Permit me a brief word about a disconcerting trend I see in young, and sometimes very popular, preachers. I mention this concern knowing full well my own temptation to it. Let me pose the problem as a question:

Preacher, are you at your best when you are closest to the text?

Too many preachers are at their best when they are telling a personal anecdote or ripping into some sacred cow or riffing on in a humorous fashion. There is a time for all of that, but we ought to beware if those times are when we are at our best. We can be orthodox preachers of good, gospel truths and still tickle people’s ears. If we’re not careful, we’ll train the large conference audience and our local congregation that the time to really pay attention is when we start drifting not when we start digging.

“Got it. Understood. Text means this, not that. Sound good. Now get back to that funny, over the top, in your face thing you do.”

I’ve done that thing; probably will again. If the rant is honest and true, the Lord can use it. But, again, I repeat myself, it must not be the best we have. The congregation should be most aflame with gospel zeal when they are beholding new things in the chapters and verses at the end of their noses. God uses all of the preacher–personality, humor, gestures–all of us. But the indelible impression left on our people must be a sense of the presence of God arising from careful attention to the word of God. If the best stuff we have every Sunday is disconnected from our hard won exegetical work, our people will learn to trust us and not the Book. They will look forward to our new antics, not our new discoveries in the text.

Ask yourself this Saturday: “Can I make my best point–the one I’m most excited about, the one I can’t wait to deliver–without noting anything from this week’s passage?” Everything you want to say isn’t everything you should say. We must be constrained by what we can sincerely say from these verses. If we want fresh power from the pulpit let us labor to demonstrate that our most passionate appeals come from the most precise exposition.

The best preacher is the preacher who is at his best when he is closest to the text.

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48 thoughts on “The Preacher at His Best”

  1. Joe Shannon says:

    Rev. Kev,

    All I can say is, “thanks!” I needed this exact word and this exact time.

  2. David says:

    Great thoughts. I think too that sometimes we justify our passion for what we’re preaching because we are in the habit of making the Bible say what we want it to say, so YES! We are getting excited about what God is telling us! When really we’re just excited about what we have made the Bible say for us. If we can’t claim our own authority, we will make the Bible say what we can’t say for ourselves, and do so with great vitality. Our churches need to be full of discerning people!

  3. Wesley says:

    Appreciate this bro. I too have this tendency which i think comes out of a place at times of wanting people to see how relevant, exciting and current the Scriptures are. But i always want to return to the truth that the power to change lives and what i want to leave people with is the Word and the God it proclaims. If an illustration can help keep that truth in their minds then great, but it should still be the truth presented that they hold on to.
    God’s peace –

  4. “The best preacher is the preacher who is at his best when he is closest to the text.”

    Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

    and that’s a beautiful thing!
    Soli Deo Gloria

  5. Steve says:

    Sadly not just a problem for young, popular preachers.

  6. Abram K-J says:

    Agreed! With minor addition of preacher at his best or preacher at *her* best.

    –another GCTSer

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    And this is the whole problem with the ‘Driscoll worship’. He does so much of just that and people cherish it.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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