Sermon: The Call | Amber Livermore

Preacher: Amber Livermore
Sermon Title: The Call

Direct-link to sermon video


Pastor Amber LivermoreAmber Livermore is the lead pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Princeton, Indiana. This sermon, however, was given as a part of Brookhaven Wesleyan’s “On Mission” series, where she spoke about the call of God on our lives.

Below are some of her preaching patterns that caused us to highlight this sermon.

Great vocal inflection is fine-tuned passion.

One of the primary reasons that Pastor Amber has great vocal inflection is because she is passionate about what she is communicating. That does not mean she maintains a consistently loud volume. She varies her tone, conveying truth with tone in a way that fits what she is trying to say in that moment. Good vocal inflection often starts with passion, but must be fine-tuned as we gain experience as preachers. Her vocal inflection used during her introduction plays a major role in engaging her audience well. She hooks them early and this vocal inflection certainly helped grab our attention, which she maintained with continued inflection.

She helps us find our place.

During the sermon, Pastor Amber sets up a list of ways in which the congregation might fit into the puzzle she describes that sweeps each listener up into the sermon. All are asked to respond to the call of God at the end. In doing both of these things she helps us find our place in this message. Throughout this sermon, she compels people to find their place in the story of God and describes how we can do so. If our congregation is unsure where they fit into the story we tell, unsure of how they might respond or unsure if this sermon is relevant to their lives, they will likely forget it. The most unfortunate thing is not that they forget our words (which are just tools used to bring a message) but that they have missed an opportunity to hear from God and respond back to Him.

She preaches from conviction to conviction

Anointing is a word that we should not throw around lightly. It cannot be earned, and is not easily discerned. Young preachers in particular often label the passionate or the powerful personality “anointed” only to be disappointed deeply by the flaws and clay feet of the real preacher over time. Something much easier to sense, to experience, and to name is conviction. This is a sense of conviction that something is true and that the truth bears weight upon the preacher and the listener. The preacher stands under the conviction of the sermon, yet speaks with authority to all in such a way that there are only two choices: respond with conviction, or harden against conviction. Amber presses forward with conviction in a way that does not leave the preacher behind, and refuses to leave a listener behind either.

We can learn much from Amber’s preaching, but here are a few things we can practice this week to hone our preaching effectiveness.

  1. Do you pray for the conviction of God? Conviction is the precursor to anointing. And there is nothing we can do that will match the Holy Spirit’s power moving in our churches. This does not negate our roles or efforts. Rather, we give our best offering to God and trust the Holy Spirit for the results.
  1. Does your conviction reach your voice? When someone tells you a story, you’re far more likely to listen well if they show excitement and some range of emotion. That makes for a good story! Preaching is no different. This week, get online and listen to last week’s sermon, listening specifically for points of good vocal inflection. Where did you do this well, so that it served the purpose of what you were saying? Where did you not do this well, and did it hinder what you were trying to communicate? Then mark your manuscript or outline with points where you plan to add inflection for this week. Perhaps down the road this will come naturally, but for now, script it. There’s nothing disingenous about doing this; hopefully, the passion is already there. It just needs to find the right places to let itself out!
  1. In what ways will you help the congregation find their place in this sermon? In what ways do you encourage people to begin reflecting even while they are listening? Do you ask them to place themselves in the Scripture text? Do you encourage them to use their imagination or engage their intellect? Do they understand why this message matters and how they can respond to it? Consider how you will help people find their place in this message. Over time, if we continually help people find their place in the message, they will grow also in conviction that they have a place in God’s kingdom.

Sermon: Impoverished: Divine Intelligence | Craig Rees

Preacher: Craig Rees
Sermon Title: Divine Intelligence (link to video)

Pastor Craig ReesCraig Rees is the lead pastor at Central Wesleyan Church. In a series called Impoverished (their Lent series), he speaks about Divine Intelligence as the intelligence of God beyond human understanding, and yet given to us by God. Craig is a great communicator. Here are a few things we can learn form him.


When it’s beneficial, talk about the original language.

As preachers, we should look at the original languages with whatever capacity we have been able to acquire. Things can and do (literally) get lost in translation. This does not mean, however, that we need to explicitly talk about it every week. Greek and Hebrew are not the worlds in which our congregations live. However, doing so from time to time can be eye-opening, as it is in this passage. When the rich young ruler asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?,” the word lack implies a certain kind of impoverishment. It can be translated, “to suffer need,” and implies missing out on what is vital. In a word: impoverished. That’s a much stronger word and more loudly calls attention to the reality at hand; this man though rich and religious is empty. That strong disconnect is better realized through the tone of language that Craig discovered in the Greek. Often the tone of the Greek or Hebrew is what is lost in the word-for-word or thought-for-thought translations we have in our versions. For those without strong language capacity, use free sites like biblehub.com to access the alternate meanings, and perhaps most importantly, connotations or feelings connected to the original words.

Use creative audience participation.

In a metaphor about the changing lens that Scripture can give us, Pastor Craig Rees simulates a virtual reality scenario and asks an audience member to come up to participate in this with him. This served to give the audience a visible and engaging example about the worlds we hide ourselves away in, compared with the augmented reality glasses that kept us in the real world but changed how we looked at it. This demonstration would have taken time and careful preparation to make this happen. This metaphor was one that not only served the sermon, but was one the audience could (and likely would) take with them—it was memorable and engaging.

