I don’t remember the name of the camp, but I’ll never forget the night we spent there—both for the misery we shared as well as the lesson about preaching I learned.

First, the misery. Think about a drafty camp dorm with creaky wooden bunks, well-worn mattresses, and no sheets. No blankets, either. Or pillows. But there were curtains hanging at the windows, which we used to dry off after we showered, because there were no towels.

The camp manager had somehow forgotten to tell Mike Baker to bring those necessities with us. So we went to bed wrapped in skimpy curtains in a vain attempt to stay warm overnight.

It was a youth camp with maybe 30 students attending. And Mike, serving then as youth minister with Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois, was the main speaker. I was his youth intern, and he had invited me to go with him to the camp.

It was 1999, and this was not the only event that year where Mike was speaking. In fact, he was on the A-list of youth speakers among Christian churches in those days, standing before big crowds in impressive venues and packed arenas.

“Why on earth did you accept this invitation?” I asked him on the way back home. And then came the lesson.

“If you’re a preacher, it doesn’t matter if you’re preaching for 10 or 10,000,” he said. And I realized Mike had preached to that small group of teenagers with the power and passion I’d seen from him in front of crowds 20 times larger. Humble surroundings or puny audience didn’t diminish his message. They asked him to preach, and so he preached, with all his heart.


This came back to me years later when I read a story in Jon Acuff’s book Start. Acuff was a big fan of the band Seryn. “I first saw them play at a conference in front of 13,000 people,” he wrote. He was blown away by their energy filling the arena. “Their passion was unbridled, as if they couldn’t believe they got to play music in front of people.”

After he mentioned this in a Facebook post, a friend invited him to hear the band at an intimate house show a few days later. Acuff jumped at the chance to meet the group up close, but he wasn’t expecting to see in that living room what he’d experienced with thousands of fans at a packed concert.

But he was wrong. “The same joy that dominated the stage before 13,000 people was on display in a room full of 80 friends,” he wrote. “It was like Seryn couldn’t help but play that way. That was what was inside their hearts. In that moment, I learned a simple lesson about being awesome: always play to the size of your heart, not to the size of our audience.”

In the margin of Acuff’s book I scratched, “Always preach this way too.”  

Always preach to the size of your heart, not the size of your audience. If you have the passion to preach, you can’t help but preach, with everything you’ve got.

Some preachers think more about the parameters than about their passion. How much does it pay? How many will attend? Who will tell me I did well?

They’re missing the point. If you can’t help but preach, you’ll preach. If you must weigh many other factors before deciding to preach, maybe you shouldn’t be preaching at all.

But if your passion drives your preaching, your preaching will change lives, just like Mike Baker’s example changed my life at an out-of-the-way youth camp many years ago.

How long has it been since you’ve asked yourself, “Why am I preaching?” Are you satisfied with your answer? What would it take to rekindle your passion for preaching?

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Trevor DeVage2 Comments