Milestone 35 Schmidt ArticleFor 30 years I was privileged to preach to believers gathered as the Kentwood Community Church family.  The well stayed deep and the inspiration fresh over those three decades.  I thankfully avoided the burn-out viewed as an occupational hazard of long-term preaching.  The 35-year milestone in full-time ministry provides a good opportunity to reflect on the vitality that consistently accompanied that longevity in preaching.

1. I didn’t go it alone.

Never Go it Alone SChmidtPreaching was rarely a solo effort for me.  From my earliest days I sought the involvement of others.  As a young pastor a more seasoned and educated pastor met with me regularly to help me exegete the passages and mine the key points that would be shared.  I participated in small groups studies focused on the section of Scripture or the key themes of an upcoming sermon series.  I found a “study buddy” who I knew was planning on me to show up – even though we didn’t talk much as we worked, his presence provide encouraging accountability to not let study time get squeezed out.  What started out informally was pursued more intentionally as the years of preaching went by.

At least a month before beginning a new series a “Dream Team” would be assembled – a gathering of highly creative individuals (almost all volunteers) to brainstorm the more visual, musical and illustrative dimensions of the upcoming messages.  No idea seemed too crazy (though more than a few pushed the limit) as songs were suggested, visuals we envisioned, related media was identified, and possible resources were listed.  Not only did this result in a more engaging series, but being around such “out-of-the-box” thinkers stimulated my own creativity and energy leading up to the series.  It amazed me how the outline of the series I prepared for the Dream Team came alive as they interacted with it.  Only a modest percentage of their work was eventually used – yet these times filled my well.

When our church was young and in its formative years I preached 45-48 weekends a year.  As the church grew and a pastoral team developed, that number was closer to 40 weekends a year.  As our church matured and we were increasingly committed to being “fully functional in our mission and vision without being dependent on any one person” a Teaching Team was developed.

More than just a random group that divided up the calendar, the Teaching Team was made up of four individuals whose gifting was affirmed by the church body.  We met each week for an hour – to give 15 minutes of feedback to the previous weekend’s preacher, and 45 minutes of input to preacher scheduled two weeks ahead.  I preached thirty weekends a year, while the other three each preached six…48 weekends a year were covered by the Team.  That frequency, combined with consistent feedback and input from a diverse Team (in ethnicity, gender, ministry responsibility, family dynamics, etc.), kept the burden light and the well fresh.

If I was in a smaller context I would have a Teaching Team of volunteers.  They may not preach as frequently, but in every congregation there seem to be people wonderfully grounded in the Word or creative in communication.  That input/feedback loop keeps burnout at bay.

One more practice that at first may seem only tangentially connected.  Years ago I read the book by Gordon MacDonald entitled Restoring Your Spiritual Passion.  He identified five types of people – Very Resourceful People (VRP), Very Important People (VIP), Very Teachable People (VTP), Very Nice People (VNP) and Very Draining People (VDP).  In ministry I’ve found you have to be intentional about seeking out VRP – you do don’t have to do that with VDP, they will seek you out!  I always made sure I had those Very Resourceful People in my life – sometimes within the Church, sometimes in the broader Community and beyond.  These VRP help keep the passion strong, and that passion is the fuel of preaching.

Who are the resourceful people in your life?  Who might you team with to stimulate creativity or share the preaching load?

2. I found a “sacred” study space.

Having a dedicated space provided an oasis for sermon preparation.  For me it was a library of a nearby Seminary.  I was rarely interrupted in my study nook – and was surrounded by resources that helped me do the exegetical work on the biblical text.  When people called the Church to ask for me, he’s “out of the office” and will be back at the end of the day seemed to be a very acceptable answer.

Time for full confession – it wasn’t just the academic resources that drew me to that space.  The Seminary was located on a beautiful campus…so my Mondays there often included a walk around the campus to let my feeble mind recover from wrestling with more complex truths.  And there was a great little coffee shop.  The right variety of secluded study, physical enjoyment of nature and caffeine was something I looked forward to as a beginning of my week.

That library also has a great periodical section with a wide variety of magazines and journals.  Many Mondays I’d spend the better part of an hour doing a quick read of popular secular publications as well as meatier materials.  This stroll through the display cases gave me a quick overview of current events, theological themes and relevant topics.

What is your ideal study space like?  It can be a room at home, a booth at the coffee shop, or a nearby library.  Some like it secluded, others like it alive with social stimulus.  Can that space become “sacred” for you, set apart of the demanding yet holy work of sermon preparation?

3. I sought to avoid preaching practices that created undue wear and tear.

I’m sure I’m the only one who does this…replay the message I’ve just delivered, usually from a hyper-critical mindset enhanced by the post-delivery malady of emotional fragility.  I call it the “black hole” – a place of no return, often disconnected from objectivity and reality, where I beat myself up for not having prepared more fully, delivered with greater clarity or left the congregation clamoring for more.

If you don’t do this…never start.  If you do…stop!  I built relationships of accountability to help me suspend the self-analysis to a time when I’m more ready for it to be a healthy contribution to growth as a preacher.  This black hole can beat you up and burn you out.  I knew I would not go the long haul if every time I preached I played arm-chair quarterback to myself.

I have also found “cramming” for a message to result in unnecessary wear and tear.  I know some people are crammers (usually they pulled regular all-nighters in college) while others prepare well in advance.  Admittedly, I’m more of a crock pot than microwave in sermon preparation.  If I pace my preparation it is a totally different experience than if I procrastinate with preparation until the eleventh hour.  Even if the message were of equal quality, the price paid to get there would be unaffordable in the long run.

