Preaching Articles

Author Jamie Stilson’s book, The Power of Ugly, is all about the grace of God. That is: out of the ugliness of our lives, God’s grace produces something beautiful. In his chapter entitled “Ugly Preaching,” he invites preachers to keep things real and focus on Jesus:

Can someone preach without proper training? In the seventeenth century, the “Pharisees” of the day would put preachers who didn’t have the proper credentials in jail just to keep them quiet. One of the guys that they did this to, John Bunyan, wrote a book called The Pilgrim’s Progress while he was in imprisoned!

Jesus’ disciples blew the minds of the trained religious experts of the time when they spoke with wisdom and authority about the Scriptures. They were just common and uneducated fishermen, ugly in the eyes of the religious professionals. In an attempt to condemn these Ugly Preachers for preaching the message of Jesus, the religious leaders called them “...unschooled, ordinary men,” the only explanation that they could find for their boldness was that they “...had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

By saying this about the disciples, the religious leaders had unknowingly paid them a great compliment. These Ugly Preachers had been accused of hanging out with Jesus! The religious leaders could find no other explanation for how these common fishermen, who had never been to rabbinical school, could know and teach the Scriptures in such a personal and powerful way. Their only conclusion was that this Jesus—who the religious leaders could not seem to keep in the grave—had infected the disciples.

The Apostle Paul is considered one of the smartest men who ever lived, yet he described his preaching this way: “When I came to you brothers [and sisters], I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God…I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2:1-5, emphasis added) That is Ugly Preaching!

This isn’t an excuse for shallow, sloppy, half-hearted, and unprepared preaching that lacks any content. If it’s empty of meaning, it is just noise — no matter how loud you turn it up; volume, sweat, and even technology are not substitutes for the heart of God. The Ugly Preaching that Paul spoke of is preaching that aims at the heart more than the head. It’s not preaching that fills in the blanks on a sermon sheet just to make points—it is preaching that awakens the dead! “...Prophesy to these bones and say to them…come to life.” (Ezek 37:4-5) It is life transforming—world-changing words from God’s heart spoken in the power of the Spirit through humble messengers. Bishop Tom Wright wrote of this type of preaching:

I believe, in other words, that Paul’s gospel, and the doctrine of justification that follows closely and inescapably from it, have the power to do for the world and the church of today what they did in Paul’s own day. Of course, that will demand persons willing to take the risk of copying Paul: of being wise fools, strong weaklings, failures in human terms. If Christians are to preach the gospel, they cannot expect to be exempt from living the gospel.

Let me leave you with a few ingredients for the recipe for Ugly Preaching.

Ugly Preaching is only an overflow of our relationship with God. We must know God and his heart before we can speak for him. This requires that we spend time alone with him, laying our heads on his chest, and listening to his heart.

Ugly Preaching is always preaching the word. Not about it, not points and principles but saying, “This is what the Lord says.” Our authority is never in us, but in the message of Jesus we preach.

Ugly Preaching is a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, not a display of our wisdom. It is not about volume or style; it is about dependency on his Spirit. We prepare as though God is not going to help us, and we preach as though we did not prepare!

Ugly Preaching is a dance before the Father. He is the audience—not the people who are listening. We preach to please only him and refuse to fall into the trap of the fear of man or the bondage of trying to be a people pleaser.

Ugly Preaching must be authentic, real, raw humanity. Pull your pants down and expose your scars, weaknesses, and failures. Ministry in the kingdom flows out of the grace we have discovered through our weaknesses—we are what Henri Nouwen calls “wounded healers.”

Ugly Preaching laughs at ourselves. Humor is humility with a smile. We take God seriously, but we are no big deal, and we are always our best material for sermon illustrations. We tell stupid stories that highlight our weaknesses and the need for his grace. Laughter is medicine, and this broken world needs a huge dose! As John Ortberg says, “People are hungry for joy-bringers.”

Ugly Preaching makes the call to Christ. We preach with the weight of eternity in the balance; people must be called on to decide whom they will serve. As I have often heard Bill Hybels say, “Lost people matter most to God.” We get the great honor to call lost people home, into the welcoming arms of the Father.

Ugly Preaching is what the man healed of blindness did to the religious experts who drilled him for theological answers about Jesus. His defense to them was not based on knowledge or information, but on personal experience. “...Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25) A person with an experience of God’s grace is never at the mercy of someone with an intellectual argument. Anyone who has experienced the life-changing love of Jesus can be an Ugly Preacher—just tell your story.

Ugly Preaching is being willing to be his donkey. Let King Jesus ride you wherever he chooses, to speak to whomever he wishes. Remember that it is never about the donkey, but the One who rides it.

Jamie is the pastor of the Vineyard in Cape Coral, FL. and the author of "The Power of Ugly: A Celebration of Earthy Spirituality." He has been "doing things ugly" for more than 30 years.

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Gordon Dorsey

commented on Jul 2, 2012

AMEN ! shalom iam a pastor of ugly preaching,i was taught to only preach and teach what the word says and not my opinon but YAHVAH(GOD)we as pastors have been selected by GOD to bring forth the word and nothing else.THE church must get back to basic preaching teaching whats in the word.the church is dyingwith all the entertainment preaching.i refuse to entertain the congregation.but to teach them.SHALOM PASTOR DORSEY.

William Whitworth

commented on Jul 2, 2012


Andrew Shields

commented on Jul 2, 2012

I am not sure ugly is the word. I agree with the content and spirit of this article but not the term ugly. How do we as bringers of the light describe our work as ugly.

