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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.


photo credit: Chris Yarzab via photopin cc

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Comments

  1. Josh says

    I disagree with number six. If we are full time and it’s our job to preach, then we should be fully prepared for as many sermon opportunities as God can give. Can you imagine Lebron James saying that he can only be expected to play one good basketball game per week and that if he plays more it will be poorly played? I personally preach 3 different sermons a week and my people deserve my absolute best for all 3.

      • Josh says

        I usually spend one full day (8 hours) on my Wednesday sermon, one full day on my Sunday night sermon and two full days on Sunday morning.

        • Brett says

          I’m curious Josh. I assume you get one other day off during Monday through Friday, and then Saturday. (Forgive me if I’m wrong here) And you preach on Sunday. If you spend four full days on sermon prep, and then Sunday services (as the fifth day of ‘work’) how do you manage your other responsibilities during the week? Or has the church been organized to take other things off your plate to free you to spend that much time on sermon prep?

          • Josh says

            I try and take mondays off, but there are no days off in ministry. I try and take evenings off, but there are no evenings off in ministry. I try and stay with a set routine of study hours, but there are no set routines in ministry. Often I find myself behind on my studies and staying up all night to catch up. Thats ministry…

          • Joshua Freeman says

            Josh,

            I am concerned about your schedule and assertion that there are no “days off, evenings off, etc” in ministry. Brother, if you continue with that belief and the hours you are putting in, you will burn out and become less effective. I assume there is no wife and children from the response, if I am incorrect, please remember that our wife and children come before the congregations needs. I have known many ministers with a similar work ethic and non of them lasted in the ministry. Please only take this as a concern and not criticism.

        • steve says

          Agree with Brett.

          Where do you fit in pastoral care with your schedule? I find that I have to spend a great deal of time merely in emails, phone calls, social media, visitations, even cleaning my office, Bible studies, etc and struggle to find time for Sunday.

        • Steven says

          I find this unwise. Where do you fit time for family and other responsibilities? I’m a bivocational pastor, but even for someone who is fully supported 32 hours on sermon prep doesn’t leave much room in the schedule for other important things.

        • Jonathon says

          >try to take mondays off.

          There is no try.
          There is success or failure.

          What I am wondering is what you do for 8/16 hours to prepare a sermon, and how long that sermon lasts.

    • Thomas McCuddy says

      Josh, I understand your concern, but preparing a sermon is nothing like playing in a basketball game. If Lebron was expected to learn entirely different tactics and strategies for each game, then I could see the connection. But each time we preach, we must sit down anew with each passage to learn that passage, study that passage, structure our messages, prepare effective illustrations, and all the other work that must be repeated each time we prepare.

      And I believe I share your concern, but it’s about the wording. I wouldn’t call my Sunday night sermons “poor,” I just wouldn’t call them polished. Sunday mornings, the sermons are polished, neatly arranged, and everything is meticulously prepared because I have 30 minutes or less to effectively present God’s Word for many whom I will not see again until next Sunday. Sunday nights, I get 45 to 50 minutes to talk to specific audience of specific adults in a much smaller crowd. Again, I wouldn’t call Sunday nights “poor,” I would say “relaxed” would be a better term. I loath the idea of presenting a poor sermon.

      Wednesday night is straight Bible study, and more than once, I’ve presented ideas I’ve heard, old lessons, or material from my quiet time as spiritual food for thought.

      But ultimately, I agree: Only one sermon during the week is going to be top notch.

      • Josh says

        Thomas, I respectfully disagree. I believe that its my job to present top notch sermons to my church 3 times per week and 52 weeks per year. Its my job to pray, prepare and to present sermons and thats what I do. But to each their own…

        time to get back to praying and preparing so I can be presenting a top notch sermon tonight…

        • steve says

          3 sermons a week at 52 weeks a year? Don’t you take vacation?

          Also, who are these sermons for? You keep mentioning bringing forth top notch messages for the church but are they for the explicit purpose of glorifying Jesus?

