He Knows Me, Why Am I Here? – Kenneth Wagner

Sermon Title: He Knows Me—Why Am I Here?

Sermon Link: https://youtu.be/UEhNDjqfJmE

Preacher: Kenneth Wagner is the Lead Pastor of United Church in Dover, DE. One of the greatest Wesleyan Missional Priorities[1] is Urban Urgency—a focus on reaching the unchurched in cities and large towns. Church planters are at the forefront of reaching the unchurched in these communities. Kenneth and Sherry Wagner planted United Church in Dover, Delaware with a mission to “See those far from God be united in Christ.” In this preaching moment, Kenneth demonstrates some replication-worthy communication strategies which we’ll highlight below.

Pastor Kenneth Shows Us:

  1. Celebrations Shape Preaching: “We saw 30 people come home here within the last weeks.”

Kenneth opens his sermon by celebrating the church’s fulfillment of their mission to reach the lost in Dover. By discussing salvations as “coming home,” he also reminds the church of an opportunity to rejoice with people newly welcomed into God’s family. Wagner also uses the beginning of the sermon to discuss their church’s #ForDover mission: United’s way of engaging the community outside the church walls. This #ForDover initiative has taken United into service at community events, partnerships with local schools, and relationships with police officers in Dover (along with a whole lot of other exciting things). By sharing these “victories” with the congregation, Pastor Kenneth reminds us that celebration often leads to replication.

  1. Preaching Redefines the Common: “The average human’s lifespan is 28,750 days—and this seems like a long time, but we wake up tomorrow and it’s 28,749 days; and by the end of the week, you have 28,743. I’m 29, which means I’ve lived about 10,585 days; that’s pretty sobering.”

Earthly life is a limited resource; most of us know this. But when was the last time we put a number to this assumption? While we’re aware of the finitude of our lives, Kenneth’s day-by-day breakdown brings perspective on how we spend our days. Seasoned preachers (and congregants) can sometimes be lulled into repetition of the same rhythms, phrases, and perspectives: leaving their congregations with a bland diet of spiritual food. Kenneth reminds us of our need to shed new light on ancient truth—providing fresh perspective on something that could’ve otherwise passed unnoticed. As a result, every key point of Kenneth’s sermon helps the congregation read with “fresh eyes.” When we hear a preacher sharing new discoveries in familiar texts, we can reframe our own spiritual journey: anticipating fresh spiritual insights from long-known truths.

  1. Transitions Move the Mind (in the right direction): “If these numbers are legit, wouldn’t it be wise to ask ourselves, ‘Why am I here?’”

Transitions are like switch-rails: they can either provide new direction or derail the sermonic train. Kenneth masterfully transitions between concrete statistics and existential questions. The congregation has a grasp on the finitude of life, which establishes urgency to know life’s meaning. Wagner uses this shift to provide insight into God’s perspective on life’s purpose, and injects a communal emphasis (at United Church) on seeking God-imbued passion and purpose. This flows harmoniously with Kenneth’s earlier articulation of United’s “wins,” catalyzing his later discussion of how each person contributes to United’s mission of seeing those far from God united in Christ.

  1. Words Can Dance: “Regardless of what anyone has said about you in the past, you are not an accident. Your parents may not have planned for you, but God did. There are such things as illegitimate parents; but there’s no such thing as an illegitimate child.”

Pews are full of rejection, wounds, and pain. Through this quote, Kenneth sheds light into God’s redemption of hurtful labels and discouraging words carried by some in the congregation. Because he knows Dover’s family demographics, Pastor Kenneth’s words are crafted to remind those who are coming from broken homes that God longs to see them restored to His family (even if their family has no interest in restoration). He also reminds the congregation of God’s longing to know, love, and be for them.

“Even greater than being known by Dean Rizzo, even greater than being known by the mayor of Dover is being known by the Creator of the Universe. He knows you; and not only does He know you, He loves you. And not only does He love you, He is for you. He wants you to thrive right where you are.”

To a community full of people who have experienced rejection, Kenneth provides a reminder of God’s faithful love and steadfast commitment to His people’s well-being. During any given Sunday, we preach to people in pain. Our preaching must contribute to people’s healing, not pile on greater wounds and burdens of insufficiency.

Action Items:

  1. Define The Celebration: As you prepare your next sermon series, define what you celebrate. What does your church doing for our community? What would we like to see more of in our congregation?
  1. Redefine Something Common: What part of the Gospel doesn’t speak to you very much anymore? Identify a few key passages, and write down how you might be able to preach one of these passages by looking at it with fresh eyes. Ask questions you haven’t asked before, talk to others about their perspectives on the passage, and read a new commentary by someone whose opinion you might not usually consult.
  1. Heal with Words: As you prepare the coming sermon series, try to identify people’s pain before identifying their problems. Ask: “What hurt might my preaching help heal in the coming weeks?” By doing so, your preaching might become even more compassionate—and may heal some deep-seated wounds in the hearts of your congregation.

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

[1] (https://www.wesleyan.org/about#our-vision)

How to Be Rich – Julie Penta

Sermon: How To Be Rich

How To Be Rich | Week Five from The Grove Church on Vimeo.

Sermon Link: https://vimeo.com/118670916

Preacher: Julie Penta is Senior Pastor of The Grove Church in Fort Collins, Colorado: a congregation committed to Love God, Love People, and Live Out. As a result of The Spirit’s work through her leadership and the church’s mission, The Grove Church has been effective at reaching many with the transformational Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We want to highlight for you some of the things that Pastor Julie does in this sermon that are worth replicating in your own preaching.

Julie Shows Us That:

  1. Stories are Pivots: “They said, ‘It’s not actually our car, it’s God’s car.’ And that has been an example in my mind for a long time: what it looks like to say, ‘I have this item and I’d like for you to borrow it.’”

Julie begins her sermon with a story, using the narrative as a pivot: relating neighborly kindness to God’s generosity. Through the story, Penta reveals God’s actions through other people’s participation. Penta also utilizes her words to pivot our definitions (of wealth, for example). After reading the Scripture, she says “When I read these verses in the past, I’d be like, ‘This doesn’t apply to me, this applies to the Bill Gates’s of the world; I’m actually not rich.’ But these verses apply to you and apply to me. We need to learn how to be good rich people.” This quote shares Penta’s own experience of transformation, and relates her self-discovery to the Christian motivation toward generosity. In doing so, she transfers responsibility from the “super-rich” to the rest of us (even if we don’t feel wealthy).

  1. Less (Movement) is More (Focus): Penta’s upper-body movements mirror the story her sermon is telling. As she discusses the tight-fisted approach to money, she tightens her fist; as she discusses being willing to give, her hand uncoils into an open palm (more about this below). During each segment of the sermon, however, Pastor Julie’s feet remain rooted in the stage, helping the congregation retain focus on her storytelling gestures without being distracted by unnecessary movements around the stage. Many preachers pace the stage like caged lions waiting for their next meal. In the preacher’s mind he is connecting with each section of the audience. For the audience, it’s pure distraction. When you move, make it purposeful. If you want to connect with a different section of the sanctuary, move once and stay there for a time. Allow your energy to move up the trunk of your body from your planted feet, and come out through your facial and bodily gestures.
  1. Matter Matters: “It’s ours, we earned it, we don’t want it to go to anyone else. So we have a tight-fisted approach with our money.”

Rather than relying exclusively on technological media, Collins provides an illustration using physical currency. As mentioned above, Pastor Julie compresses her hand around the cash, recoiling her arm from the thought of giving her hard-earned money away to someone else. After embracing God’s value of generosity, she extends the cash in front of her—embodying an open-handed approach to financial blessing. The message is clearer because she used a physical medium to drive her point home. In a digital media-driven world, physical illustrations are a less “noisy” way to make the sermon stick in the congregation’s memory. Anything tangible, actually real, stands out to us as we are used to seeing every “thing” only virtually really.

  1. Heroes are Celebrated: “Rather than facilitating their own self-interest, they were the most giving people I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Pastor Julie allows someone else to wear the cape. Instead of using narratives bolstering her own image to the congregation, Pastor Julie opts to tell stories of people who have exemplified generosity during her own times of need. This provides a helpful example to us: when we tell stories, do we subtly polish our reputations, or allow someone else to be the protagonist in part of God’s story? Towards the end of the sermon, Penta identifies two people in the congregation who took a 90-day tithing challenge. During their walk to the stage, Pastor Julie extols their service to the church while discussing the journey their journey towards sacrificial generosity. (People are usually only seen virtually too…bringing them up front plants them in the memory almost as strongly as the pastor.) In doing so, she subtly communicates to the congregation: I admire you; you can be the hero.

  1. Response Doesn’t End at the Altar: “When you hear about raising money for Ebola, or getting the children’s ministry started, or helping with flooding in Estes Park, are you living open-handed?”

Altar calls are tremendously useful; but they can sometimes become the end of a journey rather than a new beginning. Knowing this, Pastor Julie invites the congregation to respond after the service. The congregation won’t have fulfilled their responsibility before they leave; they must fulfill it after they leave—maybe even at lunch: “We are the worst tippers; nobody in the service industry wants to work Sunday afternoons, because all the cheap church people go in there. How sad is that? We need to be the people that change that around; we need to be people that are open-handed with our money.”

In our service planning, we must be mindful of our motive in an altar call: are we providing this opportunity for the congregation’s benefit, or including an altar call because it’s an easy way to gratify our desire for an easy conclusion and “results”? This message reminds us: sometimes the best response elements come after the service has concluded. God’s work is planted in the pew, but it may bear fruit in a restaurant. If the congregation can shake off the sermon and say “check” or “done!” when the service is over we might want to revisit our call to action.

Application Exercises:

  1. Identify Heroes: Jim Dunn once said, “If one month of the year is pastor’s appreciation month, then eleven months of the year are congregation appreciation months.” We think he’s right. As you think of your sermon illustrations, consider how you can use your examples to let someone else wear the cape. In doing so, you’ll help your congregation see your attentiveness to God’s work in their lives (rather than just your own). If preaching doesn’t elevate communal-esteem it might be worth asking what it is elevating? After all, this is Christ’s bride we are preparing.
  1. Use a Physical Illustration: As you prepare this Sunday’s sermon, think how you might physically represent the change you want to see in people’s lives. Doing so might help your congregation remember God’s demands on their lives as seen in your sermon.
  1. Put the Altar in the Week: What if your sermon ended outside the church? As you prepare your next series, aim to have at least one sermon during which there is no altar call in service. During this sermon, the altar call should be an “assignment” that’ll help your congregation fulfill God’s vision for their lives during the week. Make this a simple, singular, concrete action that helps them inculcate godly principles.

The Coming Lord – Clint Ussher

Sermon: The Coming Lord

Sermon Linkhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/m-thewell-735culh76.l/podcast/20-12-2015-The-Coming-Lord-Clint-Ussher.mp3

clint-jamie-ussher-246x300Preacher: Clint Ussher is the lead pastor of The Well Church in Christ Church, New Zealand: a five year old church plant that longs to see big things happen through an encounter with God and awakening to His love.

Preaching reveals much about the preacher’s homiletical practices. During this sermon, Pastor Clint displays some superb preaching principles.

Pastor Clint Shows Us That:

  1. Context is Important: “This is one of those times where we pray for car parks. We think, ‘Oh, Lord, if I can just get into one quick, I don’t mind walking a little farther than I’d like to.’ I think it’s funny right here in New Zealand where everything’s frantic and hectic and then everything stops for a month.”

Pastor Clint begins his sermon by appealing to collective experience: the busyness of the Christmas season. As New Zealanders shop for gifts at the local mall (which he references by name), their prayers turn from more spiritual matters to trivial self-absorption. By naming familiar places, Pastor Clint appeals to his congregation’s shared consciousness: the locations they visit regularly. But he also points to the feelings most Christian-influenced cultures experience around the holidays: pressures of consumerism, anxiety about holiday preparations, and prioritization of the “reason for the season.” Because he knows his the feelings, locations, and struggles of his congregation, Pastor Clint makes insightful connections that lend him immediate credibility with newcomers.

  1. Words Can Sizzle: “‘I will dwell among you.’ This is the same language used in regards to the purpose of the Temple and Tabernacle. God’s covenant is for all people. God longs to tabernacle in us.”

Pastor Clint uses a word study to express, not impress. He discusses the purpose of the word, and how its inclusion in both passages draws us into God’s redemptive work. Although his research is evident, he keeps his explanation concise and pertinent to the conversation—using study to drive home his point. As we write our sermons, we also need to attend to the motives behind our word studies. Does the word study make the connection “sizzle”? Or are we including word studies to extol our own knowledge of original texts? When we savor Scripture’s words, they reveal deeper meanings… and when we present them to others, they sizzle.

  1. Point to Resolution (make us want to feel it): “Our worship should include both/and. Our experience of worship is reduced if we pick one over the other; we need an approach that balances the transcendence of God… with His immanence. We need one that helps us balance the exaltation of God with His closeness to us. We need an approach that balances exuberance and expressive praise with quiet and reflective worship.”

Ussher notices a conflict in church culture, and proposes a way forward. Recognizing denominational disparity surrounding worship, Pastor Clint helps his congregation realize the relative unimportance of preference. As a result, the congregation is liberated to see other denominations as co-worshippers, collectively responding to God’s salvific action. Ussher’s conflict resolution enables the congregation to see the church as a God-woven tapestry composed of the “fabric” of diverse opinions and traditions.

  1. Focus Outward: “The work in Cambodia is flourishing; a sustainable model is breaking through. God raised up two families in response especially to the prayers of an eight year old boy. There are now many more Wesleyan churches in that part of the world.”

Not only does pastor Clint point out where God is “springing up” in Christchurch, New Zealand; he also takes a significant portion of the service to highlight God’s work of other nations’ churches. He highlights missionary efforts by Global Partners in Africa and Cambodia, talks about an Australian Church’s work, and discusses 12Stone Church’s reverse-offering in Georgia. After doing so, Clint locates The Well in God’s work of springing into action.

  1. Open Up New Possibilities: “Don’t miss those ways in which God is springing into action. Ask God to attune your hearts to them so we don’t miss them.” “Church, God is here; He is far more present, far more active, and far more involved in our world than we can ever imagine. He is springing into action all over the place. It’s been true for us in the past, and because of that, we can hold true to this: knowing it will be true in the future.”

Pastor Clint’s tone and word choices harmonize to convey anticipation for God’s saving work. As a result, the congregation walks away with a desire for attention to “God-sightings” in their lives. Great preaching leads congregations to see new possibilities for The Spirit’s work in them, through them, and with them. The world is dark; great preaching reveals the light.

Application Exercises:

  1. Include Your Community: As you prepare your next sermon series, include a reference to something all your congregation would be familiar with (a location, event, etc). Try to do something that will build the community up, and help your congregation love it more. Often we only denigrate what everyone knows, and convict them for it. Redeem it, elevate it, and bring Christian perspective to it.
  1. Focus Outward: Include an international reference in your next sermon. Whether it’s a news story, a missionary endeavor, or a church in your denomination somewhere else in the world, think about how your congregation can see (and admire) God’s work in other people groups. Lift their visions beyond your local church to the church universal.
  1. Open Possibilities: Preach towards new possibilities for your congregation. Before preaching your next sermon, ask: “What does this sermon make possible?” If sermons don’t provide value to people’s lives, they only preach against sin—not for newness of life. We want to see the gospel not only convict people sin, but convince people of the value of good works. We want to not only free Christians from guilt, but free Christians for joyful service.

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

The Will of God – Dr. Elaine Bernius

Sermon: The Will of God

Sermon Link: https://www.indwes.edu/spiritual-life/chapel/archive/

elaine.berniusPreacher: Dr. Elaine Bernius is a beloved Professor of Old Testament at Indiana Wesleyan University and an ordained minister. She is one of the most respected leaders of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana Wesleyan, a parent of 3 young children, and an author of biblical commentaries.

Here at wesleyansermons.com, we feature preachers because they demonstrate replication-worthy perspectives. We highlighted this sermon because Dr. Bernius shows us that:

Tragedy and Comedy Work Together: Dr. Bernius begins her sermon by describing the plot line of action-adventure movies, and concludes her sermon by discussing an occurrence at her mother’s funeral. By taking the congregation through this emotional journey, Elaine subtly reminds us (even in her delivery) of emotional highs and lows emerging from faithful living. She makes us laugh about our usual conception of God’s will and cry about the impact of a life well-lived. Great preaching helps us recognize how God’s work inhabits a range of emotions. This emotional ride in some ways reminds us of Frederick Beuchner’s reflection on tragedy and comedy in his much-beloved book Telling the Truth in which the metaphors of comedy, tragedy, and fairy tales are used to understand the gospel better.

Descriptions are Colorful: “He’s gotta figure it out because if he steps on the wrong one, he falls into the bottomless pit, or the poison arrow darts come and kill him, and he never gets to that thing he’s going to. That scene could totally be a picture of God’s plan in our lives. I think we could even go to the Bible and see how that works.”

From her very first sentence, Dr. Bernius beckons us into a landscape of adventure, tension, and difficult decisions. Our minds race as we consider Indiana Jones’ adventure across a grid, or Harry Potter’s perilous steps around Hogwarts. Because Dr. Bernius includes thick descriptions in her message, the congregation not only hears what she’s saying… we feel it. This sermon doesn’t have a video attachment, but Bernius’ descriptions provide a rich enough backdrop to help the sermon “stick” in our minds. Great preaching “sets the stage” by using artful form to augment excellent content.

When I (Dave) was teaching preaching at Princeton, I taught a beginning sermon delivery workshop. My mentors in teaching preaching asked me to challenge the preachers to deliver a sermon with only words: no video, no images, no props. The challenge was to paint a picture with words so well, that it created even more vivid images and emotions in the hearer than an actual picture would do. If a preacher can do that, the image or video or prop is not a crutch. It is an enrichment. Too many preachers use media as a crutch because they have not taken the time to paint with words.

The Familiar is Reexamined: “Esther got where she is out of circumstances completely outside her control. The evil plan of someone else was forced on her, and now she’s living a life she never would have chosen for herself. It’s like if you’re on the grid and all the sudden, a big giant sumo wrestler comes out of nowhere and knocks you off.. and you land on the wrong block; and that’s it—the floor drops out from under you. Decisions get made for me, I hit dead ends, I lose someone, I receive a diagnosis…. game over, end of story; I can’t get to the right place at the right time for that moment. If that’s our picture of God’s plan—that everything has to align—then how did Esther get there?”

Esther is not a straightforward story; but our renditions usually clean it up. Dr. Bernius artfully disentangles Esther from the flannel graph-laden misconceptions, implicating us in the process. What if we viewed Esther as a victim of sex trafficking rather than the winner of a beauty pageant? Dr. Bernius implicitly asks this question—reexamining a story we might have otherwise brushed over; noting Esther reminds us of God’s faithfulness in unchosen circumstances. By doing so, Dr. Bernius invites the congregation comes to grips with their misconceptions of the bible and relearn a better way of interpreting scripture. In the same way, our presentations of Scripture must avoid the cliche and delve into deeper (and unexamined) meanings of the text. Later in the sermon, Dr. Bernius does the same with our life interpretation, saying: “The circumstances of my life do not equal God’s plan for my life; and I think Esther can help us understand that.” Great preaching transcends the cliché and delves into the uncomfortable. Usually to get there, we have to recognize that we have taught this passage less-than-perfectly before, and practice repentance from our past interpretations.

Interpretations are Anticipated: “There’s one more thing I need to tell you about God’s plan: it’s happening right now. Relief and deliverance for this world was signed, sealed, and delivered in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And you can hear this as a ‘Better get on board, because this is happening with or without you,’ or you can hear that God’s plan is an open constant invitation.”

Words are open to interpretation; so are sermons. In our sermon preparation, we must design how we want to be interpreted; Elaine does this well. Before preaching this message, Dr. Bernius anticipated the congregation’s response. Instead of resigning herself to misinterpretation, she invites congregants to follow her in discovering the hope of the open invitation in God’s plan. This slight adjustment changes the congregation’s approach to her message, maintaining the tonal integrity of her message.

