You Can Begin Again | Kevin Fetterhoff

Sermon Title: “You Can Begin Again”

Preacher: Kevin Fetterhoff. Pastor Kevin is the lead pastor at Bethany Wesleyan Church in Cherryville, Pennsylvania. BWC is a thriving congregation, intimately invested in the life of their members and the surrounding community. Churches often thrive when preaching thrives. We feature sermons at because we think featured preachers get something “right” in their preaching. A preacher’s communication habits reflect their life perspective: so in this article, we’ll feature some of Kevin’s replication-worthy paradigms.

Kevin Shows Us That:

  1. Biblical Context is Relatable: Kevin introduces the sermon by talking about Peter’s cultural context. Obviously, Pastor Kevin’s done his homework; just as importantly, he thinks these ancient Near Eastern events have something to do with us. Throughout the message, Pastor Kevin uses exegesis to serve application. The sermon reflects that Peter is like us; he faces pressures and temptations like we do—he’s in need of grace like we are. If you think of the context then and the context now like two prongs of steel, pastor Kevin has crafted them to be a tuning fork. He oscillates back and forth between the then and the relevant now creating resonance in our spirits with the application made. If it was applicable then, and it still rings directly true now, we know we have tapped into something with staying power worth listening to.
  1. New Beginnings are Everywhere: God’s world is full of grace-laden new starts. Pastor Kevin gives vignettes about Biblical characters that exemplify the grace of new beginnings: David, Moses, and Peter, to name a few. New beginnings in God’s Word help us see new beginnings in God’s world—we need only look for them. God’s transformational power can bring about dramatic change: Fetterhoff encourages us to see Him in His re-creative work.  God didn’t stop working on day six. “My father is always working, and so am I” Jesus said. If we aren’t careful our preaching makes it sound like God did something in creation, let us go our own way until Christ’s redemption, and is now waiting again until resurrection. Preaching has to, even in its subtle commitments, keep God’s work first and primary, our response second and secondary.
  1. Holiness is Practical: “Mentors and support groups bring reformation; Jesus brings transformation.” Pastor Kevin points to the necessity of both elements without disparaging either of them. Kevin’s view of holiness is not “pie in the sky, by and by.” It’s a real thing: God’s grace affects how we work, how we live, and even how we pay our taxes. Yet God’s grace usually does this through every day relationships and structural support for our pursuit of holiness. And when holiness is realistic, it is a chance to live out God’s redemptive work through even our most mundane tasks.
  1. The Gospel is Good News: “I hope today can be the day when you see—with God’s help—new horizons.” Kevin explicitly states what his tone and demeanor implicitly express. Throughout the sermon, Fetterhoff makes it clear that the Gospel opens new possibilities for our lives. Faith is an opportunity to see the world with Christ-colored lenses: not glancing over harsh realities, but seeing hope through the dim circumstances of this world. God has invited us into an adventure; and the journey is exciting. When preaching leaves us with downcast eyes and slumped shoulders we eventually start to dread church for good reason. Only unhealthy people enjoy a good dose of that every week. Gospel-ing people through preaching lifts the head, lightens the shoulders, and does so without making everything okay. Conviction isn’t absent, it simply isn’t the last word. The idea of “new possibilities” implies some less than idea past or present. Good news always assumes bad news, there’s no need to overemphasize the bad.
  1. The Audience is Responsible: “The only way we get help is to acknowledge we’ve had a problem. We have to own the fact: ‘I did that. That’s me.’” Kevin helps us realize that the Gospel has implications. While sin derails our life, God offers opportunities for restoration. As we navigate the world, we know we’ll encounter failure; but Kevin reminds us of the need to allow God to restore our failure rather than believing we are our failure: “You don’t slash the other three tires because you blew one out.” Altogether, Kevin helps us (as listeners) to recognize our responsibility to partner with God in His restorative work. Kevin anticipates the different life circumstances the congregation is in: some of them are in literal prison—watching by video. Others are seemingly free, but inhabit a prison of their own making. Regardless of outer circumstance, Fetterhoff reminds us of Christ’s offer of truest freedom.

Follow-Up Exercise:

  1. If you were to pick one of these paradigms that your congregation is likely to recognize in you, which would it be? If you were to pick one that they might smile, even laugh at, saying “that’s not our pastor” which would it be?
  2. It may be worthwhile to listen to one of your most recent sermons and scale yourself from 1-10 on these paradigms.

Sermon review by David Ward and Ethan Linder.


By Faith—Moses | Steve DeNeff

Sermon Title: By Faith—Moses

Preacher: Steve DeNeff is the senior pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. Located adjacent to Indiana Wesleyan University, CWC is a thriving congregation, and is passionate about leadership development, outreach, and discipleship.

Sermon Video:

Sermon Audio:


Sermon Review: Sermons reveal preachers’ presuppositions. Here at, we feature preachers because they have replication-worthy perspectives and practices. In this article, we’ll feature four of DeNeff’s perspectives and practices that we perceive from the perspective of an engaged listener. Often a preacher’s best gifts aren’t even realized by the preacher. If you interview them, and follow what they would suggest, it may do you as much harm as good. Expert preachers do things automatically, and forget they do them, that other preachers have yet to consider. Whether these concepts are new or familiar to you, think through how they might help drive your preaching forward.