          The way your responses are worded give me the implications that perhaps the message are more for yourself than for the purpose of glorifying God. That may not be your intent but that’s how I keep reading your responses. The purpose of preaching is not to say how great the preacher is but to elevate the congregation’s eyes to God so people say “How Great Thou Art.” Hopefully, you agree with that too.

          • says

            Steve,

            I believe that Josh was using the “top notch” terminology to refute the argument presented in the initial blog post.

            Point #6 infers that concentrating on more than one sermon a week means that the one sermon would be “top notch” while the other one would be “poorly prepared”. He is arguing that he, in fact, can produce three impressively prepared sermons without neglecting one of them because the congregation deserves his best.

          • Josh says

            My dad was a coal miner and worked 60-70 hours a week underground. He came home tired, dirty and in pain every night. He didnt take days off or weeks off because that was his job. I figure if my dad gave his all underground then I can give my all for God. If that includes 32 hours of sermon prep for 3 sermons a week, I am blessed because Im not underground. If that includes late night visits, emails, calls, hospitals and funerals, I am blessed because Im not underground. If that includes no vacations or sundays off, I am blessed because Im not underground. If that includes the occasional person saying I am doing it for myself and not for God, I am blessed because Im not underground. If that includes sore fingers from typing and hurt eyes from reading, I am blessed because I am not underground.

            My dad always tells me, God blesses hard work…

          • Jonathon says

            Ponder on the Catholic Priest that technically has to deliver between 7 and 49 homilies per week.

            (I know that the majority of Catholic churches only have Mass thrice a week, if that, but if they operate according to Cannon Law, Mass would celebrated daily, either during Lauds, Matens, or Vespers. Add Prime, Terce, Sext, and None if the priest wants to celebrate the full complement of Liturgical Hours.)

      • says

        Funny, this article was forwarded to me and I love it. My only concern was with the wording of #6. Enjoyed Thomas McCuddy’s thoughts. Tough balance with a schedule like Josh’s and doesn’t seem like much time for family, outreach or discipleship. Jesus was often mingling with his men and dealing directly with sinners. (I understand Acts 6…”Give ourselves more fully to…”) but isn’t there a social side to pastoring?

        I look at sermons as meals. Some are meaty and like a juicy steak off the grill with a cream cheese jalapeno wrapped in bacon. Some are like a burger with fries (or salad if that’s how you roll) but nonetheless, if you apply the other 6 suggestions to each of the three sermons, put in the study and pray to get the mind of God for that service. Plus if you have a healthy flow of new converts you really don’t lay in heavy every time.

        Have any of y’all ever worked on sermons with a pastor friend? (I call it sermonizing) But that was huge for me as a bi-vocational pastor cranking out 3 sermons a week. We would connect and in an hour or two have a couple sermon outlines with many illustrations and cross references. Than in private time personalize it and finish it up…Curious if that’s worked for others?

    • John S says

      Josh,

      Reading your comments on here I have to wonder if you have a family. You keep saying there is no time off in ministry and I think you are heading for trouble with that mindset, in many ways. I’m trying to figure out how you build a relationship with any of your people with that schedule you seem to have.

      If you can do all that, have a personal touch with your flock, take care of your family as God calls us to do, and still get some sleep, congratulations. However, I think most of us regular humans are not so driven to be as perfect in the pulpit as you.

    • Steve says

      Called to give our best!
      Worship is a time of awe and reverence, focusing on the One True God. We surrender to Him and delight in His worthiness. His power and beauty, grace, mercy, and love fill us with a passion that declares His excellences. How can we argue anything but giving Him our best at all times? The Apostle Peter writes, “Because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” Our Lord described the widow’s gift as “everything she possessed – all she had to live on.” And, David said that unless it has costs don’t offer it to God.

      Nevertheless, your analogy of a great athlete playing his best game without proper rest is flawed. Rest is necessary to perform at our best and serve at our best. Dr. Rainer and those who have concern for you are speaking from the heart. God calls us to love Him will all our heart, soul and mind. And, your passion to give Him your best is heartwarming and not to be discouraged. Committed athletes will give their best at all times, but a good coach will recognize fatigue and rest the athlete for the benefit of the team.

