August 24, 2017

Thoughts about Preaching Styles

Thomas Overmiller

Do you tend to appreciate one style of preaching over another? How do you respond to a methodical teaching approach? What about a more dramatic, high-energy approach with some pulpit pounding? Or how about a sermon filled with illustrations, stories, and testimonies to make a biblical point?

Variety in the pulpit is a good thing, and we must be careful to avoid glamorizing any particular preaching style over another. A good sermon must be biblical, grounded in the biblical truth of the Word. A good sermon must also be enabled by the Holy Spirit. But good preaching that meets these qualifications will still occur in a variety of styles.

Consider the following examples from the Bible.

  1. Jonah preached a very brief message (Jonah 3:4).
  2. Paul preached a very long message (Acts 20:7-11).
  3. Nathan preached, using a detailed story leading to a piercing invitation (2 Sam.12:1-12).
  4. Ezekiel preached, using some rather unusual, awkward, and dramatic demonstrations (Ezek. 4:1-17; 5:1-4; 12:1-7; 24:25-27).
  5. Ezra preached in a meticulous, didactic manner (Neh. 8:1-8).
  6. Peter preached from an overview of OT prophecy (Acts 2:14-39).
  7. Stephen preached from an overview of OT history (Acts 7:2-53).
  8. Paul preached using his conversion testimony (Acts 22:1-22; 26:1-24).

Church history further demonstrates the kind of variety in style that God uses to broadcast His message to His people and the world at large. How could God mightily bless the monotone sermon reading of Jonathan Edwards, the eloquent, engaging pulpiteering of Charles Spurgeon, and the dramatic, theatrical presentations of Billy Sunday? The answer lies not in the style of preaching, but in the philosophy of preaching.

As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4:10-11)

First, these verses indicate that God’s grace displayed in our lives is manifold, or diverse. In the matter of speaking ministry (preaching and teaching), there will apparently be a wide variety of style. We need to expect as much. We must learn to search the scriptures to ensure that the content of a message is biblical (Acts 17:11). At the same time, we must learn to respond eagerly to various styles of messages, so long as the content is indeed biblical and Spirit-directed. God is glorified through the way that Jesus Christ communicates to us through a rich variety in preaching instruments.

Also, these verses indicate that preaching must occur as “the oracles of God.” The preacher must speak with the convincement that He speaks with the authority and endorsement of God from heaven. He must speak in a way that anticipates God’s personal, direct involvement and intervention in the preaching moment.

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:2-5)

Paul craved God’s supernatural involvement in his preaching (“in demonstration of Spirit and power”) more than he valued honing a particular kind of successful preaching style (“the enticing words of man’s wisdom”).

What does this mean for preachers? We need to carefully and prayerfully consider our approach to preaching. Just because your sermon is biblical in content doesn’t guarantee God’s blessing on the delivery. But God’s blessing on the delivery has little to do with the style of delivery as it does the expectation for God to personally intervene while you are delivering the message. In order for a sermon to be blessed from heaven, honest heart preparation and earnest, expectant prayer for God’s intervention must accompany careful study. In fact, there is more hope of blessing for an unrefined presentation preached with humble expectancy than there is for a refined, astute presentation with no genuine reliance upon God to intervene. No preaching style is appropriate without the supernatural intervention of God.

What does this mean for listeners? Don’t be distracted by style. We need to humbly and eagerly soak in preaching of various styles. Don’t discount a message because the preacher failed to raise his voice and pound the pulpit. At the same time, don’t disregard a message because the preacher did raise his voice and pound the pulpit. God intends for preaching to be a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” He is not limited by style, nor is He confined to one particular style or another. In fact, He will demonstrate His power in the variety. Learn to praise God for the variety and turn your ears on. Hear what God is saying in the preaching and respond accordingly.


Thomas Overmiller serves as a Bible professor at Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.


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