The fourth world. That’s what Haddon Robinson called it.
He took John Stott’s two worlds of preaching — the world of the Bible and the world of the contemporary listener’s culture — and he added two more. First, the specific culture of the local congregation (which may differ sharply from the contemporary culture in general). Then, the fourth world — the inner world of the preacher. We have to understand all four worlds to preach effectively.
I’d like to probe that fourth world in respect to personality types.
Now I know these are controversial. There are those in favor and those against. There are advocates for this taxonomy and those pushing for another. Some oppose them altogether. Some people refuse to be labeled (perhaps a personality thing); others love it (ditto). I’ll let you chase the type tests and theoretical discussions elsewhere. I’m going to try to avoid an exhaustive taxonomy of personality types and instead probe various possible features with a focus on preaching.
Before we dive into this non-exhaustive interaction with some aspects of personality types, let’s be clear on the premise. If you are a preacher, you preach. As much as I understand the spirit behind the prayer, “Lord, let me be invisible today; let us all only see you!” the reality is that people will see you.
And you will show in your preaching in more ways than just your physical presence. Your personality will be a grid through which the message passes multiple times in preparation and delivery.
So let’s jump in:
1. The Dutiful Preacher
Some personalities are strong on issues of duty. They are serious and diligent, responsible and dependable.
They tend to promote tradition, work hard and work steadily. I imagine that this type of person will be sure to follow a preparation process carefully (and as a teacher of preaching, I feel encouraged that someone might!). The hours needed for good preaching preparation will probably be found by this personality when others somehow won’t be able to find the same!
I feel like I spend a lot of time affirming preparation on this site, but the picture is not all rosy here. There may be a tendency to look for duty and to prioritize the presentation of duty. Perhaps the motivation will be assumed in others. Energy may be poured into what should be done, without focus on why or understanding of why some seem to be, well, irresponsible. When the gospel sweeps through the hearts of a community, it will change that community for the good. But there is always a danger, for many personalities, to assume that community good is the goal and to short cut directly there. Changing hearts cannot be bypassed.
Continuing my unstructured thoughts on the influence of personality on preaching:
2. The Mechanical Preacher
This person cares about how things work. Practical in skills. Practical in life. They esteem the uncomplicated things in life, yet achieve the complex from the perspective of others. The end can justify the means, as long as a practical solution is found. I imagine this type of person will preach with a good level of applied practicality. Here is a solution to the challenge; go implement it. People appreciate being given the steps to obedience rather than just the expected behavior.
However, there will be a limitation here. People are not machines. It is so easy to preach as if they are. When you face this, do this, think this, remember that, and then you will do well. Actually, life isn’t lived out in logical and practical steps. There is a profound complexity to the motivational life of any person. There is a responsive interconnectedness between individuals in relationship with God and others. Practical preachers are a blessing to the church but especially if they don’t treat people as simple machines.
3. The Nurturing Preacher
This person is kind and caring. Sensitive to others and willing to give themselves away for those they love.
I imagine that this type of personality gets people quicker than others, although that quickness may come from lots of time caring, listening and praying. Such tender sensitivity is a blessing to those loved. We can all learn from the ways warm and caring people communicate warmth and care (but not to perform; we need to develop that inner reality).
Those who read others well need to be sure to read the text carefully and to preach it honestly. There is a danger that a high concern for others can bias the reading of the text so that messages of help can be sought rather than the message of the text. And then when the text is understood, we all need to have the courage to preach that appropriately to our people. Sometimes, a fear of hurting feelings can undermine caring biblical ministry. Care for people and care enough to invest God’s Word in the life of the church. Perhaps there should be another category of The Conflict Avoiding Preacher ... but then I’d be repeating this paragraph!
4. The Creative Preacher
Developed aesthetic sensitivity, an eye for beauty, an energy for the new and the striking.
I suppose this personality feature will also offer benefits and dangers. New and creative ways of communicating the Word can offer memorable and effective presentations. It can also offer error. Others do, too, but there is something risky about the new in terms of the ministry. Be careful to use the energy for creativity (a godly characteristic) in a way that represents Him and His Word well.