Great preaching attends to the hermeneutic of the hearer. How will the listener hear this message? How will they interpret it? What will be the tone they walk away with in their hearts? How can we focus them on the main form of the gospel, the good news in this message?

Sermons Facilitate Partnerships: “Esther lived into God’s plan for her life when she experienced relief and deliverance, but also when she brought it into the world—she became an agent of restoration–a bringer of relief and deliverance. God’s plan is for relief and deliverance… the details are where and how I’ll bring both relief and deliverance in this world. How will you bring deliverance to this world? Will you be bringing deliverance from disease, from oppression, from poverty, or despair, or ignorance, or hatred? When you do this, you are living God’s plan.”

God’s work is not finished.  He invites us to participate with our whole lives. Dr. Bernius mirrors this invitation—reminding the congregation of their responsibility to be carriers of the relief and deliverance they receive. Elaine asks a question: “How will you bring deliverance to this world?” In doing so, she reminds the audience of the dignity in their work as a partnership with God. Great preaching facilitates our work’s partnership with God’s work.

Application Exercises:

  1. Partner with Someone: Before you can preach the value of work, you may need to experience your listener’s context. In the next month, ask one congregation member if they could show you around their workplace. As they do, think of how differently you might preach if everyone in your congregation worked there. Journal about the experience particularly related to how your preaching can address that place, that work, that life. Shift your preaching in that direction one week.
  1. Use the (Emotional) Force: As you preach your next sermon, ask: “Does my sermon speak to those experiencing both joy and tragedy?” If not, adjust your sermon so it gives hope to the hurting and direction to the joyful.
  1. Assess Your Congregational Interpretation: While preparing your next sermon, ask: “How might my congregation misinterpret what I’m saying?” Try to anticipate their interpretation as you build your message. By anticipating it, redirect the misinterpretation to the good news.

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

The God of Our Losses – Ron Gormong

Sermon: The God of Our Losses

Sermon audio link: spoonerwesleyan.org/images/custom/media/sermons/2015-07-12-god-of-our-losses.mp3

Preacher: Ron Gormong has been the senior pastor of Spooner Wesleyan Church for over 25 years. Located in Spooner, Wisconsin, SWC is a thriving congregation known for their generosity and missional focus.

Sermon Review:

We feature sermons because they teach us to preach. Through careful listening, we learn both practices and perspectives. In this sermon, Gormong gives us a few of each. As you listen try to pay attention to both. Look for the things Ron does over and over that work, and listen for the perspectives he gives that open new avenues for your preaching.

In This Sermon, Ron Tells Us That:

  1. This Sermon’s For Now: “It’s amazing how quickly life can change. One moment all is fine–the next, the phone vibrates, the doorbell rings–and nothing is ever the same again.” Not every sermon needs immediate application; but when the church experiences loss, they need daily bread today. From introduction to application, Gormong’s sermon addresses the community’s deep pain: he even redirected his sermon series to address the loss in their community. Because Pastor Ron was attentive to his church (and to the Spirit), he adjusted his sermon to fit their circumstances. In doing so, Gormong shows Spooner Wesleyan that he’s listening, he’s attentive, and he feels their wounds. Empathy is an important factor in preaching and one of the central capacities every pastor needs to build.
  1. He’s Not the Hero: “I found myself alone in a new place–wondering if I could cut the mustard in a new career. I’d made that transition for God’s sake, and when I made the transition I thought He’d let me down. I started to wonder if I was a misfit for the ministry.” Congregations don’t need heroes; they need pastors. By only sharing our “wins,” we unwittingly leave our congregations disconnected from the cape-clad clergy. Gormong doesn’t. Rather than trying to be a spiritual Superman, he strives to be real. By sharing his pain, Gormong identifies himself with their wounds. Sometimes, pastors need to remind congregants: “It’s ok to not be ok.” That’s most effectively done by self-revelation of our “losses.” Gormong knows this, and demonstrates it well.
  1. Philosophy is Fair Game: “When you need to hear from heaven most, our God is strangely silent. And when we need Him to do something most, He appears to be sitting on His hands. So the question is this: ‘Is God all-powerful? And is God all-loving, as we claim Him to be?'” Most congregants aren’t taking philosophy classes; but they are (hopefully) listening to our sermons. Philosophy isn’t clad in ivory–it weeds its way into most aspects of our lives. Why not our churches? Gormong leverages the sermon to explore big questions. His inquiries aren’t mere questions of popular psychology; he ventures into the nature, essence, and conduct of God. And almost as importantly, Ron asks questions that regulate our relationship with God.
  1. Story is Important: Because Gormong’s a great storyteller, it’s tough to tell where story ends and sermon begins. Multiple stories weave into a harmonious tapestry; the narratives of Job and Peggy flow together to build a case for God’s presence in our sorrows–even when we don’t see Him there. Because Gormong’s stories are powerful, they help listeners remember the sermon long after it’s been preached. By weaving together Biblical narrative, modern examples, and personal experience, Gormong tells diverse stories that relate to the unified trajectory of His sermon.

Application Points:

  1. Discard the Cape: We don’t need to be heroes; we need to be pastors. Instead of setting ourselves up as sagely experts, our pastoral role requires us to be co-travellers. Our congregations expect to be vulnerable with us; and we should be appropriately vulnerable with them, too. As we prepare next Sunday’s sermon, let’s consider telling a story that illustrates our wrestling with the Gospel’s implications for our own lives.
  1. Clarify Your Stories: As homileticians, we can often begin our sermons with an introductory story that has nothing to do with the point of our message. Here’s why: we forget that the introduction is what some rhetoricians call a “verbal contract” with our listener. If your introductory story makes a promise, the sermon will have to fulfill it. So maybe it’s time to stop making promises we can’t keep. As we prepare next Sunday’s sermon, let’s think back to our last few sermons. Did we tell pointless stories? Are our stories building interest in our sermons, or in something completely unrelated? Before next Sunday, let’s clarify our stories.
  1. Listen Up: Let’s face it: ministry is one of the “blabbing professions.” We make a living by talking, leading, and casting vision. But if we’re going to be godly leaders, we need to quiet our hearts before God and others so we can hear what’s going on in our community. Think back to your last sermon series. Did it address a need in your congregation? Was it relevant to the season of your church? As we plan our next sermon series, let’s listen to the Spirit and the voices of our congregation. Together, they help us preach the Word more fully.

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Ethan Linder is a staff writer for wesleyansermons.com. 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. 