Last-Minute-Study Schmidt 14I believe there is an emotional and spiritual “faithfulness” zone.  If I overemphasize its importance of preaching, I may decrease my dependence upon God and subsequently place inappropriate emphasis on my performance.  If I underemphasize its importance, I may give it only last-minute leftovers of my time and succumb to the temptation of proclamation plagiarism.  Both the “over” and the “under” create wear and tear.

4. I deepened the well through continuing education.

I’m running the risk of being accused of an infomercial since I’m a raving fan of Wesley Seminary at IWU where I’m privileged to serve.  But stay with me…I entered full-time ministry right after graduation with my Bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry.  This was back in the day where technology for distance learning was yet to develop, and providentially, I was located near a Seminary.  Since I was planting a church it took me nearly a decade to complete my Master’s degree, and another half a decade for my doctoral degree.  In other words, the first fifteen years of full-time ministry I was simultaneously deepening my well through increasing my capacity for theological reflection and effectively seeking deploy that learning in real-world ministry.

There was something powerful about a program of continuing education alongside full engagement in ministry during my formative years.  Now it doesn’t have to be seminary (it pains me to admit that) and it doesn’t have to be in the first decade of ministry, but I have become convinced that the parallel track of education and engagement helped me to be a preaching marathoner.

5. The audience kept changing.

A final thought – yes, I preached at Kentwood Community Church for 30 years…but not to the same congregation.  There were fresh converts, the unfolding of new generations, an increase in ethnic diversity, changes in environments than enfolded a variety of worshipers – a newness rather than a sameness as the years went by.

It’s energizing to preach when it requires the discipling of new believers and the bridging of new cultures.  Equipping a church to reach out is connected to the ability of a preacher to avoid burnout.  New people require new music and new messages – which has a renewing effect on those who feed them and lead them.

Three decades – where did the time go?  While the youthful energy has moderated, the deep-down reservoir of preaching passion still circulates…which causes me to relish the years yet ahead.


schmidt_wayneAfter serving on the Kentwood Community Church (KCC) pastoral staff since 1979, Dr. Wayne Schmidt started as Vice President of Wesley Seminary at IWU in January 2010.

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davis_arlieWe are continuing our focus on burnout for pastors by posting sermons we hope pastors will overhear even though they are sermons preached for congregations. These are sermons by Wesleyan pastors that we believe help get at the root of the causes of burnout if we have ears to hear.

Fruitful VineThis sermon by senior pastor Arlie Davis from Milton Wesleyan Church, focuses on John 15, the famous vine and branches passage. We love that Pastor Davis presents an expositional message. We love that he had the courage to take on a famous, well known, and well worn passage to pull out new thoughts. We also love the idea of including extra material in a handout that cannot make it into the sermon. Yet none of those reasons are the reasons we are posting this sermon. We are posting this sermon because of the content.

Sometime between now and when you sign off of looking at this sermon we ask you to do two things:

1) Ask God to show you something new about being a branch on God’s vine that you haven’t realized before.

2) Ask God to show you how remembering you are a branch might help you avoid burnout in your ongoing ministry this year and in years to come.

Who Am I? Part 5: I Am a Branch from CWC Milton on Vimeo.

~ David Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons team

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sabbath restwilsonMark Wilson, pastor of Hayward Wesleyan church in Hayward Wisconsin, is one of the most delightful and servant-minded pastors in the Wesleyan Church today. In this sermon he is preaching after the guest speaker Matthew Sleeth came to speak about Sabbath In many of the sermons we post on Wesleyan Sermons we are seeking to pull out homiletical lessons for how to preach. In this sermon there are things we could certainly pull out related to preaching. This week though, we actually want to deliver content to pastors who read and follow this site. For the next two months we will deal with burnout and stress among pastors. If there is one common struggle to pastors in North America that seems to cross over church sizes, models, denominations, and geographies it is burn out.

We decided not to start with articles about burnout. We will have some of those from Wesleyan preachers. Instead we want to start with someone preaching toward the root of burnout in different ways. This sermon focuses on Sabbath as a mode of prayer and rest. As you listen to this conversational style sermon on Sabbath allow God to speak to you about your need for prayer and rest. Listen through the sermon to God for what God may want to say to you about your spirit and it’s need for restoration.

Now before you listen and simply nod your head to the sermon. Ask yourself, minister, has your soul struggled with the level of stress you are bearing? Have you been secretly wrestling with God for some unknown personal struggle? Perhaps you will want to pause and let the spirit highlight your need this week before you listen to this sermon.

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Are You Burning Out Preacher?

navets —  December 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

burnoutWe have been talking to a lot of pastors about burn out. We even helped launch a conference called “Flourish” last year to address clergy well being and flourishing.

In coming weeks, we will focus on burnout from multiple directions. First, we will hear a few sermons that seek to address the root of burnout. The sermons are by Wesleyans. The sermons are meant for congregations. We believe, though that if you listen as a pastor, you will find the root of your problem in burnout addressed in some degree in the those sermons. Next month we will post a great article by Dr. Wayne Schmidt, Vice President of Wesley Seminary, on “How I Preached for 30 Years without Burning Out.”

This week we want to talk about a different side of the issue: how to know you are burned out, and what to do about it.

We have adapted a quick self-test to measure whether or not you are entering into preaching burnout below. It is adapted from an informal self testing tool meant for general burnout. We have shifted it toward preaching. Here’s what we think you should do. Copy these questions into a file. Answer them with a sentence or two and some explanation of each answer. Then bring your answers to your spouse, a ministry friend, a counselor, or a spiritual director. Let them help you work through just how burned out you might be. Next week we’ll give you some ideas to start your preaching turn around.

