Category Archives: Preaching

R-Rated Texts for an R-Rated World

I don’t know how you set the parental controls on your cable TV. I don’t even have cable, but if I did, I’d filter certain episodes to protect my three sons. Of course, we could similarly restrict some scriptural episodes due to explicit content not suitable for all audiences. Maybe that’s one reason many churches censor parts of the Bible for being too crass, violent, or sexual.

Who wants to hear the sex laws of Leviticus 18 at 11 a.m. on Sunday while sitting next to your mom? Or what mom wishes to cradle her newborn as she listens to Psalm 137 bless those who dash their enemies’ babies on the rocks? And what teenage girl desires to sit next to pubescent boys as she hears how Abraham circumcised his whole house in Genesis 17? What kind of church would preach this stuff?

My church has preached each of these texts over the past few years, and I want to encourage you to do the same. Why? Because I believe Christians and non-Christians alike need these R-rated texts to make sense of their R-rated world.

Christians Need R-Rated Texts

God’s Word is entirely sufficient to equip Christians for “every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). Whole believers need the whole Bible. But the principle of sola Scriptura ought to drive the vision not just for our personal quiet times, but also for our corporate gatherings. As a pastor, who am I to suppress the parts of Scripture that cause me to tremble a bit as I read them publicly? What if I’m concealing the exact words God would use to incite revival in my church? What if hiding these texts is actually creating a people so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good?


I’ve been struck time and again by the responses of the children of light to the darkest parts of Scripture. Initially, the congregation becomes restless with the horrors of sin and eager for some glimmer of hope. Then, as I unveil Jesus in the sermon, it feels like he’s being unleashed on the darkness. The hearts of saints rejoice as they see their Savior once again entering the shadow of death as a flash of brilliant, unstoppable, conquering light.

Non-Christians Need R-Rated Texts  

While edifying believers is our primary goal in corporate worship, we must strategically and passionately engage non-Christians as well. Have you considered that unbelievers might need the texts we’re most hesitant to teach?

For example, if we avoid sexually explicit texts, how will the girl who’s broken and bitter at God for being raped know he hates sexual sin even more than she does? Where will she hear of the redemption and restoration the gospel delivers or that a healthy sexual relationship with her spouse is possible? That’s why I’m no longer surprised when new believers join our church and vocalize their appreciation for preaching that moves through whole books of the Bible.

I think Sunday morning boredom often results from sermons that aren’t as gritty as our lives—or the Bible. God gave us R-rated texts because we live in an R-rated world. Think about it. It’s hard to relate to Abraham, David, or Paul if you imagine them as spiritual Supermen living in a world without kryptonite. But a closer look at these heroes of faith reveals lives riddled with dark sins—stories that dare me to hope that if God can work through them, then maybe he can work through me. Pausing to reflect on the horrific failures of God’s men excites us to look for God’s man—Jesus Christ.

6 Tips for Preaching R-Rated Texts to an R-Rated World

To be sure, preaching R-rated texts is tough. I’ve experienced the pain of people walking out during difficult sermons. I’ve felt the sweet sting of brotherly correction over botched attempts. So let me invite you to learn from my failures with six suggestions for preaching these passages.

1. Be sensitive to cultural expectations of the congregation.

This caution is especially true as a newer pastor. You probably shouldn’t preach about dashing babies on the rocks on Mother’s Day.

2. Preach expositionally.

A complete series on unnerving texts sounds weird. Sure, I’ve thought about ways to do it. But people are less likely to think the pastor’s a creeper if they understand your larger motivation is to preach the whole Bible—even when it’s hard.

3. Label parental advisories clearly.

Parents hold different perspectives on what they want their children exposed to, and I think that’s okay. At our church we print sermon cards months in advance so people can know what’s coming. We also have a pastor warn parents of explicit content prior to the sermon. If you don’t have a children’s program during your service, you may want to organize something special for that day.

