- Do people tell you they feel like you read their journals?
- Have you had people tell you that you are a healing presence in the pulpit?
- Do you gravitate toward psychology as a helping discipline more than other schools of thought?
- Do you naturally think of the pain people are going through as a primary motive for preaching?
- Have you preached on grieving, suffering, or pain as a primary preaching theme this month?
- Would you rather consider yourself compassionate than passionate?
- Do you gravitate more toward Ephesians than Hebrews?
If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions empathy may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.
- Do people tell you that they love your vulnerablitiy in the pulpit?
- Do others tell you your brokenness is one of your best qualities?
- Do you gravitate toward exegesis more than topical preaching because it helps you find something to say?
- Do you naturally think of the ways this passage confronts and challenges you before you think of how it might preach?
- Do you gravitate more toward Proverbs and Philippians more than 1 and 2 Kings or Romans?
- Are you surprised when numerous people respond physically, visually, or verbally to your preaching?
- Have you been told that your tone is easy to listen to and that you do not “talk down” to people?
If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions humility may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.
- Do you have a few burning concerns about unfairness in the world that you want to see changed?
- Have you been called a “prophetic voice” for your preaching in your community or broader ministry?
- Do you gravitate more toward James or the prophets than the Pentateuch or Galatians?
- Are there issues about which you feel you just cannot be silent in the pulpit and be true to yourself?
- Have you preached on racism, sexism, materialism, sex trafficking, or immigration in the last month?
- Do you serve on the board of a ministry to the poor or oppressed or regularly volunteer in one of those ministries?
- Do you feel that action is more important than words and that your actions are your best sermons?
If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions justice may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.
- Do you feel that you have gathered many insights and ways of living over the years that you want to share with your congregation so they can live better lives?
- Have you been told you are mature for your age, have more knowledge than your years should allow, or that you are a trusted source of counsel in a way that surprises you?
- Do you naturally gravitate toward Proverbs, Romans, or James more than the Gospels or Psalms?
- Is cutting down your sermons more of a challenge than filling the time? Even before you add stories and illustrations?
- Has someone said that the “light bulb finally came on” for them after hearing one of your sermons on a difficult topic?
- Do you prefer reading Andy Stanley or John Kotter to Henri Nouwen or Mother Theresa?
- Do you find mentoring and coaching to be rather stress free but counseling others to be difficult and frustrating?
If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions wisdom may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.
These strengths are not the kind of strengths you find in the secular model of the Strengths Quest, as helpful as that is. They also are not performative strengths exactly though some elements of performance can be of benefit. They are strengths of personhood. They are parts of our character as preachers. Each of them should play a role in every preacher’s life. But not preacher will be the perfect model of all preaching virtues. So think on these things:
- Growing your strengths is almost always more productive than trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. How can you emphasize the area of your greatest strength and bring others around you in the pulpit who complement you rather than clone you?
- Weaknesses that are too weak are like flies in the ointment, it damages the whole. Consider creating a targeted growth plan for the weakest of the three for you for the coming year.
Now read below for some next steps to grow your particular area of strength and minimize the downfalls of the strength:
Empathy: Empathic preachers really deliver well on topics related to therapeutic needs, personal growth, and human relationships. Be careful not to avoid the difficult theological work that needs done for counsel and healing to be truly Christian. The gospel is a healing power, but it is not self-help. Lean on others around you to press you to think more carefully theologically and to submit yourself to the teaching of doctrine not just the insights from psychology.
Humility: Humble preachers really deliver well on topics related to conviction, sin, and flaws of character. Be careful that your humility not turn to shame, otherwise you may put too heavy an expectation on yourself and your listeners as a result. Gospel, gospel, gospel people do not guilt them. Lean on people around you for the empathy to know when you are expecting too much, and the wisdom to know the difference between shame and conviction.
Wisdom: Wise preachers really deliver well on topics related to living well, discernment, difficult situations, leadership, doctrine, and finance. Be careful to remember that people do not always have the easiest time doing the wisest thing. Personal baggage, wounds, self doubt and more can cause a person to act against wisdom. Wisdom alone does not always win the day. Lean on people around you for the humility and empathy to realize that what motivates you does not motivate the average person.
Justice: Prophetic preachers deliver well on topics related to social justice, oppression, greed, sexism, racism, or other prejudices. Be careful the fire of your passion does not leap the bounds and become a prairie fire of anger. Anger pushes people away, passion draws people in. Lean on those around you to help you discern when your sense of justice lacks compassion for the one in power or privilege. Also be ware that your passion areas may blind you to your own lack of just living. Also lean on those who are wise in the ways of the world to help you find strategic steps from the real toward the ideal.
© David B Ward, 2015