Preaching/Pastoring Burn Out Self Test:

1. Do you feel drained of energy more than a couple times a week?

2. Do you think more negatively about your ministry than positively?

3. Do you or those close to you feel that you are often harder on people than you need to be? Does your preaching take on a condemning tone more easily lately?

4. Do you find yourself getting easily irritated by small issues or small interactions with people? Does this increase or decrease on days you work on sermons?

5. Do you feel misunderstood or unappreciated by your staff or by your congregation?

6. Do you feel that you have no one to talk to, no one to shoulder the preaching burden with or debrief the preaching experience with?

7. Do you often think your preaching is accomplishing less than it should?

8. Do you feel under an unpleasant amount of pressure when you think about preaching?

9. Is there something you wish you were getting out of preaching that you are not getting?

10. Do you wonder if you should leave the ministry or at least stop preaching?

11. Overall, are you frustrated with preaching?

12. Does the “political” nature of preaching, e.g. pleasing the crowd or balancing conviction with encouragement, frustrate you?

13. Is there more work to pastoring and preaching than you feel like you can possibly accomplish?

14. Have often in the past three months have you felt that you needed to let go of doing a “quality job” in order to get everything done?

15. Do you find that you do not have time to plan your preaching as much as you would like to?

There is no “score” that automatically tells you burn out is your condition. Instead, answer these questions honestly, as honestly as you are humanly able. If you have a hunch that you have some level of burn out developing, we strongly suggest you start a season of Christian counseling. If you cannot afford it, ask your board to include it as part of next year’s pay package.

If you think it is just the day you are asking the questions (Monday may not be the best measure) take it again in a few days and see how you respond.

If you do believe burn out is a near, present, or past reality the next few months of Wesleyan sermons are dedicated to you.

~ Dave Ward, General Editor

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Honest Preaching

navets —  October 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

Redundancy is, as defined by Dictionary.com, “superfluous repetition or overlapping, especially of words.”

Honest preaching, is, well, redundant. Aren’t we, as preachers, supposed to be honest? Isn’t truth-telling inherent within the very nature of Biblical proclamation? Can you stay in ministry and be effective long term and not tell the truth?

As a local church pastor, I found myself in a ministerial dilemma. One of my long time parishioners met a nice guy, and they were quickly engaged. We immediately set up premarital counseling. Through our time together, I realized that they were cohabitating. I recommended physical separation until marriage, which was not well received by one of the partners. They continued to live together right up to their wedding day. During their engagement period, I preached on marriage and specifically addressed cohabitation. I distinctly remember that Sunday. I had secretly hoped they would be absent. However, they were fully present. In the moment, I had these thoughts run through my head. “Maybe I should cut out the portion on cohabitating altogether.” “Should I really speak out?” “I could ‘beat around the bush’ and the point will still be clear, right?”

When preaching on more sensitive cultural and social issues, I have learned a few key lessons during my decade or so in full time, pastoral ministry.

  1. Higher Authority – As pastors, if we don’t preach truth as found in Scripture, we are held accountable by more than our local board of administration (James 3:1). God has called us to deliver His message to His people. We must be obedient, as eternity hangs in the balance for so many. Cognitively, I would rather hear “well done my good and faithful servant” from God rather than from humans. However, I frequently find myself marching to the beat of another’s drum. What might our preaching look like if we focused more on God’s opinion and less on the opinion of others? God is our ultimate judge. As we seek to share truth with others on a weekly basis, we also need someone to share truth with us. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently stated, “When you’re in a position of authority, you need truth-tellers around you” (Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit 2014). Christ is our higher authority. He seeks for us to honest, just as He was honest.
  2. Wrestling is Vital – Do you wrestle with your message in the days leading up to delivery? I don’t mean wrestle so much with your title, or a particular illustration, or even what joke to share. Instead, do you wrestle with the impact upon your people? Will the Spirit use this message to enact life change? Am I being too blunt, or not real enough? Am I really living out the message in my own personal life? As Jacob wrestled with God (Gen. 32) for his blessing, we must also grapple with our sermons. Time is precious, and a commodity in short supply. We have our people’s attention for 30 minutes a week. What will we share that will influence them in the here and now, and have an impact in the life to come? When we have genuinely struggled with the sermon, we can be confident as we step behind the pulpit.
  3. Have Mercy – Not all pastors have the spiritual gift of mercy, but we are still called to preach with compassion. Special speakers are in and out. By nature, they can speak truth and drive off after service. The local pastor is charged with the spiritual next steps. When preaching truth, we must remember that our churches are full of people. These people have real struggles, real hearts, and real dreams. The next time you preach on generosity, remember the single mom on the back row who gives sacrificially. The next time you share on rest, remember the night shift security guard. He is physically present, but his closed eyes communicate more about his reality than your speaking ability. Honest preaching must always be saddled upon the horse of mercy.
  4. Pray Always – No substitute exists for prayer. God guides us through prayer. He humbles us, and He reminds us of His love and grace. Isaiah 6 records the prophet’s call to ministry. He found himself in the very presence of God, which in turn produced radical change. He was now willing to go and do whatever God commanded (6:8). Because of Isaiah’s time spent in the presence of the King, he was all the more willing to wholly do the King’s bidding. If you find yourself lacking for honest preaching, increase your time spent with God and watch how God changes you…and your church.
  5. Preparation is your best friend – Some parts of ministry are more flexible and fluid than others. When pastors are called upon to pray off the cuff, most of us can handle the challenge. However, solid preaching requires adequate preparation. This reality is even more important when addressing sensitive issues. Write out exactly what you want to say, and then practice verbally the delivery. Be clear and concise. Avoid rabbit trails and speaking whatever pops into your head in the moment. Prepare well, and your congregation will be grateful for the clear articulation of a tough issue.
  6. Practice at home – Do you have hard conversations with your family and close friends? Are you an avoider of conflict with those you love the most? Like me, many pastors are people pleasers. We do not like to rock the boat too much. Many of us erroneously believe that, if we only work hard and pray fervently, everyone will simply get along. The hardest place to have the tough conversations is at home. Why? At the end of every day, we must have dinner with those we love. We have to look them in the eye. Our congregations become our families over the years. Your bond with your church grows exponentially as your tenure increases. Tough talks should become easier. However, they actually become harder. You know them so well, and they know you so well. You know their faults, but they also know yours. So…what should become easier can actually become tougher. Ask yourself this question. Am I willing to address hard topics at home with my family and those closest to me? If so, you will likely be willing to do the same with your church.

