Don’t Just Put the Cookies on the Bottom Shelf

Erik Raymond —  May 28, 2013

If you are a parent of younger children then you make decisions every day about what they are exposed to. The concern is, of course, over influence. We know that certain things (movies, music, video games, friends, etc) are impactful. These outlets can shape they way they see and experience the world. Therefore we are intentionally selective about what they see.

Pastors do a similar thing in their preaching. They look at the context and culture of their church and decide what is best in terms of exposure. They set the preaching schedule, cadence, and style off of it. As a result one of the first things that gets shifted is the depth of the sermon. The pastor (with good motives, I’d assume) keeps the content at a relatively surface level for his people to keep up and tune in.

I believe that while this is helpful in parenting and counterproductive in preaching.


If the goal is for people to see and to savor the glory of Christ then preachers must go deep with their sermons. God opens eyes to see the glorious beauty, regality, and power of Christ in the gospel (2 Cor. 4.4-6). This same Jesus and his saving work are on every page of the Bible (Lk. 24.27, 44-47). And it is this Bible, the Word, that we are to preach (2Tim. 4.2). A robust and weighty vision of Christ must make up our sermons!

If we are not preaching the wonderfully deep beauty of Christ in the gospel then we are not helping our people. Regardless of any assertion of pure motives the truth is this: shallow preaching does not deliver the package. It will not bring the sight, the savoring that is required. As Christians the whole realm of our spiritual experience is mediated through the Holy Spirit as he drives the Word of God more deeply into our souls. The more deeply we dive the more we see and the more we savor.

As a point of clarification, deep does not mean inaccessible. To endeavor to take people deep into the Word of God is not a mission of deception. We are not working to give people theological whiplash or spiritual altitude sickness by flying too high too fast. The whole goal of the preacher is to make things clear. If we are preaching rich and deep theologically truth but struggle to communicate it then we are not serving our hearers any better than those who preach shallow sermons. The preacher must take complex and even infinite concepts and make them understandable. I remember hearing D.A. Carson talk about how he does not put all the cookies on bottom shelf when preaching. Carson quickly added, “But I don’t put them all on the top either.” Instead, Carson advocated for challenging the most mature and the least mature hearer in his congregation every week. The only way to do this, he added, is through a robust but accessible gospel-centered, theological exposition.

Like the parent who loves their children and cares about their flourishing, the preacher must work hard to bring a steady diet of clear doctrinal exposition to his people. If he does this his people will grow. If not, then they will not. It’s that simple.

Erik Raymond

Posts Twitter Facebook

Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond