4 Types of Preachers: Which Style Are You?

May 21, 2013 — 12 Comments

Preaching has been the central element in most Protestant worship services for over 500 years. It’s the main thing pastors do, in terms of time consumption. Yet remarkably few pastors have a strong sense of identity as a preacher.


Not every pastor approaches the task of preaching in the same way. There are at least four distinct approaches to the pulpit.

Though there are many sermon forms, most preachers fall into one of these four categories, each with a different answer to the question “What are you trying to accomplish in the pulpit?”

The Homiletician

Generally, liturgical churches reserve less time in their worship and a less exalted place for the sermon (that belongs to the Eucharist). The pastor is never referred to as “the preacher” but is called a “priest.” Preachers in these traditions sometimes spend less time and energy on their sermons because they do not see it as the main thing they do. They are more like meditations or devotionals on the text, usually the Gospel text. A homiletician asks you to feel. 

The Sermonic Essayist

Preachers in mainline denominations often take an intellectual approach to the sermon. Their sermons are really well-crafted essays based on the biblical text. The preacher usually reads the sermon without any attempt to cover up what he or she is doing, just like an academic reading at a university. While some Bible teachers and exhorters post their sermons online in audio or video form, essayists usually post their messages in manuscript form, complete with footnotes. An essayist asks you to think. 

The Bible Teacher

Fundamentalist churches—I’m using that term as broadly as possible here—view the sermon as a Bible lesson. The pastor considers himself to be an “expositor” of the Bible or a “teacher.” Generally, the sermon is an exegetical essay, running commentary on the text with some insights for application. Chuck Swindoll may be today’s best known Bible teacher-preacher. A teacher wants you to understand. 


The Exhorter

This is the type of preaching I was raised on. It’s popular in Pentecostal churches, holiness churches, and some others. The pastor is generally called “the preacher” and the sermon is the centerpiece of the worship service. In fact, we used to have two services in one. The first part of the service was called “the song service,” and the second part was called “the preaching service.” This type of preaching is a highly animated discourse based on the Scriptures that urges people to make some life change. An exhortation is typically followed by an altar call or some other response mechanism. Exhorting preachers always “preach for a decision.” An exhorter wants you to act. 

Homileticians and Bible teachers are more likely to stick closely to the text, basing their sermon, even deriving their outline, from the structure of that single passage or even verse of the Bible. Essayists and exhorters are more likely to be free in their use of the Bible, drawing form “the whole story” to make their case.

Homileticians and Essayists are more likely to be found in liturgical or mainline churches (and preach shorter sermons), while Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Holiness preachers are usually either Bible teachers or exhorters (and preach longer sermons).

Bible teachers seem to thrive on the radio, exhorters make great televangelists, and essayists often post their sermon manuscripts on line or publish them in book form.

Preaching has changed over the years, and these categories are harder to define than they once were. For example, Rob Bell is a new version of the sermonic essayist, delivering well-crafted messages packed with thought.

Andy Stanley is the new version of a Bible teacher (whereas his father, Charles Stanley, is a straight-up Bible teacher). He sits at a table and “just talks,” but he’s teaching the Bible. Pete Wilson might be called the new version of exhorter. Underneath the cool clothes and the video introduction is a call for change—with a direct invitation to do it.

My own preaching has been shaped by three factors: (1) my upbringing under some of the best old-school exhortative preaching ever from my Dad, Norman G. Wilson, (2) my indoctrination into expository preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and (3) my own temperament and personality, which leans heavily toward the sermonic essay. The result? Other may judge more accurately, but I’d call myself a new-style exhorter or “exhortation light.”

What about you?

What type of preaching do you prefer? What kind of preacher are you?


Lawrence W. Wilson

Twitter Facebook

I write about life and faith and what it means to be fully human and a fully devoted follower of Jesus. I've written a few books including A Different Kind of Crazy and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering. When I have ideas that might help you transform your life and community, I post them here.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1356691150 Jeremiah Clements

    Great breakdown- I appreciate the careful yet easy definitions you provide. Perhaps the most powerful point I take away from your thoughts is that out underlying assumptions about what the sermon is for will shape how we craft it. I also think you’re right that it’s getting harder to clearly define the categories. I’d probably say my personal approach is a hybrid of the exhorter/Bible teacher categories. Thanks for writing!

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      You’re welcome, Jeremiah. Glad to know this is helpful.

  • Roger Cooper

    Here is a man that effects lives… seems that is what is desired in a Paster. Thank you Larry for your support and kindness.

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Roger, thanks for the kind words.

  • gary vanriper

    If i understand Jeremiah correctly, i’m kind of with him. Hybrid Teacher/exhorter. Have to go verse by verse over time for continuity and context. And have to present terms in amplified manner since so many today have no idea the true nature and identity of God and Jesus. No soundbite Christianity. The whole counsel of God presented this way over time to be internalized and embedded. Over ten years presenting this way have seen Understanding/Conviction/Feeling/Fruit come.

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      So true, Gary. We’ve got to drill it deep right now.

  • Alan Stoddard

    I like this post. As a read it I thought, “This is missing a category or two.” But then I’ve seen the hybrid response. I’m a hybrid. I learned preaching in three ways:

    I was called to ministry in a Black church. So I learned dialogical preaching. Black preaching calls this “call and response.” I learned to preach in the local church first. I not only learned in Black church but also in Southern Baptist Churches.

    Second, I learned two styles: expository at Southwestern in Ft. Worth. And expository “big idea” driven from Haddon at Gordon-Conwell. The big idea is crucial for me.

    Last is this. I’ve learned to become my own person by allowing all the influential factors to mix together. I try to keep is conversational even though I’m the only one talking. I try to not talk too long without referring to the Bible point. I try to read scripture well and speak with passion.

    I’m a hybrid encourager/teacher.

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Alan, it’s good to feel at home in your on skin as a preacher. I like Robinson’s “big idea” concept as well.

  • Pingback: How to Inject Imagination into Your Preaching: 10 Creative Forms | Lawrence W. Wilson()

  • Valerie Layton

    Very good essay and diagram. Currently have only Exhortation preaching in our church and longing for a mixture of bible teaching.

  • old_north_state_native

    Found you post when I googled: types of preaching styles. I had a conversation today with someone who described exegetical and exposition as two different types of preaching styles. I told the person that my understanding of those words would lead me to consider them to be similar in meaning rather than distinct. I too was trained at GCTS and learned the big idea method. I would quibble with one slight assertion unrelated to types of preaching styles. You describe Rob Bell as having a back ground in the Christian Reformed Church. I’ve never heard that and can’t find an source on that. Mars Hill was not affiliated with the CRC. Did he grow up in the CRC?

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      That’s a good catch, thank you. I thought I had a citation for that, but I don’t and am not sure now where I got that notion. I’ll correct the post. Thanks.