The local church is indeed the great crucible of all pastors. Don’t get me wrong. I love the local church. There is nothing like it. As Pastor Bill Hybels consistently states: “The local church is the hope of the world.” Coming out of seminary, I thought preaching would be the easiest part of my job. I loved the art of crafting, shaping, and delivering a timely message from God’s Word. Preaching was always “easy” when doing evangelistic work at camps, retreats, and even congregations where I served short term. However, the longer I stay at my current church (5+ years now), the more God shapes me. Just like he uses our spouse to shape us more into His image, I firmly believe He uses our church to make us better “truth-tellers” on Sunday mornings.

So, what did I do with my sermon on marriage and cohabitation? Did I shrink back from full, biblical disclosure? I must confess. Although I did challenge my congregation to steer clear of cohabitating, I did not speak as clearly as possible to the issue. Looking back, I wish I possessed more courage. Like Joshua, I should have been “strong, and very courageous.”

The next time God calls you to speak directly to an issue in your congregation, and you know and love the people struggling with that very issue, what will you do? How will you handle the challenge? Will you shrink back, easing up on all God has laid on your heart? Or will you share the full message from the King? Until then, may you forge ahead, leading with Scripture as your foundation and the Holy Spirit as your guide.

Preach on, preacher, and be honest in your proclamation!


Article by Dr. Brian Bradford, pastor of Horizons (Wesleyan) Church, The Colony, TX, © 2014

bradfordBrian Bradford is the lead pastor of Horizons Church. He is married to Shannon, and they have 2 beautiful girls, Halle (7 years) and Lily (4)! Pastor Brian was born in Alexandria, LA and spent the early years of his life in Rockwall, TX. He has an undergraduate degree in Religion and Political Science from Indiana Wesleyan University, a Master’s of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry degree with the Beeson Pastor Program from ATS as well.

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The Value of a Good Story

navets —  September 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

bibleNothing like a 16-hour car ride to bring people closer together.  My husband and I served as house parents for our daughter’s and her six best friends’ senior spring break this past week.  The week concluded with a 16-hour car ride home.  After a week of constant togetherness you would think these girls would have run out of things to talk about but apparently not.  In order to pass the time, they shared stories – personal stories of their own family vacations over the years.  The stories were humorous, and we all rolled in laughter together.

The stories did something more than offer laughter and a distraction though, they provided insights into who these girls really were.  Their stories:

  1. Provided a context, offering a glimpse into how their families function, what they value, and where they came from.  The stories provided the context that explained a great deal about why these girls said the things they said, did the things they did, and reacted the ways they reacted.  So many things we experienced in the previous week now made sense – because we heard their story.How often are we caught up making assumptions about a person based on our personal presuppositions?  We dismiss them – ignore them- shun them – maybe even judge them because we assume their actions, attitudes, and words come from a source we fully understand – like ignorance or rudeness.  Perhaps, however, if we knew their context we would understand why they have an attitude, where those hurtful words came from, or why to them the actions we find quite inappropriate are actually fitting.

    Hearing the stories from the girls in the back of the car gave me a glimpse into their context – their home life.  A context that I had assumed was similar to ours, but I came to realize was a home life quite unexpected that provided the correct perspective for truly seeing them.

  2. Their stories also created a connection that a week of sharing close living space, beach towels, and a common table didn’t.  In each of the girls’ stories, we saw glimpses of our own and discovered that the commonalities that connect us were much richer than the often louder external differences that separate us.  Sitting in the front seat of the car listening in on stories of family vacations of the past forged a bond with these girls that overcame generational, religious, political, and racial divides.J.F.K. in 1961 offered a phrase while giving a speech to the Canadian parliament that has been over-used and abused in the past 50 years, but it hit me in the face sitting in my car: “What unites is far greater than what divides us”.   We distance ourselves from people emotionally and sometimes physically because we think that our differences are too great to overcome and too profound to find a common language.  We make excuses that include: “we have nothing to offer them”, “they will never understand us”, or “we have no idea what they need ”.  We allow the things that are different – they are so old or so young, they are so conservative or way too liberal, they are way too progressive or so traditional, they look different, eat different food, speak a different language, wear different clothes, and even smell different – to become a barrier to connection.  But, when we listen to their stories we discover that they love, laugh, and cry just like us.  We discover the many things that we have in common – things that connect us.  When we see our commonalities and points of connection, the barriers become negotiable and the walls surmountable.
  3. And their stories compelled us to respond, rethink, and re-write.  Before our spring-break beach adventure I had developed opinions about the girls – who they were, what behaviors and attitudes they possessed, how I enjoyed them as my daughter’s friends, and how I didn’t. Through the week they all lived up to my expectations – I saw in their attitudes, behaviors, and words exactly what I expected to see.  When I heard their stories though, I was compelled to re-examine my own presuppositions, filters, and expectations and frankly their stories helped me see in many places how wrong I was. Their stories changed my attitudes and my thinking.  I was compelled to re-examine and truly see them for the first time without the blinders of prejudice.What blinders of prejudice are you wearing?  Do they blur your vision so that you can’t truly see the people in front of you?

