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lynne baab: personality type, spiritual gifts & preaching

What do you enjoy most about the preaching process? My favorite part is the preparation. I love reading and rereading the passage, trying to figure out what God might be calling me to focus on and identifying the thought blocks that might shape the sermon. I love figuring out the best way to illustrate the major points.

I don’t mind the delivery. I like watching people’s faces as I speak. The hardest part of preaching for me is the talking before and after the service, meeting people I don’t know, listening to their concerns and responses. I’m an introvert. My joys and challenges in the preaching process make sense given my introverted personality.

I have a friend, a very good preacher, who is an extravert with a drama background. She loves delivering sermons, and she thrives in the conversations before and after the service. But she struggles with the preparation phase. When I know she has an upcoming preaching date, I pray a lot for her as she studies and reflects. And I pray that her love for the drama of the delivery won’t get in the way of the work of the Holy Spirit.

My own personality informs the way I pray for myself when I have an upcoming sermon. I pray for strength and love from God for all those challenging conversations, and I pray that my enjoyment of study and reflection won’t get in the way of God’s Spirit in the preparation process.

In the same way, my understanding of my spiritual gifts helps me pray as I work on sermons. My primary spiritual gifts are teaching, encouragement and administration. My sermons are organized and prepared on time. I’m always happy when the passage is an encouraging, positive passage, and I’m always glad when I get to teach about some aspect of gospel truth from the passage.

But much of the Bible is messy narrative. I need God’s help to preach from narrative. Many passages from the Bible speak uncomfortable truth into our lives, and I need God’s help even more when the passage and the Holy Spirit call me to speak prophetically. And I need God’s guidance as I put some limits on the amount of teaching in my sermons. I try to round out sermons with other forms of proclamation beyond teaching, and that’s a challenge for me.

Obviously we need God’s help with all aspects of preaching. Obviously we need to pray for every part of our sermons. Understanding our personality type and spiritual gifts can inform the way we pray and the way we ask for prayer from family members and friends. Personality type and spiritual gifts help us find language for our weaknesses, so we can ask God for special help in those areas. Personality type and spiritual gifts also give us understanding of our strengths, so we can ask God to give us humility and a sense of proportion in those areas.

Personality type and spiritual gifts are so often abused, becoming an excuse for weaknesses and for lack of balance. This grieves me deeply. I long to see people understand personality type and spiritual gifts as a way to help us accept the way we are made and as a call to work more fruitfully with others (topics beyond the scope of this blog post), as well as an invitation to prayer (which is exactly what I’ve been writing about here): thankfulness for the gifts, to be exercised in humility, and intercession for the weaknesses and challenges.

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Lynne M. Baab teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago. She is a Presbyterian minister and the author of numerous books, including Reaching Out in a Networked World, Sabbath Keeping and Fasting. Many of her articles and information about her books can be found on her website:


  1. Joseph Collins says:

    Thanks for sharing Lynne.
    The more that people are comfortable with diversity, the more diversity and personality can be accepted in a formal setting. We need to find an equilibrium in preaching styles that are both diverse yet not overtly extreme, repetitious, unreal or untruthful.

  2. Mark Maffey says:

    Hi Lynne

    There is no doubt there are numerous aspects which influence how an individual will approach the text and their motivational gifting and personality type will have a large part in determining the eventual outcome. Like you I agree the need for reading and re-reading the text and prayerfulness in the process need to be inherent in the preparation, equally though is understanding the genre and context, without understanding these it is difficult to accurately exegete the passage.

    We also need to be able to use our senses in the processes, one passage which I keep pondering is Mark vs. 35-41 below is a poem/meditation on it

    Mark 4 vs. 35-41 – Jesus Calms The Storm
    That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”
    Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.
    Jesus was exhausted have spoken to and fed the crowd, he needed to with his father abide
    To get to the other side, find some peace and quiet, to keep things afloat
    Jesus understood the need to re-charge, take time out to focus and not let things slide
    To go away to a quiet place, spend time with his Father, and of him take note
    To listen, to comprehend that which his Father wanted, to his will not tackle or undermine
    He wasn’t worried about image, what others thought he was happy to sit in a boat

    There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over
    The boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.
    It is easy to get fazed by things around us, to not switch off,to not rest, but be a mover
    Jesus slept in the midst of the squall, water sloshing over him, an uncomfortable position
    Storms can unsettle and ruffle us, we feel ill equipped to handle them, and they tip us over
    We struggle to see night from day, needing someone to catch us and the impact cushion

    The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down
    It’s easy for us to lose sight of God in the midst of the storm and we feel let down
    Yet he says to us “Quiet, Be still!” listen to me, I can calm your storm, you won’t drown
    Turn your eyes upon me, look full in my wonderful face, the things of earth will calm down
    When you see my perspective, I can heal, be still and know I am your God, you won’t drown

    And it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
    It’s so easy to write off the disciples, but like us they were human, afraid, and felt in the storm far from safe
    Bearing in mind some of them were professional fisherman the conditions were rough, the light dim
    To have Jesus stand up in the boat and tell the storm to quieten was outside their understanding and faith
    They were amazed at what he had done, “Who is this?” Even the wind and the waves obey him!
    Would we have been any different in the circumstances, probably not I suspect how strong is our faith?
    In this world we can easy get lost or too busy, is Jesus saying to you, “Quiet, Be Still” and come to him?

    Mark Maffey, February 2008

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