Ginette Marie Dun-Robin C

commented on Jul 2, 2012

Jesus is God and God is the the GOOD, THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE TRUTH! he humbled himself to share in our humanity! that is not ugly!

Zelebrate Life

commented on Jul 2, 2012

thanks for this very affirming article to "ugly" preachers like us who feel the passion to share our story yet feel unsure and insecure whether we are fit enough to do it. yes, indeed.. it is never about me... it's always about Jesus. none of me but all of him. I'm sharing the insights to my small group.

Rev. Wayne Claxton

commented on Jul 2, 2012

Nothing like being real before the ppl..We are not called to manufacture perfect sermons. Give the hungry real "soul" food. Bang bang, they're feed.

Evang.roger Culwell

commented on Jul 9, 2014

amen some of us will, I can't live with out the presence of the Lord

Barnabas Mwiruki

commented on Jul 2, 2012

This kind of preaching is what we need to bring life back to the Church and to heal the world. Thank you. You are blessed Stilson. Barnabas Mwiruki, Dar es salaam, Tanzania.

Evang.roger Culwell

commented on Jul 9, 2014

big amen and a few of us will get into the presence of God and preach what he tell's us

Bro Dee

commented on Jul 2, 2012

@Andrew - its not our work that he is calling ugly - it is us, our nature, our living or lifestyles, etc. In as much as we pastors, leaders try to represent God in our lives, we are so far from having "arrived" - we still struggle and out of that struggle and ugliness and in it, we so clearly see the beauty of God's grace, mercy, and lovingkindness. It is this experience that lends power to our preaching and sharing. Remember our righteousness is as filthy rags...Isa. 64 / now how ugly is that?

Charles Ingwe

commented on Jul 3, 2012

Rev Charles Ingwe says... I think maybe the term ugly must be understood in the context of human weakness that can only perfom through the grace of God. Reason being that at many times it is from the listening to these terminologies that many christian preachers get misled and again get deeper into unprepared preaching. Paul tells Timothy to study so that he can appear before those to be instructed as an excellent teacher of the word. A workman who shall not bring shame but the Father's honor. The disciples were unschooled in the eyes of man but the three and half years with Christ was time of study. Remember that paul advises against giving church leadership to novices for fear of the flock being misled. I trust all us preachers ought not keep back from word study through the spirit guidance; GRACE. If we have had the salvation message today, thank God but we must then get well tutored in the word so that that which we have learn't we too can teach adquately to others who shall in turn teach others e.t.c - 2 Tim 2:2. Paul taught from his salvation message and deeper staff as well. It is as well from this background that we need not over look God's infinite wisdom stressed in the fivefold ministry. Here you find that those who may just preach the salvation gospel instruct people to find a christian family where they find other members who too have been given the task of teaching the word in a more detailed manner. So to me ugly preaching is better understood to teach me not forgeting that I am weak and can only minister through grace but I must be a responsible preacher ensuring that I preach sound doctrine which I fully understand for I shall stand in judgement at the end, not many should presume to be teachers -James 3:1.

Evang.roger Culwell

commented on Jul 9, 2014

Evangelist pastor Roger Culwell I just think we have to watch, who teach's us a lot of cem. school's teach out the power of God and the presence, I know when God called me I went the road and some one the road tried to change my way of preaching, wanted me to pull a sermon out of a bag 30 minute's before preaching, and I said if I preach 7 day's a weak 2 time's a day I will still go to the word and say Lord you know what they need I don't, you give me what they need, and the other guy plugged in a cd of Steve Hill just opened it, me or him had not listen to it, and Steve Hill said if I preach 7 day's a weak 2 time's a day I will still go to the Lord and say Lord you know what they need I don't, and the guy I was with buried his face in the pillow and never tried to change me again, the HOLY GHOST has been my teacher showing me the book's to read and what to listen to and read on the net. now a wonderful tool if used right, to many have left God out his presence is nothing to the church any more, and that's sad, what did they say about the Apostle's, they could tell they had been with JESUS well that's one thing there going to say about me because I am going to give him time if no one else get's any, because I can't make with out his presence, that's where my peace and joy and healing come's from, he is my every thing, yes we have to study and learn, but don't you learn so much you put God in a program and tell him when he can move and when he can't who do we think we are he is GOD not us and we can't do our job with out him, oh yeah you can go and have a meeting which is what 90 per cent of the church's are doing, but they haven't had church, because if the presence of God hasn't been there you haven't had church, you had a meeting and left God out, yes we should learn but the HOLY SPIRIT should be our teacher, so you can call,me ugly gladly because you find me spending time in his presence, never leave out the presence of God God bless you brother, we have an apostate church today because they leave him out know presence, keep getting in his presence and you will be preaching when other's are gone.

Ephrem Hagos

commented on Jul 3, 2012

Strictly speaking, preaching is disobedience to God's commandments. (Jer. 31: 31-34)

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jul 3, 2012

Ephrem says, "Strictly speaking, preaching is disobedience to God's commandments. (Jer. 31: 31-34)" This passage isn't saying preaching is disobedience to God's commands. What about 2 Timothy 4:1-5?

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jul 3, 2012

Ephrem Hagos, I'm curious as to how you arrived at that conclusion based on that text. There's plenty of preaching and teaching going on in the book of Acts, not to mention instructions in the Epistles (like 2 Tim 4:1-5, which Dennis Cocks pointed out), to question whether such an interpretation is valid in the larger, biblical context. Would you care to elaborate? Thank you, and blessings to you!

Robert Yount

commented on Jul 3, 2012

hmmm-- Touched a nerve with some. Perhaps?

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