 

 

Matt Leroy at Embrace

Preacher: Matt Leroy is the teaching pastor at Love Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Love Chapel Hill is known for recklessly loving their community—which includes the University of North Carolina right across the street. This sermon was preached at Embrace Church —a missional congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sermon Link: http://iamembrace.com/message/matt-leroy/

Sermon Review:

Sermons teach us about a pastor’s presuppositions, paradigms, and practices. To hear them, we just need to listen carefully. During this sermon, Matt drops several principles we think are worth replicating. We’ve listed a few of them below.

Through This Sermon, Matt Teaches Us That:

  1. Posture Reflects Narrative: Excessive movement (like pacing the stage, roaming in the audience, or raising the arms over the head) invades the congregation’s psychological space. That’s not captivating; it’s intimidating. Matt moves with purpose. His stage presence reflects the sermon’s narrative. While making a point, he channels his energy into upper-body movement rather than pacing. As a result, listeners remain focused, attentive, and undistracted by needless gestures.
  1. Topic Parallels Tone: “You may be saying, ‘I’m covered in filth.’ Jesus is saying ‘I know it all… and this offer’s good for you.’” Matt’s tone reflects Jesus’ demeanor with the woman at the well. If tone and words send disparate messages, the congregation receives mixed signals. Leroy doesn’t leave confusion—he fosters harmony. When talking about the tension between Jews and Samaritans, Matt increases speaking pace. When discussing the brokenness of the woman at the well, Matt’s tone becomes correspondingly gentle. In delineating new hope in Jesus, Matt’s tone was victorious. The congregation isn’t left in a lurch; they’re left with a unified package of message, delivery, and application. Matt harmonized tone, message, and demeanor to deliver a sermon that delivers incarnational grace.
  1. Words are Instruments: “‘For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.’ There is a history of pain packed into that parentheses.’” Like a fine instrument, great phrases are works of craftsmanship. They’re built, honed, and tuned to perfection. Leroy’s sermon is the work of a craftsman. Matt prepared this sermon with “sticky” phrases that remain with the listener long after the sermon’s conclusion. As a result, the audience is enraptured with the content, direction, and application of Leroy’s message. Background context, subtle emotions, and cultural tensions become interesting when we spend time on crafting phrases that shed clarity on those areas. Leroy spends time tuning his sermons; when they’re delivered, they sing beautifully.
  1. Tension is OK: “My prayer is that your reputation as a church gets trashed because of how far you believe the grace of God is willing to go.” God’s plan can sometimes go against the grain of our values, leaving us with splinters. This sermon fights our values, too…and Matt doesn’t clear it up right away. Instead, he allows the congregation to go through the sermon thinking about an effective church with a trashed reputation. Tension is a great homiletical device. We don’t have to create tension; we just have to expose the discrepancy between God’s plan and our values (Gene Lowry, Homiletical Plot). Our application points help the congregation close that gap. Leroy does this masterfully, refraining to this statement: “Love has the courage to cross every line drawn by hate, and to climb every wall built by fear.” Because Leroy is comfortable with tension, the congregation sees the Gospel’s demands and their obstacles to fulfilling it. His application points ensure they can quickly begin surmounting those hurdles.

Application Exercises:

  1. Hone The Instrument: As we prepare this Sunday’s sermon, let’s focus on carefully crafting “sticky” phrases. We can try to think of creative ways to word your points; and don’t settle for alliteration (like Promise, Pursue, Practice). If we can get more creative with our wording, the congregation will lean into the content, background, and application of the sermon.
  2. Make Tension Productive: Sometimes, our sermons create the wrong kind of tension, because we don’t offer hope. Making tension to keep interest but failing to preach the good news is a shirking of our first and final duty, the gospel. This week, let’s build a sermon that analyzes the gap between our lives and the Gospel—then offer application that helps close the gap. And don’t make it simply “try harder.” We are doing what we can. Let’s help Christians live wiser, not keep trying harder.
  3. Move with Purpose: This Sunday, let’s commit to making our movements count. Unless our movement reflects the narrative, we do not need to move around platform. Instead, let’s commit to channeling our movement into upper-body motions that shed light on the biblical narrative. When we need to shift to bring in another part of the congregation, we should move there, plant our feet, and stay rooted for a time.

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Change – Ken Murphy

Preacher: Ken Murphy is the pastor of Cypress Wesleyan Church—a multi-site church near the Columbus, Ohio area. He is a gifted leader and a compelling communicator. One of the things we love most about Ken though, is his humble bearing.

Sermon Link: https://vimeo.com/140435746

Sermons reveal a lot about preachers’ perspectives. Through “Change,” Pastor Ken Murphy provides us with some replication-worthy perspectives. Watch the sermon yourself to see which themes you identify, and take note of themes we’ve provided below.

Through this sermon, Ken shows us:

Contrast is Useful: “Sometimes we just get busy living life, then remember we should pray. So we just say, ‘God, would you just sprinkle your goodness and your grace on this?’ But God asks us in Scripture to live lives soaked and saturated in prayer.”  Great preachers don’t stop at lament; they offer a way forward. Murphy does this masterfully: offering a detailed account of how we shouldn’t be praying, then transitioning into the correct alternative. Preaching drives the church forward by creating new possibilities.

Message Mobilizes Mission: “Although change is difficult, change is the reason God came to us.” Jesus didn’t die for our programs; He died to make us new. Murphy utilizes his sermon as leverage towards his church’s mission. But more importantly, Murphy leverages his sermon to point towards Christ’s mission in the Incarnation. Preaching only drives the church forward when it locates itself within God’s work of redemption and transformation. Murphy reminds us of the mobilizing power of words. Preaching drives the church forward by imploring the congregation to be part of God’s work.

Movement Mirrors Message: Body language changes the congregation’s reception of the message. Although Murphy walked around the stage, his body movement was almost always purposeful. When saying “You have passed from death to life,” Murphy moves his hands (and his body) to indicate this procession. As Murphy says, “It’s not like you’re turning over a new leaf; the Holy Spirit is giving you a whole new life,” he motions his hands as if he was turning over a leaf, then moves to a different position on stage—indicating a larger change. As a result, the congregation has a visual “hook,” reminding them of the Spirit’s transformative power. Any lack of congruence between body and message creates a mixed set of signals that can subconsciously undercut the gospel.

We Journey Together: “Over the past 6-8 months, can you readily identify an area of your life where you clearly know the Holy Spirit has been speaking and convicting you—and as a result of your time together, you’ve changed? If not, maybe we’re stuck.” Exhortation can often feel like a “Me vs. You” proposition. Preachers often stand behind the pulpit decrying societal ills, never realizing their own part in propagating them. But great pastors don’t point fingers; they know they need redemption. Ken humbly delivers an exhortation that resembles a family chat. Rather than using “you” language, Ken uses “we” language. This subtle change enables the sermon to feel less like a lecture and more like a family chat. Because Ken sees the Gospel’s demand on his life, the church family is more likely to respond to the sermonic demands on their lives. Preaching drives the church forward by reflecting humility and togetherness.

