On the Side: Prayer-Filled Life

header_imageA few weeks back preaching fatigue was the focus of the series. The suggestion list was rather intentionally human. It is not that we should start with the human, or that human things matter most, or that we can presume prayer is happening in the lives of preachers. We simply did not want to turn prayer into mechanism you use instead of a life to live.

I remember sitting at Doug’s kitchen table. I am a coffee guy, strong and black. He liked tea. Slowly brewed. Carefully served. The table was small and round. The kitchen simple and not exactly uncluttered. I had preached an evening service following our morning service. Doug was the pastor, I was the guest. He shared with me his story of burn out, spiritual dryness, and turning to spiritual direction for guidance and recovery during a sabbatical. He completely changed his life of prayer,  he said. He did not emphasize changing his “ways” of praying. He changed his life of prayer. He slowly sipped his tea. His words were measured and calm. His demeanor relaxed. Something about sitting with him and listening to him describe the change from spiritual desert to peace-filled streams of prayer inspired me.

prayer-walkDoug had something I did not have: a peace-filled life of prayer. My prayer life was strong and edgy like my coffee. But unlike my coffee, it didn’t restore me and I did not look forward to it. It was driven. It tired me rather than rejuvenated me. It felt repetitive. At times it was manipulative.

I read some books Doug recommended. But mostly, I sought the life Doug reflected. I think preachers lose a great deal of solace when their prayer life is primarily about asking God to do things. That includes asking God to tell us what to say.

Here are some ways of praying I have discovered along the way as I sought to follow the path Doug found. Don’t use them to make preaching better. Pursue them if you think life will be better. They will affect your preaching, but from the side.

  1. Prayers of Presence – Brother Lawrence is of course the patron saint of this concept. His only aim was to attend to the presence of God as much as possible in every moment of the day. He did not even want to “lift so much as a straw from the ground” except insomuch as he was moved by love. His peaceful presence, godly spirit, and way of being in life drew many to see him as a preeminent example of a different way of living. The different way of living primarily attended to the presence of God. Try this in your life and you will find greater peace moment by moment, hour by hour than you have likely ever experienced before. When the sun glances off your cheek, let the warmth of the love of God sink into your soul. Take the wind as a reminder of the Spirit moving all around you in ways you cannot see or feel. When rain falls, remember your baptism or the lavish love of God. As you are doing dishes remember Christ’s cleansing work. When you stop at a light, stop and remember God’s goodness in your life. This one simple experiment, seeking to remember God as much as possible, may be the most life-giving thing anyone could ever offer you. Pray the presence of God.
  1. Prayers of Enjoyment – Celebration is not just a sung-worship thing. Our lives are intended to be doxological in every wrinkle and in every tucked away corner. As I write this I am on a writing weekend getaway my wife gave me out of great love. I am sitting listening to the waves of a lake hit the shore driven by wind blowing about 5 to 10 knots. The October sun is still coaxing the grass to send down roots, and the crickets have not given up on summer. Each of these things are beautiful gifts from God, not the least of which is the love of my dearest friend who supports my work and my soul at the same time. These are from God, are to be enjoyed, and give great occasion for thankfulness. That’s just this moment. There was the pleasure of a favorite fruit bar earlier, the glimpse of a family out on a stroll, and the memory of God’s forgiveness of my worst sins. Stop for a moment. Look around in celebration of the goodness of God. You may not have small whitecaps streaming up to riprap and late fall butterflies dancing in front of your view. But there is beauty. Who in your life is God using lately to give you good gifts that touch your soul? When we pay attention to the presence of God, we can also celebrate the goodness of God. We can hold onto that goodness, savor it, and let it sink down into our soul. Pollyana has become the icon for super sappy sentimentality. Still, she was right in a way. The glad verses get short shrift from we preachers still to this day. The earth, though fallen still bears the glorious dust of God’s goodness.
  1. Prayers of Release – Breathing prayers seek to draw up the goodness of the first two ways of praying into rhythmic intentional movements we can practice in set aside times of prayer. The goal of course is for more and more of our moments of the day to be filled with prayers of presence and prayers of celebration without set aside time. It is the working person’s joy to find work a means of prayer. Breathing prayer has three movements attached to breathing in, holding, breathing out. The first is recognizing God’s presence as you breath in. The second is enjoying God’s presence as you hold. The third is the releasing movement. You release your anxieties to God. The distractions that come into prayer are often the anxieties we have not yet released. It is a difficult release to surrender to the notion that God is God. We are not. That is more painful than we think. Our anxieties are miniature household idols, tiny attempts at controlling our world. We cannot let go of them, so they have a great hold on us. Anxiety is the enemy of spiritual formation. Angst chokes the soul, cuts off the oxygen of surrender, and deafens the heart to the nudges of God. Prayers of release do not even have to have words. Simply breathing them out in a mindset of release can be powerful. Our groanings and sighs are musical to God.
  1. Prayers of Lament – We do not allow ourselves to grieve in America for long. Monday someone dies. In eight days our cultural rhythms are over, our rituals done, and our official grieving past. Prayers of presence and celebration and release do not need to number our prayers of grief and lament. Perhaps our preaching carries more tones of anger with it because we have not yet fully grieved a dozen wounds we bear. So we cover those wounds over with the heavy cloth of righteous indignation at things which have little connection to our grief, except by way of distraction. What sadness casts a shadow over your chest? Spend time holding it, like a stillborn child, between you and God. Pass it back and forth. Share your tears with him, and let him share his grief with you. We have a great high priest who knew death and loss. Where was Joseph after the move back to Nazareth? When did he disappear? What wounds must he have carried over being someone’s “natural son” as the British used to say.
  1. Prayers of Improvisation – There are so many ways to commune with God it would be silly to list them all. The key concept Doug opened for me in new ways that night over his kitchen table was that there were so many, and they each bore unique gifts. Isaiah chastises the people of God for allowing their worship of God to be “made up only of rules taught by men.” I do love to ask people what meaningful ways of worship they have discovered that no one taught them to do. From fall-peak road trips listening to Rich Mullins CD’s to prayer-versation where you seek to hear God through what your friends say each day i learn beautiful new ways to pray and worship from others. It’s the improvisation in the moment that seems to me the sign that someone has found a life of prayer, not just ways of praying. As they narrate the inner life they have discovered I hear moments of sheer freedom in knowing and being known, loving and being loved, listening and being heard by God.

The life of prayer is “on the side” only insofar as it should not be corrupted by preaching’s desperation for help in professional tasks “right now.” There are times to cry out for help in dependance to be sure. God does not despise it. Yet if that is the focus of our prayer life, asking for this and begging for that, we have missed something —the beautiful dance of life with God.

by Dave Ward

 

On the Side: Confession

header_imagePreachers sin. He who claims to be without sin is a liar. Yet preachers do not want to go on sinning, for then Christ is not in us. This dialectic in 1st John is a perennially difficult one. Wesleyan categories of sin help us greatly in discussing it. Yet the truth is, many preachers this week intentionally and willfully sinned. It may not be something for which they would be judged. It might have been as simple as choosing to eat an entire bag of potato chips even though they had promised God to fast. Or it might have been an intentional sideways stare when the eyes should have returned home. Or, it might have been a very slight action meant to harm an “enemy” whose actions wounded the preacher. Preachers are after all very human.

The challenge is preachers pour their lives into their church. Their friendships are wrapped up in their church most often. Their accountability partners attend their church. Their connection with those people carry dual relationships that are unavoidable but would make every professional counselor cringe. Perhaps that’s why preachers seem to err on one side or the other in their preaching. They are too invulnerable, too “fixed”, too put together and never “in the flesh” of struggle or failure. Or they are too vulnerable, too “messed up”, too falling apart and use the pulpit as a confessional booth.

It is difficult to preach with freedom, with joy, with a tone and sense of the truly truly good news when sin rots your conscience on the side. The extra burden of a burlap bag of sin chafes the holder, and burdens the bearer. Do you have an extra load? Does it weigh on your, chafe you as you preach? Do you wish you could find someone safe, someone who would not destroy you or judge you?

spiritual-directionBe honest. If you hear his voice do not harden your heart as they did at Meribah. The point is not to feel shame, but to admit the shame you already feel. The goal is not to beat yourself up more, but to recognize the bruises of self-condemnation that are tender to the touch. Do you need to answer yes to those questions?

If so, the sin may be “on the side” and not directly related to your preaching, but the effects are no longer on the side. They are in the center. What affects the preacher affects the preaching. There is no way around that. Frederick Beuchner states preaching is “truth poured through personality.” There are problems with that definition, but there are benefits. It helps us remember that God does allow us to flavor his water with what is in the vessel.

  1. Make use of confidential counseling. If your sack is unbearable, the contents unnameable, the darkness seemingly unquenchable a normal friendship with vulnerability and honesty may not do. Call this number 1.877.REV.CARE (1-877-738-2273) where you are assured of confidentiality and your confessions will not be made known to anyone else. Stop the slide of your soul in to pits and traps you cannot escape alone.
  1. Find a spiritual director. The difference between a spiritual director and a mentor is significant. A mentor guides you in how to be effective, or wisdom for living, or even formative feedback for self improvement. A director listens. A director reflects what is heard. A director asks questions that open doors and windows but do not shove you through them. A director is a safe place, with a compassionate presence, whose main job is to point out the gracious goodness of God and it’s concrete markers in your life. They are confidential, they are safe, they are a gift. Find one near you and take the time to meet. (Find a spiritual director list for you to vet here: http://www.sdiworld.org/maps/?map=seekfind).
  1. Get a real accountability partner. This may mean either firing or confronting the one you have. Accountability is not the silver bullet we make it out to be. It is only as good as we make it. If you cannot speak honestly with your accountability partner you have the wrong one. If they are not speaking honestly, vulnerably with you, you need to discern if that can change. Press yourself to confess more, directly, and without justification. There is something very powerful about someone saying “your sins are forgiven” in the flesh. Even when we know God is forgiving, it is very difficult to release shame until someone else is forgiving too. This might be for our own good. If we do not confess it, we will often repeat it. Confession is the rumble strip on the side of the road. For many, without the rumble strips we would drive right into the abyss. If not this time, the next.
  1. Be wise. There is a foolhardy naiveté in some young ministers (and some old) who would confess any moment of poor judgment to anyone. Year ago I had a district superintendent admit “Dave, I wouldn’t confess to me.” The pulpit is not our place to air dirty laundry or do our own personal counseling. We do need a place, but the pulpit is not it. Neither are most of our professional relationships. In a professionalized society with a professionalized ministry we have to recognize a few realities that were not there in the 1600s. They bear blessings and curses of course. Regardless, it simply “is” this way. Proverbs also reminds us to “avoid a man who talks too much.” We have no need to confess our foibles, fears, and failures to blabber mouths.
  1. Find faces of grace. Foster Christy was a preacher in a ministry I served. He is a wonderfully gracious, humor-filled, and down to earth Christ follower. His phrase that i have used many times is “look for a face of grace.” If the old saw is true, “after 40 every one is responsible for their face” then the face traces the tendencies of the soul. A soul bent on judgment and harsh discipline can show that at times. Yet, the face does not always show it. I’ve tended to think of that metaphor now as simply that, a metaphor. There are faces that have seemed kind when I met them who turned out to be unnecessarily destructive of others’ lives. There is a time for accountability even consequences. Sometimes our sin receives the grace of lost privileges and lost duties. At the same time, there are times when a person rescues those who could have been destroyed. Those who rescue those staggering toward slaughter are praised in scripture. Seek those. Stay close to those. Get their guidance and help. Do what they say and refuse to keep sin a secret you alone bear.

On the Side: Preaching Fatigue

header_imagePreaching well is tiring. Preaching well again and again is exhausting. Preaching well again and again every week for years, well that’s a recipe for a growing church…and preaching fatigue.

Most pastoral conferences and theological classes put self-care for the minister and ministry fatigue in a leadership discussion or a pastoral care discussion. Yet every pastor who preaches each week knows that one of the primary sources of fatigue is preaching. The proverbial “studies show” statement by pastors is that an hour of preaching equals eight hours of work in the office. I have never been able to find that “study.” Boy do I wish I could (put it in the comments if you have it.)

We do not need the study to verify what we already experience. When we are done preaching two or three services back to back, we are exhausted. Most of us reading this article have at one time or another preached the three service (even five service) weekend along with the board devotional, the funeral homily, the wedding homily, and taught the discipleship group lesson all in one week. We realize that is fatiguing. And we often take extra time after especially heavy weeks. But the sneaky fatigue is the fatigue of normal ministry weeks stacked up on normal ministry weeks relieved only by normal vacation.

Instead of spending time harping on the problem. We decided we would give you a long list of ideas that you can apply to give back to your soul. Some of them will be obviously spiritual. Others, are only recognized as spiritual if we rename them. Still we believe all of them to be spiritually healthy if pursued for the right reasons.

pastors-fatigueHere’s a challenge: for the sake of your preaching, do one thing to add back to your soul every day. You have been taking out, put something back in. Here are some give back ideas:

  1. Nap. Hopefully you can take one that’s good enough to get you snoring and jerking awake later. See the list of research at the bottom of this article if you need convinced from science. It should suffice to say that naps not only restore the damaging effects of staying fatigue, they advance the creativity of the brain. While you sleep, your brains creative centers finally get past the block of your logical reasoning. Nap every day. Your preaching will be more creative. If you think you can’t find enough time for a nap try this: ditch Facebook or Twitter for the day. With the extra minute here and there you gain, take a twenty minute nap. Things will go better in nearly every way.
  1. Get out of town, way out of town. Pastors do not realize their inability to de-role in town. The longer you stay, the more people you minister to, the fewer the times are that you go to a restaurant or a park like most people do. “Hi there pastor!” is a nice greeting, but it puts your subconscious to work, and your role is unavoidable. Even if it’s just a day trip an hour away, get out of town. If you are swamped with work, rent a VRBO on the lake and work away on the water’s edge.
  1. Take a 24-silence retreat. It is a little known fact that most preachers are actually introverted in terms of energy recharging. You may fear silence because you’re afraid of the company you’ll be keeping. That is normal. Do it anyway. Monasteries can be great locations for this, so can retreat centers. A campout will do and can be cheaper. Or borrow a kayak and spend 24 hours paddling and sleeping by the river. However you do it, the daily need to produce words can wear out the mind. Save some words up in your bank, go silent.
  1. Change your pattern. Patterns help life sustain itself. They also turn into ruts. Take an out-of-the-way path to work. Walk a mile to lunch. Listen to a new music style. Type in a famous artist’s name in google images and study the works. Go home at 3. It’s okay, you’ve already paid for it in spade up front. Come into work at 10am. Do both every once in a while. Balance is necessary of course and some pastors need the opposite advice. But those pastors rarely seem to be within reach of help. And they probably aren’t diligent enough to read this far in the article anyway. If you’re still reading, I bet you could use a pattern change. Pattern changes prompt creativity sparks. Creative spurts are often forced by placing familiar thoughts into new contexts and new connections emerge.
  1. Recommit to saying no to the less important. Most of us face competing claims on our time, attention, and energy. Take 30 minutes with a legal pad to think of some of the things you might need to limit or say no to. Here are some sample “no’s” or limits preachers have come up with lately:
  • No meetings Monday morning (or you fill in the time). “I am in the preaching study, or at home resting, or out of town.”
  • No more than 6 mentees at any time, no more than 6 months of mentoring without a break.
  • Only answer email twice a day: mid-morning and mid-afternoon. “Once I’ve answered I don’t go back to it. Staff know that if they truly need something sooner than that they need to text, or better: drop by.” Too many drop-by moments from the same staff member and my assistant starts to protect me.
  • Preach three times a month. “We have great staff pastors, we can afford to hear from someone else. I thrive in the weeks where I can write sermons without the pressure of preaching them.” (For those of you without staff, consider guest preachers or lay ministers).
  • I limit my hospital time. Unless I am asked to stay longer my rules are “be fully present, make meaningful conversation, ask to pray, keep it brief, then leave.”
  1. Schedule play. Most pastors I know live by the calendar they create. It rules their hour by hour life. Then, when work is done, they are ruled by their whims or wishes. Schedule time for your wood working or quilting, your sowing or fishing, your cycling or jogging, your guys/gals night out, a trip to the art museum or afternoon at the coffee shop reading a novel.
  1. Get together with people you admire. Anne Lamott says “I simply write down every brilliant things my friends say.” She says she’s not a brilliant writer, she just keeps brilliant company. There’s something admirable about that, even if it is a falsely humber exaggeration. I have a close friend who regularly asks me “when was the last time you had lunch or coffee with” and names a mentor or admired leader. If the answer’s too long in the past they pester me until I have it on the calendar. I have never once regretted following their heckling. I always come out more confident, richer in my person, with an abundance of ideas I want to pursue.
  1. Learn to say “enough.” Whether we want to admit it or not, we have to say enough eventually. Sermons eventually have to be good enough, they are never quite perfect. we could write a longer blog post. We could reach out to one more parishioner. We could schedule one more lunch with a wandering soul. We could spend another fifteen minutes in that visit. We could always do more. The question is not “can I do more” the question is “have I done enough?” I suggest that question should always and only be reserved for the Holy Spirit whenever possible. Ask when it is enough, listen in an attitude of surrender, and when the Spirit says it’s enough, let it be enough.

Resources:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Leon_Lack/publication/6988772_A_brief_afternoon_nap_following_nocturnal_sleep_restriction_Which_nap_duration_is_most_recuperative/links/0c960520ad639b0e2d000000.pdf
  1. Martha Teater, MA, LMFT, LPC, LCAS, John Ludgate, PhD, Overcoming Compassion Fatigue: A Practical Resilience Workbook, PESI Publishing, 2014.
  1. Maslach, C. (1982). Understanding burnout: Definitional issues in analyzing a complex phenomenon. In W. S. Paine (Ed). Job Stress and Burnout (pp. 29-40). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publication.
  1. cNicol, Bruce, et al. The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2016.
  1. Katz, Renée S., Therese A. Johnson, and Therese G. Johnson, eds. When Professionals Weep: Emotional and Countertransference Responses in Palliative and End-of-life Care. Routledge, 2016.
  1. For designing a 24 hour Silence Retreat: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2013/01/personal-spiritual-retreat:-24-hours-with-god

On The Side: Physical Well-Being

header_imageI remember the first time I preached over 8000 feet above sea level. I am a passionate preacher and my challenge is to tone myself down, not ramp myself up. This seems to be even more true when I am in front of adolescents or young adults, which at that time in my life was every week. It was the first time I ran out of breath in a sermon. I had to pause, and breath. The clear lesson I learned was that my lungs were not up to the capacity required for the strain. I was in “good enough” shape. But I was not in good shape. I had gained 20 pounds in seven years. No one would likely notice the state, since I was a fence rail when I graduated college. Still, my trajectory was wrong. My exercise routine had gone from 5 days a week plus weekend adventures to 3 days a week without much adventure. During my heavy preaching season when I was preaching twenty times a month the 3 day a week routine almost completely went by the wayside. The real kicker was the emotional state the physical lack put into my life. Preaching seemed less meaningful. Questions about my call emerged that had not been there before. In spite of what should have been enjoyable and fulfilling ministry fruit, I was disheartened. Obviously things were out of balance.

Have you ever been somewhere similar? Have you stayed in that place for an extended time?

on-feeling-fit65% of the United States population is overweight. 21% aren’t just overweight they are obese. That’s a problem for the congregation. What about clergy? 71% of pastors are overweight and 30% of them are obese according to this study by Pew. It cannot be the donut hour and potluck practice alone. There is more at play and every pastor and preacher knows it.

When you preach in front of 500 people, some of them want to spend more time with you. 15 minutes after the service is not enough time to see them all. Emails and cell phones and social media all make the pastor more accessible to those larger-than-used-to-be-normal congregations. So, the result? They want to eat with you. I remember eating dinner at a parishioners home or restaurant with a parishioner every single night of the week one particular month in my ministry. We rebalanced and re-boundaried so that we at least got one night a week for our family and one night a week for rest. Still that’s 5 out of 7 nights eating at a level that is unusual for the parishioner we are with. They are rolling out the red carpet for their pastor after all, and they don’t do this every week. We do it every other day.

That is not all of the obesity-for-pastors equation. Emotions require management and our coping tool is often food. When our preaching is good it communicates to our congregation that we understand the difficulty of life in a fallen world. We even have hope to offer that is different than helps and hints for hurting people. We have truly good news. Our beloved church attenders also want to have conflict with us and have us help them settle their own conflicts. Congregants contact you for suicides and spiritual crises as well as vocation decisions and recovery from abuse.That means we bear more burden on average than pastors did in the 1950s when they were the least often diagnosed with any disease in any category. Now, pastors often struggle more than the rest of the population. Part of the reason for that is the increasing size of congregations and the resulting increasing burden for pastoral care or conflict management. Along with that increased burden, clergy status has decreased in society. The intangible support we receive has decreased.

No wonder many pastors show signs of addiction to food. Do not be too discouraged.  The General Social Survey at the University of Chicago consistently showed over 18 years that clergy were the single most satisfied profession in the country. We love what we do. It does take a toll though.

Happy young man breathing deep

Happy young man breathing deep

Obesity is just one marker of physical well being. Blood pressure, blood sugar, energy level, optimism, confident self-image and more are parts of it as well. Most of us should drink more water, take more reflective breaks during the day, take a walk after lunch, or push for a sabbatical or longer vacation.

I would hate to spend this entire article on the well being of the pastor moralizing you on why you should be better. You know what you need. The question is how? We’re preachers after all, that’s the question we are trained to ask.

  1. Can you remember a time when you were physically healthy? What did that feel like? (If you already feel as healthy as ever, then eat your granola and yogurt and go for a jog. This article isn’t for you. You’ll probably only get smug and self righteous reading it.) A negative motivation for getting healthy (losing weight, avoiding breathless spells, etc) is not the best motivation. These negative signs wake us up. They do not usually get us moving. Human beings change best, change longest, and enjoy the benefits the most when there is a positive motivation for change. Remember how it felt? Lock it into your mind.
  1. Imagine what life could be like if you were trimmer, fitter, healthier, and more energetic. This builds off of the first hopefully. If you can remember what it was like, you can imagine what it could be like. But if you say that as long as you can remember you haven’t been healthy, then you’ll have to work your imagination harder. Try using these questions to jump start you. How would your self-image change? How would your confidence in meetings, pastoral care, the pulpit change? What if you could actually enjoy eating healthy food, experience periods of “feasting” and celebration, and still be fit, trim, healthy, and more energetic?
  1. Is there an upcoming event for which you would like to feel that way? For some people it’s a vacation to the beach. For others it’s a hiking adventure or a camping trip. For you it might be a season, say the fall, or the holidays. I have often found great motivation in setting a deadline of an event or season by which time I will have that feeling in place that I have imagined. Not the waistline or the weight. Do not fixate on those externals. Fixate on the way of being: a healthier, trimmer, more energetic me who actually likes the lifestyle that got me there. Go ahead and set the deadline now if you like. When’s that vacation? That adventure? That life event? That season?
  1. Is there a person with whom you can share this dream? Social connections are the key to lasting change. We preach this, we know this. Yet pastors have a particularly difficult time finding core relationships that they can trust. That doesn’t mean we don’t need them, it means we work harder to get them. A spouse who will support you in the journey rather than eat crackers by you on the couch at night is helpful. A friend who will actually go the journey with you, and change their lifestyle too is even more helpful. Give each other a challenge with a benefit at the end if you meet it.

If you were able to get the relational support and inner motivation to regain a level of health and energy that you haven’t had for quite some time, it would affect everything including your preaching. Some of us would have more energy to play with our kids. Others would have more energy after work for our spouses. Others would pursue life dreams and adventures we thought were out of reach. But all of us would have more credibility to preach on issues we couldn’t preach about before. Hopefully we would preach with good news, that Jesus Christ and our abiding in him and Christian community is the best way to manage stress or negative emotions.

We could preach with gospel orientation that a healthy life can be a happy life and that is a holy thought. What’s stopping you?

David – The Giant Killer | Heather Semple

heather-semplePreacher: Heather Semple is the Lead Pastor at Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake, WI.

Sermon Title: David – The Giant Killer

Sermon link: https://vimeo.com/182491895

Red Cedar, a Wesleyan congregation in Rice Lake Wisconsin, recently launched a series called “The Making of a Giant-Killer.” In this first sermon of the series, You will have to listen to the sermon itself to gain a clearer understanding of her views on “Giant-Killer Training.”  It is certainly a well known phrase and concept, but shared in pastor Heather’s unique edgy style. If you feel you can agree “our giants loom” even in your own life, this sermon might be as much for you as much or more than this review.

Once you have heard the sermon, you will agree that Pastor Heather does several things that make her a uniquely gifted communicator. We will phrase what we liked about the sermon as reminders to each of us:

1) Seek to be natural, authoritative, and humble.

Have you ever caught yourself putting on a different voice when you step up to the pulpit? A very natural and easy going preaching student of mine came up to the pulpit a few weeks ago and started with “Isn’t it good to be in the house of the Lord?” with a sanctimonious nod to each section of the room and a repetition of “Amen…Amen” in a stain glass voice.  It’s as if the preacher is trying to wear a jacket that doesn’t fit. It may make you feel a little more comfortable but everyone looking at you knows that something is off. Yet t it is deceptively easy to do. Heather preaches with confidence and a natural, easy presence that signals a humility couched neither in shame nor falsehood. While each of these are vital to preaching, they aren’t concepts you work at so much as someone you become. You can, perhaps, develop a more natural stage presence over time, but humble authority is something that comes from the life within. It comes from knowing that you are secure in your identity as a child of God while always remembering that you speak in Christ’s authority and not your own. Pastor Heather Semple’s presence in the pulpit is natural, authoritative, and humble. Some preachers are one, fewer are two, and the best are all three.

2) Seek to make scripture tangible, and therefore living

Anyone can tell you what Scripture says, but a preacher helps bring these words feel alive in a way that matches what they describe. Heather’s sermon from the story of David and Goliath first become tangible when she describes her own experience in visiting the Valley of Elah. You can imagine in your mind what it looks like this large valley between two cliffs. A good storyteller helps their reader (or listener) picture the scene for themselves. Heather takes it a step further and brings a stone out when she talks about the stones that David pulled from the river. As she holds it out you can almost feel its texture in your hand. To make the most startling feature of the story more concrete she shows us a 9 foot tall giant via a cardboard silhouette.The listener can see with her own eyes how tall and intimidating Goliath might have been. It is a concrete and tangible picture of how our giants loom over us now. Helping listeners see the Bible with their own eyes makes the story become more real. Help your listeners see, hear, taste, smell, and touch at the very least with their imaginations if not in actuality.

3) Preach into the realities of the listeners

It’s possible to preach a sermon that doesn’t quite seem married to your context, as if it lacks connection with parishioners. This is after all, the regular complaint of listeners. Pastor Heather avoids this in several ways. One of which is done by speaking about the life of a man in her circles whom she had gone to visit that week. This man recently landed in jail and expressed (in similar terms) that he felt he had giants he could not defeat. I should note here that she protects his name by not sharing it and by not sharing why he went to jail. You can tell that Heather knows her context; this is not a pastor who prepares only from within the four walls of her study. She knows her people and speaks into their reality. The practicing of Christian faith (whatever you do for the least of these) does not have to be separated from the writing of sermons. And the visiting of our people, even those who cannot come on Sunday, is often the best thing we can do for a sermon. Leave the study once you know the passage. Take it with you to the prison or the nursing home or the soccer field or the middle school cafeteria. Then watch the sermon unfold before you.

This week, only one of the following action steps has anything to do with “technique.” So perhaps, they will be even more helpful than our action steps sometimes are. Technique will help our preaching to be sure. There are better forms of practice, those that help our souls as well:

  1. Spend some time in your prayer closet, and other time comfortably alone with yourself.
    We achieve humble authority not by mimicking another preacher’s style but by becoming whole and content with God and ourselves.  We are not trying to just sound authoritative or appear humble. We are called to be both of these things by the grace of God. Humility and authority must be genuine in order for our preaching to be genuine. We honor God and do well for ourselves and our people by spending time with God, being filled with the spirit of power and humility before Sunday morning comes. We also do our people well if we can become comfortable in our own skin. Otherwise many of our sermon introductions will really be attempts to gain that comfort through the laughter or nodding approval of others.
  1. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What tangible details can you pull from this week’s Scripture to help bring the Scripture more alive for people who are listening?
  • Are there physical objects that would help this passage make more sense for me, the preacher? Would they help others?
  • Are there any media elements that would help tell the story— a picture, a video, a timeline, a diagram?
  1. Practice a Matthew 25 and Romans 12 faith outside your office.
    Go visit some people in your congregation. Have a meal at your home or meet them for coffee. We need to be careful not to use people for their stories. That does not honor them. If we tell their stories, we should have their permission. Knowing what your people love, despise, the things that are hard for them, and the things that give them abiding joy helps you better connect scripture’s world with their world. Knowing their lives helps us love them well in person and from the pulpit. Preaching into their reality lets them know that the Gospel matters for them no matter where they are in life. We will always do well to remember that love covers over a multitude of sermonic sins. Love your people concretely and in person. Love them even while you are preaching, and they will forgive your rambling, your mumbling, and your momentary lapses into stained glass voices.

Dave Ward with Elyse Garverick

On The Side: Preaching and Money

header_imageOver the next few months we will post a series of articles on Wesleyan Sermons that cover side issues to preaching. The series “On the Side” will cover money, health, compassion fatigue and more. Usually we cover topics like theory and method for more faithful and more effective preaching. We will still cover those with sermon reviews every other week.  We want to talk about the things that exist around preaching that effect preachers. After all, everything that affects a preacher eventually affects preaching. Today, let’s talk about money.

