Why I Don’t Think Pastors Should Be Winsome

When I first entered the ministry some 20 years ago, there was a catch phrase that was bouncing around among the churches regarding what they were looking for in a pastor. The word was “winsome.” This really struck me as troublesome on one level, although I could not say why I found it to be so. I should have looked up the word to understand it.

Winsome is defined as “cheerful, pleasant, and appealing.”

On a superficial level, this sounds great. Who doesn’t want a pastor who is “cheerful, pleasant, and appealing?” After all, a man like that could attract large crowds of people, build a ministry so big, that you could use an old basketball arena to house all the people. In fact, when thinking about the quality of being winsome, no one fits the bill better than Joel Osteen out of Houston. He is definitely “cheerful, pleasant, and appealing.”

Just look at those qualities in light of Osteen. He is cheerful. The man has the perfect smile and could probably sell toothpaste on the side for some extra cash, as if he needed it.

He is definitely pleasant. I don’t think the man has uttered an unpleasant word since grade school.

He is also appealing. The last news report I saw on him (years ago, I admit), he was so appealing that even Jews were attracted to his mega-church. The Jews admitted that they found nothing offensive in anything Osteen said. (This is a warning to true believers.)

I guess this is what some churches in my denomination are looking for, someone like Joel Osteen, but who can also give a wink and a nod to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Full disclosure: I was never hired at any of the churches that were looking for “winsome” pastors. Never even an interview. Nope, nary a word from them. Apparently, I’m not winsome.

More full disclosure: I take that as a compliment.

Let’s look at these qualities in another light. First, cheerful. I really don’t have a problem with being cheerful. I think those of us in Christ have the most reasons of all people to be cheerful. However, I don’t think this should be one of the top qualities in a man who is called to preach God’s word. The pastor may be cheerful, but more than likely, the truly called pastor will be sober in his calling and toward his flock. Given the lives of trials and pain that many under his care have to endure, it almost seems unsympathetic to be overly cheerful when so many are suffering.

The only way a man can remain steadfastly cheerful is to keep his flock at a distance. I’m sure this is one of the reasons Mr. Osteen is so good at it. Does he really deal with the people in his congregation other than on Sunday morning, at a safe distance from the flock? Is he involved with his congregation? I would be cheerful too if I made his money and never had to deal with people. Osteen should be cheerful.

The other aspect about having a pastor who is always cheerful is that it really sets him apart from his congregation. If he is always Mr. Bubbly, can he really relate to those of us who are going through crisis after crisis? Is that real Christianity?

The second word in the definition of winsome is “pleasant.” Again, on the surface, this seems like it would be important. I agree that we should be as pleasant as possible. But if the truth be known, if we are going to faithfully preach God’s word, then we are going to come across as unpleasant because God’s word confronts us in so many ways that are unpleasant. Just dealing with sin (adultery, murder, gossip, and a host of other sins), will seem quite unpleasant.

And what about dealing with the topics of false teachers, false prophets, and false religions. A man committed to being pleasant could easily dismiss the fact that there are new false teachers springing up every day that he should be warning his flock about. Who wants to focus on all that negativity?

He might even overlook the necessity of teaching the doctrines of Christ. After all, he would have to discuss topics like the doctrine of election, and we know that the thought that God might have possibly chosen some to be saved, but not all to be saved, is completely unpleasant.

I know men who are very pleasant preachers; they are so vapid when it comes to teaching such doctrines that it is not worth the time to attend their worship services.

If being pleasant is our goal, then can we truly be faithful in proclaiming God’s word? I don’t believe you can. I’m not saying we should be rude brutes concerning our calling, but pleasantness is not our goal.

The last word is one that is very dangerous: appealing. This word smacks of popish idolatry. Do we want our pastors to be appealing? In other words, do they need to be these men we are attracted to because of their looks, or dress, or ability to speak with eloquence? And in what way are they to be appealing?

Jesus wasn’t appealing. Isaiah told us, He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. If our LORD and Savior was in no way appealing, then should we even mention such a quality for the men called to preach the gospel? Should we even consider this as the least bit important?


What Qualities do the Preachers in Scripture Have?

You know, if you do a search for the word “winsome” in the Bible, you won’t find it. However, you will find the world “boldly” used in conjunction with preaching 9 times in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul boldly proclaimed the gospel. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” Wow, that’s not a very winsome message. But it is bold, and what the people needed to hear.

And that is the main point. We don’t preach sermons that people need to hear when our focus is being winsome. When the focus is on being winsome, we preach nice messages to make you feel good about being you. We preach messages of how much God loves you. We preach messages that lull you to sleep spiritually all the while you are on the road to destruction.

Yet, for some reason, the idea of someone preaching with boldness is rare. Honestly, I’ve never read a list of requirements by a church that used the word “boldness” in regards to preaching. We need boldness when it comes to God’s preached word, because God’s written word is bold. It tells us those things we don’t like to hear, but need to hear if we are ever truly going to be saved. It shows us, and mankind, for what we are: sinners in need of a Savior. Then it proclaims to us the Savior that is, and we are to believe in Him for salvation; it never proclaims that we are to feel good about ourselves.

I know some will not like what I have written here. It’s not winsome. But worry not. There are plenty of winsome pastors you can choose from in meeting your felt needs. They are ready to give you messages that tickle your ears and sound, oh-so-good. You can find such messages in almost every mega-church around, which should be comforting to know because there are a lot of people just like you, looking for the same type of messages. This appeal to the masses is quite “broad.” There are plenty of people to “fellowship” with in your journey.

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5 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Think Pastors Should Be Winsome

  1. Jeanette

    Exactly what people need to hear. I wish my church could be overflowing with people, but maybe it isn’t because my pastor tells us we are all SINNERS, and nobody wants to hear that. People need the TRUTH, and I’m glad that you are willing to post it.

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  2. Actually, “winsome” is an adjective meaning attractive or appealing in appearance or character. Character being the mental and moral quality which should be distinctive to all men of God. And, which would be the one desirable quality in any pastor. Smiling at the camera is not “winsome” . . . it can also denote an angry hidden grimace. Res Ipsa Loquitur, amen.

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    1. Dr. Jay,

      I am not certain that I understand what you are saying here. Are you saying that all men of God should be “attractive or appealing in appearance or character”? And that this “attractiveness” would be the “one” desirable quality in any pastor?

      The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 2:

      And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

      It seems to me that Paul contends here that it is not the winsomeness of the preacher (wisdom of men) but rather the message of Christ crucified preached in the Spirit’s power that is the foundation of the believer’s faith.

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  3. This is an interesting post.

    I think there is a way to preach boldly–and yet not turn off potential believers. I agree with you about Joel Osteen. I call him ‘Blinky’, because of his annoying habit of blinking excessively while he talks (notice I don’t say ‘preaches’). His ‘gospel’ is not the message of Christ crucified, for sure.

    For almost two years, I’ve been listening to the podcasts from a thriving Episcopal church in New York City (YES–there is such a thing as that, and in such a city). The pastor is quite bold in preaching the Gospel–and without yelling, or berating the congregation. He speaks of sin, and repentance and faith in Christ. And a number of his sermons have really spoken to me personally–and I’ve written to encourage him in his ministry.

    I guess what I’m saying is: one can be bold in preaching the Gospel of Christ; not soft-pedaling sin, or the depravity of man apart from God and Christ. And yet: he can preach it so one will want to believe, and follow Jesus.

    Does that make sense?

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