Recap is Interwoven: “We’ve talked about this before.” This message is part of a series called “Come. Connect. Change.” On this final Sunday of the series, Ken gives an initial “recap” of the previous two weeks’ messages. But later on in the sermon, Murphy continues building upon the series’ previous sermons—describing how change often occurs by coming and connecting. This is the benefit of a series: rather than being standalone messages, each week’s sermon serves as a launching board for the next. In this final message, new visitors feel like they’ve been attending for the whole series; and regular attenders feel they have context for the day’s message. Both demographics win; neither has to “miss out” on Murphy’s sermon. Preaching drives the church forward when it’s inclusive, not confusing.

Action Steps:

  1. Construct A Series: As you build your next series, approach it like a construction project, not a lineup. “Lineup” series are comprised of standalone sermons next to one another. “Construction Project” series are comprised of distinct parts that build upon one another to reach a specific goal. You might think of them as successive floors in a building, each with it’s own reason to exist…but connected and foundational to the next.
  1. Evaluate Your Paradigm: Listen to your last sermon. Did you set up a “Me vs. You” paradigm, or did you use “We” language—reminding the congregation of your shared ownership of the Gospel’s implications? As you build your sermon this week, think of how your sermons can be more a family chat than a lecture.
  1. Mobilize Your Mission: As you prepare your next sermon, see how you can connect your message to your local church’s vision, your denomination’s core mantra, and God’s ongoing work on His universal church. Leadership from the pulpit is a key pastoral task that we all need to engage whether in youth ministry, young adult ministry, whole-church leadership, or even children’s ministry. Preaching is a powerful leadership tool that we can and should use wisely.

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Spiritual Leadership – Dwight Nash

Preacher: Dwight Nash is the pastor of Sent Church—a congregation seeking to be ambassadors of God’s love.

Sermon Link: https://vimeo.com/144306337

Sometimes we feature sermons because they demonstrate values we can exhibit in our own preaching. Through this sermon, Pastor Dwight demonstrates several principles for great preaching. Each of these values are overarching values for good preaching that we long to see embodied in preachers throughout the larger Wesleyan movement.

Here are a few we noticed:

  1. Redefine Something Common: “Who are these twelve people Moses chose to go into the camp? It’s not too much of a stretch to say they were spiritual men. But somewhere along the way, it went wrong. I don’t think the ten ever intended to lead Israel into disobedience.”

With one simple statement, Nash humanizes the other ten spies in the Joshua narrative. If Nash is correct, these spies weren’t villains; they were like us: well-intentioned (even effective) leaders whose close-to-the-vest approach led to forty years of wandering. By reframing these characters, Nash provides fresh insight for new Christians and seasoned saints alike. In re-imagining the text, Dwight provokes the congregation to lean into uncertainty—helping them recognize where their hermeneutical process needs rupturing and rebuilding.  By redefining the narrative, Nash reminds his congregation to have an interpretive curiosity. Great preaching invites us to a closer examination of Good News.

  1. Use Emotional and Intellectual Appeal: “There came a time when people gave up on claiming the land. The land was promised to them, but they were just tired—and they didn’t take it up. They became satisfied and settled down.”

Nash appeals to the intellect during this sermon—reminding the audience of adversity and loneliness in leadership—but he also appeals to the heart. Dwight makes a point about the importance of self-leadership (intellectual point), then compassionately discusses Israelite fatigue in the desert (emotional point). This double-barreled appeal provides a “hook” for the whole person, rather than just the heart or just the head. Great preaching engages the head, heart, soul, and will.

  1. Employ Kinetic and Static Energy:

Kinetic energy is the energy of motion; static energy is the energy of being still. Subtle shifts build listeners’ interests. Nash’s inflection, speed, and intensity shift subtly during segments of the message, creating gravitas by quickening pace during intense parts of the story and slowing speech/lowering tone during application points. As a result, Nash leaves the congregation anticipant during each part of the sermon. Kinetic and static energy are important for physical movement, too. Purposeful whole-body movement (kinetic) underscores movements of the narrative, but Dwight keeps his feet rooted (static) during much of the sermon. Dwight uses the stage to “outline” his sermon, and remains still to stabilize his message. Content and delivery harmonize; the sermon sings as a result. Great preaching harmonizes stillness and movement.

  1. Make the Dog Swallow Its Tail:

“Happy Birthday, Church!… As Good as it’s been, God has something better—and we’re pursuing it.”

Sermon introductions are often used as hit-and-run attention-grabbers. But what if our introductions could launch the sermon and provide resolution? Nash demonstrates that possibility. His introduction celebrates the church’s thirtieth birthday, and later uses the occasion to propel the church’s missional calling. In encouraging the church to achieve their corporate mandate, he also invites their inhabitance of the spirit of the calling. “Don’t lose your love as you lead,” says Nash. By tying leadership principles with Sent Church’s birthday, Nash weaves the introductory celebration into the fabric of the sermon’s content.

Application Exercises:

  1. Read with Fresh Eyes: As you prepare your sermon this week, write down your presuppositions about the text. What do you think it’s saying? How have you heard this text preached in the past? After you’ve written down your presuppositions, try to escape your previous interpretations; find something fresh within the text. By doing so, you’ll provide your congregation with new perspective and build your own passion for engaging the text. The two most important questions I have asked in preaching preparation for the last twenty years (Dave) are these: What new thing does God want to show me in this text I have never seen before? How is this passage leading me to change my life this week?
  1. Gauge Your Appeal: Listen to your last 2 sermons. Did they primarily appeal to the intellect or emotions? After analyzing the sermon, write four actionable goals (and deadlines) to help you maximize your strengths and cover your weaknesses to engage the heart and mind of your congregation.
  1. Move It, Move It! (Or Don’t): Get a video of your preaching; watch it. As you watch, see how your movement corresponds with the sermon’s flow. As you do, note how you could make your body movement more rooted (move only the upper body), and purposeful (physically representing your words). This will become even more important as you learn to preach for video—whether for online distribution or campus-site planting. If you move your feet a lot, you’re going to drive every camera operator crazy.

 

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Preaching Roundtable: Culture-Shaping Sermons

Sermons are culture-shaping events. As we craft church mission, vision, and values, it’s important to see how sermons shape churches and communities. To address the issue, we’ve assembled a panel of some of the best culture-shaping preachers we know: Gina Colburn, Lenny Luchetti, Amber Livermore, and David Drury. As you read the conversation, think of your own tips for culture-shaping preaching; join the dialogue by leaving your tips in the comments below

First, what ingredients cause a sermon to shape congregational and community culture? 

ginaGina: Here are a few key ingredients: Biblical truth, applicable instructions, and questions engaging the listener’s growth in faith. I also attempt to insert our local church vision and mission several times each month.

lennyLenny: The sermon has to say something of substance about God, his nature and/or his work. The primary ingredient that shapes the lives of listeners is not merely good advice about finances, dating, etc. People can get that from a talk show. The sermon must bring people face to face, heart to heart, with Christ. The preacher can be considered a theotokos. This term literally means “God-bearer” or “one who births God.” The preacher must birth Christ in sermon, so people encounter Christ and not just the preacher. Christ architects a cultural DNA that aligns with the values of His kingdom. This happens best when preaching faithfully makes God the hero of the sermon by proclaiming his nature and work.