Actually to be more specific, let’s talk about the preacher’s money, her salary primarily.

Much of the data I want to share with you today comes from the 2016-2017 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff by Richard R. Hammar. Check it out sometime, it may help you feel more equipped to decide salary, budgets, compensation, benefits and everything else that goes into that, or to negotiate at your next yearly review with your own supervisor. My international friends I hope will forgive me for focusing on the North American conference. It is where I live, and the conference that sponsors this site.

Here are a few thoughts you might want to chew on that you already know:

1) The two biggest factors in changing a pastor’s pay package are church setting and worship attendance.

A pastor in a suburb of a large city makes 21% more than a pastor in a farm setting. Many will way that the cost of living is cheaper. But the reality is that a comparison of some random suburban settings versus farm towns reveals the following cost differences:

  • Groceries will cost 2% more
  • Housing will cost 8-14% less
  • Utilities will cost 6-8% less (unless it’s drafty)
  • Healthcare will cost 3% less

None of the major expenses costs 21% less, and groceries even ends up costing more. So there isn’t the same level of cost savings as salary decrease. As far as worship attendance goes for preaching, it may make sense. Some believe a larger church requires a sharper, more focused, more broadly appealing preacher to maintain a larger and more diverse church body than a smaller church. You could argue though that you need a better preacher to grow a small church than you do to only maintain a large church. You need a strong salmon to swim upstream. However, we feel about those factors, they are the facts. Larger churches and suburban churches in big cities pay the best.

2) Preaching pastors make more than non-preaching pastors.

Senior Pastors and Associate Pastors make significantly more than their colleagues in other areas. Part of the reason is preaching. Churches simply pay more for the people they hear from the most. Is preaching more important than Christian Education? Certainly not. That’s from a preaching pastor, guest preacher, and preaching professor. It’s simply not more important than the deep ongoing discipleship of the mind, heart and lives of church goers. Again, sticking to the facts it certainly pays more in North America.  Given that most people fear public speaking more than dying, maybe the emphasis is in the right place.

Youth pastors, whose ministry is more typically associated with preaching than children pastors, also make more. 20% more than children pastors on average. Part of that reason may be lack of ordination. Ordination always garners a higher average salary and many children pastors mistakenly avoid getting ordained. Preaching takes a toll, but on average the church compensates for that. The old wisdom is that one hour of preaching requires the same expenditure of energy as 8 hours in an office. If you preach half an hour in two services you’ve put in quite a full day. If we were worldly in our thinking, we would suggest that if you want to get paid more you should work on your preaching. Instead, the worker is worth her hire and preaching takes a toll…so we do not muzzle the ox.

3) The biggest difference in pastoral pay is the church’s revenue

If a church brings in under 250k per year the average base salary plus housing is $42,872. That is in keeping with the median single earner salary of the country.  Household income averages $55,775 which includes two-wage families (deptofnumbers.com/income/us). If a church brings in more than $1 million a year (something like 800 people on average in Sunday morning attendance) the average base salary plus housing is $71,999. It really did add up to “71,999” by the way, I didn’t monkey with that curiously sales-like fact. That’s a 67.9% increase in pay. If the church is increasing numerically, the pastor is increasing in income. If the church is shrinking, the pastor’s budget is decreasing on average. That is not a statement of value on our part from this site, simply a reporting of facts and trends.

Apparently we are not completely muzzling the oxen that is treading the grain. However, we might ask what happens if the oxen is treading just has hard as another oxen but the farmer doesn’t make as much (for any reason) should they get paid that much less?

Now here are two things you might not have known:

1) Education makes a huge pay difference.

The average senior pastor who gets a masters degree receives 12% more in total compensation than the average pastor with a bachelors. Read that again. If you don’t have your masters, think about what 12% would equate to. The average pastor with their doctorate (PhD or DMin is not divided in the study) makes 10.3% more than the masters. Doctorates typically cost less to receive than masters, especially the behemoth Master of Divinity degree versus the rather small Doctorate of Ministry degree. Perhaps this is a shameless plug for education. I don’t work for Wesley Seminary but they should thank me. I tell my own students who are finishing our Mdiv equivalent masters program that it was one of the best ministry decisions they ever made. A masters trained pastor is on-average better equipped and will therefore be better paid. More importantly, the goal is that they will better serve souls. And the cost of the degree will pay itself off in 2.5 years for the masters, 2 years for the doctorate if the church raises the salary accordingly (and we should). Feel free to print this for your board before, during, and after your degree.

Pastors used to be among the best educated persons in town. They were respected as such. We’ve lost something now that pastors are often among the lowest level of educated persons in town. There is great danger in allowing pastors to remain relatively uneducated. If pastors cannot tell Plato from play dough, or have an intelligent conversation about the difference between open theism and arminianism they should not expect to get paid as well as professionals who know their field.

2) Senior pastors take the biggest cut in tough times.

pay-cut-cartoonBetween 2013 and 2015 senior pastors took an average pay cut of $19,470. That’s a huge pay cut to any family budget. Associate Pastors took a $3,233 increase. That’s right, associate pastors took a pay raise while senior pastors took a massive pay cut. Other areas in the church budget weren’t necessarily increased. Full time administrative assistants took about a $400 cut during that period and worship pastors took about a $900 cut on average. Some of that may have been reduced hours in hourly positions. Now matter the reason for the reduction, all of that pales in comparison to the senior pastors who cut their pay by a significant percentage, and a big chunk of yearly change. While giving to charitable causes has increased, year-2013-giving to churches by percentage reached Great Depression levels. Who took the hit? Senior pastors.

Perhaps this is noble. The senior pastors look at their staff and make a tough call. They are the leader, they make the sacrifice (servant leader model.) Or perhaps they make a strategic call, the senior pastor has no desire to leave, but the staff might go elsewhere if their pay is cut. Who knows, but thank you to all you senior pastors who quietly told the board to cut your pay. Thank you from every staff person who doesn’t even realize that their pay raise or smaller pay cut was primarily funded by your personal pay.