    About ten years ago I began to have trouble seeing my dinner plate. I didn’t notice that anything else in my life was blurry –just my dinner plate.  Convinced that it must be something extreme wrong, I phoned my eye doctor, requested an appointment, and suggested perhaps my blurred dinner plate was caused by a brain tumor.  He was kind but did chuckle when he said – “oh the dreaded blurry plate syndrome”.  “You mean this is common?” I responded. “Only in people your age” he replied and went on to identify my out of the norm culprit as age induced poor eyesight!  A lovely pair of reading glasses later and my dinner plate came fully into view!

    Hearing the stories from the girls in the back of the car did the same thing that my reading glasses did for my dinner plate – it corrected my blurry vision and brought the girls into focus; I was compelled to see them.  The power of a story helped a middle-aged woman truly see!

The power of a story – It can bring laughter and offer a distraction, it can also provide a context and bring clarity, it can create a connection that overcomes apparent differences, and it can compel us to do something and change our thinking.

A seminary student in describing the impact of Scripture on faith formation in the home offered this insight: God could have filled the Bible with facts and figures to answer all of the scientific questions and give us wonderful statements of faith to memorize that would fill our minds, but instead He chose to tell a story.  The greatest story.

  1. A story provides the context
  2. A story connects
  3. A story compels and
  4. The Story through the power of the Holy Spirit brings hope, healing, and transformation.

St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises encourages the exercitant – a “person who sincerely desires to discover how he or she can please and serve God best” [1] – to contemplate the biblical story:

-          By the “sight of imagination” in order to see the details of the circumstances
-          By hearing to listen to what is being said
-          By smelling the fragrances present and tasting the “sweetness and charm”
-          By touching what they touched, where they sat and where they walked[2]

St. Ignatius understood that through engaging the biblical story with our imaginations and invoking our five senses we would in part grasp the context of the biblical story, understanding more fully the background and circumstances; we would connect with the biblical story in a personal, relational, experiential way; and the biblical story would compel us to do something – change our attitudes, change our hearts, change our thinking…we would be transformed, and we would discover how to please and serve God best.

How can you share God’s Story in such a way that people can truly picture it, smell it, feel it, hear it, taste it, experience it?  Help them see God in the biblical story and themselves!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, NIV).

You have a story of grace and forgiveness – you need to share it.  Those you serve and meet have a story – you need to take the time to hear it.  And we are compelled to share the greatest story of redemption, restoration, and love – you need to tell it.

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34, NIV).


derrDr. Colleen Derr serves as Associate Professor of Congregational Spiritual Formation and Christian Ministries, Wesley Seminary


[1] From: Ganss, G. E. (1992). The spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius: A translation and commentary. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, (p. 4).

[2] The Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius, the second week, “The Fifth Contemplation will be an application of the five senses”

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SERMON: “Dreamers like Daniel” audio | video
Originally preached by Pastor Eric Dubach, Fountain City Wesleyan Church, January 26, 2014

Pastor Eric began as the Young Adult Pastor at Fountain City Wesleyan Church.  He then moved to becoming the Campus Pastor for The Well, a satellite campus for FCWC. He is married to Heather with two children.

Here are some reasons why this sermon was highlighted:

  1. Eric energizes the room.  As soon as Eric begins, you can tell that you he is excited to be there.  It is not a burdensome duty to share the Word, but clearly a passionate joy.  Flatline nonverbals (tone, pitch, pace, gestures) do send a message.  Monotone or overly low key introductions will communicate to the audience that they do not need to listen. After all, this is just a matter of habit for the preacher. Since even the preacher is not excited to share what she has learned, the listener can check email or play candy crush.  Eric shows through his voice, actions, and posture that he has great news to share with us.
  2. Eric tells a story that creates suspense.  The story could have had several applications, but you will not know which one he is using it for unless you pay attention.  This draws the congregation in, makes them eager to hear the application that is chosen. Sometimes, the fear of a sermons going wrong is just the thing you need to keep people with you while you make it go well.  Even more important, Eric is inviting the congregation to look over his shoulder in the journey with the text. It is unfolding for the congregation is ways parallel to the way it probably unfolded for Eric.
  3. Eric goes beyond personal.  He does not settle for only the personal story to supplement the Biblical story. Eventually, church-goers get tired of hearing story after story about the pastor or the pastor’s family or the pastor’s friends or the pastor’s adventures. Eric uses  examples from contemporary culture that connect with the people and at the same time make his point clear.   
  4. Eric shakes up the preaching formula.  He does not read the text at the very beginning and then explain what it means throughout the rest of the sermon.  Usually that is the best path to take (and we wish more preachers took it more often). In this sermon though, Eric explains his personal example and the modern example all before he read the Scripture that the sermon is coming from.  Preachers are not required to follow the “formula” for each and every sermon.  Actually, for some preachers waiting 15 minutes before they get to the text is their formula. And that is what they should shake up. To shake up your formula this week, you first have to figure out what your formula is..
  5. Eric uses extreme vocal variety.  There are moments when Eric gets loud that makes people sit back, while at other times, he will lower his voice that they almost have to lean forward to hear what he is saying.  This breaks up the pace of the sermon and keeps the congregation’s attention. While you need to be careful not to be so loud you appear angry, and to not be so soft people cannot hear, most preachers only use half of their pitch and volume ranges on their best day. 
  6. Eric shows the humanity of the bible.  He does not speak as if Daniel was a supernatural person that exercised faith beyond what we are capable of today.  He lets the congregation know that they are capable of exercising the faith that Daniel had, accomplishing meaningful change in the world as a result, and being human at the same time. If we drain the humanity from the bible in order to present sanitized deity, we drain it of its power to connect. It connects because of its humanity.