      I believe Dr. Rainer’s point is that you train for the big game, which is generally speaking, Sunday morning. That doesn’t mean that Sunday evening or Wednesday night is less important. It simple means you are not the main attraction. Christ-centered leadership gives ownership through a team concept. Jesus invited us to deny ourselves, and take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Christ instructs His followers to lead by following His example. Jesus not only taught servant leadership, He modeled it as He gave His life for many!

      Volunteers need to be purposefully engaged in significant roles throughout the church. Pecking orders typical of secular organizations are increasingly being met with resistance by a detached world hungering for personal relationships. Notwithstanding the need for competent Christian leadership; biblical principles command a team approach to leadership. The New Testament church is an organic, not organizational, notion. Jesus is the head of the church, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Open-participatory fellowship is God’s plan toward change in the lives of His people. Shared-life, experiential spirit lead transformation, according to God’s plan, is from the beginning Christ-centered. Authoritarian governance disengages believers and cools the Spirit. God warns against quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

      Interpersonal relationships committed to shared responsibilities and authority is what Christ modeled and taught to His disciples. A spiritual body cannot function under control of any one member or select group of members. Every Christian has a spiritual gift(s). Use the gifts of others in your church. Let Wednesday evenings be a time for prayer meetings. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. You will be amazed at what you learn about others by listening to them pray. Let Sunday evening be a continuation of the Sunday morning service to go a little deeper. Most people who attend on Sunday evening are seasoned and desire more.

      Preaching is your gift, but being a good husband, father, son, and friend and brother in Christ is also your God given responsibility. Listen and learn from those who have been there and done that. Dr. Rainer is dead on.

      God bless you for all that you do in the name of Christ Jesus. I am praying for you.
      Steve

    • Harold says

      I agree with Josh and want to add that only on special occasions should there be preaching. Matt 28 says TEACHING, and if a pastor was teaching that book it would not be “A” sermon but a series that people could follow in their own Bible, write notes,etc but most important they would learn what Jesus Instructed us to do and that is teach. Even if you miss one sunday in the Matthew “series the pieces of Sunday would fit together like a puzzle and listening to the message would help fill in the gaps on your absent sunday, Ideally we will follow the verse and our small groups during the week will use the pastor’s last sunday message as a spring board to defining application to our lives. Always good topics on here.

  2. Gary Hinkle says

    As a young man called to preach, this is a great article to come back to on a regular basis. We should always seek ways to hone our skills in every area of ministry.

  3. Darrell Jones says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I first want to thank you for investing in the lives and ministries of pastors around the world. I truly appreciate your leadership and mentoring.
    1) It is a great task that you remember, and know well, to prepare a sermon week after week. For many, like myself, that preparation includes 3 sermons during the week. I have struggled often.
    2) I am learning from you and others the importance of communication, and the practice of listening and watching my sermons most recently preached.
    **REMEMBER THE GONG SHOW?? Ouch!

    • Thom Rainer says

      I understand. Every time I watch/hear myself on video, I conclude I am the worst preacher/speaker ever!

      • Jeff Glenn says

        Actually no, I am…lol. A few months ago, my wife told me that the sermon on that particular day was real good. I asked her where she had been…lol! BTW, I always enjoy reading your blogs/articles and I always benefit from them. Also, as a bi-vocational pastor preaching three sermons per week, I spend as much time as possible preparing sermons and Bible Studies.

  4. Mark Dance says

    I’m so glad you included #6 (majority of effort into one message). For the first 13 years of my ministry, I was expected to preach three times a week. I struggled in silence because nobody wants to hear their preacher complain about the privilege of preaching – especially school teachers.

    Your advise is spot-on. If we effectively wrap our hearts and minds around that one sermon which will make the greatest impact, all will be blessed, including us.

    I would add one more option for Sun/Wed night resources – material from other pastors/authors (be sure to give credit). I think it is a better alternative than a poorly prepared message. LifeWay has a lot of free resources for pastors at lifeway.com/pastorstoday. There are many helpful articles as well as a “sermons” tab on the top of the page that will give you access to hundreds of free sermons.