4. Call a spade a spade.

People need to know gross sins are gross. They also need to know why they are gross and how they mangle a human identity meant to image our Creator God. A world that revels in spiritual disfigurement needs to hear that gross sin is gross because it mars the intrinsic value with which God has endowed all of us.

5. Don’t diminish grace.

I’m familiar with Monday morning discouragement over Sunday’s failure to communicate grace. In fact, the same grace I failed to preach gets me out of bed those mornings. Friends, put your back into preaching grace. Don’t preach Leviticus 18 saying, “Look at these nasty sexual sins. Moses lists these sins because this is what they were doing. Things haven’t changed much, huh? Oh well. Stock up on water and crackers. Build a bunker. Stop sinning. Amen.” Don’t be surprised by the Israel-like horrors lurking behind the veneers of smiling faces in your congregation. They’re desperate for grace to meet them in the specific sins showcased in Scripture. If we diminish sin’s severity, we diminish Christ’s provision. But if we shine light on gross sins while leaving Christ in the dark, we’ve failed as ministers of the gospel. It would be better if we didn’t preach at all.

6. Avoid false hope.

The question isn’t if but when justice will ultimately arrive. God fights for justice. Justice finally wins. Any progress we make in alleviating injustice in this world pales in light of the justice that will arrive when Christ returns. A healthy doctrine of Christian suffering, then, helps to counterbalance any over-realized eschatology that would erect unrealistic expectations for ushering in the justice only Christ can.

If you preach the whole Bible publicly, expect conflict. People will still walk out. But when done prayerfully and thoughtfully, expect it to bring life from death and light to the darkest places.


How to Work Ahead on Sermon Prep

It’s Saturday afternoon, and your sermon is half-done, at best. Your normal sermon prep time got crushed this week by a big funeral on Tuesday, a crisis counseling situation that consumed Wednesday and Thursday, and your wife’s minivan breaking down Friday. And now on Saturday, supposedly your day off, you slump in front of the computer puzzling over the main point and application of the text, and straining for the creativity to write a clear, engaging sermon manuscript.

Ever have one of those weeks?

studying-the-bibleGod helps us preachers in those desperate moments. But clearly this kind of compressed, last-minute prep has serious drawbacks. And if we prepare our messages this way every week, we’re more likely to serve junk food sermons rather than the nutritious, expository feast that our congregations need for spiritual health.

Some gifted preachers can regularly wrestle down a text and craft solid sermons on an abbreviated schedule. But most of us mortals need ample time. We need time to puzzle over interpretive issues, time to pray over application, time to pick others’ brains, and time for our creative engines to produce helpful illustrations, introductions, and conclusions. We need time to marinate in the passage of scripture.

Plan for Getting Ahead

I want to share an approach to sermon preparation that for the past 17 years has given me a longer runway for getting sermons off the ground. I didn’t come up with the basic concept myself, though for the life of me I can’t remember who suggested it. Undoubtedly other preachers do something similar. Furthermore, I’m not suggesting this “system” is the right way or best way to prepare sermons. Every preacher is unique. But if you long for more lead-time to produce a message, I recommend this strategy.

Here’s the basic concept: work on three sermons every week.

Before you roll your eyes or hyperventilate, let me explain. By three sermons each week, I don’t mean researching and writing three full sermons each week. Rather, I mean working on different parts of three separate sermons.

I conceptualize the sermon writing process in three phases.

Phase 1: Research. This is where we translate, discover structure, study words and grammar, grasp the larger literary context, and consult commentaries (after we have done our own work, of course). Our goal here is to understand the main point of the text and its main applications.

Phase 2: Writing. Here we produce the sermon itself. We lay out the flow, work on introductions and conclusions, build sentences, and think carefully about transitions. Whereas the research feels more like a science to me, the writing feels more like an art.

Phase 3: Rehearsing. Hopefully we take a little time to walk through the sermon before we preach it. I go to my basement on Saturday night and preach the sermon out loud by myself several times. This process not only familiarizes me with the content, but it inevitably serves as a further manuscript edit. Written communication typically needs some adjustment so that it sounds normal as oral communication.

