Six surprising traits of effective pastors

By Thom Rainer

I have looked at characteristics of effective pastorsfrom different perspectives over the past few years. But this information may prove to be a bit surprising. A couple of caveats are in order. First, the idea of “surprising” can vary from person to person. I think you might be surprised at some of these traits, but you might not be. Second, the term “effective” is nebulous. I am not speaking of size of church or level of fame. I have subjectively noted several dozen pastors whose ministries have been consistent and whose impact in their churches and communities has been positive. By the way, these same traits could apply to other church staff. Indeed, some of them could apply to any leaders. I’m omitting the obvious characteristics, like good preaching, strong morals, and faithfulness to family. Those would not be among the surprises. What, then, are some of the surprising traits? I’m glad you asked.

They are persistent.

Their lives could be characterized as “three steps forward, two steps backwards.”

They have setbacks, but they remain stubbornly persistent.

They have a good sense of humor.

They take their ministries seriously; but they don’t take themselves too seriously.

They are highly intentional about connecting with unchurched persons at least once a week. 

In fact, weekly intentionality is the norm. They put such interactions on their calendar. They take unchurched people to lunch. They are involved in non-religious community events.

They look in the mirror.

These pastors have clear self-awareness.

They are not only evaluating themselves constantly, they typically have a trusted advisor who tells them on a regular basis what he or she sees.

They are intentionally consistent learners. 

These pastors read a lot. They attend conferences. They expand their educational opportunities, both formal and informal.

Their most consistent discipline is daily Bible reading. 

This time in the Bible is beyond sermon preparation. This discipline is kept with greater rigor than any other discipline in their lives. Again, these are some of the surprising traits I have noticed in effective pastors. What do you think of these six? What surprises you among them? What would you add?

Published June 23, 2015

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Thom Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has wirtten more than 20 books including the bestsellers Simple Church and I Am a Church Member. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. You can connect with Dr. Rainer on Twitter @ThomRainer and at