Here are some more musings on the multi-faceted complexity of our inner world. How does your personality mark your preaching?
5. The Writing Preacher
A clear-thinking and able wordsmith who can write with considerable natural talent. They can’t imagine living in a non-literary age or living without books.
There are obvious pros and cons here, too. Preaching is also communicating, and being able to think through to a point of clarity is a key skill. However, writing and speaking are very different communication forms. Clear writing can lose listeners. All of us need to learn to write messages in spoken English, rather than written English. Alternatively, we need to not write our messages at all but to plan them as spoken events. That thought would set off some personalities and not just the lovers of writing!
6. The Professor Preacher
This person loves and retains information. They read, they memorize, they analyze; they store tons of biblical, theological and historical data.
What an advantage for preaching. The ability to make links with other texts, to hold it all together in the mind and to draw it all in from various sources without having to chase things from scratch.
But there is a downside. Relevance might get lost. Preaching is not a data dump. Listeners may struggle to follow apparently tenuous connections or just get tired of information overload. The person with this tendency as a preacher will need to learn to cut and edit maliciously. Most struggle to simplify messages enough. This personality type will struggle more than most. Listeners also would probably like to know the preacher beyond the obvious ability to handle and connect information.
7. The People Person Preacher
Great people skills are worth so much and are so complex to have to learn but nice for those who are naturals! Ability to connect, to interact, to feel comfortable, to tell stories, to be vulnerable, etc.
While a lot of preachers may be more introverted, the advantages of focused solo study can be balanced by difficulties in communication (or more commonly, in post-preaching interaction). The people person preacher can stand up and say the alphabet in a way that makes people feel warm and connected. And hence both pro and con.
8. The Power Preacher
This person likes to be in charge; they naturally lead groups they find themselves in, and they always look for ways to influence others.
Preaching can be a bit of a no-brainer role for them in some settings. Now there are massive connections between preaching and leading. But there are also massive connections between our content and a non-worldly servant leadership model of the inverted pyramid. This preacher will be able to communicate vision and may have people naturally respond to them.
But it is important to have people respond to the Bible, rather than just to the preacher. Perhaps every personality type would do well to check their motives for preaching, but perhaps this type should do so more quickly and thoroughly than some others.
9. The Performer Preacher
Typically people-oriented, very extroverted and fun loving. Naturally enthusiastic and potentially highly engaging. They like to be the center of attention in social situations. This person will bring energy into the preaching moment. They will bring enthusiasm and joy. They will bring more emotion than some personality types could dream of expressing. Some visitors will feel enthused; some regulars will excuse and enjoy.
However, this personality type needs to know that their personality will aggravate some others. The energy will grate. The emotion will be considered a false front. The hype will be seen as a poor attempt to hide a lack of content. This personality type can be perfect for some situations. In every situation, there needs to be care for content to come in the package of energetic delivery; otherwise, the naysayers will be proven right.
10. The Inspirer Preacher
Another natural communicator with a natural ability to engagingly explain and apply biblical truth with intensity. This person will be seen as a good preacher by others, whether or not the content is as profound as they give the impression that it is.
However, sometimes the intensity may seem to come with the public speaking rather than from the power of the content. This personality type needs to channel the same energy into their study as they naturally produce in their delivery. They probably need to understand that some personality types will struggle to maintain the level of inspired intensity while listening to them!
11. The Visionary Preacher
Intellectually quick, they see a preferred future in most situations and are able to communicate that sensitively and powerfully. They may have energy for creative planning but lack energy for maintaining the important routines in personal life and church life. People in churches without clear vision and direction can feel starved of leadership. This type of preacher can be a real blessing to such a church.
However, not every visionary statement can be followed through on by all listening. This personality needs to be sure to affirm and to support and to encourage the present activities and routines, where appropriate, rather than only seeing the better future and continually presenting that. People appreciate direction and vision, but they don’t do well being constantly critiqued and evaluated negatively.
I have deliberately avoided 16 types, for obvious reasons. There could be many more than the 11 I’ve listed.