Here is where the three-sermon system comes into play. Let’s say you are preaching through Galatians, one chapter each Sunday, starting with Galatians 1 this Sunday. That means this week you will be researching Galatians 3, writing your sermon on Galatians 2 (which you researched the last week), and rehearsing your sermon on Galatians 1 (which you wrote last week and researched two weeks ago).

Next week you will research Galatians 4, write the sermon for Galatians 3, and rehearse your message for Galatians 2. And so on.

This approach has lots of benefits. First and most obviously, it gives me three weeks to ruminate on a text. You will be amazed at how many illustrations, applications, and insights will come to you as you cogitate over a three-week period. You will have a whole week to tweak your manuscript.

Second, this rhythm always keeps the broader literary context in front of you. As you’re writing a sermon for Galatians 2 you’re simultaneously pondering what comes before (Galatians 1) and what comes after (Galatians 3). This plan assumes you’re regularly preaching through books of the Bible, which I strongly urge you to do as the meat-and-potatoes approach to your pulpit ministry.

Third, this plan often dispels that oppressive feeling of pressure and stress that the main preaching pastor feels each week. We still have to do the same amount of sermon prep labor in a given week. And yet knowing on Monday that this coming Sunday’s sermon is already written changes your outlook. It is absolutely liberating.

How Do I Get There?

When I share this concept with other preachers, I usually get two responses. First, they say, “Wow! That’s amazing!” And then they say, “I could never do that.” How could a preacher writing sermons week to week ever move to this model?

Here’s an idea. Make it a six- to eight-month goal. In the next half-year, plan to have someone else preach for you two or three times, but don’t go away that week on vacation. Ask the youth pastor to preach or swap pulpits with another pastor and just re-preach something at his church that won’t require extra work for you. And then use that free week to start working on two sermons at once. And then do it again a few months later and, voila! You’re now working on three sermons at once.

Inevitably crazy weeks happen, and I fall off the three-sermons-at-once pace. Even as I write this article, I’m behind on the schedule. I’m now only doing two texts at once this week. But I’m still way ahead, and in a couple weeks I will have an opportunity to catch back up.

Even if you’re an associate pastor who preaches infrequently, you can use this method. If you know you’re going to be preaching on a certain date, then start chipping away at your sermon three weeks ahead of time, doing one phase each week.

Give it a try. With a little discipline and patience, you can break out of the week-to-week writing pace and give your heart and mind room to breathe. Who knows? It just might improve your pulpit ministry.

Chapell Greear McKinley

How to Preach Books of the Bible You Don’t Like

How do you preach a passage you don’t particularly like? Many pastors, of course, would just find a different one. But for those committed to expository preaching, sometimes the text staring you in the face isn’t one you would’ve picked.

“If I don’t like a passage it’s usually because I either don’t understand it or don’t see how I’m going to preach it,” Mike McKinley explains in a new roundtable video with Bryan Chapell and J. D. Greear. Yet time and again, the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia observes, ”I’ve learned God is pleased to use things that don’t impress me.”

“If I understand what the Lord is saying but just don’t like it, I have to learn to love it,” says Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. “I’ve got to try to figure out the reason God put it there and then fall in love with that reason.”

“I look back on my early years and am embarrassed by how little confidence I had in the Word of God,” admits Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina. ”But though there have been books of the Bible I didn’t think I would like, I can honestly say I’ve never preached one that didn’t prove to be profound and life-changing.”

Watch the full nine-minute video to see these pastors discuss Monday morning terror, why Chapell bowed out before finishing Daniel, when application unburdens, and more.

Difficult parts of Scripture from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

‘Non-Shepherding’ Pastors: Option or Oxymoron?

Are “non-shepherding” pastors ever legitimate? You know, ministers who, due to other commitments (such as preaching) abstain from counseling and visitation and other life-on-life ministry during the week. Apart from perhaps a brief window on Sundays, they’re essentially inaccessible.