In this sermon, Steve Shows Us That:

  1. Sermons Are Staircases: You may love them, but you won’t be able to keep them, because they’re Canadians. Canadians always go home. They hear the motherland, and they always respond.” Steve’s sermon makes us climb. The first stair step—that Canadians love their homeland—is an easy step to reach. The second—that Moses had an identity crisis—is a harder step. The third step—that we need to determine our own ultimate loyalty—is a cumbersome step. Each stair (easy, harder, hardest) builds on the previous steps. At the end of the sermon, we’ve followed DeNeff up the staircase; our perspective elevates as the sermon progresses. This old model builds on rhetorical principles that have been examined as long ago as Aristotle’s Intuitive preachers recognize the need for going from easy to hard even without reading rhetorical treatises.
  1. Tension is Opportunity: Listen to the tension in Deneff’s words: “Is this a Christian nation or not? No. You’re in Egypt. It’s not bad. You can thrive here, you can raise children here, but there comes a time—there always does—when you have to decide: who are my people?” Sermons are built on productive tension: they analyze discrepancy between where we are and where God is leading us. The best sermons help close the gap between the two. Even when Steve doesn’t mention the audience, we know our part in the story. We’re in between what is and what will be.[1]
  1. Anticipation is Good: Listen to the mental time capsule pastor Steve puts in the mind of the listener: “Some of you are here right now; others of you don’t know what I’m talking about. There will come a time when you find yourself here. When that time comes, remember: we had this conversation.” Sermons are time-sensitive; on certain Sundays, our messages might not resonate with part of the congregation. Steve knows this, and he’s made peace with it. Even though the sermon won’t be immediately applicable for everyone, Steve reminds us to hold onto it: it may prove useful in the future. As we craft our sermons, DeNeff helps us refine our anticipation for the Gospel’s consequences. Rightly preached, the Word never returns void; it might not bring immediate fruit, but seeds are planted. Pods are buried.
  1. Perspective Brings Hope: “It’s better to suffer now in what will ultimately succeed than if I succeed now in something that will ultimately fail. Now is where we need the capacity to see things everyone else will know in 100 years.” If we’re focusing only on now, our situation is discouraging; we need perspective that transcends our time. God’s constant presence (even in times of loss) reminds us of the Church’s ultimate victory. The Spirit provides perspective, reminding us that we’re “Not the experts. We may feel objective with rational minds, but we’ve been raised on Pharaoh’s lap.” We’re far more like Moses than the Israelites. By faith, we can see where we are…and we can also see where we’re going.

Application Points:

  1. Make it Portable: Rather than only measuring success by numbers at the altar or point of decision, we should make our sermons portable. Help people carry the message out of the church’s walls, into their businesses, homes, and social circles. A successful sermon doesn’t always pack the altar (though it’s not bad if they do) but it does bring about life change. As we prepare our next sermons, let’s ask: Is this sermon a gift that keeps giving? If it doesn’t touch people today, does this sermon still offer a valuable perspective for the future?
  2. Use (Productive) Tension: In thinking back to last Sunday’s sermon, ask: Did we display the discrepancy between where we are and where God is taking us? The Gospel always has trajectory; if it doesn’t move us forward, then it’s not Good This week, don’t just preach against sin; preach toward holiness. Otherwise, tension isn’t productive.
  1. Build a Staircase: Some of us have never preached a “staircase sermon” As you plan your next series, think about planning at least one “staircase” sermon model—that starts with an easily-acceptable first “step,” then leads the congregation to a higher perspective. Three point sermons work well with a staircase framework since it helps the point move somewhere, and move together. They also help you design a persuasive framework around the points you want to make (whether it is three or five). One yes leads to another, leads to a greater likelihood of the final, most important yes to God’s ultimate claim on our lives.

Ethan Linder is a staff writer and content curator for A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is pursuing a Masters’ Degree in Christian Ministries from IWU, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies.

[1] For more on productive tension in preaching read The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry.

The Value of One | Benji Kelley

Sermon Title: “The Value of One”

Preacher: Dr. Benji Kelley, Senior Pastor at Newhope Wesleyan Church in Durham, NC.

Review: At, we feature preachers whose sermons demonstrate perspectives and techniques worth replicating. Dr. Benji Kelley, Senior Founding Pastor at Newhope Wesleyan Church in Durham, NC, is one such pastor. Below, we’ll examine what we believe are some of Benji Kelley’s core perspectives, at least from the perspective of the listener.[1]

For Kelley:

  • Sermons Teach People to Read: “Would you go after the one and leave the ninety-nine? The shepherds say, ‘Absolutely!’ but we say ‘No way!’” The best sermons teach congregants how to read and interpret Scripture. In helping the congregation see the gap between the original context and our context, Benji points listeners to the bridge between Scripture and application, leading them across it masterfully. Because of Benji’s sermons, Newhope congregants learn how to navigate this bridge, too. It would be difficult to overemphasize the need for pastors to model the pathway from scripture through interpretation to life application. Congregations need this more than we think, more often than we realize, and soak up more than they consciously remember.
  • Phrases Are Sticky: “When we become like Jesus, we are willing to go after the one.” Words matter. If we want sermons to stick to lives, we need phrases that stick to minds. Benji’s statements are beautifully memorable; thanks to his thoughtful preparation, we walk away with faithful exegesis wrapped in memorable, applicable principles. So many preachers I coach (Dave) have all the basic content they need once they are done with their typical exegesis. They have dug up enough “bones” from the layers of biblical history and biblical interpretation. The bones simply do not have flesh on them. They are not alive. They need to be inbreathed with the artistry of God-inspired wordsmithing. I like to think of the best preachers as Bezalel-like figures. Remember Bezalel? He was the anointed and ordained artisan for the ark of the covenant. The materials were there for anyone, as was the basic design and structure. But only someone who was willing to sweat for form and beauty was allowed to bring it to action. Preachers need to sweat over creativity in order to bring form and beauty to the content they have found. Sticky phrases are one way pastor Benji accomplishes this. Another way is sticky questions. Listen to Benjis sermon and notice how many times a carefully turned, directly phrased question draws the listener to think and reflect. Tweetable quotes and repeatable questions are powerful preaching tools that give the message shelf-life even after the sermon is forgotten.
  • Transitions Flow Smoothly: “People see something of great value and do what it takes to go and get it… and that’s exactly what I want to talk to you about today.” Kelley’s transitions gain attention rather than losing it. Benji seamlessly moves from Good Friday to the Gospel, and the congregation doesn’t feel mental whiplash. Because the illustration relates to our experiences and pastor Benji relates to us personally, we’re more likely to respond attentively to the Gospel. Check out the illustration in pastor Benji’s sermon. Pay close attention to how the illustration gets you from point a to point b. Most preachers listen to sermons as if they were in the congregation. That’s fine and it helps us hear the Word of God for us. But we need to shift to hearing sermons the way painters view paintings. They not only stand back and admire the whole, they get up close and study the brush strokes. Study the how of the illustration-as-transition and your preaching will benefit.
  • Delivery Matches Message:When Benji says, “You are not going to want to miss next week!” we know that Benji doesn’t want to miss next week. He’s excited! Some preachers pound the pulpit with an angry fist while shouting “God loves you!” The mixed messages are confusing. Others say the same words “You are not going to want to miss next week” with a flat face and flatter voice. Pastor Benji’s posture, pitch, and tone reflect excitement, energy, and engagement.  When Benji hits key sermon points, his demeanor reflects his words: he slows down for serious points, crescendos into high-energy points, and radiates joy in delivering the Good News. Consequently, we feel emotional resonance with Kelley’s words.

 Application Points:

  • Preach to Teach:As we prepare our next sermons, let’s consider how the sermon teaches congregants to read Scripture for themselves. Do our sermons give congregants insight into the process of exegesis and application, or do our sermons give “pre-packaged” exegesis and meaning? Let’s teach others to read through our sermons.
  • Iron the Seams: Think of the last sermon you preached: did your transitions build interest or lose it? As we prepare our next sermons, let’s brainstorm ways to smoothly move from one point to the next: garnering people’s attention, rather than having them slip through the divide.
  • Make the Ask: Great sermons don’t just make good statements; they ask the right questions. As we go through the sermon preparation process (and every pastoral meeting we have) let’s make a goal: ask more, talk less.

Sermon review by David Ward and Ethan Linder

[1] For a brief introduction into the “turn to the listener” in the field of homiletics, aka the art and science of preaching, see “Listening to the Listener” by Ron Allen and Mary Alice Mulligan at

If God were here speaking audibly, God would not say ‘Go to hell,’ He would rather make an appeal to them that would say, ‘Come unto me!’ He would make an appeal. But God does not speak audibly—you and I do.

Pastor Todd Crofford in his sermon, People of the Cross

Todd Crofford, People of the Cross

People of the Cross | Todd Crofford

Sermon Title: People of the Cross

Preacher: Todd CroffordTodd Crofford is the Lead Pastor of Real Life Wesleyan Church in Mechanicsville, MD. Real Life, planted in 2008, recently expanded to another campus—Real Life South, and is rapidly growing.

At Wesleyan Sermons we believe in creating a hub of preaching resources for Wesleyan pastors that includes articles by homileticians, books and resources for preachers in the Wesleyan tradition, practical insights from working preachers for working preachers, and sermons we can learn from. This week we’re sharing one of the latter. One of the things we love about this sermon is it gives us a chance to read a sermon through the lens of a particular homiletical theory: The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry. For a summary of those thoughts click here. Gene’s work talks about several key things for preaching: the itch and the scratch, upsetting the apple cart of expectations, and maintaining attention by keeping the tension of the plot moving in one continual flow of the sermon. Here’s how we think Todd Crofford accomplished those things:

  1. Todd Scratches a Cultural Itch. Todd began the sermon with a video chronicling the martyrdom of Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS. Culturally cognizant congregants are already familiar with this news. Many would likely come into Church with this burden on their shoulders; the martyrs’ sacrifice has subtly weighed on them during the week. Todd’s intro addresses those burdens while apprising the rest of the congregation of the news they’ve missed. The video itself personalizes these events by quoting an Egyptian Wesleyan Pastor familiar with the Egyptian martyrs, and listing each of the martyrs’ names.
  1. Todd Upsets the Equilibrium. Crofford’s appearance is a tangible reminder of upset: he preaches in an orange jumpsuit—the attire of the martyrs during their death. Crofford disquiets the congregation’s expectations for the sermonic trajectory: “This sermon isn’t about terrorism; I haven’t come here to talk about ISIS—this sermon certainly is not about Islam. Today I want to speak to you about what it means to be people of the Cross.” Todd reminds us that while we are thousands of miles away from the site of martyrdom, our identity is rooted in the same Christ. Crofford reminds us that our denominationalism and patriotism are often held in tension with our Christian identity. He calls out our tendency to quickly glance over tragedies and resume our “normal lives.” Todd’s upset of the equilibrium continues after the sermon’s end. His tone, presentation, and words communicate that we need to find a “new normal” that lives up to our Christian identity. You cannot shake this sermon of with a simple handshake followed by “Good sermon, Pastor.”
  1. Todd Holds Attention. Dr. Crofford never rambled. Nearly every sentence in the sermon was necessary to further the point. He told stories, employed humor, and used carefully-crafted phrases to “stick” in the minds of the listeners. We counted over fifteen “sticky statements,” each of which contributed to his point. Fortunately, Crofford is gifted with both stories and humor, both of which naturally re-engage listeners. The themes introduced at the beginning of the sermon are woven throughout the sermonic fabric. This plot-style beckons the listeners’ attention: how will the story be resolved? What turns will the narrative take?
  1. Todd Presents the Gospel as “Good News”“Our ministry is one of appeal, not accusation.” Pastor Todd embodied this in his words, presence, and delivery. Although his preaching calls hearers out of complacency, his delivery is a tangible application of loving appeal. As a preacher, Todd models the very message he is delivering—even in his tone, style, and verbiage. As Lowry reminds us, the experience of the good news is part of what makes preaching more than motivational speaking.
  1. Transfer of Responsibility. “If God were here speaking audibly, God would not say ‘Go to hell,’ He would rather make an appeal to them that would say, ‘Come unto me!’ He would make an appeal. But God does not speak audibly—you and I do.” In this statement, Pastor Todd upsets the equilibrium and reminds the congregation of their role as Christ’s ambassadors. At another point in the sermon, Pastor Todd reminds the congregation that they are the ministers at Real Life. Far from arrogantly hoarding ministry, Crofford reminds the congregation that the onus is on us—the collective body of Christ. His application (having them write down who they will pray for and reach out to) reveals this core value, and provides concrete transfer of responsibility.

There are plenty more golden nuggets of preaching principles found in this sermon. See what you can find and incorporate in your own preaching!

Followup Exercise: Write down ways that you can transpose the five preaching principles that Todd embodied into your preaching. What areas are you strong in? What areas are you weak in? Think about these and write them down. In preparing for your next sermon, pick one of the strong areas and focus on making it sing. In another sermon, pick one weak area and notch it up one level.

Sermon review by Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Free: The Foundation | Pastor Kyle Ray

Sermon Title: Free: The Foundation

Preacher: Pastor Kyle Ray is the senior pastor of Kentwood Community Church, and a ministry thought leader in the Wesleyan Church. Under Kyle’s leadership, Kentwood has become a multi-ethnic, multi-campus church. Kentwood has grown to be an international church with a new campus in India.

Sermon Link:!/swx/pp/media_archives/128299/episode/56132

Sermon Review:

  1. Kyle celebrates Wins: As he opens the sermon, Kyle purposefully celebrates the past week’s salvations. This is an important part of Kyle’s culture-making, as reflected by Andy Stanley’s principle: what we celebrate, we repeat. By using platform time to celebrate new salvations, Kyle explicitly expresses Kentwood’s culturally evangelical focus.
  1. Kyle Uses Concrete Imagery: Kyle places a massive cage on the stage, representing our interaction with bondage. When the congregation enters the sanctuary, narrative tension is already mounted. What is the cage for? What does this represent? Kyle addresses these questions enough to satisfy listeners—but he also utilizes the tension to maintain interest. Throughout the sermon, Kyle enters the cage when talking about bondage to sin. Later, he exits the cage—representing the freedom in Christ. Listeners begin to see the Gospel playing out before them: while we were yet sinners, Christ died to make us lastingly free. Concrete imagery like this impresses the mind more enduringly. The reason? The mind is trained to remember things in the real world: trees, walls, rain. It has to work harder to retain abstract concepts. Hook your abstract concepts to concrete objects and you win memory for the long haul.
  1. Kyle Establishes Importance and Urgency: In his introduction, Kyle articulates the types of interaction with bondage: those who know they’re in bondage, those who don’t know they’re in bondage, and those freed from bondage through relationship with Jesus. Everyone in the audience has a story of captivity—but there’s freedom and Good News in Christ. A sense of urgency is often the key ingredient missing from weekly sermons. The pastor easily slips into filing the time with content. When that happens, the sense of importance can slip as well. Give them content, but give them content you deeply believe has urgency attached.
  1. Kyle Intertwines Application: Kyle didn’t wait until the end of his sermon to provide actions steps. Even in the first few moments, Kyle portrays the Gospel’s demands on our lives. “Pay attention this week to areas of your life where you may be in slavery, and ask Jesus to set you free,” Kyle says. Kyle intertwines exegesis with application by helping us see ourselves in the Gospel narrative. Our freedom is wrought by an ongoing story of costly discipleship—but the resources for the story are already written through the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  1. Kyle Brings Ancient and Modern Audiences Together: John 8 doesn’t just have application for the Jews; it has implications for us, too. Kyle sees a connection between both applications, and helps us draw the parallel, too. Kyle helps us read “over the shoulder” of the Jewish audience: even helping us see how we respond to Jesus calling us out of sin’s bondage. “Some of you are thinking, ‘I didn’t come to Church to be insulted!’ then you can relate to the Jews,” says Ray. Like the Jews, we don’t want to hear about our captivity—but because of Jesus, we (and the Jews) can be free.
  1. Kyle Winsomely Articulates Holiness: Holiness is a state of freedom: of loving obedience to God’s voice. Kyle thinks so, too. Throughout the sermon, Kyle associates holiness and freedom. Holiness provides full escape from the bondage of a divided heart. “When we follow Jesus, the way out (of the cage) becomes more straightforward.” Kyle also provides a strategy for inviting people to holiness: love. We have not “cornered the market” on holiness; we’re in need, too. Our cultural posture must be one of lovingly inviting others to journey with us in a lifelong cleansing.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How does your preaching help people to want to live in close relationship with Jesus? Or do they simply feel like they should? The difference is the gap between legalism and love.
  1. How can you utilize concrete objects or illustrations (not a video) to help congregants leave with a tangible image of the Gospel’s implications on their lives?

This review contributed by Ethan Linder, Staff Writer for

Ethan is a staff writer for A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is pursuing a Masters’ Degree in Christian Ministries from IWU, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies. Follow Ethan on Facebook and Twitter.

Find Your Strength of Character for Preaching

  1. Do people tell you they feel like you read their journals?
  2. Have you had people tell you that you are a healing presence in the pulpit?
  3. Do you gravitate toward psychology as a helping discipline more than other schools of thought?
  4. Do you naturally think of the pain people are going through as a primary motive for preaching?
  5. Have you preached on grieving, suffering, or pain as a primary preaching theme this month?
  6. Would you rather consider yourself compassionate than passionate?
  7. Do you gravitate more toward Ephesians than Hebrews?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions empathy may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

  1. Do people tell you that they love your vulnerablitiy in the pulpit?
  2. Do others tell you your brokenness is one of your best qualities?
  3. Do you gravitate toward exegesis more than topical preaching because it helps you find something to say?
  4. Do you naturally think of the ways this passage confronts and challenges you before you think of how it might preach?
  5. Do you gravitate more toward Proverbs and Philippians more than 1 and 2 Kings or Romans?
  6. Are you surprised when numerous people respond physically, visually, or verbally to your preaching?
  7. Have you been told that your tone is easy to listen to and that you do not “talk down” to people?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions humility  may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

  1. Do you have a few burning concerns about unfairness in the world that you want to see changed?
  2. Have you been called a “prophetic voice” for your preaching in your community or broader ministry?
  3. Do you gravitate more toward James or the prophets than the Pentateuch or Galatians?
  4. Are there issues about which you feel you just cannot be silent in the pulpit and be true to yourself?
  5. Have you preached on racism, sexism, materialism, sex trafficking, or immigration in the last month?
  6. Do you serve on the board of a ministry to the poor or oppressed or regularly volunteer in one of those ministries?
  7. Do you feel that action is more important than words and that your actions are your best sermons?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions justice may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

  1. Do you feel that you have gathered many insights and ways of living over the years that you want to share with your congregation so they can live better lives?
  2. Have you been told you are mature for your age, have more knowledge than your years should allow, or that you are a trusted source of counsel in a way that surprises you?
  3. Do you naturally gravitate toward Proverbs, Romans, or James more than the Gospels or Psalms?
  4. Is cutting down your sermons more of a challenge than filling the time? Even before you add stories and illustrations?
  5. Has someone said that the “light bulb finally came on” for them after hearing one of your sermons on a difficult topic?
  6. Do you prefer reading Andy Stanley or John Kotter to Henri Nouwen or Mother Theresa?
  7. Do you find mentoring and coaching to be rather stress free but counseling others to be difficult and frustrating?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions wisdom may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

These strengths are not the kind of strengths you find in the secular model of the Strengths Quest, as helpful as that is. They also are not performative strengths exactly though some elements of performance can be of benefit. They are strengths of personhood. They are parts of our character as preachers. Each of them should play a role in every preacher’s life. But not preacher will be the perfect model of all preaching virtues. So think on these things:

  1. Growing your strengths is almost always more productive than trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. How can you emphasize the area of your greatest strength and bring others around you in the pulpit who complement you rather than clone you?
  2. Weaknesses that are too weak are like flies in the ointment, it damages the whole. Consider creating a targeted growth plan for the weakest of the three for you for the coming year.

