As we consider preaching voice, we’re not referring to the sound of your physical voice (how deep or high), nor your accent or verbal tics. We’re talking about the distinct feel of your communication.
It’s a mix of how you sound, your verbal and non-verbal dynamics, your points of emphasis, point of view, and other qualities distinct to you.
The preacher has found her voice when she is comfortable in her own skin, not mimicking the styles or convictions of anyone else.
When people talk about someone’s preaching style, they’re talking about the preacher’s “voice.”
The Voices of Well-Known Preachers
At the risk of ignoring your favorite preacher or painting with too broad a brush, it may be helpful to consider the voice/style of some well-known preachers.
Tim Keller has an intellectual voice that connects with well-educated secular people. He often quotes literature, philosophy, and non-Christian leaders as a way to build a bridge with non-Christians.
Christine Caine is a mix of passionate and straightforward. She frequently uses stories from her past and is fluent in Old Testament illustrations. She inspires big faith as she calls people to reach their God-given potential.
Charlie Dates begins in a measured, methodical manner with spikes of passion and volume to a Jesus crescendo toward the end. He uses a call-and-response rhythm emerging from a rich history in the African-American church.
Steven Furtick is entertaining and creative. He has a dialogical approach with a flair for the dramatic. Often accompanied by music, he moves almost constantly, sometimes walking into the audience (or pulling them on stage) and interacting with specific people.
For more examples of different types of teachers, visit this article.
Where Does a Preacher’s Voice Come From?
Preaching voices are like music styles — there are a bunch of them, and not everyone resonates with them in the same way. It’s like this with all communicators.
Some folks love the thoughtful analysis of Tim Keller, while others find it stuffy and too detached.
Others can’t get enough of Rick Warren’s practical preaching, while some find it to be too basic.
Preachers, like musical artists, sound and feel different — and that’s wonderful.
Each of these styles come from different places and teach us different things. And strong preachers can take the best of different styles of preaching and turn it into their own.
Where does a preacher’s style come from? Like music, it emerges out of a number of overlapping factors.
We all have different personalities that shape how we approach life. It makes sense this would influence our preaching. The best preachers allow their personalities to come through their preaching—that’s why it feels authentic—without becoming self-indulgent.
What’s your personality? Are you reserved? Expressive? Funny? Shy? Bold? Confident? Curious? Deferential?
Contrary to many people’s opinions, there is no one best personality for being an effective preacher. But the best preachers are true to their personality.
Different Spiritual Gifts
In addition to different personalities, preachers have different spiritual gifts that influence their sermons. Some are gifted evangelists, others are gifted leaders, others have gifts of wisdom, teaching, or exhortation.
As a result, the preaching (and often the church or ministry itself) highlights the gifts of the preacher. Evangelistic preachers see many people come to faith, wise preachers see many people have “aha!” moments, and preachers with gifts of faith see many people encouraged through suffering.
As Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12, no single person has all the gifts. So no preacher should aspire to preach as though he or she has them all. Rather, we humbly use the gifts God has given us and let them come through our preaching.
Rick Warren says that “God never wastes an experience.” If that’s true for all Christians, it should also apply to preachers.
Preachers who grew up in loving, stable homes where they were taught the gospel at an early age usually sound different than those who came to faith as adults after a rough early life.
Derwin Gray played for five years in the NFL and, thus, often uses sports analogies and stories.
Levi Lusko tragically lost a young daughter and, as a result, his preaching deeply connects with suffering people.
Ravi Zacharias came to faith while in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, so his preaching is shaped around giving hopeless people reasons to believe.
It is inevitable that our experiences shape our preaching in significant ways. Preachers ought to lean into it.
Different Theological Sensibilities
While every Christian preacher would generally agree about core Christian doctrine, differences emerge when you start reflecting on how theological convictions look in action.
John MacArthur esteems theological precision and holds clearly defined convictions around even secondary issues. As a result, he tends to preach in a way that is very concerned with potential errors and often feels combative.
Louie Giglio lives in wonder at the greatness and grandeur of God, and his sermons often highlight the bigness of God, even if he doesn’t provide highly specific application points that correspond.
We can’t help but have our theology come through our preaching styles.
Passion is the topics or themes that make a preacher come alive in a unique way. It’s the primary focus a preacher comes back to time and again.
Mike Todd can’t stop talking about how God shapes our relationships. Larry Osborne gets giddy when he’s talking about practical Christian faith for average people. Francis Chan can’t stop challenging listeners to live more radically.
Like theological convictions, preachers can let their passions make them overly repetitive and, as a result, neglect other important issues. But passions are often a good gift of God that the preacher should not ignore.
Where you are in the nation or world and the types of people that live there are major factors in shaping preaching style.