Call them higher.

People respond to the level to which they are called. Craig Rees does not shy away from calling his congregation to big things. Calling people to greater spiritual responsibility and engagement can result in powerful eternal dividends. Sometimes we hesitate to ask people for a big response, afraid that we’ll scare them away. Perhaps that will be the case with some, but for many others the opposite will occur. They will dig in and take the challenge you give them. Who knows? They might even exceed it, and God may use it beyond what you can imagine. That sounds like God, doesn’t it? One of the things Craig Rees challenged his congregation to a fast, one of the spiritual disciplines we like to often ignore. This, however, could prove to be powerful in the life of his congregation.

To grow in your sermon development, try these few tips:

  1. Press yourself to use what original language material you can. If you don’t know original languages, that’s okay. But don’t run away from that material when you find it in commentaries! It can be still be incredibly useful. You don’t have to be fluent in Greek to learn from the original languages. Word studies can easily be done on Blue Letter Bible or Bible Hub. Find a friend who can refresh your memory on how to do these. If you do have some familiarity with the original languages, invest. Invest a little time this week into a study of just one verse; you may be a little rusty, but some of it may even come back to you. Better yet, find a friend who is also studying the original languages and invest this time together. Do no mention it in every sermon. Let it stand in the background like the studs that support your drywall.
  1. What is the main point you want to convey this week? How might you bring the audience to greater understanding of that point with some participation on their part? As Fred Craddock and Tom Long have written about in their preaching books, the weight of the sermon does not lie only with the preacher; some responsibility lies with the congregation. There are many ways to encourage participation and engagement; you don’t need to call someone to the front every week. You can ask for audience response from their seats. You can give them something to do in their seats. Give them a note sheet to record main ideas. There are a hundred ways to do this— be as creative and out-of-the-box as you can. What will make the point memorable? What will engage your audience effectively?
  1. Finally, carefully consider your response time. What might you ask them to do that would be faithful to the Word the congregation (and you, the preacher) have received? Is this response challenging? Compare this with your prayer life. We pray for things that are in sight, but out of our reach. We know how to pray for it, but it’s going to take God’s intervention to get an answer to that prayer. Ask your audience to see what is just out of their reach, a bit uncomfortable for them. Something they’ll need to ask for God’s help to do. Call them to something higher than themselves that will require our dependence on God. This is how we grow.

Preaching and the Ministry of Remembrance | Mark Schnell

“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”
2 Peter 1:12-15 (NIV)

Remember ImageAs a preacher and as a teacher of preachers I affirm that preaching has many important functions within the body of Christ. At its best it follows the challenge of the Apostle Paul as he instructs preachers to correct, rebuke and encourage those they preach to. The best kind of preaching also inspires people to realize and embrace their worth and equality as image bearers of God. The best preaching challenges systems of injustice and oppression. And, of course, the most significant function of preaching throughout the history of the church is the message of salvation — to share the truth of the Gospel — a new life that only comes through the sacrifice, resurrection and indwelling of the Savior Jesus Christ. A beautiful reality of preaching is that this latter function (salvation) inspires and empowers the former functions as well (justice, encouragement, teaching, etc.).

Lives can be transformed because of Christ. Because of him there is hope for today and tomorrow. Racism and oppression must end because we all have equal worth and are equal recipients of the love and sacrifice of Christ. And because of Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we no longer have to remain captive to old ways of thinking and living. The best preaching embodies all of these functions and shares the message of the Gospel boldly.

A function of preaching that isn’t spoken of as often, though, is the ministry of remembrance. Almost all preachers will have the privilege at times to preach the message of Christ to people that do not yet believe in him. We call them the unchurched, non-believers, the unsaved. Some preachers even have the daunting but joyfully important task of preaching almost solely to people like this. The reality, though, is that most local church preachers will do the majority of their preaching to believers. You know, we call them the saints, the saved, the regular attenders.

It is easy to look at regularly attending believers and get caught up wondering what we’re going to tell them each week. What can we possibly say that they haven’t heard before? Some of the folks we preach to have heard hundreds of sermons, some of them have been hearing them for longer than we’ve been alive! How are we going to come up with a new word to speak to these folks? If you’ve found yourself wondering things like this my next sentence ought to make your day. You don’t have to!

Power of Remembrance in Preaching Quote boxOne of the powerful functions of preaching is reminding people what they already know. Finding new ways to express timeless truths can be a very good thing, but fretting about what truth to share is a needless burden. Most people can relate to the practice of hungrily opening a refrigerator door time after time as though between trips it might miraculously fill itself. But carrying the burden of what truth to preach is like opening a fully stocked fridge and then closing the door only to complain about not having anything to eat. The great news for us preachers is that God has provided all the source material we need in his Word. The fridge is full!