  5. says

    Oh, to be a more effective preacher! On the subject of second and third weekly sermons, is it the same thing to say “poorly planned” as “preaching from a passage previously studied in depth?”

    Thom, can you clarify something about your sampling of effective preachers? What percentage (est.) of them are solo pastors vs. preaching pastors in churches with multiple staff? Not that this should change the definition of “effective,” but perhaps to demonstrate the value of “distribution of labor.”

    • Thom Rainer says

      Aaron -

      I hesitate to call my survey a sample, since it really was just a series of informal questions and conversations. To answer you specifically, I spoke with just over 30 pastors. About 20 of them had multiple staff; the rest were solo pastors.

  6. says

    Thanks again for another good read. This hits home for me. I work full-time outside of pastoral ministry and pastor a church of about 70 folks in the northern wastes of New England. So my time committed to sermon prep is very valuable to me. I appreciate the constant encouragement I get here.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Leaders like you, Todd, are my heroes. You are on the front line of ministry in a challenging mission field. I am simply sitting behind a keyboard reporting on ministries like yours. I owe you the thanks.

  7. says

    As I am a newbie at being the pastor of a church plant (4 weeks old), I have never had to do more than one sermon a week. I’m glad that God has provided me the opportunity to hear from those who have paved the way for me. My mentors have all said that they would have loved to have someone tell them what they are telling me or what I’m learning from you all.

    I honestly count my blessings for good counsel (face-to-face and through electronic means).

  8. Cameron Debity says

    Thom,

    As a young leader I benefit from your leadership articles from week to week. Thanks for your consistent and helpful blog.

    You might not feel comfortable doing so but would you recommend any particular preachers for pod-casting, that you feel embodies the qualities you cited above?

    Thanks,
    Cameron

  9. Thom Rainer says

    Cameron -

    Allow me to give you three outstanding representatives of three different approaches to preaching: Matt Chandler, Johnny Hunt, and Andy Stanley. Of course, there are many more. By the way, if you want to hear another young outstanding pastor I know pretty well, you can listen to Sam Rainer.

  10. says

    On the subject of “preparing 3 sermons per week”, I’m not aware of any effective churches ( = growing disciples, multiplying congregations, engaging lostness) in our geographic locale that still have the typical Sunday morning-Sunday night-Wednesday night weekly format.

    I’d encourage any pastors / churches that do to read the book “Simple Church”. It changed my life and ministry forever.

  11. says

    I would also like to add that #4 is extremely tough for some of us. We have to let go of our pride and accept the fact that our sermons have room for improvement. Listen to constructive criticism. Welcome it. Learn from it. Grow from it.

  12. Michael says

    As an assistant pastor I have found it difficult to prepare three sermons in a week that polished and well delivered when filling in for the senior pastor. That is why I am more convinced than ever that multiple teacher/preachers are vital to church health especially in bivocational settings. Thanks for the blog post Thom.

  13. K. Randolph says

    Regarding #6: As a listener to weekly Sunday morning and Wednesday night sermons, and frequent preparer of presentations myself, I appreciate the time and effort my pastor puts into his preparation. Typically, his Sunday morning and Wednesday night messages are on completely different topics. This is fine, but it would be okay with me for him to (occasionally or regularly) use Wednesday night as a follow-up to his Sunday morning message — going more in depth into the Scriptures, covering the pieces that hit the cutting room floor due to time constraints, etc.

    Regarding #3: Knowing my pastor’s preparation routine has helped me pray more specifically for him on different days of the week. Saturdays are key. Thursdays and Fridays are important, too. Then there’s Tuesday. Not to mention Sunday, Wednesday, Monday…

  14. Mark Dance says

    Just then, I almost flunked that little math test that (I assume) filters out spam:-).

    God’s uses simple math to help keep us on track as believers: 7-6= 1. He gave us six days a week to work, and one to rest. Sabbath is both a gift and a command. A simple, cease and desist order that He modeled for us after creation. Jesus observed and fulfilled it (not abolished). He certainly didn’t make pastors an exception to it, yet so many are flagrantly disobey the fourth commandment.

