Preachers who Yell

A few weeks ago when leaving our Sunday morning service, a lady remarked to my wife how good the sermon was that morning, and that she really needed to hear it.  She finished up the conversation with,  "I thought he was going to yell at us there for a minute"

Since my wife shared that with me I've been thinking about preachers and yelling.  I'm not one prone to raise my voice.  I'm a pretty dry person by nature, and by humor, and my personality comes out in my preaching.  That sounds exciting to listen to doesn't it?  I'm a great salesman for myself.

But the remark did get me thinking about some other encounters I had in the past year regarding peoples remarks on styles of preaching.  We had a dear friend of mine in for our Spring Bible Conference.  He and his wife poured their hearts out to us, and after it was over one person told me "They don't' make preachers like they used to." ( He meant he didn't like the preacher)

It seems when people come to a service, they expect to hear things a certain way. And when things don't go that way they feel let down. There's  a certain crowd also that really wants to "preached to" by a yelling, screaming, red-faced preacher.  When leaving that church you know you've been preached at!  In fact, some feel that without that style it's not really preaching.

 I remember a preacher I had as a child who yelled a lot.  I was very small and mostly remember him being very red faced.  I'm sure you can share stories of pastors who yelled, screamed, called people out, and more in the name of preaching.  And stories of preachers so boring it was all you could do to stay awake every Sunday.  No naming names, please.

I had been musing on these things when I read the chapter in John Piper's Brothers We Are Not Professionals on pursuing the tone of the text.   (PDF for Whole Book)  Each preacher has his own personality,  and Phillip Brooks famously said that preaching is "truth through personality"  The personality of a pastor has a large bearing on how he presents in a sermon, and how the text is received by the congregation.  But what kind of tone should a pastor aim for?

"By tone, I mean the feel that it has.  The spirit it emits.  The emotional quality.  The affectional tenor.  The mood.  Every personality has a more or less characteristic tone.  That is part of what personality is.  Some personalities play a small repertoire of emotional instruments, while others play a large repertoire."

If the text shapes the tone as Piper suggests, then I don't think a pastor should yell every sermon.  If you yell and scream every sermon you might need to broaden the texts you preach from.  Likewise, if you never raise your voice at the sin in our lives that separates us from God, you might need to broaden your preaching texts as well.

Pastors should work hard when preaching to display the range of emotion that scripture does.  This can only be done I believe by soaking yourself in the text for an extended period of time.  And by that I don't mean spending 20 minutes in it on Thursday for a Sunday sermon.  Immerse yourself in God's word, in the passage you are to share God's truth from.  You will only benefit from spending time in God's word, as it does not return void,


Piper lists ten thoughts on tone in preaching, all of which have bearing on preacher.  This section comes from the Desiring God blog post on the subject, an almost verbatim transcript of the chapter.  

  1. Texts have meaning, and texts have tone. Consider the tonal difference between, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden . . .” and “Woe to you, blind guides . . .You blind fools!” The preacher should embody, not mute, these tones.
  2. Nevertheless, just as the meanings of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by larger biblical themes, and by the gospel of grace, so also the tones of texts are enlarged and completed and given a new twist by these realities. A totally dark jigsaw-puzzle piece may, in the big picture, be a part of the pupil of a bright and shining eye.
  3. The grace of God in the gospel turns everything into hope for those who believe. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that . . . we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). Therefore, all the various tones of texts (let them resound!) resolve into the infinitely varied tones of hope, for those who believe in Jesus.
  4. If there is a danger of not hearing the tone of gospel hope, emerging from the thunder and lightening of Scripture, there is also a danger of being so fixed on what we think hope sounds like, that we mute the emotional symphony of a thousand texts. Don’t do it. Let the tone grip you. Let it carry you. Embody the tone of the text and the gospel dénouement.
  5. But it’s not just the gospel of grace that should inform how we embody the tone of texts. We are all prone to insert our own personalities at this point and assume that our hopeful tone is the hopeful tone. We think ourtender is the tender. Our warmth is the warmth.
    This is why I said our capturing of the tone of the text should be informed by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. We may simply be wrong about the way we think tenderness and hope and warmth and courage and firmness sound. We do well to marinate our tone-producing hearts in the overall tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles.
  6. Tonal variation is determined in part by the nature and needs of the audience. We may well shout at the drowning man that there is a life preserver behind him. But we would not shout at a man on the edge of a precipice, lest we startle him into losing his balance. Jesus’ tone was different toward the proud Pharisee and the broken sinner.
  7. But audiences are usually mixed with one person susceptible to one tone and one susceptible to another. This is one reason why being in the pulpit week in and week out for years is a good thing. The biblical symphony of tones can be played more fully over time. The tone one week may hurt. The next it may help.
  8. There is a call on preachers to think of cultural impact and not just personal impact. In some ways our culture may be losing the ability to feel some biblical tones that are crucial in feeling the greatness of God and the glory of the gospel. The gospel brings together transcendent, terrible, horrific, ghastly, tender, sweet, quiet, intimate, personal realities, that for many may seem utterly inimical. Our calling is to seek ways of saying and embodying these clashing tones in a way that they sound like the compelling music.
  9. In the end, when a preacher expresses a fitting tone, it is the work of God; and when a listener receives his tone as proper and compelling, it is another work of God.
  10. So we pray. O Lord, come and shape our hearts and minds with the truth and the tone of every text. Let every text have its true tone in preaching. Shape the tone by the gospel climax. Shape it by the tonal balance of Jesus and the apostles. But don’t let it be muted. Let the symphony of your fullness be felt.

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