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commending an excellent preacher – lynne baab


For the second half of 2015, I had the privilege of attending worship at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle, where Doug Kelly is the senior minister. (I was on study leave from my lectureship at the University of Otago.) One of the highlights of worship was Doug’s sermons. He preached probably three quarters of the Sundays we were there, and week after week, my husband and I found his sermons to be helpful, challenging, stimulating and solid.

I wondered if I could identify the factors that contributed to his excellence as a preacher, so I started listing them. Here’s my list.

  1. He lingers in the biblical text. He keeps coming back to the events or principles described in the text. The biblical text is clearly at the center of his sermons.
  2. He uses lots of stories from everyday life so the listener has a sense of what it looks like in real life to respond to this specific text.
  3. He quotes from interesting books he’s read. A lovely, vivid quotation at the right place in a sermon gives depth. Too many quotations are mind-numbing. He hits the right balance, maybe 1-3 quotations in a 25 minute sermon.
  4. His sermons have a clear main point. He often lays out that main point early in the sermon and returns to it at the end. Sometimes he mentions it several times during the sermon.
  5. His sermons are well structured. Often he uses numbers to describe his 3-5 sub-points. “Secondly . . .” “The third way to describe this is . . .” He moves intentionally through his points, so you don’t find yourself wondering if he’ll ever finish talking.
  6. He appears to speak from notes, not from a manuscript. Sure, he reads quotations sometimes, but mostly he talks conversationally, which is easy to listen to. He looks at the congregation most of the time, so you feel connected with.
  7. His convictions and his heart come through. You know he cares about what he’s talking about.

This list bears a lot of resemblance to the marking sheet we used when I helped teach preaching at Fuller seminary when I was a PhD student. In fact, these are the basics of expositional preaching, and Doug does them very well. (If you’d like to listen to Doug’s sermons, they are available here.) In this wonderful blog we talk about so many aspects of good preaching. I thought it might be good to list the basics one more time, the fundamental skills that good preachers continually try to nurture.

Are there additional basic characteristics of good preaching that you think should be on my list? If so, feel free to comment below.

Questions for personal reflection or for discussion with family or colleagues:

What are your strengths as a preacher? If you look at the list of seven characteristics above, which one or two are you best at? In what ways do you build on your strengths when you preach?

What are your weaknesses as a preacher? In the list above, which are hardest for you? In what ways do you work on growing in your weak areas?

How much do you focus on working on your weak areas? How much do you focus on your strengths? Do you think you have a good balance between building on your strengths and working on your weaknesses?


  1. Andrew Lim says:

    Thank you Lynne for this fine piece. Your seven pointers remind me of how simple preaching can really be and how we might have complicated things somewhere along the way. No. 6 is what I have mostly struggled with for most of my years of preaching. Thank you too for those provocative questions at the end. Blessings. Andrew

  2. namnabi hegui says:

    Thank you so much! I have found a model l can depend & develop on to be a better preacher. Point two & three l usually like to follow but am not quite well at six, hope to grow better by His grace.

    1. Lynne Baab says:

      Namnabi, thanks for commenting. Blessings to you as you strive to be a better preacher.

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