But, the theological substance of the sermon must be contextually connected to the particular people we preach to. The preacher does this through metaphors, illustrations and applications that are most relevant to his/her context. What cultural values are most likely to supplant Christ’s values in the lives of your particular people? We must put the Gospel in a container that fits our particular preaching context. We must be relevant.

There are four types of sermons:

  • Theologically shallow and contextually irrelevant
  • Theologically substantive but contextually irrelevant
  • Theologically shallow but contextually relevant
  • Theologically substantive and contextually relevant (the preacher must aim for this mark).

amberAmber: Sermons which can change the culture of a community in a positive way exegete, both Scripture and the community; culture is only shaped when Scriptural truth is presented in a contextually-engaging way.

davidDavid: Abraham Lincoln was bored with many preachers who he considered cut and dried. He preferred preachers who “seemed to act like they were fighting bees.”

Which bees do my sermons swat? A sermon can have a cultural effect if I can tie the point of the passage, first, to the felt needs of those in my congregation and community. Next, I can apply the gospel truth with rich theological urgency that provides the solution to those felt needs (rather than just cultural commentary “Ain’t-it-Awful” preaching.) Finally, my sermon can tap into the power of the Holy Spirit in Christians to overcome these things, not merely escape them for an hour at church.

A sermon’s content can shape the culture; but without theological urgency, no one will know it could in the first place. This theological urgency can be infused into any sermon if we preach as Luther advised: “as if Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is returning tomorrow.”

  1. I’m glad we touched on culture and Biblical faithfulness, because much of our audience is concerned with both. How do you tell if you’re delivering culture-shaping preaching?

ginaGina: Most pastors ask, “Is my preaching making an impact on culture?” I measure this by first assessing a cultural shift within the church. Are people changing the way they think? Are they engaging on deeper levels in our mission? Is there life change? Cultural shifts don’t happen when people become apathetic; they occur when action and sincere desire for change results in reaching our communities.

Don’t just pastor your church; pastor your community. Build relationships with everyone you can. Be a lifelong learner. Be open to listening to what people are saying and doing around you. Don’t let your “ideas of what should be” cause you to miss what is actually happening.

lennyLenny: I am not ready to preach until I have a “word from the Lord” for the people to whom I preach. The way to receive that “word” is to listen with one ear to the heart of God through the biblical text and with the other ear to the hopes of humanity through pastoral ministry.

Once I’ve done the exegetical work of digging into the text’s literary and historical context, I prayerfully invite God to take the scalpel of his word to my life and do surgery. How dare I unleash the word of the Lord on others unless I have let his word have its way with me first!

Then, I listen to how the text intersects with my congregation, community, nation and world. I expend lots of energy in sermon preparation trying to discern how the word of the Lord intersects with the particular people to whom I preach. How will this word specifically challenge, comfort, correct, or convict them?

When I come away from wrestling with the angel of the text so that I’m limping, with Jacob, under the weight of a word from the Lord, I am ready to preach. The sermon’s development and delivery must flow out of a sacred love triangle that incorporates love for God, love for people and love for Scripture. The sermon is the consummation of these three loves.

amberAmber: Sermon-writing must be a process of deep listening to the Word, the Spirit, and the community. Any time I am struggling to listen to one of these voices, the sermon loses its culture-shaping power. If I do not listen to the Word carefully, the sermon has no authority. If I do not listen to the Spirit, the sermon loses its anointing. Therefore, listening prayer becomes an extremely important ingredient in the sermon-writing process. If I do not listen to the community, the sermon loses its contextual delivery. For this reason, seeking to know and understand our community culture is tremendously important.

davidDavid Drury: Some say one should preach with “the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” But this clever preaching quip runs the risk (as Bonhoeffer bemoaned) of sermons “reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events.” We should free the sermon from the parentheses. Perhaps we preach with the Bible in one hand and human nature in the other. Helpfully, human nature is not like a newspaper you subscribe to, it is in the very hand that holds the paper: yours.

In the newspaper, on television, on the Internet, and yes, in social media too, we find useful contemporary catalogs of sinful human nature wreaking havoc in our culture. With these in hand I do not ask: “What does the Bible have to say about current events?” Instead, I ask: “what do current events confirm about what Scripture tells us of human nature and sin?” As I prepare the sermon I ask, “What is the solution to that sinful human nature through Jesus Christ?” These are more theologically urgent questions than the banal treadmill of fabricated relevance.

In his book The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson speaks about pastoral ministry being a subversive act. Sermons are an opportunity to subvert the dominant sinfully motivated culture of my church, and furthermore the same culture in my community. Then the sermon may spark two of the most critical tools of the Kingdom of God: subversive spiritual language and subversive biblical values.

Subversive spiritual language is made up of the shared terms and ways we describe our spiritual growth over and against cultural norms. Subversive biblical values are manifested in the stories we tell about how we made decisions with biblical wisdom and character in our everyday lives, rather than succumbing to sinful human nature. If you see these showing up in your church and surrounding community, your preaching has had a subversive Kingdom effect on the culture.

  1. So far, we’ve assumed culture-shaping matters. To shift directions a little bit: why should pastors worry about the cultural effect of their sermons?

ginaGina: Jesus came to change culture. At the core of His ministry was redeeming culture (people) back to him.  If we don’t care about culture, we don’t care about the people Jesus called us to reach. Our sermons should empower and engage people so they become involved in shifting culture.

lennyLenny: Preaching has produced various significant cultural movements. There are examples of people like Adolf Hitler, whose nationalistic preaching (that’s what it was) caused a movement of German people to seek the annihilation of non-Germans. Conversely, the Gospel preaching of MLK caused oppressed African Americans to seek the liberation they believed they already possessed in Christ. Preaching—not politics—got that ball rolling through the church and into culture.