A preacher’s ministry of remembrance speaks words of truth to people that may have heard those same words a hundred times before. While that may sound redundant at best and boring at worst, life is not a static thing. We forget what we know when times are tough. A man dying of thirst forgets what it feels like to have cool water sliding down his throat. A person plodding through a Midwestern winter might forget what it feels like to bury their toes into a warm, sandy beach. A person being abused by a family member can be reminded through the preaching ministry of remembrance that they have ultimate worth in God’s eyes. They can be reminded that they are not alone, both spiritually and physically, because of the local church body. When someone is wondering how they will put food on the table or pay the rent, they can be reminded that God sees them and cares for all their needs. Then on the flipside, those in the church can be reminded that they are often the avenue of God’s provision for those around them.

We all know it: sometimes life can seem more than we can bear. Sometimes the things people know, even the things they’ve built their lives on, are forgotten in the fog of loss and adversity. Sometimes they can’t see the forest of God’s love and care for the trees of pain and trouble. So, the ministry of remembrance shares truth that never grows old or stale. It cuts through the fog of pain and discouragement with the light of God’s active presence. It pulls people out of the bog of complacency and empowers them for action. The ministry of remembrance can be one of your most important roles as a preacher of the Gospel.

But there is another benefit to the preaching ministry of remembrance. When my father died suddenly at age 56, I was devastated. My world was completely rocked. In the darkness of those days I needed to be reminded again and again that I was not alone, that God knew my pain and that I would see my father again.  I was the pastor of a local church and had no one else to preach to me. However, as I faithfully preached the Gospel to my church, that same Gospel was uncovering what I already knew but had become hidden in the midst of my grief. My own words were speaking to me week after week. No, check that. God was speaking to me through my own preaching! “I am here. I know your pain. You are not alone. I will bring you through.”

As I was engaging in the ministry of remembrance to my church through the Gospel, God was speaking through that same Gospel and refreshing my memory. The simple fact is this — the truth that you preach that refreshes the memories of your people will often be the very words you need to hear more than anyone else. The line between preacher and listener dissolves in the ministry of remembrance through the power of the Gospel. Through another of God’s great mysteries we can be both speaker and listener at the same time.  There are many functions of preaching, but in the preaching ministry of remembrance you can both practice and receive the Gospel at the same time.


MarkProfilePicMark Schnell has been an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church since 1994 and has served as a youth pastor, worship leader, associate pastor, and solo pastor in churches ranging from 30 to over 1500. He earned two graduate degrees from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently working on his doctorate at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto focusing in homiletics. He’s passionate about preaching and equipping women and men to be faithful and effective preachers of the Word of God, as well as, preaching the transforming message of the Gospel as often as he can. Mark is regular serves as an adjunct professor of homiletics and proclamation at Indiana Wesleyan University and Wesley Seminary.

He’s blessed beyond measure to be husband to Sharie for over twenty-four years and Dad to Kate and CJ. Those three continually teach him more about God’s love and grace and help to sharpen him more into the image of Christ.

Sermon: Every Day Matters | Ken Nash

pastorkennash_websliderPreacher: Ken Nash
Sermon Title: Own Your Story
Original Sermon Link: hashtageverydaymatters.com

#everydaymatters-journeypromo2-1080-screen-01It is difficult to talk about pain well, much less preach about it. Hamburg Wesleyan’s relatively new lead pastor, Ken Nash, navigates this sermon with grace placing it within a larger context of the series “Every Day Matters.” Mixing video, social media, live presentation, and more this series shows a lot of relevant cultural connection points while staying rooted in the deeper wisdom of ancient Christian thought. For this particular sermon, here are a few things Ken does well.

Ken’s gestures add to the sermon.

When preaching, you might find it easy to move your hands around more than a little, especially in moments of excitement. You should ask, are your gestures purposeful? Or do they simply give your hands something to do? Have your gestures become more of a distraction for people than a helpful preaching tool? Ken Nash, for significant words or phrases uses his hand gestures as a tool to of emphasis or clarification and keeps the audience engaged without overly distracting unnecessary movement.

He tells one story that isn’t his own, as well as one personal story.

In general, we know that it is good to try to use as many stories as we possibly can that are not our own. We look for related stories from history, film, literature. These stories remind us (and our congregation) that the Gospel is not all wrapped up in us, and certainly not focused primarily on the preacher. It is worth noting, however, that on a Sunday on which he preached specifically about pain, he told two stories. One was not his own, and one was a personal story.

Before you went into ministry, did you ever imagine that your preacher surely had his/her life all put together? That surely they did not deal with the same things you did, and if they did then they certainly went about it in a way that was much more holy and unattainable? It’s not hard to place preachers on unhealthy pedestals. Pastor Ken displayed healthy vulnerability by sharing a piece of his own story, reminding us that he’s a real person who has seen real suffering. Moments like this show what could be a great harvest.

He allows them time to sit.

While much of this sermon is for those who have already walked through fire and come out on the other side (and he asks them to minister to others as they own their story), Pastor Ken Nash acknowledges that there is another group in the audience. There are those who still walk through deep hurt. He doesn’t demand that they move immediately forward, telling them that they should do as the rest of the congregation ought to. He asks them to take time to sit and be comforted by God. This is absolutely essential for those in the congregation who are still suffering. In doing so, he shows his pastoral heart in preaching. When preaching about pain, make it clear that the next step isn’t always “do,” but sometimes simply, “rest.”