Oxen thresh grain with hooves and men separate kernels from straw.

We need to ask questions about this though. Over time, preaching will continue to take it’s toll. The weekly production of content will continue to drain the soul. Have we allowed the oxen to muzzle itself? Should we do that? Is it best for the kingdom long haul? District superintendents, board chairs, and lay leaders of all stripes need to consider that question carefully. Maybe it is not in the church’s long term best interest to let pastors play the  martyr with their pay. How many of their children will play Jonah because they remembered Mom and Dad whispering tensely at the table about the “lower giving” and the need to “cut the family vacation again?”

I will leave those questions aside and talk to you, the preacher. You’re the one reading this and give some unsolicited advice.

1) Make preaching your priority growth goal.

Preaching is the central growth engine of the church. Evangelistic preaching that not only seeks to bring people to Christ, but train people in how to lead people to Christ is one of our primary roles. And actually, the church has let us know they will pay us more if we do it better (all other things equal). It is worth pouring your time into improving your preaching week by week…for the kingdom’s sake and your family’s finances sake. You might think that corrupts the character of preaching. I do not. Neither did Paul. He was happy with little, but he was also content with much. He was willing to be bi-vocational, but he stopped that immediately when the pay was sufficient to preach full time. I think good pay for growth of the kingdom actually puts the incentive in the right place. If more people are following Christ and giving generously as a result of a pastor’s labor we should pay her more. Does that mean the pastor may make more than the plumber or factory foreman who sits on the board? Perhaps. “Worthy of double honor” comes to mind. They may make less than the business person who sits right beside them. Should we tell the business person to make less money simply so they can be equal to the plumber? Of course not. Board members need to set their own personal egos and personal budgets to the side when they walk into the board room. If they cannot do that, they should step down from the board.

2) Find out what pay is reasonable, and accept it.

If you get the 2016-2017 compensation handbook you’ll be able to do a salary and compensation worksheet that looks at your church income, your church location, your church size, your (or your pastor’s) educational level, pastoral years of experience, and the pastoral position to decide on a reasonable salary scale. If you are the pastor in question, do not feel greedy for accepting it. They will need to replace you one day after all, and the budget should be built to do so. Do not feel underpaid if you are within it. It’s tempting to look wistfully at the boats, houses, cars, and clothes our wealthier congregation members have and think “it must be nice.” If we do that, contentment is leaking out of our souls. A worker is worth his hire, and you are worth a reasonable pay. However, do not keep seeking more than what is reasonable. Instead, work hard at what you have been given (Proverbs 12:11). Take joy in the work itself (Ecclesiastes. 3:22). Seek first the kingdom, and do not be surprised or resistant when all these other things get added back to you. Do not be too impatient when they have not yet been added back. We are citizens looking for another city.

For the Wesleyan-Arminian movement:

  1. Perhaps its time we put more reflection into how we set salaries. Should preaching senior pastors be allowed to play the martyr with their pay? Is that the right strategic move? Perhaps preachers need the church to protect them from themselves as well as from others.
  1. Giving is changing. Giving to charitable causes as a whole is up; giving to local churches is down. It’s a new day and we need to think carefully through how we should adjust our thinking and preaching about giving. Whatever preaching we are doing and discipling we are doing is not quite accomplishing the need: for regular faithful givers to support the ministry and work of the church for the sake of the world.
  1. In a denomination and movement whose population is increasingly served by staff churches rather than solo pastor churches (though we still have a beautiful army of those) a standard of pay and benefits might be a good idea. Though the averages work out, human beings do not live in averages. There are some churches who are taking advantage of young people by paying them well below the standard for their education, church size, position, and location. That’s an issue of injustice and local churches may need accountability to right the wrong.

These things may not be the heart of preaching, but they do deeply affect the preacher. And no matter what our theology of preaching may be, the state of the preacher affects the state of preaching.

What Are You Waiting For? | Emily Vermilya

Emily Vermilya

Emily Vermilya

Preacher: Dr. Emily Vermilya is the Pastor of Formation at College Wesleyan Church. A regular member of the preaching team, a mentor of resident pastors, and a key leader in the church Dr. Vermilya is a strong example of the benefit of great preaching staff.

 

Sermon Title: What are you Waiting For?

Given during College Wesleyan Church’s Advent series, Dr. Vermilya’s sermon is attentive to the congregation’s anticipation for Christmas and the Church calendar’s movements during Advent. By attending to both, Dr. Vermilya demonstrates the following helpful strategies for preaching:

  1. Lose the Cape: “In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m going to start with a confession today. I am terrible at waiting.”

Emily begins the sermon by admitting to the same problem the congregation faces. She doesn’t try to be the hero of her sermon; she recounts her own struggle against accepting the Gospel’s invitation. This story disarms the audience and helps them hear the Good News. It also avoids the parallel trap of exposing too much of the pastor’s personal life or struggles. The pulpit is the place for empathetic connection and authentic admittance of humanity. It is not the place to air this week’s dirty laundry or unburden the pastor’s conscience.

Great preachers foster common ground between preacher and parishioner. Sermons recite God’s mighty acts, not the preacher’s exploits or. They also proclaim God’s compassion with our human condition, not the preacher’s incompetence to guide others spiritually. By establishing common struggles in appropriate ways, preachers pave a path for resolution through Good News.

  1. Paint with Different Colors: “You’re getting the drift here. In any given year, it was a whole lot of Luke! Luke’s account of the nativity is the one we’re most familiar with… and yet Matthew gives us Joseph’s story.”

Preachers tend to gravitate toward familiar Scriptures like houseguests forming closed circles at the office Christmas party. But unfamiliar Scriptures provide a chance to explore. Rather than straying towards the oft-used Lukan narrative, Emily offers the congregation a different perspective. Still lauding Mary’s faithfulness, Dr. Vermilya offers Joseph’s perspective on Christ’s incarnation. Exploring ancient Jewish customs, Dr. Vermilya discusses how Joseph’s thoughtfulness shielded Mary from danger and humiliation. Sometimes gender diversity helps highlight the male figures in scripture men often ignore, or see only from a masculine perspective. Pastor Emily’s sermon is a clear example of the insight diversity in the pulpit can bring.