Tim Keller ministered for years in the heart of Manhattan, reaching highly educated white collar workers and cultural creatives. Keller knows that his context requires intelligent communication that engages with art, literature, and academia.
Charlie Dates ministers on the south side of Chicago in a predominantly African-American community. This context evokes a call-and-response style of preaching that would leave many suburban white congregations confused. But it fits perfectly in his context.
Matt Chandler ministers in Dallas, the “buckle of the Bible belt.” So it’s not a surprise that he’s far more likely to confront the churched person than to appeal directly to the unchurched.
Content preachers often find a way of matching their makeup with their context, though some are able to fruitfully serve in a more “cross-cultural” way.
All of the above factors often lead to an overall vision that influences preaching. The pulpit is typically one of the strongest tools in a pastors’ toolkit for moving the congregation toward a preferred outcome.
Some preachers have a vision built around doing almost anything to win someone to Jesus. Others build up believers.
Some pastors’ vision involves inspiring people to action in the community. Others are working toward creating a passionately worshipful church.
Whether the specific vision relates to worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, missions, racial reconciliation, or community development — it also shapes the preaching style.
How to Find Your Preaching Voice
Many young preachers simply adopt the voice of their favorite preacher or the tradition they came from. They assume that if they do what works for others it will work for them.
The danger in highlighting styles of well-known preachers is that you might be tempted to view it as a menu, where you simply try to combine the styles of preachers you like.
But God already has Bryan Loritts and Greg Laurie. He made you to be you.
What’s the path to finding your preaching voice?
1. Take Inventory.
How would your personality, spiritual gifts, experiences, theology, passions, context, and vision most naturally come through in your preaching?
We’ve provided some useful, specific questions to assist your inventory in this blog post.
2. Get a ton of reps.
Like most anything, practice equals progress, and in this case, the more repetition you have in your preaching the better you’ll become at delivering the message.
As a young preacher seeking to develop your voice, take every opportunity to speak or preach. Go to nursing homes, speak at high school FCA meetings, teach Sunday school, preach on Sundays — do anything you can to get reps.
3. Watch and listen to your sermons.
But it’s how you get better. Hearing and seeing yourself reveals important nuggets and allows you to notice improvement over time.
As you watch, pay attention to your particular filler words, habitual gestures, voice inflection, and physical presence. Ask yourself whether you sound like yourself or somebody else.
Notice the elements that feel the most like yourself and the ones that don’t.
4. Invite feedback from trusted mentors.
Reps are crucial. But evaluated reps are even better.
Just like a baseball player uses a coach to help him see what he can’t identify on his own, preachers need “coaches” who can point out what they need to hear.
Somebody does not have to be a great preacher to be able to offer helpful preaching feedback. Often people who aren’t gifted preachers give tremendous feedback because they know what great preaching sounds like. Only a prideful fool would scorn their input.
5. Listen to a variety of preachers, but especially those whom you are not tempted to imitate.
As we’ve said, we can learn a lot from reflecting on other gifted preachers. So listen broadly and incorporate lessons that fit who you are.
At the same time, be careful about listening too much to preachers that you are tempted to imitate. Next thing you know, you’ll be saying, “You tracking with me?!” like Matt Chandler, “I wish I had somebody who was listening!” like Charlie Dates, or endlessly quoting C.S. Lewis like Tim Keller (OK, that one’s not so bad).
The more confident you become in your own voice, the more you’ll be able to listen to others without being tempted to rip off their style.
6. Be willing to try new things.
The way you discover anything is by experimentation.
Try different approaches to notes — manuscript, outline, notes-free. Try a pulpit or a table or a stool.
Try different lengths of sermons and different preparation processes.
Don’t be so afraid of imitation that you aren’t willing to try something that might really work for you.
7. Embrace your limits by resting in the gospel.
This may sound like the opposite of #6, but at some point you realize you have limits. You will likely never be like some of the preachers you most admire. That’s OK.
Rest in the gospel of Jesus. He’s the one who loves you and gave Himself for you before you ever preached a sermon.
He’s been crazy about you since before the foundation of the world, and His affection for you doesn’t rise or fall on the basis of your preaching.
In His sovereign kindness, He is going to use the foolishness of your preaching to accomplish His purposes. And He’s going to grow you through the process. So rest in Him.
You care about the way you communicate – you want it to be understood and helpful. Your style or “voice” is very important in how you come across to your congregation and how your message is received.
We want to help you be the best preacher you can be. We hope this article has been helpful to you as you continue to pursue your calling to share God’s message of hope with the world.
We believe that God has given you a distinct preaching style and we want to help you uncover it and use it for His glory.
Commit to expository preaching (we expand on this concept further in this article), figure out your preferred structure, and find your voice. Do it all in the power of the Spirit and watch what God will do.