Here are three things we can do (one in general, and two related to preaching specifically about suffering) to follow Pastor Ken’s preaching example.

Mark your movements.

“Stopping.” “Ever-changing laws.” “Oppressed.” You can probably imagine in your mind what gestures Pastor Ken might have used to make these words and phrases come to life. Before you print off your sermon outline/manuscript this week, ask yourself this: What are 5 key words from your sermon this Sunday that you could place gestures with to help you make your point and make it more engaging for your audience? Perhaps when you have begun to do this well, you can begin to mark other body movements— movement across the stage, kneeling down. What gestures can you add that will best help make your point? If you’re unsure, practice in front of a mirror and look for any sign of inauthenticity, overly dramatic flair, or awkward uncertainty.

Tell Two Stories

Of course you will not fully understand every circumstance that the people in your congregation are dealing with. You may not yet know what it is like to lose a parent, or to have a wayward child, but you have faced other struggles that God has brought you through. The next time you preach on pain or suffering, allow yourself to share a moment of healthy vulnerability. Let your congregation know that you have experienced pain and tell them how God brought you through it. This is a golden opportunity that can swing wide the door for further opportunities to have meaningful conversations with people about their own struggles. When people know you have been through suffering, they will be more likely to trust you with their own. Be careful that you do not share a minor suffering and imply that you therefore understand major sufferings. This can back fire in very hurtful ways. Also be careful not to share things that would make those closest to you uncomfortable in appropriately. There are some things we experience that we might be willing to share, but that those who experienced them with us are not.

Don’t skip ahead.

When preaching on pain, do not skip to the end of their story. Ken Nash acknowledges that while this is a passage talking about comforting others from the comfort we have received, that some people aren’t ready for that stage yet; the wound might still be present. He suggests to his congregation that if they are still in a place of deep hurt, that they seek comfort. He talks about what to do when they do receive healing, and how they use their struggles in the Kingdom. But Pastor Ken is sensitive to the struggle. His entire time of response is not for those who have received comfort and are now able to minister. Instead, that time is for those who are still suffering, and he asks them to come forward and receive comfort. You can’t skip to the end of the story. When preaching on pain, implore people to walk through it and receive comfort from God.

Preaching Good Grief

wide emotional rangePreaching is powerful. It reaches into our souls and speaks to every human emotion when it is going well. Though this will not be true of every preaching ministry some preachers avoid touching on grief and despair except for in funeral sermons. Perhaps this is because the preacher faces enough grief and despair week to week that they want to uplift and encourage instead. Compassion fatigue can so wear down a preacher that even discussing grief is too much for them to bear again. For other preachers a level of fear of getting it wrong or a lack of comfort in talking about these topics drives the dodging of lament. Others simply want to lead their congregations in optimistic faith, in triumphant hope, and make church an experience of celebration first and foremost. Whatever the reason may be, avoiding the breadth of human emotions can create a gulf between the preacher and the congregation.

The problem is partly one of approach. Preachers often offer sermons focused on future hope, which address a deep spiritual need, but is not holistic. There is a serious need for hope that is focused in the present. The world we live in creates an environment of despair, and preachers must offer hope of God’s present hope and love, in addition to future oriented hope. Preaching focused on hope centered on God’s presence in the midst of suffering addresses the immediate need of individuals’ suffering.

A second common mistake for preachers is inadequately addressing the normality of human emotions and their roots. Hope-centered preaching should not rush to optimism without adequately addressing pain. Preaching that ignores or merely mentions suffering inadequately is unfaithful to the biblical witness and can even be harmful if it is the pattern week after week.  If preachers refuse to process grief and despair from the pulpit, then hope is robbed of its fullest expression. Hope without lament after all is in danger of being labeled naïve or out of touch. Of course, no preacher should ever drive his or her church to hopelessness, but frequently congregants are already in the valley. The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, PTSD, or a child addicted to drugs are all common situations that need to be addressed. Preaching must meet people where they are. Congregants need to be more than just heard and understood from the pulpit, they need to have their experiences and struggles expressed. Preaching is effective when congregants feel that they and their problems are understood because being heard and understood by someone who also gives voice to their struggles meets spiritual and psychological needs that can provide hope in the present.

suffering is personalLament, anger, and despair are all natural emotions. Some traditions of preaching tend to imply that we should not feel them even if it is not said explicitly. This creates a stark double standard of emotional expectations and a false dichotomy of faith. Rarely addressing these human emotions from the pulpit subconsciously invalidates their existence and creates an existential conflict between the body and soul. Moreover, it ignores the holistic biblical witness. Jesus wept at the loss of a loved one (John 11:35). He became angry with the money-changers (Matt 21:12). Jesus fell into despair on the cross when he felt forsaken by God (Matt 27:46). He lamented over the fate of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37). The life of Christ validates our feelings and reveals the need to address them. The powerful emotions of grief, anger, loss, discouragement, frustration, and even disillusionment can be seen as normal experience for faithful humans. Instead of seeking control over them or treating them as problems, what if we validated and guided these emotions? It takes more faith to remain steadfast in the midst of enduring pain than ignoring or denying that pain exists. In order for preaching to reach people, it must practically address what they are feeling. Christ, as fully God and fully human, understands our emotions and connects with us on a personal level, as preaching should.

