Second person preaching

“Many preachers are tempted to identify themselves with the congregation in preaching, rather than with God. This may be the most significant reason for their feeling ill at ease in speaking to their congregation in the second person. Such preachers do not want their people to get the impression that the preacher is holier than them — for preachers know they are not . . . If a man, even for the most noble of motives, identifies himself primarily with the congregation in preaching, rather than with God, the best he will be able to do is speak as one sinner to other sinners about God. He will not be able to speak from God to them” (Wagner, Tongues Aflame, p. 74).

So what do you think?

15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by James Sizemore on June 2, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I can appreciate the author’s view and understand his reasoning, but preaching is not that “cut & dried”. My basic approach is to start at the “earthly” and end at the “heavenly”. The “earthly” is me getting in and identifying with the audience. The “heavenly” is speaking & pointing to higher things in Christ. It is a balancing act. To much emphasis on the “earthly” (first person) brings identification and acceptance but no transformation. To soon to the “heavenly” (or second person) leaves the hearer wondering how to make the personal connection, especially with a disconnected generation. Another thing that you have to take into consideration is the type of message being preached. Evangelistic, general teaching or correction to a congregation all require a different approach.

  2. yeah, i appreciate what the author is saying as well…but think it is a bit off base.

    it is possible to say, “thus saith the Lord, you fail at this, i fail at this, Christ did not fail at this, now, through the power of Christ, let’s go do this.”

  3. Posted by Jerry Wragg on June 2, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Over-thinking it a bit it seems…

  4. Posted by Chris Pixley on June 2, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Doesn’t the preacher need to identify with both to a certain extent? After all, he is called upon to be God’s spokesman, yet at the same time is one who is desperately in need of the grace that he so eloquently expounds.

  5. I have almost zero experience preaching, but it seems to me that there is a lot more authority with the approach of “thus saith the Lord.” I think that there are times for both approaches, and probably often within the same message as Chris pointed out.

    It seems to me that ultimately the preacher is to get people to the place where if they have a problem with the message they need to take it up with God because of what He wrote in His Word. That is a lot more powerful with the second person when it is clearly tied to an exhortation in the Word.

  6. Posted by Hayden on June 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    The time for you to work out the ‘me’ and the ‘i’ of the application is in your study dear pastoral friend, not the pulpit. The pulpit is not the confessional

    • Posted by James Sizemore on June 3, 2009 at 8:00 am

      It’s unique how that Paul shared his feelings and was transparent in his writings to the churches and yet that didn’t diminish his authority as a minister. Yet today we have bought into the idea of being separate in the pulpit from who we are. Granted the pulpit is not a confessional or a it’s “all about me” session, but powerful preaching is still when “the Word becomes flesh”. If not reconciled this can lead to major identity issues for the minister.

      • Posted by Hayden on June 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm


        A great book to read on this topic is “Jesus Christ, Prince of Preachers” by Mike Abendroth, especially Chapter 5 “Jesus was a herald”.

        Remember, in the pulpit you are “God’s mouthpiece”.

        The people can identify with you when you visit them in their homes and when you get to know them personally. That is much more personal.

  7. Posted by Rick on June 2, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Jesus Christ, the Prince of Preachers has the same thought. God has preached to you in the preparation and development of the message, now its your turn to preach to them.

  8. Re: Second Person Preaching…

    It’s worth considering why, when someone refers to another person as “preaching,” that this is usually not intended as a compliment. Far, far too much American preaching is simply moralism with biblical references.
    Good parenting, like good preaching, stands beside rather than over, pointing the way and encouraging.
    The posture of preaching should never suggest some (egalitarian) timidness or lack of authority; however, the posture of the preacher should also represent that of a follower: “follow me as I follow Christ.”

  9. Posted by Hayden on June 5, 2009 at 8:30 am


    The reason that people have a problem with preaching is a sinful desire not to come under the authority of another. It is rampant in our society! The preacher is not the one whose authority others must come under but the Word of God. When the Pastor gets up and shares thoughts and struggles, they cloud the message which should be front and center. When the pulpit becomes the confessional, who is on display?

    I would suggest that you look at three books on preaching that really make this point clear

    Preaching and Preachers D. Martyn-Llyod Jones
    Jesus Christ the Prince of Preachers by Mike Abendroth
    Preaching that Changes Lives by Michael Faberez

    This is an area that we must not bend to the trends of society on! Do I occasionally share things that I have struggled with in the past from the pulpit, yes. Would I make it a habit? Absolutely not!

    We are those who are under authority in the pulpit and our mandate for preaching is clear. Why are we so afraid to use the second person imperative? We is so general and can mean anyone. You is direct and to the heart of the matter.

    • Posted by James Sizemore on June 5, 2009 at 9:38 am

      I think we may be saying the same thing but expressing it differently. I know when I say being transparent and open…I don’t mean turning the pulpit into a confessional or making it weak full of human personality. However, I pastor in inner-city Philadelphia and minister to a low to middle class congregation. “Keeping it Real” is their mantra. Starchy distant preaching does not connect regardless of the exegesis. They know the Word of God is “Thus says the Lord” because the transformation in their life testifies of that. I guess we are looking at the issue of maybe how culture affects presentation without effecting content and intent?

      • Posted by Hayden on June 5, 2009 at 11:31 am

        I pastor is a small town outside of a college (University of Florida) that has a strange mix of people (from New Agers, to very poor black families in the rural South kind of way). I know what you are saying. My college students like me to ‘keep it real’ as well.

        Expository preaching is not inherently distant. As a matter of fact, if it is just explaining things without connecting it to the lives of the hearers it is NOT expository preaching.

        If it is just word studies, and detached facts, it is not expository preaching.

        The reason that I am animate about trying to use the second person imperative so much is that it is easy to say ‘we’ and the preaching of the word be about no one in particular. If ‘we’ all have this problem and ‘we’ all need to change, then ‘we’ should get to it. ‘We’ is far too general in preaching for the most part.

        When you say ‘you’ the person knows that this is directed to them. Imagine if Nathan the prophet went in and said to David, ‘We have a problem, someone committed adultery’ and just left it at that? Nathan said ‘You da’ man!’ and God used it to cut David to the core.

        Our job in the pulpit is to ‘bridge the gap’ between the two worlds’ (the modern and the ancient, I think John Stott said that) by explaining what the text means and connecting it to the the lives of those who would hear it, plainly, and using the second person imperative. This does not ever mean that we should not use the word ‘we’ in the pulpit, I just think that we should use it sparingly.

        Many blessings on your ministry in Philly.

  10. It seems a reading of the New Testament will find that the authors did both–sometimes first person, sometimes second (even third person). I think that means that we ought to do both as well, depending on the context (of both the passage being delivered, as well as the audience).

    That being said, I do think the second person is under-utilized in much modern preaching. Spurgeon certainly didn’t under utilize it. It is an effective way to communicate the fact that the Word requires response and action. Every sermon should have a “you must” in there somewhere.

  11. I use 1st person “I” when I am sharing what God has laid on my heart to preach or share e.g. “I believe this is what the Lord is saying to us”

    I often use 2nd person plural “we” rather than “you”, especially when it comes to application, response and areas that we need to confess, repent and change e.g. “How should we respond in light of this verse/passage?”

    It depends on which portion of your sermon you are dealing with, namely the exegesis, content of a passage e.g. narrative or prescriptive letters. Generally, the message I preach is often as much a message to myself as well as to the congregation.

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