    Young pastors – please don’t believe the lie that pastors never get a day off. Sabbath keeping is an act of faith, obedience and humility. Please don’t be baited into thinking think that God can’t handle your church without your 24/7 help. Hopefully you do not think that little of our God or your family, or that much of yourself.

  15. says

    #3 and #6 struck me the most personally. As single staff of a country church where I have to drive 20 miles just to get to the closest grocery store or even some of my congregants, I find having a set schedule near impossible. I’ve tried many times but a simple hospital visit is several hours out of my day due to distances driven (60 miles round trip for closest). As a consequence of our rural setting, Wednesday night is sparsely attended (less than 12 regular) so I use that as a discipleship/small group setting. Right now we are working through ‘Multiply’ by Francis Chan. Sunday mornings is when I know I have the greatest opportunity so I focus on that sermon the most. Sunday nights are small (approx 30) and I know most of them are saved, committed members so generally go for more of equipping type message.

    • Mark Dance says

      So thankful for rural pastors like you John. All routines require flexibility, but it sounds like you have customized a plan that is realistic for your setting. Good job!

    • Drew G says

      Josh, I am in a rural setting much like yours. I also have used our Wed. nights as what is essentially a small group because we have 10-15 people. I have found it difficult, but possible, to set a schedule every week. I work on my sermons 4 mornings a week, and use the afternoons for visits. My congregation is both understanding and relatively small, so I don’t have too many hospital visits to make each week. It depends on your congregation, but maybe if you laid out your expectations and reasonings for why it’s important to have long, focused times of preparation, I think they would understand. After all, nobody wants to sit through a bad sermon!

  16. says

    Great article as usual Thom. Thank you for the signed copy of Simple Church you sent to me in Malawi through Phil Barnes a few years ago. Keep up the edifying posts and challenging posts. Blessings.

  17. says

    Hello Dr. Rainer,

    I know there has been much discussion surrounding point #6, but I must say that I really don’t understand it.

    Why is it now too hard to prepare more than one message per week? Pretty much all pastors used to, and all of my pastor friends still do. I preach three times a week and in addition to that I teach one of our small groups, and I’ve never felt like too much was being asked of me. This is not to say that it’s easy, because it certainly is not, but I don’t believe that any pastor expects it to be.

    I know that we all have different strengths/weaknesses, and I understand that some may really struggle with working on multiple studies simultaneously, and I think that is understandable. I can acknowledge that perhaps God has gifted me with the ability to prepare multiple sermons simultaneously. (although, I assure you, I have never felt gifted.) I’ve just never felt like preparing more than one sermon required me to work really hard on one, but not as hard on the others.

    Perhaps there is something that I am missing here?

    Anyway, as always, I appreciate the work you do on this blog and on the podcast.

  18. Mark says

    Longer does not equal better. More sermon points are not always needed. Just say what you need to say and sit down. Let people think about it. Most priests And rabbis I know let the bible readings to the teaching and then just elaborate on it. This makes a big difference.

    When I taught in a university, I knew what I had to cover every class, and I would push students beyond saturation a because I had no choice. Those who preach can make one point well and don’t have to cover loads of material.

  19. Ralph Juthman says

    Hi Tom, Josh and others
    I have been pastoring and preaching for over thirthy years. I have done the 80 hours per week schedule. preached sunday school, morning service, evening service, Bible study, seniors home and youth. All in one week. I remember a preacher of a large mega church once saying to a group of young pastors ( including me) that he pastored his church, preached all sermons, lead a national TV ministry, served on his denominations executive council. He also took no holidays, days off or family days. He said He would rather burn our than rust out.

    For years I tried to follow that man of Gods example. I later discovered he resigned his church because of moral failure and depression. Many of my friends tried to live up to thse standards andeventually left ministry because they were fried. I also almost became a victim of depression and spiritual self abuse. And don’t say “Well they were never called” These were men who were gifted, called and served well.

    I personally learned the hard way through my own burn out and deression that Jesus is not to be my Assistant, I am following Him. I will continue to do my best, be my best and put my best forward. But none of us are supermen or women. Paul did what he did, but did not have a family to come home too. At the end of the day that is all I have, my relationshp with God and my family. I never want to lose that on the alter of ministry.