What is your sermonic formula? Your preaching rut? How can you change it this week?

- Dave Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons team

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Untitled-2Our last post was an incredibly vulnerable post from Chad McCallum. We’re grateful for his willingness to be honest, forthright, and bear his soul and painful wake-up call with plagiarism.

One of our potential panelists from a couple weeks ago who actually never participated in the panel asked why were “hitting this issue now.” Our goal is not to shame or blame pastors, or to raise some too-high to live above bar of preaching morality. Instead, we simply want to create space to talk about this issue.

Sometimes, district superintendents and LBA members, denominational leaders and parachurch workers think very differently about this issue than those of us who have actually preached week after week after week and felt the pressure to produce new material. I remember preaching weekly while leading a Sunday school class and a Wednesday night event and a Saturday night service (where I also preached). Four content preparation points a week for fifty weeks will put anyone in a place of temptation.

Our main goal is to give you space to think, talk, pray, and start over.

That’s our goal today. Would you be willing to share in the comments section below how you changed your mind about using others’ material in preaching? Share with us an area where your diligence lagged, and how you moved from lazy to inspired preaching. Consider it “armistice day.” If you think it’s unsafe or unwise to share, simply share anonymously.

This is our last post on plagiarism and copying in preaching. We’ll move on to related issues from the positive side of the issue: creating your own stories, being honest in your preaching, facing the tough issues, and avoiding burnout. We’ll also include some fantastic original sermons by Wesleyan preachers from around the country. If you have a sermon you think we should feature, send it along with a link to the audio or video. We’d be happy to consider it.

For now, It’s a judgement free zone. Share your preaching testimony below, in the comments section of this post. Get a clean slate. Start your preaching patterns over.

- Dave Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons team

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Confessions of a Lazy Preacher

navets —  August 18, 2014 — 10 Comments

618791_89383244I should have seen it coming but I didn’t.

Just that morning I had stood in front of the church and I preached my guts out.

I pointed to the road ahead.

I called the people to live with a different mindset.

I unpacked the text.

I invited them to love God more.

I was eloquent. I was funny. I was motivating.

There was just one problem. One extremely large problem.

It wasn’t my sermon.

Or, let me rephrase that, the vast majority of what I said on morning was not my sermon. To put it into other terms, I shared a kind of homiletical karaoke. While the words were compelling; the spirit was absent.

And then something happened that stopped me in my tracks. I got called on it.

Seated before the church board sat a man who held in his right hand the manuscript of the message I had preached and taken the time to highlight all of the areas of crossover from the internet message to mine.

I felt naked. I wanted to hide. I was speechless.

It was like every square inch of air in the room had been removed by a cosmic vacuum.

To add to the drama, the karaoke sermon that I had preached was a candidating message at a church. And while offered the role, I didn’t accept the position.

The weeks that followed my homiletical trainwreck were a blur.

Some defended my message under the argument that “everyone has done it” and as such there is nothing wrong with it. While others decried my message and called for my dismissal from The Wesleyan Church.

Some celebrated the spiritual truth that I presented that was indeed unique to my message. Others scoffed saying that I was little more than a cover band who sounded way too much like a Baptist preacher. Through it all I felt sick to my stomach. Alone. Angry.

I was angry, not at any of my accusuers (they had every right to raise the questions that they raised), but more than anything I was angry at myself for what I had become as a preacher.

I had become a homiletical couch potato who found way too many a sermon on the internet and far too few on my knees in prayer. Put simply, I was a lazy preacher. There was a day that I was filled with passion when it came to the preaching task, but somewhere along the line I became more concerned with sounding eloquent than speaking well of Jesus and my passion had faded.

Deeper still, and even more alarming to me personally was that I realized that I had fallen into the trap of finding my identity in preaching and not in Christ. When I spoke well (which I equated with getting an amen, drawing a laugh or creating a moment of emotion) then I thought I had succeeded.  When the message “didn’t come out right” I thought was a failure.

Preaching had become an idol for me and I was living out a perilous pursuit of pleasing an idol. So some weeks later after lengthy soul bearing conversations with everyone from pastors to a counselor friend, I realized that this was not a time for tweaking my approach. Tweaking my approach would have only resulted in a relapse to my preaching as an idol ways.  Instead, I needed to overhaul the machine.

So what did I do? As I look back I didn’t make a list, but I did take some intentional steps of action.

1)    I deleted all of my sermons off of my computer and burned all the ones that were on paper.  If I was going to preach with a freshness then I needed to do some purging.  And while it felt like a slow death, it brought a freedom in my soul that I hadn’t anticipated.

2)    I scheduled my preaching preparation and guarded it as I would any other important appointment.  I realized that far too many of my sermons were being microwaved instead of slow roasted.  Far too many of my messages were being prepared in a panic on a Saturday night. So for me, I had to schedule some time every day to work on message preparation and I had to guard that time with diligence.