Now read below for some next steps to grow your particular area of strength and minimize the downfalls of the strength:

Senior and young holding handsEmpathy: Empathic preachers really deliver well on topics related to therapeutic needs, personal growth, and human relationships. Be careful not to avoid the difficult theological work that needs done for counsel and healing to be truly Christian. The gospel is a healing power, but it is not self-help. Lean on others around you to press you to think more carefully theologically and to submit yourself to the teaching of doctrine not just the insights from psychology.

Humility: Humble preachers really deliver well on topics related to conviction, sin, and flaws of character. Be careful that your humility not turn to shame, otherwise you may put too heavy an expectation on yourself and your listeners as a result. Gospel, gospel, gospel people do not guilt them. Lean on people around you for the empathy to know when you are expecting too much, and the wisdom to know the difference between shame and conviction.

Wisdom: Wise preachers really deliver well on topics related to living well, discernment, difficult situations, leadership, doctrine, and finance. Be careful to remember that people do not always have the easiest time doing the wisest thing. Personal baggage, wounds, self doubt and more can cause a person to act against wisdom. Wisdom alone does not always win the day. Lean on people around you for the humility and empathy to realize that what motivates you does not motivate the average person.

justiceJustice: Prophetic preachers deliver well on topics related to social justice, oppression, greed, sexism, racism, or other prejudices. Be careful the fire of your passion does not leap the bounds and become a prairie fire of anger. Anger pushes people away, passion draws people in. Lean on those around you to help you discern when your sense of justice lacks compassion for the one in power or privilege. Also be ware that your passion areas may blind you to your own lack of just living. Also lean on those who are wise in the ways of the world to help you find strategic steps from the real toward the ideal.

© David B Ward, 2015

Thrive – Risk | Rev. John Lewis

Sermon Title: THRIVE: Risk

Preacher: John Lewis, Pastor of Servants of Christ in La Plata, MD. Servants of Christ is an affiliate of the New Life Wesleyan Church in La Plata. Pastor John started ministry by street preaching, ministering to the homeless, and engaging in prison ministry.

Sermon Link:

Reasons this Sermon Was Highlighted:

  1.  John Engages Testimony:  As John surveys a Scriptural story he encourages listeners to survey their own stories. John recognizes that the congregation and the Gospel are each writing stories. John encourages the congregation to graft their stories into the larger picture of Christ’s works in the world. God is not a story, but humans often think clearest in story formats so this helps the human connect with the divine.
  2. John Does His Homework: John presents information behind the text: geography, history, original languages, Scripture parallels, and even feelings of the characters. His materially is rich, but his sermon doesn’t preach like a commentary. John’s homework it allows him to speak from Scripture’s context into ours: Philistine garrisons are “special ops soldiers,” Armor bearers are brotherly golf caddies, and the missional mindset is akin to being “on board” with a family budget plan. Though any metaphor breaks down if pressed too far, John’s familiarity with both Scripture and culture helps listeners connect both Gospel to application.
  3. John Purposefully Emphasizes Key Words: The audience knows what’s important because John slows down, changes tone and pace and therefore emphasizes the most important words the clearest. He has consistent energy, but he directs the energy towards a destination. This forward movement, and purposeful use of performative elements goes a long way toward clearing out the mental clutter every lister struggles through during a sermon.
  4. John Uses Humor: Rather than making humor the main course, John uses humor to “season” his sermon. After making a historical reference, he brings history to life with playful comments and wit. This reengages listeners who may have “tuned out” during background information about the text. This use of humor helps build preaching credibility without becoming a distraction.
  5. John Invites Everyone: “You don’t have to be good looking; you don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to have money. You have to have the courage to do the right thing when nobody else will.” John recognizes the Gospel’s universal call to redemption, and proclaims the invitation to participate.
  6. John Addresses Contemporary Issues:John addresses racial tension, economic struggle, and workplace integrity. He speaks the Gospel’s message of racial, ethnic, and economic reconciliation, boldly addressing contemporary society’s oversight: “There’s no one race that has cornered the market on bad people. Anything that tries to separate us is not of God.”
  7. John uses memorable phrases with theological depth. Depth does not necessarily mean complexity. Sometimes the deepest truths are communicated in the simplest ways. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a scriptural example. If you read back through this review or listen to John’s sermon following the link above you’ll notice that a lot of what we love of John’s preaching comes through in tightly woven, well worded phrases.

Follow-up Exercises:

  • John encouraged the Church to be brave together. After listening to this sermon, think of ways your local church can love more audaciously.
  • What need can your church courageously meet for your community?
  • How can you be braver in your walk with Jesus and love for others?
  • Which of John’s greatest preaching qualities do you want to work on?

This review contributed by Ethan Linder, Staff Writer for

Ethan is a staff writer for A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is pursuing a Masters’ Degree in Christian Ministries from IWU, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies. Follow Ethan on Facebook and Twitter.

Preaching in Series

If you preach regularly, you probably preach in sermon series. It creates efficiencies of sermon study, overlapping insights leading to greater depth, focuses the preaching plan for that season, and allows the listener to zero in on one area of their life instead of pin balling back and forth across many zones. It isn’t the only way to preach regularly and responsibly, but it is a good one. We regularly receive questions both in person and via email related to preaching in series. I have gathered insights from regularly preaching pastors, my own series preaching, texts on preaching in series, and some good old logic plus common sense. The result is 21 tips on preaching in series.