  20. Rick Stigile says

    In response to Pastor Josh’s comments on sermon prep, it seems that he may indeed be providing extra attention to the Sun AM message vs the Sun PM and Wed PM message. He admittedly is spending twice the amount if time on the one than he is the others! That in itself can suggest that he is providing a lesser grade message on the evening occasions. That is not to say that either of the two messages are of less value, but they do have less investment, which I believe was the intent of point six in the original post. I applaud his sincere efforts to offer his best in each message, but he is certainly not offering an equivalent amount if attention for each message.

  21. Nathaniel Rodriguez says

    Everything that I have read is helpful here…my perspective is passion which I know all servants have so if radio personalities can speak for hours every day, we that love the Word will love to share it. The problem is that we try to out do ourselves every week instead of just ministering the Word.

  22. says

    Being an expository preacher helps with #6. I am preaching through Luke on Sunday morning and it is all new material. For other services I am preaching through Acts (notes from 2004) and 1 Corinthians (2006). I also frequently give the pulpit on Sunday evening to the Associate pastor or young men who have been called to ministry in the congregation. I have been at the same church since 2001.

  23. Doug Whitaker says

    I believe there is a little bit of confusion about a pastor who prepares for one sermon a week and how much of his time/ work actually go into that preparation. One of my earliest mentors told me that a good rule of thumb in preaching was that for every minute you are going to preach God’s word you should have an hour of study and preparation. That means if you are preaching a 30 minute sermon on Sunday morning, you should have at least 30 hours of study to adequately prepare. (There is a lot that could be said here about study, original languages, etc., but that is for another time.)

    So,if you spend 30 hours a week in study for one sermon and have other pastoral duties, I think you have reached your limit…there are only so many hours in a week! If you spend another 20-30 hours a week doing your other pastoral duties you are at a 50-60 hour work week.

    Now, if your working 50 hours a week with 2 days off that is 10 hours a day…11 if you take a lunch! The big question becomes, “what about your family if you go beyond a 10-11 hour work day?” Maybe you are among those who don’t have a family yet and can offer yourself beyond 50 hours a week…but if you have a family you run the risk of “sacrificing your family on the altar of ministry!” And every pastor believes that will not happen to him, but history has proven otherwise.

    That is a long way of saying I believe Dr. Rainer’s point of putting most of your efforts into one sermon a week is a wise point and should be given much consideration. Adding another sermon either leaves you not prepared (i.e.-studied up…see the first paragraph, and the parenthetical statement that follows ) to feed the flock from the Word, or something or somebody else is left without.

  24. says

    I agree with each point. In addition to the Sunday morning message I do leadership training on Sunday nights, a men’s Bible Study on Wednesdays nights (and 2 other mornings each week), and I teach an adjunct Bible class at a local college. So I use a preset curriculum (supplemented with some additional material and personal reading) for everything except the Sunday morning message. That allows me to devote the majority of my deep exegetical work and study time to the Sunday morning message, while spending fewer supplemental study hours with the great materials I incorporate for the other occasions. After 25 years of ministry this allows one to have a good grasp on the Bible providing an ability to teach/preach with comfort and depth from a large percentage of the Word of God.

  25. says

    In his day, John Calvin preached from the New Testament every Sunday morning, from either the New Testament or Psalms every Sunday afternoon, and also from the Old Testament every morning of the week, every other week! His sermons started in the bible, focused on the bible, and stayed in the text until the end. He also, by deliberate choice, always preached extemporaneously. This in addition to regularly visiting the sick and infirm, writing, and teaching, and so on.

    But life was so much simpler and less harried in those days wasn’t it?

    Pastor Jim Cymbala has lead the multi-racial Brooklyn Tabernacle since 1971, has authored several books, preaches weekly, and speaks on a nearly constant basis at other churches, conferences, events. He also always preaches extemporaneously. He has done so for over 40 years now, and his church has grown from less then 30 people in 1971 to over 16,000 in 2012.