3)    I became a greater student of scripture and less of a student of Warren, Ortberg, Hybels and Platt.  When I did reference another source I did all I could to give credit where credit was due. Along with this pursuit of scripture, I went on a 90 day fast where the only book I read was scripture and then after the 90 days I still read the others and referred to them, but not until late in my preaching preparation process.

I purposed in my heart to “preach the book” instead of “entertain the masses.”

4)    I prepared on paper vs. on my laptop.  This might sound odd, but preparing on my laptop made it all too easy for me with a simple Google search to lift from another message.  So the vast majority, maybe two thirds of my preparation was done with Bible & legal tablet and no internet connection to be found.

What was the result?

Many commented that my preaching became stronger with a higher level of clarity and conviction.  People commented that God spoke to them through something I said.  More than anything I had a deep peace at the end of the preaching task that I had endeavored as faithfully as I knew how to present well the truth scripture.

A Closing Challenge

In the years since this encounter, many a time I have found myself in conversation with a young preacher who is struggling the many of the same temptations that I faced – almost always I shared the same central truths.

-    That God has given you a mind to process truth…so use it.

-    That God has given you a heart to be stirred by His word…so engage it.

-    That God has given you a voice for a reason…so speak clearly the words that God given you.


mccallum

Written by Rev. Chad McCallum, Director of Mobilization for Global Partners.

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We have received a wide variety of responses from Wesleyan ministers and people outside the Wesleyan church in response to our series on plagiarism. Ministers have said everything from “Why is this such a big deal right now? I for one have never struggled with this” to “I am so glad you are dealing with this, it wrecked my ministry and I didn’t see it coming.

I personally have some reservations about spending this much time on plagiarism. It might send some of us the signal that the Wesleyan Church is cracking down on this sort of thing and “consider yourself warned.” That is not true as far as I know, and perhaps the opposite may be true.

When Russ Gunsalus asked me to start a conversation surrounding this issue it was a grace-oriented suggestion. We decided it would be nice to have an Armistice for pastors day. A day when you could come out and confess your plagiarism, clear the slate, and start fresh. It would be a “fear no evil” sort of day when you would be able to confess in a safe space. I am not sure that will happen on this site. The internet is just not a safe way to share vulnerable information like that. But that is the spirit of this panel.

We have asked some ministry leaders to be honest about their own perceptions of plagiarism and preaching. Some of them bear a subtle tone of confession, others bear the tone of challenge and a high standard. We’ll leave the decisions up to you. We just want to get the conversation started. In case you are not familiar with our ministry panel, see their bios at the bottom of this article.  They have served as pastors, educators, and denominational officials seeing this issue from multiple vantage points.

1. Have you ever copied a sermon, or told a personal story as if it was your own, or used someone else’ outline without giving credit? If not tell us what has kept you from it. If you have tell us what convicted you to change:

sempleHeather Semple: While I have never told someone else’s story as my own, I have used illustrations, ideas and outlines not original to me. The more experience I have gained preaching, the less I have used other outlines. There have been a couple of series we prefaced with “adapted from _______” as a way to ascribe credit. However, that has not been the case every time. When I first began to speak on a weekly basis, my umbrella of direct oversight was much larger. Now, after growth and more staff, I am able to devote more time to sermon preparation. I believe I am a better preacher and leader because of others generous leadership and open permission to “steal boldly” without giving their name.  

That being said…I find that I can speak with greater intensity and passion when the sermon is uniquely inspired by God, crafted by us, and delivered to our church. I also now have greater freedom and better rhythms that provide more time and space to hear from God and then tell our people what He said.

wilsonMark Wilson: I honestly cannot recall a time when I intentionally used another person’s sermon or personal story as my own.  Occasionally, I have used outlines from others, but as far as I can recall, have always attributed it to the person who created it, or changed the outline so much, that it became mine.

Once when I was a youth pastor, we had a guest speaker who preached a powerful sermon.  A few weeks later, I took the youth group to a huge conference, where the keynote speaker preached the exact same sermon, word for word, including personal illustrations.  One freshman leaned over to me, wonder in her eyes, and said, “Amazing!  They went to the same school and knew the same people!”

gorveatteMark Gorveatte: Early in my ministry I heard a few painful, cautionary tales about plagiarism and ministry failure that motivated me to fearfully avoid that pitfall.  But, I also knew that there were many preachers far more gifted than I.  John Maxwell was famous in those days for saying something like this: “borrow and use everything I’m giving you today and you don’t have to give me credit because I can’t remember where I got it in the first place.”  If John needed help from other sources, I knew I needed help.

I’m not sure who I learned this from early on it became my practice to give credit up front either for the big idea or the series. In fact, I remember telling the LBA at my last church during the interview process that I didn’t write all my own sermons any more than I wrote all the songs that we were going to sing.   I recall many sermons that were at least 80% attributed material.  But, I drew the line at telling someone else’s personal experience as if it happened to me.   If I couldn’t remember a similar incident in my life that I could use to help make the same point, I’d set up Rick’s story by saying “Rick Warren tells about a time…..”  

2. Preachers use other’s thoughts all the time. They study scripture (not their own thoughts), read commentaries (not their own thoughts), dictionaries (not their own), original languages (not their own), and tell stories about others (that they did not experience).

So when, in your opinion, does using someone else’s thoughts become plagiarism, dishonest, wrong in preaching? Help other preachers with some rules of thumb:

wilsonMark Wilson: It is like cooking a stew.  We glean ingredients from a variety of sources and crock pot them.  What comes out is a flavor unique to the individual preacher.