Hitler preached towards cultural oppression. MLK preached towards cultural liberation. What we say from “the pulpit” (or music stand) in the context of Christian worship can lead to oppression or liberation, bondage or blessing. Your preaching can start a movement, and it should. Let’s make sure our movement preaches the values of a king not of this world, born to peasant Jews in Podunk, to redeem and restore what was lost in the Fall.

amberAmber: If sermons do not shape a faith community’s culture, they fall short of proclaiming the full power of God. God desires to speak to His people corporately through preaching and call them to communal transformation. Individual transformation is much more sustainable within a transforming culture. A sermon, then, becomes a powerful tool of speaking new vision and direction over a people, encouraging the kind of kingdom culture shifts needed for God’s work to be accomplished in new ways in that community.

davidDavid Drury: I should pay most attention to the difference my sermons have on my congregational culture. The best hermeneutic of the gospel, of course, is a congregation.[1] Preaching is not a solo sport. In the end what matters is not my preaching, but my preaching-in-community.

Unfortunately, most pastors face a spiritually oppressive culture within the church, as much or more so than a persecuting culture from outside of it. Some reading this might be discouraged these days, thinking their congregation right now is just about the worst hermeneutic of the gospel, not the best. Be encouraged. If one faithfully subverts the culture of their church and turns its language and values toward Kingdom language and values, it will transform the community around it in time. Community transformation is the mission of God. We join in proclaiming the Word, and the church is his tool in that mission, with our preaching embedded in it as a sort of voice box in the body of Christ.

When speaking of his style of preaching, Billy Sunday reflected, “They tell me that I rub the fur the wrong way.” Billy wasn’t all that worried about this accusation of his subversive preaching—and we shouldn’t be either. It might be the best criticism we ever receive. When told his preaching rubbed the wrong way, Billy mused, “I don’t rub the wrong way; let the cat turn around.” I hope the cats your preaching rubs the wrong way this Sunday start turning around.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin makes this lesson essential for preachers in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.


About the Panelists:

davidDavid Drury is the author of eight books including Transforming Presence, Being Dad, and SoulShift. He serves as the chief of staff for The Wesleyan Church international headquarters.

lennyLenny Luchetti is the professor of proclamation at Wesley Seminary, a graduate school of Indiana Wesleyan University. He also writes articles and books to equip and inspire the church and her leaders.

ginaGina Colburn is the lead pastor at Trinity Wesleyan Church in Allentown, PA. A 2011 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Gina’s expertise in communication has been honed through her experience in children’s ministry, and nonprofit work.

amberAmber Livermore is a Global Partners missionary in New Zealand. Amber trains and develops young leaders to influence their communities for Christ—helping lead and organize regional/national youth events, as well.


Ethan Linder is a staff writer for wesleyansermons.com. A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is College Pastor at College Wesleyan Church, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies.

Talented or Spiritually Gifted | Santes Beatty

Sermon Title: Talented or Spiritually Gifted

Preacher: At the time of recording, Rev. Santes Beatty was the High School Pastor at Kentwood Community Church. Now, Santes works at Wesleyan Church Headquarters in Church Multiplication and Discipleship. As director of multi-ethnic ministry, Santes is helping the Wesleyan Church grow in unity and diversity.

Here at Wesleyansermons.com, we think preaching reveals a lot about a pastor’s perspectives. Sermons often reveal a pastor’s views on life, Scripture, culture, and Christ. Through this sermon, Santes reveals some of his paradigms.

Santes Shows Us That:

  1. Direction is Clear: “We want you to discover, develop, and use your spiritual gifts.” Before coming to the platform, Pastor Santes knew what his sermon should accomplish. After deciding his direction, every element reinforced that trajectory. Each word, illustration, and explanation helps us understand how to discover, develop, and use spiritual gifts. Because of that clarity, we walk away from the sermon with clear steps toward life change. If the preacher doesn’t fully work out where the sermon is heading until standing on the platform, it can feel a little like watching birth take place. It’s painful for the preacher, and uncomfortable for everyone else.
  1. Uses the Sermon to Shape Culture: Listen to the way Pastor Santes uses the sermon content to shape the culture of KCC. “Consumers ask: ‘How can I maximize what I get, without giving that much?’ Christians think: ‘The leaders of the church exist to equip me so I can serve others. So how can I maximize my time, talents, and treasure to bring unity to the community I’ve been planted in?’” When you come to Kentwood, you don’t just sit in a pew; you stand up to serve.” Though this phrase may sound a little commonplace, it’s memorable and contrasts the culture of most churches. Preaching is a leadership activity and leaders speak to the same sort of culture-shaping values time and time again in memorable ways. If you haven’t found a new way to say something in the pulpit related to one of your church’s values the last two months, it probably isn’t truly a deeply held value.
  1. Turns a Negative into a Constructive: “When you come to church next time, think about what stuff in the church drives you crazy? That innate ability maybe isn’t to criticize; maybe it’s there to help you come alongside that area to make it grow stronger.” Santes affirms church critics, knowing that their areas of criticism may be their areas of giftedness. Rather than becoming defensive, Santes invites critics’ help. Without them, Santes reminds us, we’d never escape our ruts. In other areas of preaching we can do the same. Doctrinal differences become opportunities to display kingdom unity. Economic downturns are tests of faith. The preacher sees negatives that are destructive in the community and finds ways to jujitsu them toward constructive energy for the community.
  1. Stories are Integrated with Purpose: Through stories, Santes provides humorous examples of spiritual principles. Santes’ stories build toward his main points: helping us discover, develop, and use our spiritual gifts. A sermonic story done well doesn’t just give a mental break. It provides a mental leap. It helps people cross over a canyon of content effortlessly at the “aha” moment. Jesus says “The father put his ring upon him and his robe, can said “kill the fattened calf for my son who was lost has been found.” At that moment in the story, our minds leap across canyons of content it would have taken paragraphs to explain related to the character of our Father God and the nature of mercy and grace. Stories do that, but only when the intentionally are crafted and directed toward the focused purpose of the sermon.

Application Exercises:

  1. Plan a Flow: Planning a sermon flow is a little like planning a church vision. As you plan next Sunday’s sermon, create a “main mission.” What should the congregation do as a result of your preaching? Once you determine that, you’re able to harmonize every other quote, story, and word of your sermon towards that trajectory.
  1. Tell Stories: This coming week, let’s start becoming better storytellers. One of the ways stories are told well, is to tell them before you tell them. One of our mantras in preaching classes is “Never preach in front of people for the first time.” If you need an audience to give a story a practice run, then tell them over lunch or breakfast tables. Call a friend and share it over the phone. As you tell it, make every word count toward the purpose you are building.
  1. Sprinkle Application: This week, plan a sermon that doesn’t save the application for the end. If all our sermons place application points at the end, the formula becomes predictable. It’s an old Puritan form of preaching that has worked for centuries. But it doesn’t have to be our preaching straight jacket. Mix it up a little; put application points throughout your sermon points, so the congregation can hold onto what God calls them to do after leaving service. Rick Warren often suggests making each point an application point. At the end of the sermon, recap the application, reminding the congregation of their opportunity to respond to God’s prompting.

Sermon review by Dave Ward and Ethan Linder