. They are expecting something when thry come to church wanting to recieve something tjst will help them through lifes journey. Unless the man of God spends time in prayer and study for the he will not be effective. Also he must pray for the people. A man must talk to God on behalf of man before he can talk to man about God.

    Lets not judge one because he is on a higher/different level in his walk with God and feels this is necessary in his life.
    We all are on different levels and have to give account to God for.our.lives and how wengave ourselves to Him. God knows our abilities and if we are doing our best.

    There is a need of prover balance in everything but remember GOD MUST COME FIRST. He doesn’t play second fiddle. Family is very important so when you put God first he opens doors and gives you plenty of time for your family.

    Might I add that I am not a preacher but a preacher’s wife. And I understand a wife must be just as dedicated to that ministry as her husband. Our schedule Sunday morning AM and PM service. Tuesday Bible study. Thursday midweek service. Saturday evening service. We do have an associate that helps out the work is very busy.
    Yes we do have scheduled times for vacation.
    My husband constantly prays and studies and yet God give him time to reach out help visit make phone calls and all those other things. He is a dynamic preacher filled with the spirit of God ,loves God with all his heart!! This is a calling not a job!

    Josh stay the course.

    God Bless all

    • Marcel says on

      Appreciable input. The success of a gospel minister grounds itself in God and the family support. So you are doing great to support your husband. In fact the role of a supporting role is as important as preaching itself.

  • Dear Dr. Rainer,

    Thanks for compiling 7 key habits, thanks to all who contributed. As a beginner I consider these as wonderful tips.

    my 2 cents related to the number 6, I do understand that it is not possible to allocate same prep time for all the sermons in the week, it doesn’t mean that one is going to deliver a poor sermon on a Sunday evening. I believe in most of the churches Sunday evening sermon will be repeat of morning service, sometimes that comes out better than the morning service because preacher may get new thoughts after preaching in the morning, so there is a chance for improvising the sermon.

    I admire your desire to preach top notch sermon all the time, but the most important thing to remember is that, the sermon we prepare is not for our self, it is for our congregation, so we should understand them and make the sermon as clear as possible. I hope you will take care of yourself from being exhausted eventually lose the enthusiasm.


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