Your Words Matter When You Preach

By Michael Criner

It could go without saying, but your words matter when you preach … but not only when you preach. They matter when you speak with your spouse, they matter when you talk with your staff, leadership team, congregation …whether private or public!

You know the importance of watching our words, but you really know it when you experience a failure to watch what is said, specifically from the pulpit. Simply put: what you say, and how you say what you say when you preach, matters.

When I was young, I would preach extemporaneously—convincing myself that the Holy Spirit would show me what to say “at that moment.” Besides, studying was overrated! When we were young, we all believed silly things like this (ahem, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa). As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that studying is critical to sermon preparation, and writing out your sentences is equally important work. And (this is big), the Holy Spirit has the ability to guide you into all truth prior to a message during your preparation. And (just as big), as an added reality, in the midst of preaching, the Holy Spirit will prompt you to address something not in your notes or in your manuscript, more often than if you’re preaching “off-the-cuff.”

Why? Your words matter when you preach. This is true for several reasons:

1. Your words reveal your character.

What you say matters because words are outward evidence of inward character … at least that’s what Jesus seems to indicate in Matthew 12:37. When we preach—and speak—our words should be full of grace and joy, peace and compassion, truth and love. It’s the reality that before anything comes out of our mouths, it first was nestled in our hearts.

This may be why Paul exhorts the church to corporate worship in Romans 12:16 saying: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. It’s the last phrase that haunts me. Often, my “sight” isn’t pure or true. I see myself with my best intentions at the forefront, not what is actually true. Many a preacher lack the self-awareness to see whether what they’re saying is wise or foolish.

In my preaching, I must constantly be aware that I will often use my words to boost my opinion of myself. It’s simply a matter of time! I think our tendency is to over-estimate our own ability and wisdom, and we put forth that boasting in our words.

A question to ask yourself is when you share a personal illustration: Are you the hero of the illustration? You shouldn’t be. I used to “pride” myself in my ability to find “awesome” illustrations from my already “awesome” life—only to realize that in our preaching, we often can set up a false reality for people, something nobody can live up to. What we’re really doing is boasting about ourselves, not the Cross!

So use illustrations at liberty, but let them reveal our great need for Jesus, not your great ability as a pastor!

2. Your words result in clarity.

Inevitably, when I think of preaching, I think of 1 Timothy 4:12. Paul instructs young Pastor Timothy: Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. As a youth, I used to champion this verse because of the first part of the verse decrying any comment from an “older church member” by thinking, “Don’t look down on me because I’m young …” I know, I know, such arrogance! Maybe less arrogance and more “youthful enthusiasm.”

But as a pastor, I’ve learned more about the middle and last part of that verse. Pastor, you are to set the example in speech, conduct, love, faith, purity! Setting this example is a high challenge! Impossible, in fact! This is why we should be humble pastors! It’s why we ought to take serious what we are afforded to do week in and week out.

Setting the example is much easier to say than it is to do! Which is my point: Setting the example is only possible when your inward life is a Godward life. If your inward life is anything but Godward, over time, you will set an example, but not the one that will bring lasting returns. If your inward life is anything but Godward, over time, others will see it in the pulpit.

Preaching in such a way results in clarity—your people won’t see a mixed-message if they hear you preach one thing, but do another.

Michael Criner serves as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Bellville, Tex. This article first appeared on his website,