“It’s never okay to have a non-shepherding pastor,” J. D. Greear insists, since you “can’t separate those roles [shepherd and pastor] God has joined together.” Nevertheless, the pastor of North Carolina’s 4,000-plus-member The Summit Church admits, this principle will look different according to context.

“These duties are wed in Scripture,” notes Bryan Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. He points to Paul’s instructive words: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8). Like Greear, though, Chapell admits there will be different “gifts” and “degrees of calling” when it comes to shepherding and proclamation.

“It’s good to know your own personality so that you’ll be able to work against your weaknesses,” adds Mike McKinley, pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia. As an introvert, he’s acutely aware that “books are easier to love than people.”

Just because you can’t pastor everyone doesn’t exempt you from pastoring anyone. Indeed, despite the priority of preaching, you won’t be “half the preacher you ought to be if you’re not individually involved in people’s lives.”

Watch the full seven-minute video to hear these pastors discuss generational shifts in expectation, the place of preaching, multiplying leaders, and more.

“Non-Shepherding” Pastors from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

The Danger of Self-Awareness in Preaching

I once heard John Piper say in an interview, “Self-consciousness is the curse of the preacher.” The context of the conversation was concerning the infamous “gesturing” of Piper in the pulpit. He made clear that he does not practice, plan, or otherwise pay attention to that stuff. Furthermore, it would be deadly if he did.

crystal_spurgeon-300x221By self-awareness I mean the unhealthy fixation of the preacher upon himself. When the preacher is thinking about himself before he is preaching, when he is preaching, and after he is preaching, then he is dangerously self-aware.

And why would it be a danger for the preacher?

1. It could divert his focus.

The task of the preacher is to communicate God’s Word in such a way that his hearers will be captivated with the greatness of God. To this end the preacher must be focused on God. He must be enveloped in the majesty of God and speak as one who is personally impressed with him.

If the pastor spends his time trying hit the perfect inflection, making the right gesture, telling the right kind of story, or making the perfect face, then he is distracted. I have heard of some men who weekly watch videos of their sermons to improve. Doubtless some of this study can be helpful. But if you are breaking down your motions with the detail of an NFL commentator, then your focus may be off.

2. It may detract from God’s power.

The logic goes something like this: If we could just improve our craft a bit then perhaps they will trust and treasure Christ. But conversion and growth does not work this way. God has chosen to use the weak things—like imperfect people preaching—to show his power (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-31). In this weakness God shows himself powerful.

So by all means, try to remove needless distractions. However, do not seek to make the message more powerful by putting some air in the gospel sails. You can’t do it. It will inevitably deviate from God’s plan and detract from his power.

3. It may lead to pragmatism and manipulation. 

I have often wondered how some preachers started doing certain things while preaching. Some guys wear outlandish clothing, say shocking things, and even deploy props on stage during their sermons. How does this happen? Nobody just wakes up on a Sunday morning and says, “I think I’ll ride my motorcycle to the pulpit today.” People don’t jump to pragmatism overnight.

I believe they really want to be effective. You can see how this type of thing could dangerously progress. The preacher’s unhealthy fixation upon himself can lead him down unexpected roads.

We know that manipulation has always been a pulpit felony. If the preacher is manufacturing emotion in himself or his hearers only to get a response (however “good” his end-goal) he must repent. Preachers, of all people, must not manipulate people. We proclaim truth!

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:2 )

4. It may be quenching the Holy Spirit.

Another way preachers could be too self-aware is to try to defuse emotion in the pulpit. Some guys are greatly moved with emotion, even to tears, while preaching. There’s nothing wrong with this response. However, in his unhealthy fixation upon himself the preacher may try to resist this emotion. But if he is genuinely moved by God the Holy Spirit, how can he suppress being moved? Isn’t this hypocritical?

Think about it: we preach and pray for “God to work in people’s lives” only to resist him in our own? What an insult to the Trinity for me to mitigate the divine passion for his glory and honor by trying to preserve and promote my own! Being too aware of self could lead to a lack of awareness of the Holy Spirit.