Often preachers rely on the arch of God’s redemptive plan to offer hope. Comments like “this too will pass,” “it will all be worked out when we get to heaven,” and “God has a plan” are helpful for reflecting on suffering in the long run, but they do little to address immediate needs. All of these comments are solution-oriented. They imagine a time in which the problem and pain no longer exist, but in the meantime, the problem still exists. Surely preaching can offer something more than the imperative to wait to those in pain? In order to address the immediate needs, preaching should be problem oriented too. Problem oriented preaching seriously admits the reality of pain and authentically processes emotions. If the pulpit abdicates its role in addressing pain, preachers cannot expect to meet the congregation’s needs. I am not advocating for less hope but for hope that balances the redemption to come with God’s presence now. God is present with us within suffering, not just at the end of suffering. God has something for us in the middle of pain and loss, not just “someday.”

Preachers and their sermons must be “non-anxious.” A non-anxious presence is the ability to explore, process, and empathize without becoming anxious.[i] Being a non-anxious presence requires self-awareness and reliance on God. It has the faith to maintain calm in the midst of storms and to guide others through the storm without waving the existence of the storm away. Christ can say “Peace be still” and the storm ceases. Preachers do not have this power. In many ways we preach to those who, like it or not, will have to ride out a storm, sometimes to the bitter end.

What is it about the 23rd Psalm that speaks to us in times of distress? The psalm does not promise that we will never face difficult times; the psalm does not even promise that difficult times will end. So, how is it that in the valley of the shadow of death someone could find comfort? The answer is simply “I will fear no evil for you are with me” (Ps 23:4 emphasis added). The most comforting passage of scripture offers solace because it promises God’s presence, even in the midst of suffering and despair. Pain and suffering are real, are a normal part of the human experience, and their effects are potent. The psalm promises that in the midst of despair and darkness we are not alone; it is hope for the present that acknowledges pain. God’s presence is hope that can always be offered.

The seriousness and depth of the traumas we face cannot be fully explored in a sermon. A sermon cannot replace pastoral counseling even when the primary focus is appropriately pastoral care. I remember two specific times when the sermon’s main focus was pastoral care—the Sunday after 9/11 and the chapel following the suicide of a college classmate. The collective needs of the community were so great in each of these situations that doing anything but address the trauma would have been harmful. In these times, the homiletical task is not to solve or fix trauma. The task is to address the pain and offer hope, hope that is here now and hope that is to come. If congregants feel that the preacher understands them and is able to address their spiritual needs, they are more likely to seek pastoral counseling.[ii] The light of hope is brightest when it shines despite the darkness of despair, not merely at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Until preaching addresses the present need for hope rooted in God’s presence and grapples with the breadth of human emotions, a congregation’s needs will not be met. People have the need to be heard and understood. Preaching can address that need by exploring and validating negative emotions explicitly and in depth before hastening to hope. Sally Brown and Luke Powery say that “preachers are those who dare to dance on the graves of despair.”[iii] Dancing prematurely is offensive. Suggesting others dance without grieving or lamenting is counter productive. We dare to dance because we know the faithfulness of God’s presence in the present. Preachers can better understand their role by becoming more comfortable with emotions, especially their own as it comes to death, loss, meaninglessness, and other forms of despair. When a person has been heard and understood, they are more receptive to hope and aware of God’s love. Articulating that hearing and understanding takes practice and careful forethought. At times what not to say in relation to grief and loss is as important as what to say.

Preaching is always contextual, and our hope-centered preaching needs to attend to that context. Each congregation is unique with distinctive needs. Leonora Tisdale convincingly argues that preachers have the task of exegeting scripture and their congregations. This means that preachers need to study their congregations. She reminds her readers that the central message of the Gospel always remains the same, but the identity and needs of the congregation should impact the message. Preachers need to consider how race, ethnicity, gender, age,[iv] and the emotional needs of the congregation impact the sermons receptiveness, timeliness, and appropriateness.

Preachers can choose to speak of life in ideals, of the life as it ought to be or will be one day. Sometimes that is exactly what needs to be said; on the other hand, we must speak of life as it is. With all its struggles and adversities, rooted in the reality of the world we live in. The Bible offers a holistic message to body, mind, and soul; thus, preaching should do the same. When death and suffering are ignored or understated, our people are ill-equipped when they come.

By Scott Donahue-Martens


Questions for you to ponder:

  • When in the next three months does a sermon topic or text emerge that addresses loss, grief, pain, despair, suffering, or other sources of human lament?
  • How can you listen well to those going through these storms between now and then?
  • What are your own anxieties related to exploring those topics and how can you work towards a “non-anxious” internal world?


[i] Edwin H. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family process in Church and Synagogue, (New York: Guilford Press, 2011).

[ii] Preachers must be careful not to break confidentiality or make a public display of another’s pain.

[iii] Brown, Sally A., and Luke A. Powery, Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for your Time and Place, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016), x.

[iv] Leonora T. Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press), 1997.