    I do not mean to say that study and preparation are bad things in and of themselves, and of course, visiting the sick, ministering to the congregation in encouragement and counseling are all “good” and “right” things for pastors to do as well. But processes that were meant to strengthen preaching in our pulpits have, along with other ministerial functions, overtaken our pastors first and main purpose: To preach the Word.

    Anyone with a few months of public speaking under their belts can deliver 30 minutes and 3 bullet points for a better life (or at least week ahead) – this should not (but does seem to) take a great amount of study and preparation; and that cardboard Christianism is exactly what is served up as “preaching” from the majority of our pulpits week after week. Christians across this country NEED to hear far more preaching that relies on the Holy Spirit, not on a Honed Script – the man of God, speaking the word of God, to the children of God (and those who yet need to become adopted by God).

    Disclaimer: I am not myself a pastor, but I know and have known several of them, and believe me when I say the men God calls to preach hold a special place in my heart and in my prayers. I know the pressure can be enormous, but I also know the His yoke is easy. Let the Lord be the Lord of your work for the Lord.

    May our great and glorious God bless and keep each of you and yours in all ways, always.

  26. Randy Harmon says

    I think this article is spot on!
    I have been preaching for 34 years and I tend to preach about the same length regardless of whether there is a clock in my view. The routine I have established helps me keep my sanity, and hopefully makes me more effective. I always wish I had more preparation time, but there are many needs and responsibilities in the pastorate. I believe God called me to preach, but the church has also called me to pastor. And I would agree, I think my Sunday Morning sermon is my “best” work. Mostly because, in my case, I know I am speaking to a wider variety of needs on Sunday morning. My Sunday evening sermons tend toward more discipleship oriented topics, and my Wednesday night sermons tend toward more depth in Bible study and making connections with the whole of scripture for practical application. Thanks Thom, for your work and ministry!

  27. says

    Hello Thom.

    Thank you for your post. Always good to hear from you. I appreciate your investment. If possible could you list some of the communication resources that some of these effective communicators have used to improve their preaching. I’ve got about ten years in full time ministry and I’m realizing that preaching is one of the hardest things of ministry, therefore I must continue to work ON my preaching regularly.

    Any insights would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again,
    Gavin

  28. Bill Crowder says

    Thanks for this article. I think you are “spot on” in your assessment of ministry.

    There are things I do to help with time. First, I have developed a committed worship team. We meet once a month and they help plan all the songs, readings and other liturgy helps for upcoming services. They also provide much needed feedback as we reflect on the current past months services, brainstorm how to improve and then pray for God’s leading for the future month.

    Secondly, I use talents and gifts of my vhurch members as well as a variety of different formats gor Sunday nights. Lee Strobel’s Faith under Fire video series leads into meaningful Bible study. A lay pastor in a sister church who attends regularly will team teach, a teacher in a nearby community college team teaches on comparative religions. They often teach from their expertise and I teach what the Bible says in response. My people love the interchange and the ability to ask questions. Even if I preach a sermon I factor in time for questions and comments.

  29. Ken says

    This was covered in #7 to some extent, but I think an effective preacher should also be well-read. The Bible should be first and foremost, of course, but a good preacher should also be well-read in theology, history (church and secular), literature, and current events. These things supply abundant illustrations for your sermons, and help keep your sermons fresh and interesting.

    • Ken says

      Oh, and I failed to add that you should also read good devotional books. Books on theology and church history are good for the mind, but they don’t always do so well at feeding your soul! For that purpose, I would highly recommend anything by Vance Havner or A.W. Tozer. Some of the other preachers on this thread can probably recommend their own favorites.

  30. says

    Thom – thank you for your insights. You have efficiently noted trademark characteristics of churches which have been blessed with Men who lead out of the strength of their spiritual gifting.

    In my years in ministry (both church and para-church) I personally have time and again witnessed one constant in ministries which thrive and those which barely survive, that is the intentional activity to identify the strengths of the individuals within the organization, and set them free to do what God called them to. In doing this, God will multiply the efforts exponentially.

    I have served as teaching pastor in a mega-church, have led a large para-church organization and now currently am pastoring a church I launched 6 years ago with 40 people. In each environment I have practiced the ‘habit’ of finding people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out ministry in their area of gifting. In do this, it has set me free to carry out the task God has given me as the leader. The opposite is true of churches and para-church organizations I have observe which continue to struggle, and therefore the staff struggle.