Bottom Line

When a preacher fixates on himself, his preaching becomes a personal performance rather than proclamation of God’s Word. And the preacher can never let himself become the spectacle. He cannot be the show. He gets out of the way by being wrapped up in and carried away in the God he proclaims. I think this is what God the Holy Spirit is doing when he uses the preacher’s personality and expressiveness to serve the Word of God. As Piper teaches:

You want the significance of what you are saying to be seen and felt, and I suppose it is largely a personality thing as to how much expressiveness you give with your voice and how much expressiveness you give with you body. But for me, it is just who I am and what I do and it is part, it is just part of a language.

Be yourself and don’t be too conscious of yourself. Just preach the Word of God.


The Problem with Polemical Preaching

There are many ways to impair a sermon and muffle a ministry. Unsuspecting pastors have been doing it for centuries. One such way is by means of polemics. Polemics, strictly speaking, is a strongly written or verbal argument against another position. Polemical preaching then would be a sermon that goes after a particular practice or doctrine held by another person or institution.

LLoyd-JonesMartyn Lloyd-Jones called polemical preaching “thorny.” On the one hand, preachers can go wrong by being too weak, not adequately refuting the error of those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:15). On the other hand a preacher can become consumed with calling everyone and everything out. We now have ministries, churches, even websites that seem to build their identity on their reaction to error. After all, we live in a time that some have called the most undiscerning period in history, which means some preachers will undertake polemical preaching and ministry. But defending truth against error is only one part of faithful preaching. The question is not whether there is a place for polemical preaching but whether someone can do too much of it.

Some would say no. In fact, Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) interacted with them in his classic book Preaching and Preachers. In his chapter “What to Avoid” he speaks of a day-long conversation with a well-known preacher. MLJ talks about how he, unlike his friend, tended to avoid and rather dislike the type of preaching that “made mincemeat” of other preachers. In what follows I interact with and summarize MLJ’s points. They remain fresh for us today.

We want to win people, not destroy them.

Proponents of this type of preaching will often point out that even Paul opposed Peter in Galatians 2. Lloyd-Jones relays his response to this argument:

Yes I know that Paul tells that he had done that, but . . . I am interested in the result. I notice that the result of Paul’s dealing with Peter, his attacking him to the face at Antioch, was that he persuaded Peter that he was wrong and won him to his position. I note that Peter later on in life in his second epistle expresses his great admiration of the apostle Paul and his writings. Can you say the same about the people whom you attack?

Sometimes this type of preaching can get away from the goal of restoration and holiness. In the name of discernment, we could unwittingly preach in such a way that is unbecoming of the gospel. Seeking life change takes thoughtfulness and care.

Be careful that you are not knife-happy.

As a trained medical doctor, MLJ responded to the concern that preachers must recognize and remove cancer in the church. Just like a surgeon needs to quickly remove cancer from the body, the act of preaching should remove cancer from the church.

MLJ deftly replied: “There is such a thing as developing a ‘surgical mentality,’ or becoming what is described as ‘knife-happy.'” Before having surgery you would be wise to talk with your general doctor and not to the surgeon alone. You should not be surprised that a surgeon might well, like to do surgery.

Sure, aberrant teaching and living needs to be excised from the church. At the same time the pastor should be careful that he is not becoming “knife-happy” in his preaching. There are other ways to treat such ailments in the body than simply having surgery (such as counseling, discipleship, writing, prayer meetings, and so on).

While conflict draws crowds it does not build churches.

MLJ’s friend later appealed to the fact that such preaching increases his popularity and influence. We see this trend in our day as well. I could write 10 articles on my blog about the glory of Christ and see little excitement. However, if I were to write about a particular conflict or controversial subject or figure, the traffic skyrockets. MLJ would say to us, “I have noticed always that whenever there are two dogs fighting that a crowd always gathers. There are people who always enjoy a fight so I am not surprised that your circulation goes up.”

