5 Reasons Preachers Need to Use Good Grammar

I want to be careful with this post, as I recognize that all of us have different opportunities for education. I don’t want to offend any readers. Still, though, I want to get a discussion on the table.  

Here’s my point in this post: we who preach the Word should strive to use the best grammar when we speak. I am not asking for formality, and I’m certainly not asking for perfection – but I am suggesting that we give more attention to the way we speak. Here’s why:

  1. Much of our ministry is oral communication. God has called us to proclaim His Word, and that Word is just that – God’s Word. Very little that we do is disconnected from the spoken word; so, our calling demands that we communicate with excellence.
  2. Grammar rules help us communicate well. There is a subtle but important reason we should say, “When I was 16, God called me to preach” rather than, “At the age of 16, God called me to preach.” Some grammar rules seem irrelevant, but most of them help us communicate better.
  3. Most of us live in an educated society. For that reason, we need to be the best communicators we can be. Whether we like it or not, poor grammar often leaves a negative impression.
  4. Some listeners may not get past our bad grammar. It may be unfair for a listener to stumble when we say something like, “Me and my wife went camping,” but it happens. Poor grammar makes it hard for some listeners to hear us at all.
  5. We are role models. I understand that we are primarily spiritual role models, but some people who hear us regularly do pick up our verbal habits. Our modeling good grammar only helps others.

What are your thoughts? Have I raised an issue that simply reflects my biased English education background, or is this issue a real one? 


  • I grew up in a bi-lingual household speaking Gullah and red-neck! I am intellegent and did well in school but my grammar did, and sometimes still does, leave a lot to be desired! Then God blessed me with a school teacher grammarian and she made a huge difference in my life. I think we need to know our audience. We should know better and do better. We should not “put on” an affectation to try to “relate” because God uses authenticity. But to speak well means that we have worked hard to convey a clear message as clearly as possible. In other words, do your best, then do better, but do not get under law about it. I appreciate your clear communication Dr. Lawless, and receive something from the Lord everyday through you. Thank you for being clear.

  • DHenderson says:

    I am one of those listeners who find it difficult to hear the message past the bad grammar. It seems to say to me that the speaker isn’t diligent in some of the “little” things. Then that speaker begins to lose authority for me.

  • Robin Jordan says:

    One thing to bear in mind is that the grammar for spoken English differs from that of written English. Some grammatical structures which are not permitted in written English are permissible in spoken English and visa versa. In spoken English there is greater reliance upon colloquialisms and idiomatic phrases. Language is less formal and simpler. This is discernible when you listen to two or people carrying on a conversation. Written English when read aloud may sound stilted and wooden to the ears of those accustomed to spoken English. In the seventeenth century English pastor and poet George Herbert discovered rather quickly that the country folk in the rural parish where he ministered did not understand his polished, educated English. The nineteenth century evangelical Anglican bishop of Liverpool J. C. Ryle emphasized the importance of using simple, understandable language in preaching. While we may have educated people in our congregations on Sunday mornings when we preach, we also may have people with less than a high school education or for whom English is a second language. I minored in English when I first attended university over 25 years ago. Today I have a preaching ministry in a small church on the outskirts of a small town in western Kentucky. I am studying Japanese at the university in a nearby town and helping exchange students to learn English.

  • Robert Lane says:

    I have considered your post deeply and my conclusion is a little different. An example comes to mind of our missionaries working in South America. For a time, our personnel had been trained in Spain. As we know the dialects of Spanish vary, but all are intelligible to first language speakers. Still, as a company, we have moved away from requiring our folks to speak Castilian for the better option of learning a dialect more applicable in rural South America. I would argue that the best way to communicate is by means of the local dialect.

    Yes, this would mean leaving behind some of the prescriptive English grammar rules, but maintaining all the descriptive syntax of a speech community. Many of our “grammar and phonological rules” don’t reflect local dialects and some intentionally reflect the syntax of our very distant relatives Latin and Greek, i.e. you can’t split infinitives or end a sentence in a preposition.

    Lexicons change too. Back home we say “brung,” as in “Who brung the liver mush?” I am sure this would make some cringe. Yet, currently, I am living in Edinburgh and among the educated, brung is the standard form. Who knew?

    The spoken word is alive and English is imposable to standardize. The phrase structure that preachers use should be close to the internal speech of the hearers, thus increasing the capacity of memory and ease in recalling what he taught for teaching it to others.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Robert. That’s why I posted these thoughts — I wanted to hear other opinions so we might learn together.  

  • English is one of the hardest languages to learn, if you ask me. At 28, I had a brain aneurysm and had to learn how to speak (among other things ) all over again. It is especially hard to understand when there is a group of people from different parts of the U.S. speaking. Because of the aneurysm, it takes longer for me to say and/or recall words. When people speak, I sometimes have to repeat the sentence in my head to figure out what they meant. Case in point: Mr. Lane, above, uses the word ‘brung’, which in my vocabulary means ‘brought’ and I would have to think about the rest of the words in his sentence to understand him.

    After saying all this, I think I would appreciate most that the speaker spoke clearly and decisively, even if I had to think about it!

  • Robert Lane says:

    Could you explain number 2. I have been reading it over and over; I have to know what the subtle but important reason is.

    • Sure. The latter statement, “At the age of 16, God called me to preach,” actually says that God was 16 when He called me to preach. We know that was not the case, but the poor grammar leaves that impression.

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