  1. Pastors Sermon RetreatSchedule a yearly sermon planning retreat. A lot of preachers find late July or early August to be a great time to do this. Many find that if they plan for October through September the sermon retreat doesn’t have as much pressure and gets them ahead of the game enough. Give significant time to listening prayer. Pastors do not get nearly enough time to listen to God deeply within their souls.
  2. Book guest or staff preachers surrounding the sermon planning retreat. You do not want the pressure of an up and coming Sunday blocking your creativity on your retreat. Get away, turn off the phone and email for blocks of time, and relive the creativity pressure for coming sermons.
  3. Use the church year, the civic year, the lectionary, expository series, and topical series to prevent you from getting into a rut. All of them have value. All of them have downfalls. Put another way…
  4. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to the lectionary. Some people feel that if you are not using it you are not Christian. Silly.
  5. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to the civic calendar. Some think if you use the lectionary you’re somehow off the ranch of the faith. Also silly.
  6. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to topical preaching. Needs based preaching unchecked by another form ends up creating God in our own image. God asks questions we do not ask.
  7. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to expository preaching. Preaching books of the bible is not the only legitimate form of series preaching. It is okay even good to preach toward people’s felt needs as long as you do it with faithful exegesis not motivational speaking.
  8. Create an easily accessible filing system for each sermon series. Think of it like having 10 crockpots cooking for the year. Keep throwing new materials into each crockpot to let it simmer whenever you find them. The longer the simmer the better the flavor.
  9. Choose your texts during the sermon planning retreat. 1/4th of preaching preparation time is wasted during the weeks leading up to the sermon anguishing over which text to preach. All of it is God breathed. Choose one, and preach on it!
  10. Get close to the focus of your sermon in your sermon planning retreat. You may say something different about the them than you thought you would, after all the text should rule the day. You may change the application direction. You may even have to change the theme occasionally. But having one directs the mind, focuses creativity, allows your team to help, and gets your brain started working while you sleep.
  11. Cut, clip, copy, paste, and do everything else you can to hoard up illustrations, ideas, insights, exegesis, and other sermon material in that sermon series’ file. Actively fill each crock-pot throughout the year. Some pastors find it helpful to use Evernote. I agree…it’s a great digital tool that you can clip right off the net into your file. Or snap a smartphone pic and drop it into that sermon series. Scan a page of a book and send it into the future three months.
  12. Only use verses topically that you have studying exegetically. That usually means 3 or 4 texts in a single sermon is the max no matter what some famous preachers do. If you buy sermons off of big name pastors be careful. They may believe something you do not. Given some pastors’ failing over the last few decades, you may not be getting truth. You might be buying misguided ideas.
  13. Keep review from previous sermons to the absolute minimum. Some pastors “review” introductions snowball into 10 minutes by the final sermon in a series. Just have them listen to the old ones online.
  14. 4 months out from the sermon series spend 2 hours a week on each message. The aim is to get to the point of clarity for your creative arts and worship team. If you do this regularly your preaching anxiety will drop immensely. It takes scheduling and discipline for a year. Then you will see the benefits and always want to schedule that discipline.
  15. Rarely work on just one sermon at a time. When you are truly stuck, switch passages. Creativity can hit a roadblock that the subconscious works on better than the conscious. Sermons often cross pollinate each other as well. So sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away, and come back fresh another day. So long as you are working ahead this isn’t procrastination.
  16. Remember that base hits win games. Avoid the temptation to make every sermon a home run. Move the listener one significant step closer each sermon in the series.
  17. Strategically map your application and decision moments so that they build upon the last sermon and catalyze the next. Start with applications that are foundational or catalytic at the beginning. Move toward greater leaps at the end.
  18. Avoid using a multitude of metaphors. A few metaphors are all that the series can handle. Keep them clear, concrete, and compelling.
  19. Listen to someone else preach on that text, topic, season…then write your own sermon. Preaching inspires preaching. You cross the line when you use their words, their illustrations, or their sermonic moves without credit. Just get inspired and write your own thing.
  20. Get another voice. In your sermon series, avoid carrying all the weight. If you can get one sermon handed off to someone who you can count on it will benefit the listener, the church, and you. You have blind spots in every sermon series you will ever preach.
  21. dominoes-02Practice 4, 3, 2, 1 rhythm for your sermons:  4 weeks out have a beginning outline you can work from even if you change it later. 3. weeks out have a story, an illustration, or an object that you can be excited about. 2 weeks out preach through the sermon for the first time and make necessary adjustments. 1 week out get down to polishing the sermon out loud.

These aren’t the only 21 tips we have for preaching in series, but they are 21 good ones. If you do these things you will be blessed in your preaching. Your anxiety will decrease. Your creativity will increase. Your teamwork will synergies. And best of all, God will be with you and made the work of your preaching fruitful.

