Preaching for My Own Ego

February 23, 2015

Gary Burge shares this account in his book Interpreting the Gospel of John:

As a newly-ordained Presbyterian minister I served as interim pastor at a small church in Appalachian Tennessee. This was not difficult since church responsibilities fit well with my college teaching schedule. But since I only had begun to teach, I was enamored with the disciplines of the “academy.” My congregation heard far too much about New Testament theology and interpretation. This church was nestled in a scenic valley where a number of outsiders had summer homes. When they came to church, everyone–including the preacher–noticed. At the start of one service I noticed that the famous Old Testament scholar, James Mays from Union Seminary in Richmond, was in the congregation. Panic set in. The sermon seemed too simple for him. Before I knew it my sermon was explaining how the traditions of the halachah of first-century Judaism affected the transmission of the Synoptics.

I’m not sure if Dr. Mays was impressed (he never came back), but the congregation in its wisdom realized what was going on: I was preaching for my own ego rather than for the needs of the people. My hard-won insights from Jewish literature were being flagged before my audience like so many credentials. Fortunately the people of East Tennessee are gracious, patient and wise–they never held such excesses against me.

Exegesis is the scaffolding of the building, not the building itself. When used correctly, exegesis becomes virtually invisible from inside the cathedral.

I wish I could say I’ve never given in to the temptation to parade my exegesis, but I have.

That’s why I have to keep coming back to this fundamental and corrective question when deciding what to include and exclude from my sermon: Why am I giving my audience this information? Why am I telling them this? Is it for their benefit or mine? Is it intended to help them understand the text better or confirm their belief in a particular doctrine by helping them see how it is rooted in the text (and context) of Scripture? Or am I on a homiletical and mininisterial ego trip?

God, deliver us from preaching that is self-exalting, and give us more of the spirit of John the Baptist: He must increase, but I must decrease.

Kerry McGonigal

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In Adam by birth but in Christ by grace. That's my story. Husband to one and father of three. Pastor, homiletics teacher, and passionate proponent of expository preaching. If you like what you've read and want to be notified of future posts, take a second and subscribe via RSS or email (on the right sidebar). Opinions expressed here are my own.

10 responses to Preaching for My Own Ego

  1. Good stuff, Kerry. I needed this today.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this, Pastor Kerry. Your question is spot-on: Why am I doing this?

  3. Thanks, Kerry, for this reminder. We must preach for the glory of God, not glory from men.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I struggle in the following 2 ways…

    1 – More than trying to impress a particular someone in the crowd, I struggle with who is NOT there. There have been times where I have glanced at the nursery/usher/hostess schedule and inwardly sighed in disappointment or frustration because I *know* the need to hear this sermon. How boastful.

    2 – When “impressive” people are present in the congregation I’m more concerned about what they will say to other preachers/churches about my ability to preach so my name will spread. How fearful and proud.

    Thanks for the needed reminder to preach for the glorification of ONE (Jesus Christ!).

    • I hear ya, Jonas. It’s amazing how attendance (who’s there and who’s not) can affect a preacher’s whole frame of mind and approach to preaching. As a homiletics teacher I teach the ideal (or standard) in class and critique students based on how well they live up to that ideal, so I wrestle with this constantly. Thankful for God’s grace in pointing out pride and helping me to preach Christ in message, manner, *and motive*.

  5. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement, men. Y’all might be interested in reading Stephen Smith’s Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit sometime. We preach the cross and apply it to others, and we apply the cross to ourselves as we preach to others.

  6. Great thoughts! Jesus’ model of incarnational humility ought to inform how we share the Gospel from the pulpit. I’m reminded of Spurgeon: “Why is it that God has blessed other men to the stirring of the people, to the bringing about of spiritual revivals, to the renewal of the power of godliness? We believe it has always been owing to this—under God’s Spirit—that they have adopted the phraseology of the people, and have not been ashamed to be despised because they talked as common people did.” (

  7. A great word for a great time to meet great needs! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Greetings from India! This is brilliant stuff…I am a lay preacher and I depend a lot on the material covered in sermons delivered by BJU faculty (available online) in addition to online commentaries to prepare for my Bible studies. I agree with Jonas. Most of the times, I am involved in conducting a Bible study that includes just 3 people (including me). What keeps me going is this thought: If two people are standing next to me and discussing about me, what would be my response? I’ll stop everything that I am doing and carefully listen to what those people are talking about me. Similarly, if a preacher is Christ-centric in his message, wouldn’t Christ be keenly interested in what the preacher is talking about Him? My biggest audience is Christ, and I must do my best in order to please Him, and not care how many or what kind of people are around. God, by His sovereign will, chooses who the audience will be on a particular day and I must be faithful to Him and to them in speaking only that which is true and necessary.

    I am sure this blog is going to be a great help to me. Thank you Pastor Kerry!

    • Thanks for stopping by my blog, Roshan, and for your good thoughts and interaction. I trust the posts here will encourage and equip you for the work of Christ-centered preaching.