Donald Demaray discussed the style and contribution of twenty-six master preachers in his book, Pulpit Giants. From these gifted preachers, Demaray cited eight characteristics of effective preachers.
A seriousness about the call to preach: This was certainly true of the great biblical preachers. Jeremiah could not refrain from preaching because the word of God was like “a fire shut up in my bones” (Jer 20:9). Paul’s passion was captured in the expression: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). Great preachers of today, like Jeremiah and Paul, share that passion. They are spurred on by their call.
A passion to communicate: For great preachers, the task of preaching is not just a formality but an opportunity to communicate to the world the word from God. In other words, they are not just concerned with the process of preaching but also with the product. One congregant described the impact of his pastor’s sermon: “When he finished I wanted to go right out and do something — anything — right then and there.” That was a great preacher.
A readiness to be individual: Great preachers are unique. They find their own voice and then are faithful to that. They may learn from other preachers but their style is uniquely their own. A key ingredient in communication is genuineness. Congruency between the person preaching and the message preached and even the style in which it is preached provides the setting for greatness.
An eagerness to study and learn: Great preachers know they have not yet arrived at where they need to be. Consequently, they are learners throughout their ministries. They learn by observing other preachers. They learn by studying communication style. They learn by evaluating the use of words. They learn by practice. Effective preachers are life long learners.
A sensitive concern for persons: A young preacher who was bothered by his lack of effectiveness went to famous English preacher Joseph Parker for help. Parker asked him to preach a sermon so he could see how he could improve. Half way through the sermon, Parker stopped him and gave this word of criticism: “I know what’s wrong. You care more about your message than you do about me.” The old clique is right: “People will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Great preachers cared for those to whom they preached.
An ability to concentrate on the task: Perhaps the primary reason for our ineffectiveness in the pulpit today is that preachers are sidetracked by a dozen different issues that keep them out of the study, are distracted by a dozen different concerns that prevent their concentration on the word of God. Great preachers invariably had the power of concentration to the task of preaching and to the subject of preaching, the word of God.
A healthy discontent with their own progress and success: Great preachers are wary of being called great preachers for they are aware of their inadequacies. They know that true greatness in preaching is measured by the mark of the Spirit on their messages. And that is something they cannot control.
An honorable view of preaching as the most important activity in which they could be involved: Great preachers are aware that when they stand in the pulpit to preach the word of God, nothing else going on in their community at that moment carries the same significance, not because of who they are but because of what preaching is and because of what preaching is about