© David B Ward, 2015

7 Gestures Preachers Should Avoid

Since I started coaching preachers nine years ago I have been finding ways to describe to preachers what we see in the seats. Over and over again a few patterns crop up in all kinds of preachers: young, old, big church, small church, women, men, gifted, and not quite as gifted preachers. Since I have seen them emerge across the spectrum of preachers, I imagine one of them just might plague you too.

preacher_box1. Locked Gesture Box

Draw a stick figure on a piece of paper. Then draw a dark line from the edge of one shoulder to the next. Draw a dark line directly across the waist of the imaginary figure. Now connect the shoulder lines with the waist lines. The dark lines form the gesture box. Human beings are very self conscious creatures. As a result, when we speak in front of others our gestures are diminutive, limited, constrained, and often forced. We think too much about what others must be thinking. The tendency when anxiety hits is to constrict gestures and to keep your arms closely over your torso. It’s a protective maneuver. It’s as if the gesture box is a jar and your hands are flees hitting the walls and lid. It’s hard to break out of the gesture box especially for less-than-confident ministers.

2. Follow the Bouncing Ball

Many preachers feel it is their job to communicate passion through their speaking. Since gestures are intuitively understood as emphasis markers, overly passionate speakers over gesture. Remember the bouncing ball on kid’s reading movies? Our gestures start to look like that, bouncing on every word. It can be quite distracting, even humorous for listeners. More importantly, since they do not know what the preacher intends to emphasize they pick their own.

3. Impact Sprinkler

The impact sprinkler is a rhythmically rotating, but stationary sprinkler that moves by the force of water in an arc. It hits the stopper on one side and rotates back to the other. Some preachers look like that sprinkler rhythmically, predictably, and steadily rotating from one side of the room to the next. Their torso faces one group, then the next, then the next, then the next, then works it’s way back. Some people are more like the old type writers and quickly return to the first position, but most are like sprinklers. It subconsciously undercuts a sense of authenticity, gives the air of a performance, and undermines the perception of speaker authority and confidence. Randomizing which section to focus on, varying the angle of presentation, and moving the zero-position for the feet from time to time in purposeful ways eliminates this issue.

4. Mixed Signals

Pounding the pulpit, flexing the muscles, furrowing the brow, then pointing the finger, the preacher shouts “God loves you!” Or, with milquetoast mild manners the preacher speaks yawningly of the hope and joy we can have with the fullness of the spirit. Christian life is unpredictable, the preacher claims, dynamic and exhilarating…all without moving an arm more than an inch, or an eyebrow a millimeter. Or the preacher paces like a lion from one side of the platform to the other, slightly crouched, frantically gesticulating on “be still and know that I am God.” When our non-verbals mix the signals our verbals are attempting to send, it’s no wonder our people “don’t get it” or fail to recognize our point.

Your gestures are speaking so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.

5. Dopple Ganger

A dopple ganger is a parallel person in another universe, or another place with great similarity. If you put this gesture pattern on fast forward it starts to look like conducting a choir. Two arms in relatively symmetrical or parallel patterns. Lock step they travel, completely synced they stop. They move right, they swerve left, all the while attached by invisible strings of sameness. The speaker begins to look stiff, formal, rehearsed, even formulaic. I remember a well known speaker in my young adult years had this problem. His arms were so consistently together, he would even place both hands on his backside at the same time in a very comical way. They went everywhere together, even places you wished they would not go.

6. Touching the Face

One hand to the check with an elbow resting on the other arm (half thinker pose). Wiping the brow (evangelist move). Tugging the ear (apologetic pause). Rubbing the nose (uncertain of gold dust). Pinching the chin between thumb and finger (calculated consideration). Rubbing the cheek (not sure how to say this). The real translation of all of these gestures is, “I feel uncomfortable and touching my face gives me comfort.”

7. If I Had a Hammer

The closed fist like a piston rises and falls. That’s the classic hammer gesture of course. The arm is the handle, the fist the head. Every phrase or key point is the nail. But I use this phrase to describe any gesture that happens so much so, that you begin to think the gesture tool box has only one tool: call it a hammer. So every need for emphasis looks like a nail. If you are this preacher, and you had a hammer, you would hammer in the morning, hammer in the evening, all over this land. You would hammer the same way with almost every mood, almost every sermon, almost every time.

What’s your Gesture to Avoid? Don’t know? Here are some quick and easy ways to find out:

  1. Ask someone who watches you preach often and tells he truth without fear. Just be sure you are ready to hear what they have to say. Maybe wait until Wednesday. It’s far enough from Sunday so that you recovered, and far enough from Sunday that you can recover again.
  2. Watch yourself on fast forward. DVD’s make this more difficult than the old VHS model but 2x speed can still  be somewhat helpful. Even better, get an old recorder and do it the VHS way or the mini-cam way. Then watch it on smooth fast forward to catch your repetitive gestures.
  3. Preach with a mirror. I mean it. Preach in front of a mirror at a time when no one can see you. Don’t look at the mirror for a while, then glance at it to see your gestures. How’s your stance? What’s repeated? What is incongruent?
  4. Remember this formula: Congruent (match the idea), Asymmetrical (no arm mirroring) , Unique gestures (non-repetitive). Congruent, asymmetrical, and unique. 

 – By David B. Ward, © 2015