Book Review: Ways of the World

From time to time we include book reviews of new preaching resources on Wesleyan Sermons. Scott Donahue, a Wesleyan Master of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary, has offered the below review on a new work by Dr. Sally Brown and Dr. Luke Powery. I recently led a panel reviewing their work at the Academy of Homiletics and was thrilled at the spiritually formative nature of the book. Scott is right, far too many preaching texts assume such central practices as prayer when considering the task of preaching. This work speaks a needed prophetic word in that direction and others. I not only join Scott in recommending the work, I have put it on my required reading list for masters students in the School of Theology and Ministry. I hope you will pick up a copy.  ~ Dave Ward


 

Book Review of:

Ways of the Word CoverWays of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place by Sally A. Brown and Luke A. Powery

Sally A. Brown

Sally A. Brown

Luke Powery

Luke Powery

Sally Brown and Luke Powery combine their diverse and immense homiletical expertise in Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place. Both authors are professors at well-respected institutions (Duke University and Princeton Theological Seminary) and have years of practical preaching experience.  Powery grew up in a Pilgrim Holiness congregation and then worked in multiple theological traditions. Brown was formed in and teaches in primarily Reformed contexts. By writing from their shared and distinct perspectives, the book is intentionally ecumenical and offers diverse perspectives. Their goal in writing together was to be informed from multiple vantage points across ages, genders, ethnicities, and denominations. Each writer contributed individual chapters, while offering comments within the chapters that they did not write. Rather than argue for one particular method, form, and theory, the authors describe the best practices in each area and contend that preachers need to be well versed to be effective over time.

The first two chapters are devoted to understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in preaching. The authors contend that preaching is primarily driven by the Holy Spirit. Wesleyans should find the Spirit centered approach refreshing and congruent with our theological world view, in addition to appreciating the Christocentric method. The dynamic approach to preaching is summed up by their assertion that preaching “is more verb than noun.” That is, the sermon and the response to it are fundamentally dynamic. The authors balance the spiritual aspects of preaching by discussing the human elements of preaching, such as rhetoric. Effective preaching is a combination of the Spirit’s presence, faithfulness to the Word, and effective communication.

Chapter three reveals the importance of prayer in every part of the sermon practice. The internal work of prayer, study, and preparation are crucial to effective preaching. Along with these weekly practices, specifically set aside for preaching, is the preacher’s character. The congregation must trust the preacher and in order for there to be trust, they should witness the preacher’s character outside of the pulpit. Just as parishioners listen and respond to the words of a sermon, the preacher must listen and respond to the Word through prayer. The focus on prayer is an excellent addition to a preaching text, because despite prayer’s integral role in the sermon process, it is often neglected or underrepresented.

The fourth chapter highlights preaching as a form of worship and a spiritual practice. A goal of worship is to uncover God’s redemptive work in our world and give thanks. To that end, preaching must touch the mind and hearts of believers. Preaching cannot be purely cognitive (of the mind) because effective preaching not only educates but calls for a response. Holistic preaching reaches body, soul, and mind. The chapter contains a brief sketch of worship in the Bible and in Christian history in order to understand the modern centrality of preaching as worship. Brown challenges the reader to reflect on the purpose of worship and how sermons can contribute to worship. The notion is challenging because the reverse is often practiced. Preachers tend to think that worship enhances the sermon, as opposed to the sermon enhancing worship. Her corrective is welcome and necessary.

In chapters five and six the authors write about the preacher as interpreter of life and of scripture. The task of preaching calls for engagement with Holy Scripture and our 21st century lives. Brown’s emphasis on being specific to the needs of the individual congregation is well received, even though it means more work and intentionality for the preacher. The chapters on hermeneutics, how humans interpret, are the most technical and complex in the book. Yet, the chapters offer great insight and balance the rigor with illustrative material. For some, the specific discussion and implications may seem too academic, but those looking for homiletical theory to better understand the practice of preaching will not be disappointed.

The book touches on familiar ground with Powery’s utilization of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as an approach to good hermeneutics. Beyond using scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as lenses through which the preacher sees the world, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral informs and gives depth to sermons. It also asks the preacher to consider the experiences and traditions of the local community they are preaching, in addition to reflecting on the preacher’s own experiences and contexts that are brought public because of the privilege of the pulpit. In other words, how do our race, ethnicity, gender, class, and age influence the message we preach? Ways of the Word assists the reader in becoming more self-aware so that the Holy Spirit can intentionally utilize our experience for the betterment of the congregation.

Chapter seven describes deductive and inductive sermon forms, which is technical and advanced. The chapter provides an excellent framework for the novice or experienced reader. Along with other chapters, chapter seven is best grasped by the preacher willing to reflect on his or her own style. In order to grow, preachers should keep Ways of the Word in one hand, copies of their sermons in the other, and their congregation in mind. The book provides the necessary tools and frameworks for comprehensive growth but such growth takes intentionality and time.

The eighth chapter provides practical advice and reflection on the preacher’s body in the pulpit including voice, tone, gestures, and stance. Chapter nine offers a reflection on the use of technology in preaching. Both of these practical chapters contain theological rationale and insights into their topics. The final chapter pushes preachers to think about the stages of faith within their congregation. The needs of a new Christian are different from the needs of an unbeliever or a lifelong believer. The chapter contains ten useful strategies to preaching that enable Christian formation. Each has merit and when used appropriately enhances the preacher and sermons.