As far as what’s off limits – pastors should never present another person’s story as their own.  Of course, another person’s story can trigger an idea from the memory banks for my own personal story, and that’s legit.  In fact, the way I use Internet sermons is to jumpstart my own ideas.

It’s ok to borrow insights or ideas, and I don’t think it’s best to attribute all of them.   Otherwise, a sermon would feel more like a research paper.  However, if the idea or the wording is unusual, it is best to identify the source.

It is definitely ok to share other people’s stories, as long as you are being truthful.

I suggest reading widely and frequently — not to steal ideas – but to find your own.  Most of my best sermon ideas come from journaling. Journaling helps clarify ideas and interpret life.  My journal helps me refine thoughts gathered from various sources and create my own.

sempleHeather Semple: I used to be an English teacher. I remember wanting my students to come up with their own conclusions and back them up through reliable sources. I didn’t want them “shortcutting” the learning process. However, I wasn’t looking for ideas that no one else had discovered. I wanted to know if they saw what I knew they needed to see. When a student discovered an idea within a story and then found a unique way to communicate that idea, growth had happened. There is not a sermon or idea that is completely original. What becomes original is the creative method of delivery. A new way to state an established truth breathes fresh air into the message.

With that in mind, the bottom line (my general rule of thumb) becomes, “is it what God has told you to say to His people?” After that, it is about the most relevant way to deliver the message.

gorveatteMark Gorveatte: For me, when I pastored there were two rules of thumb: 1) If it’s borrowed, say so. The best way to do that is early and often.  It’s easiest to do that right up front for a series and/or the specific sermons.  2) Never tell someone else’s story as if it happened to you.  That’s not research. That’s lying.

 

 

3. How do you feel about others using your sermons?  Please be honest, not falsely humble.

gorveatteMark Gorveatte: Well, first, I’d be surprised.  Then, I’d be honored.  If I wrote a song that someone else wanted to sing, I’d feel the same way (but I would cash the royalties check).  If I wrote a book, I’d be disappointed if no one ever quoted from it!

 

 

 

wilsonMark Wilson: I am honored when other preachers use my thoughts, stories and outlines, and hope they give me credit for the good ones.

 

 

 

 

sempleHeather Semple: Go for it. Take without question or reservation. Use it however you need to use it. While God talks to me about what to teach our people, I do not presume to think it is only a message for us and not other parts of the Church.

A few years ago, I remember listening to a preacher give a message with the exact outline I had given him earlier that week. As I listened, I thought, “How could he take MY stuff?” Unfortunately, I had completely missed what was taking place. Was it really MINE? No. I was, however, the clear owner of a large pile of pride. And pride is ugly. Ego is ugly. That outline was never mine to claim. 

I have been on the receiving end of generous leadership. Other preachers/teachers/communicators have given me the freedom to learn from their creativity, methods and phrasing. I am grateful. Why would I not do the same? I do not need credit for anything I teach. It came from the Lord. Give Him the credit.

4. What do you wish you could tell preachers in the Wesleyan church about copying, cheating, citing sources, or plagiarism in general?

sempleHeather Semple: While I suppose there are some church communicators looking to take the easy way out, I tend to think that most just want to effectively teach people how to love God and be loved by Him. Most often, it is an effort toward finding creative ways to deliver a truth and not about an avoidance of digging out the truth.

Honestly, as it relates to this issue, I’d like to say, “lighten up.” About a year ago, our creative team thought we had come up with a “never before thought of” title for a new sermon series. We were so excited! Look what WE did, or so we thought. Just for fun, we decided to google the name of our new series. Of course, we humbly learned that we were not the geniuses we thought we were.

As the leader of a church, my main responsibility is to hear from God and then lead people where He has said to go. When I said “yes” to His call on my life, I surrendered my agenda. I promised Him that I would always do what He tells me to do. Most of the time, our own leadership team creates the map that takes us to that God directed destination. Other times, we use the GPS system created by another leader who has already walked the road.

gorveatteMark Gorveatte: Wesley encouraged his itinerant preachers to use his “Standard Sermons” because he understood that some people are just better at writing sermons than others.  Just because you can’t write good sermons doesn’t mean your people don’t deserve to hear good preaching.   But, just tweaking a few words or throwing in your own stories doesn’t make the sermon yours.  If Kevin Myers or Andy Stanley were listening, would they think it was your sermon or theirs?  Give credit where credit is due.  Then, think about those resources as training wheels on a bicycle.  The sooner you can ride safely without them, the happier you’ll be.  If you really can’t learn to develop anything worth preaching, perhaps you could apply to be the host for a campus/venue for Celebrate or 12Stone or LifeChurch.tv!

wilsonMark Wilson: Internet sermons are tv dinners.  I believe a home cooked meal is much better than a microwave tv dinner.  However, I guess if a person can’t cook, a tv dinner is better than starving to death.  If you can’t create an interesting sermon, I suppose it is better to borrow one from some who can.  But, when you do, it’s best to admit it up front.

People don’t mind if you reveal where you obtained your content.  In fact, they appreciate it.

Never preach points or ideas that would embarrass you if someone googled them.  Who knows?  They may even be fact-checking you on their phone while you’re preaching.

Once, I heard a great sermon and raved about it all week.  Then, my wife googled the 3 main points and discovered the guy had swiped it directly from Rick Warren.   My estimation of the preacher decreased significantly.

The best source for a good sermon is the Holy Spirit.  Get alone in prayer and ask the Lord what to preach.  A preacher’s job is to deliver a message — not a sermon.  We are not delivering God’s special message for his children when we’re scrambling on Saturday night, and presenting someone else’s leftovers.

______________________

Interviewed by Dave Ward, June 2014.

 

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