By Thom S. Rainer
Determining the effectiveness of a pastor is a highly subjective exercise. While certain metrics may prove helpful, they do not tell the whole story.
Pastors possess many characteristics: prayerful, committed to the Word, dedicated to their families, visionary, and others. But what sets highly effective pastors apart from most others?
I began to think back over my 40 years of serving churches and the pastors I’ve known and worked with along the way. Several of them stood out from the rest.
Since I knew each of these pastors well, I began to write down traits that distinguished them from most other pastors. What made them tick? How and why were they so effective as leaders?
When I finished this assignment, I discovered seven distinguishing characteristics or habits of highly effective pastors.
1. These pastors have genuine enthusiasm. I’m 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’s 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 make you feel important, because they genuinely care and genuinely listen.
3. Their identity is not their vocation. They don’t need to climb a perceived ladder of success because their greatest reward comes from serving Christ. You don’t have to worry about these pastors manipulating 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 others are supposed to do. They love to share the gospel personally with others. They spend time in their communities and naturally share their faith as they develop relationships with those outside the church.
5. They have unconditional love of their critics. Many leaders, pastors included, have limited effectiveness, because critics constantly hound them. They are drained emotionally and sometimes walk in fear of their critics. Rather than allow their critics to discourage them, effective pastors pray for their critics. They learn to love their critics by asking God to help them have that love.
6. They have a gentle spirit. We often forget gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. In our hyper-critical social media world, aggression and negativity have become normative, even in our churches. Effective pastors, to the contrary, have a calm and gentleness that can only come from the Holy Spirit.
7. They persevere. Ministry isn’t easy. And local church ministry can be especially difficult. Too many wounded warriors limp along in ministry within our churches. Unfortunately, most of their wounds have come from “friendly” fire (barbs, insults, and accusations carelessly fired by insensitive members and ministry colleagues). Highly effective pastors hang in there. Sure, they get hurt and are often discouraged. But they ultimately keep on doing ministry in God’s power.
These seven traits build on the biblical qualifications of a pastor found in Acts 6:4—they devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. Without that foundation, the rest of these characteristics are meaningless.
If you are a pastor or church leader, ask yourself where you need God’s guidance and correction to be a more effective leader.
Thom S. Rainer (@ThomRainer) is president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.