People will flock to conflict; we feed upon it in our flesh. But a crowd does not necessarily indicate actual gospel growth. In fact, ministries and pulpits built upon polemics tend to become more and more popular even as they narrow. Eventually, though, they alienate everyone else. This is the sad story that MLJ tells of the pastor in this conversation. He ends up “in isolation, and his church, from having been a great church was reduced in size and influence.”

While a pastor cannot and should not avoid polemics in his preaching he must not be characterized by them (1 Tim. 3:3; 6:4). There is a such thing as too much. This is a subjective line, to be sure. It is difficult to discern. However, in view of his goal of presenting every man complete in Christ (Col. 1:28), the pastor will prayerfully, thoughtfully, and tactfully pick his battles and how they should be waged. In this process he will aim to stay clear of the polemical vortex that tempts his flesh and undermines his preaching.

Young Pastor, Here’s What I Wish I’d Known

What do you wish someone had told you when you were first entering the ministry?

“I wish I’d known how easily Satan’s attacks could bring me to a state of discouragement,” reflects Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, in a new roundtable video with David Helm and J. D. Greear. “I’ve since learned how much he’ll use my sins, others’ sins, and unmet expectations to get me down and out of the game.”

“The longevity of faithful service is the way God prepares us to do the work,” observes Helm, lead pastor of the Hyde Park congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago. “There are no shortcuts. Give your heart to Christ’s people. Pastoring is a people work.” Moreover, adds Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina, “I wish I’d anticipated how much pulpit ministry would exacerbate certain idols like the approval of man.”

Watch the full six-minute video to hear these seasoned pastors discuss wilderness battles, the lesson of Hezekiah, changing the world, and more. Then, join the conversation and share what you wish someone had told you when you were starting out.

Advice for Young Pastors from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

How to Preach a Stale Sermon

Sermon preparation is a delight and chore for the pastor. It is a delight because we love the Word of God and the people of God. After all, God uses preaching to initiate and sustain the joyful worship of his people, which in turn glorifies God (2 Tim. 3-4).

It is also a chore. This is because sermon prep is hard work. Thorny interpretive issues, homiletical hurdles, and church family dynamics often make sermon preparation difficult.

But there is another aspect of sermon prep that is too often either assumed or neglected. I am talking about the preparation of the pastor’s heart to actually preach the sermon. Preparing a sermon is not only about exegesis, reading commentaries, articulating propositions, and finding appropriate illustrations. Sermon preparation is also about personally discovering, digesting, and delighting in the truth.

This crucial aspect of preparation can be neglected or assumed. We might assume that the text is in us because we have read it, researched commentaries, and written our message. However, this is a costly leap. Instead of assuming that the text is in us, we must ensure that it is. Such subtle, oft-neglected oversight in preparation can become a foe to our preaching.

So why is it dangerous to neglect preaching the sermon to your own heart?

By not engaging your heart in preparation you neglect the spiritual benefit to your own soul.

The days of preparation during the week are like the laying down rocks in a riverbed—they keep the water moving quickly downstream. This crucial aspect of preparation prevents your heart from becoming a spiritual swamp.

Bypassing the heart in preparation will lead to your bypassing the heart in proclamation.

If you have spent time simply gathering facts then you will likely only relay facts to your hearers. You will become a lot like a spiritual tour guide or documentary narrator. This is not preaching. Just as there is a big difference between preaching about the Word and preaching the Word, there is a difference between preaching about people and to people.

Charles Spurgeon made the point this way:

To preach the gospel is not to talk about what the gospel is, but to preach it into the heart, not by your own might, but by the influence of the Holy Ghost—not to stand and talk as if we were speaking to the angel Gabriel, and telling him certain things, but to speak as man to man and pour our heart in to our fellow’s heart. This I take it, is to preach the gospel, and not to mumble some dry manuscript over on Sunday morning or Sunday evening. . . . Nay; to preach the gospel is to proclaim with trumpet tongue and flaming zeal the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus, so that men may hear, and understanding, may turn to God with full purpose of heart. This is to preach the gospel.