The book explores preaching in the context of the 21st century, both secular and ecclesial. One of the strengths of Ways of the Word is its synthesis and readability of modern homiletical theory. The authors utilize a variety of sources and often give comprehensive lists that help readers better understand their own views, while introducing them to the greater homiletical milieu. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection, methods of growth, and a list of sources for further reading. The book contains elements of Reformed theology and non-Wesleyan views, yet the purpose is not to indoctrinate but to expand. In fact, I find some of the Reformed comments and approaches to be an effective challenge to preaching that reduces faith to moral pietism and the “do more” mentality. One of the main benefits a Wesleyan pastor would receive from this book is its diverse perspective that invites the reader to think cross-denominationally about the most effective preaching practices and methods.

I would recommend this text to those who want to increase their existing knowledge of preaching. Brown and Powery offer an advanced preaching text that balances homiletical theory with preaching practice. The frameworks given are coupled with practical implications such that the reader will discover himself or herself within the text and uncover tools to enhance his or her preaching. The book does not offer simple steps to better preaching or easy correctives to poor preaching. Ways of the Word is driven by its strong content and desire to expand its reader’s knowledge. Wesleyan preachers would likely find themselves in the pages of the book and leave with a greater sense of self-awareness, a better understanding of why they preach a certain way, and methodologies to improve systematically.

On the Side: Words for Your Family

header_imagePreachers are not often very good matches for the stereotypes. “Preachers are lovers of words” I have heard it said so many times. Yet I have learned that many of us grow weary of words. We do not want to hear any more, and we do not want to speak any more of them. After a days work spading out words from the hard soil of truth, gathering words in baskets of leftovers from counselees, and picking out words from a lineup in meetings we may not feel like “people of the word” at home. We neither want to think deeply about which words to use, nor do we want to hear a blather of words spread like too much frosting on too little cake in every room. A little quiet might be more in order.

Our families if we have them, and close companions if we do not, deserve the careful attention to words we offer others. Have you noticed how many rituals we have to “prepare for the day” or “get the day started well” in terms of the working day? Coffee or tea to jump start our energy and help us at least act like we enjoy people. Quiet solitude for at least a few minutes poring over a passage for our soul. Planning out the day with lists lettered and numbered by importance and urgency. Professional but un-rushed greetings and pleasantries to give each person a human touch. All of these things set us up for “the day.”

A friend of mine got in the habit when his kids were young of saying “back to job #1” as he left the ministry offices each day. Whether the sappy sentimentalists want to admit it or not, there’s truth to that with two year olds. They are a job some days. A blessed one, but a job. I like the sentiment that it is “job #1” though. So, that’s the first word for your family. Consider it job #1. If you don’t like calling it a “job” it might be because your theology of work is out of whack. Give it seriousness. Find meaning within it. And find ways to set up rituals of preparedness for it. Should you take five minutes for silent reflection before going home? Would there be worth in making a prioritized list for connection and time spent with people who are closest to you? What if you did devotions every now and then just before leaving work? How about this: what if you helped those you live with discern a vision for life together that was compelling and Christ-centered? You do it at work after all. Don’t turn home into an office. Don’t turn children into staff. Don’t turn your house into a narcissistic extension of ego. That’s not the idea, but perhaps considering it’s work meaningful, and it’s engagement worthwhile would be a good “word” for us.

Now for a few words we might use with those we are closest with:

  1. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me. This little phrase has the power within it to undercut arguments, pull debates up short, and sacrifice or preserve sacred cows at the proper time. I am not sure these words should ever be the sermon our family hears from us, “That’s what is important to you, not to me.” There is truth in that statement of course. Civility is the restraint of truth for the purpose of respect and deference to another. The use of truth “bluntly” is the definition of rudeness and the end of loving words unless permission has been given. How many times might an argument be ended well with this sermonette based on principles of love “Well I love you so if it’s important to you, it’s important to me.” Your child’s middle school band concert is probably not important to you. It is important to him. So it becomes important to you, even if they cannot even “warm up” well. It is important to you insofar as it is important to him. Your spouse’s desire to eat out tonight is important to you. It may not be your desire, but if it is important to them it is important to you. The tradition of the family you would like to discard, might become important to you when you look in the eyes of your child and say, “dear, if it is important to you then it is important to me.” Now that doesn’t mean what is important to you loses importance. It simply means both desires are on the table with significance, no one’s feelings or dreams are discarded easily. And every person is important, so their feelings, thoughts, wishes, and fears become important as a result.
  2. You are fun to be with. Many pastors kids (just like any kid in general) get the feeling that time spent with them is a duty, not a joy. There are days when this is true. We do sometimes force ourselves to give quality time to those we love. That is an act of love. Of course, the success of that act of love is directly dependent on how well they sense that our time with them is enjoyable. That’s the rub. If we force ourselves to be with those we love, but do not force ourselves to enjoy it we have missed the point and wasted the effort. It might be better to take a break from our closest relationships from time to time than to always be with them and guilt them for it. We do have power over our emotional world. It is not absolute power, and we shouldn’t “knuckle under.” Instead, make the conscious choice to focus on the person not the activity, the beauty not the difficulty, the moment rather than what else could be done. And then…make yourself say often with a smile, eye contact, and a sincere heart “You are so fun to be with. Thanks for spending time with me.” Exchange this with “I like you” (which is different than obligatory love after all) every once in a while and watch your loved ones flower under that spring rain of words.
  1. I’ve never met anyone quite like you. As with any word, the delivery can mismatch the content and therefore destroy the message. This is true of this phrase as much as any other. But imagine if you grew up knowing you were the first priority, that what you thought was important was important, and that you were a fun person to be with. Wouldn’t that have made a great difference for most of us? Now add to that a sense that your life was a unique life. Not in an egotistical or self-centered way, but in a beloved and treasured way. There was something about you that no other person brought into your loved ones lives. That is a gift worth giving those you love. And it is worth giving because it is patently true! I’ve never known a person quite like anyone else. Now I have met plenty of people who seem just like other people of the same type. They fly across the novels of our lives like stock characters we recognize. “She’s a Margie Younghunt” or “He’s an Ethan Crawley” or “There go the Gatsbys” or “He has become Theron Ware.” The truth is though, they only seem that way until I know them. The beauty of all of those characters is they are so well developed that we find so many people identifying with them…without being them. Once we come to know someone they never seem quite like anyone else we have ever met. If they do, we do not know them yet. Some time soon, shake your head as you smile and laugh. Then say to the person you are with, “I have never met anyone quite like you” while you look them in the eye with truth in your heart. Then celebrate God in them as you do and your prayers of celebration will meet your words of celebration giving you deep satisfied joy.
  1. I am proud of you. It’s one thing to put up with someone, it’s another to like them. It’s one thing to like a person, it’s another thing to like them for things you don’t like others. It’s one thing to find a person unique, it’s another thing to want others to know about them, connect you with them, and to know that you take joy in being connected with them. When it isn’t a mechanism to encourage performance or finally give long-withheld approval, “I am proud of you” communicates these things. I love you, I like you, I enjoy you, I want others to connect me with you, and I hope they do. It is approval bathed in relational connection. It is love you want the world to see. Have you read the “One Minute Manager?” If you have, then you know the value of catching people doing something right. Catch your closest relationships doing something right. Then let them know in a way that doesn’t sound like a “supervisor” checking in that you are proud to know them, proud to love them, proud to be connected with them.
  1. I didn’t know that. Preachers teach. We often fail to learn. That’s a dangerous combination don’t you think? Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying “Every man is in some way smarter than me, and in that I can learn from him.” If that great president and intuitive leader could make such a sweeping claim surely so can we. Preacher deal in “indicatives and imperatives” all the time. The is and ought of our world often makes others feel intimidated, small, insignificant, and insecure. After all, owning both is and ought is like having a monopoly on truth. When we give words to our limits, give refrain to our ignorance,
  1. I am sorry, I was wrong. Gut check: When was the last time you said something like this to someone in your innermost circle of relationships (think Christmas morning or wedding party relationship). If it’s been a while, it might be time to dust off the old humility garment and wear it as the outfit for the day. I remember asking someone once to think of one thing they could say they were sorry for in the last thirty years. It was a long, awkward, painful silence. In that silence, I realized brokenness ran so deep it had fractured their core. They were not able to see the narcissistic incurvatus in se that became painfully obvious to those involved. There was nothing they were sorry for. Nothing they saw as wrong. That would be understandable in a conversation, or in a moment, or in a season, or even in an issue at large. However, for thirty years of life with the person in question they could not think of a single wrong, not one apology. I hope and pray that is not true of you. Look for something this week. Be it large or be it small, confess your weakness and own it all. Say “I am sorry, I was wrong.” Then leave it there. The sacrifice of personal pride out of love for another is important. Otherwise our “I am proud of you” moments will leave a sour taste in our loved one’s mouths. They will begin to reinterpret that as simply “I am proud.”
  1. Create your own. These mantras for our closest relationships are actually born out of theological reflection on God and our fallenness. They are not merely self help or psychological babble. God makes what is important to us (and very small these things must seem to Him) important to him. He asks us to pray after all. God enjoys us, “for the joy set before him….” God takes pride in us we know since the rest of the creation receives a “good” and we receive a “very good.” Each one of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and Augustine says we are loved as though “there were only of us to love” in the heart of God. And the Godness of God teaches us that only God is the one who has no apologies to make. Even sinless beings like the Cherubim cover themselves in the presence of God and declare the perfection of his Holiness compared to them, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” So certainly we can say were are sorry. These are theological truths brought into practical words for our loved ones. Create your own now. Reflect deeply and do not come to conclusions easily, about the way God loves differently and more beautifully then we do. Then seek to love like that. We do not learn what it means for God to be “Father” by being parents. Heaven forbid! We learn how to be parents by witnessing the radically different way God is parent to us. We do not learn what it means to be “friends of God” because we are friends. God preserve us! We learn to be better friends by seeking to align our loves with God’s. Mediate on the Word of God, then seek to live out that word as a living word among those you love most.

Do not forget that your greatest sermon may be the one you preach “on the side.”