    Allowing the principles of scripture to actually play-out in the midst of our work week makes all the difference in advancing the Kingdom.

    ~Mark

  31. John W Carlton says

    In my first church I tried to do everything, be all things to all people, and I developed ulcers and almost got run off. When my doctor told me to let some of it go, I followed his advice. Because I had set the expectations of the congregation for what I should do too high, I soon found another place of service. This time I went in and got a regular schedule established and was able to do so much more in a lot less time because I wasn’t running off in 4 directions at once.

  32. Clive says

    Interesting. The job of the pastor is to preach. Where is that explored and defined in scripture? How does the body of Christ get built up so that ALL the body reaches the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ and is prepared for works of service? If all that energy is being spent in preaching, where’s the discipling taking place? Seems the only parts of the body that’s getting built up are the ears and brain (please excuse the change of metaphor there). Just wondering? Much love.

  33. says

    Tom,
    Great article. I am a church planter and the only full time staff person at our church. One of the biggest draws to our church is preaching and teaching. While there are many things I have to do, I always find time to focus on Sunday’s sermon. It usually takes me quite a bit of time to prepare that one 4-12 hours depending on the text. I could not imagine doing that three different times a week. But as people have been added to the church that has freed me up to focus more on preaching and teaching. People comment on the improvement of the sermons, but what they don’t understand is their work in the ministry allows me more time to study and prepare. All of the hats we are expected to wear there is none more important than the preaching of the Word.

  34. says

    I have been a pastor for 19 years and a Director of Missions for 14 years. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Rainer. I like he have worked with a variety of churches and counseled many different pastors as well as being on the front lines of ministry. If you are only putting 8 hours into any sermon it is not enough in my opinion. I am not saying you are not an outstanding preacher, Josh, but I would venture to say probably your people are not as impressed with you as you are of yourself. A pastor must balance preaching/teaching, pastoral care, leadership and administration, community and denominational ministry (if not these you isolate yourself), and family/personal time. I would guess you are not a veteran preacher but probably not have preached that many years. One reason I am still in the ministry after 34 years and going strong is that I learned to balance my time and life. I have had 56 sermons published and have hundreds of written sermons that I spent many hours preparing. In my last full time pastorate I would have about 350 in attendance on Sunday morning, about 70 on Sunday evening, and about 40 in prayer and Bible study Wednesday evening (we had other activities for youth and children). I gave about 15 hours average on Sunday morning sermons, about 3-5 hours on Sunday evening (though I did not preach every Sunday evening as my associate would preach once a month, we would have a monthly guest preacher, and we would have a special service like singing with a devotional). Wednesday evenings were participatory Bible study not requiring as much preparation.
    You may get upset with me, but I have seen many pastors over the years fall out of ministry because of not balancing their lives. That’s my sermon for today, and it only took me 10 minutes to write it.

  35. Bobby says

    First, I would like to say this is a good article. I prepare only one sermon for Sunday morning since we do not meet on Sunday nights. I spend a good amount of time each week in preparation. There have been several occasions where I have been invited to preach at another church and have prepared an additional sermon for that event. Those weeks, we do what we have to do in order to give each sermon the proper amount of preparation.

    I know a lead pastor of a church in our area that only preaches once a month at most, he has a lot of preparation time for each sermon. We all have different situations, schedules and loads upon us, but the same calling. We must give our sermons proper attention while maintaining everything else that the Lord has given us.

  36. says

    I would be interested in how many notes most preachers used. When I was in school (just a few years ago), I had a teacher in one of my labs who limited us to 1/2 a page of notes. He always said if we knew our material well enough we would never need more. It was difficult and scary at first, but to this day I don’t use more than 1/2 a page. It really is freeing.

    I’m the youth minister, so I only preach once a month, but our pulpit minister preaches manuscript style, with everything written out. To each his own, but that would drive me totally batty.

    So, to ask the question, how much notes do people around here usually have? :-)

Trackbacks

  1. […] 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.” […]

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