This type of preaching comes out of a heart that has engaged with the text; he has discovered it, digested it, and even when preaching, delighted in it.

You will teach people to know things without feeling them.

It is common for people today to say they know something because they feel it. As Christians we are supposed to feel because we know something. In other words, the truth affects our mind and heart. When we preach we are teaching more than the text, we are teaching what we feel about it. We are communicating by our words and tone the depth of impact into our own heart. The only thing worse than never delighting in the truth is to see that you trained your people to do the same. May it never be.

So how can you deal with a stale heart in preaching?


Ask God as you study the text, “What do you want to teach me?” How does this passage “reprove, rebuke, exhort, and train” me (2 Tim. 3:16)? Keep asking questions. Prayerfully think through the implications for your life and the life of your church.


Jacob wrestled and refused to let go until he was blessed. Pastors love to spiritualize things, so here’s one: grab hold of that passage and pray. Refuse to let go of it until you are blessed with the divine privilege of delighting in the Word of God and the God of the Word (Ps. 119:47, 143, 174).


In order to digest the truth of the passage we must chew on it. Gather together the nuggets of discovery and delight and carry them around with you all day. Let the truths be like a spiritual lozenge in your mouth all day. Soon it will be in you.


I have been discouraged about the staleness of my own heart before preaching. Without fail, when I sit down and start talking to others, including my own children, I feel the increased sense of burden for them and excitement to proclaim God’s truth to them. I know that Mark Dever and others regularly meet with people in their church to gain insight into application. You might be preaching stale sermons because you don’t really know the people in your church.

The preparation process begins as soon as the preacher closes in prayer following the sermon. In less than 168 hours he will again be flanked behind the sacred desk to proclaim God’s Word. May those who preach not neglect their own hearts in view of reaching others.

Preach to the Affections, Don’t Manipulate Them

Should preachers aim for the affections? Is this even possible without resorting to manipulation techniques? In a new roundtable video, John Piper, Voddie Baucham, and Miguel Núñez—all Council members for The Gospel Coalition—explore differences between “working the crowd” and awakening authentic, God-honoring emotion.

“As long as preaching unpacks the greatness of God, the emotions should be moved,” Núñez observes. Faithful exposition, then, is a excellent way to cultivate godly affection and safeguard against squalid manipulation.

A bored preacher misrepresents the God he proclaims, Piper adds, since God is not boring. Moreover, he explains, “the difference between emotion and emotionalism is whether you’ve awakened it with truth.”

Baucham references a complaint sometimes voiced in more traditionally emotional (e.g., black and Latino) cultures that emphasizing truth and theology amounts to “denying your culture, your heritage, your ethnicity.” But the call to awaken affections with biblical truth is not culturally specific. As Piper quips, “I want to be known as the best black preacher there ever was.”

Watch the full 12-minute video to hear these three preachers discuss Grand Canyon moments, when God looks boring, and more.

Preaching to the Affections from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

The Biggest Mistakes Old Preachers Make

We’ve considered some of the biggest mistakes new preachers make. But what about older preachers? Which snares tend to threaten the seasoned?

“Resting on your laurels” at the expense of making progress can be tempting, Bryan Chapell observes in a new roundtable video with Paul Tripp and Russell Moore. “It’s easy to keep returning to the familiar rather than pressing on in personal growth and understanding.” According to Moore, another trap is viewing the younger generation as a threat. Bitterness and undue criticism of younger pastors, he suggests, are often rooted in a nostalgic view of the past that’s simply unrealistic.

Additionally, veteran preachers must beware of overfamiliarity, of losing their awe. “The more you see something, the less you really see it,” Tripp explains. “And the more you’re around something, the less you really celebrate it.” No less dangerous, he adds, is the sense of “arrival” that can emerge in which “knowledge, skill, and experience begin to define maturity in your eyes.”

Watch the full seven-minute video to see these experienced preachers discuss weariness, numbness, Messiah complexes, and more.

Mistakes Old Preachers Make from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.