Great preachers tell familiar stories in an unfamiliar way. Congregations under these preachers read Scripture with heightened awareness of God’s work in the text, leading to greater opportunity for application. Always look for something that is new-to-you in this sermon. It ensures the congregation receives fresh baked bread.

  1. Address All Audiences: “In the midst of this story of Joseph’s awaited explanation for all the chaos that’s just broken loose in his life, Matthew inserts a message to a group of people who also knew a thing or two about waiting and seeking explanations. Israel had put their faith in God, trusting that He would deliver them… but how many times during that waiting do you think they asked, ‘How is this going to happen?’”

Emily invites her congregation to consider the Jewish population’s interpretation of the text. Vermilya’s interpretation of the Scripture delves into modern methods of interpretation—historical and literary analysis—while also exploring the ancient readers’ interpretation of the text. Both modern and historic audiences are tied together by anticipation of the Messiah.

Great preachers build empathy by exposing the Gospel’s demands of various communities. With a tight and well crafted phrase, the bridge between diverse communities and diverse listeners in your pews is made. Every person has asked of God’s promises for them, “how is this going to happen?”

  1. Leave Tension Unresolved “This morning, I wonder how many of us find ourselves in some sort of waiting room. This is really the reminder that Advent brings to us: that in the waiting God  is preparing an answer, or a way, or an outcome that will resolve any tension and solve any problem this life could throw at us. And our challenge is simply to not allow our need for an explanation to cause us to doubt things we know or true, or get impatient and trying to create solutions on our own—even righteous ones—or to manufacture an explanation for God in the midst of our waiting. What are you waiting for? And how can you—like Joseph—faithfully and obediently walk with God through the waiting, even if you don’t fully understand why this season is even needed?”

Dr. Vermilya leaves the congregation grappling with the tension of waiting. Her sermon mirrors its message: resolution does not come quickly, but God offers hope in the process. Because Emily dismissed the congregation in tension, they are forced to grapple with the sermon’s implications after the church service is over.

Great preachers provide diverse response elements, allowing their congregation to feel resolution with an in-service response element, or offering the congregation productive tension by ending the service without an in-service response. As Fred Craddock once said, “The listener should not be able to

Action Steps:

  1. Be An Archaeologist: During your next sermon series, explore the cultural background of your preaching text. If a cultural festival serves as the backdrop for your sermon, discuss how the festival might’ve changed the flow of the story. If a Jewish or Greco-Roman custom made a gesture especially significant, include the detail. Foster a common point of contact between your congregation and the ancient Near Eastern audience.
  1. Use Vignettes: Near the beginning of her sermon, Emily offered several examples of waiting—a patient in a waiting room, a car in traffic, and a traveler who recently purchased tickets. Before you craft your next sermon, come up with three to five colorful vignettes that would help illustrate your sermon. Rather than using one long illustration, use these to punctuate your sermon. By using diverse small stories, you’re more likely to resonate with a greater percentage of your congregation.
  1. Reexamine the Familiar: During your next standalone sermon, preach from an unfamiliar passage. Search the lectionary to see which passage fits with the Church Year; open your Bible to specific passage and try to write a sermon for it. Preaching from unfamiliar passages leverages your preaching skills, providing freshness in preaching and diversity in reading.

You Can Learn a Lot from a Preacher

Lenny Luchetti

Dr. Lenny Luchetti

Dr. Lenny Luchetti presently serves as Associate Professor of Proclamation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University. He is responsible primarily for the development and teaching of the preaching courses the seminary offers. He is the author of Preaching Essentials: A Practical Guide (May 2012), which has been honored by Outreach Magazine and Preaching Magazine as one of the best books on preaching in 2012-13.

The following article was originally published here. It’s the kind of article our readers love to get their hands on. Glean from the article, then go listen to the preachers.


 

 

Every preacher has at least one primary strength from which all preachers can glean. I have been preaching for more than 20 years and teaching preaching for more than 10 of those years. I love listening to preachers who hit the proverbial ball out of the park in key areas, especially in areas where I strike out or get singles. Here are 7 skills we can learn from 7 different preachers.

All of the following preachers have sermons that can be easily accessed on the internet.

  1. Andy Stanley and Conversational Delivery: Stanley breaks many of the old rhetorical rules. At times, he talks too fast, uses too many hand gestures, and doesn’t enunciate well. Yet, tens of thousands of people listen to him live and online each week. Why? Because he replicates in the preaching event what happens naturally in conversation. He seems natural, conversational and, as a result, authentic. In conversation we don’t always enunciate, we talk too fast when excited, and we get overly animated with our hands. So does Stanley and that’s one reason why people listen to him. Preach like you converse and listeners will feel like they are in dialogue with a real person not a plastic pulpiteer.
  1. Christine Caine

    Christine Caine

    Christine Caine and Passionate Testimony: Caine has grown in popularity as a preacher over the past decade, even in surprising circles where female preachers are not endorsed. Even naysayers sense the passionate conviction with which she preaches. She does not simply tell us about God, she tells us about her experiences with God. She sprinkles her powerful testimony into her sermons. But, she is careful to share her testimony in ways that help the listener know God, not her, better. Caine shares her story in a manner that helps listeners access their stories in light of the story of God as revealed in Scripture. Caine’s credibility and authority are anchored in her experience with God. The listener senses, “she walks with God.” Caine shows preachers how to be testimonial without being self-centered.

  1. Fred Craddock and Inductive Progression: Craddock was a pastor and teacher of preaching for more than half a century. He recently passed away but not before passing on a legacy for those who dare to preach. One of the main hallmarks of his preaching was his ability to replicate for listeners the journey of joyful discovery he experienced while preparing the sermon in his study. Craddock contended that too often preachers reverse what happened in the study by starting the sermon deductively. They begin with the bottom line discovery it took them a week to discern in the study. This makes the sermon dull and boring. The listeners are handed the main thrust of the sermon at the outset and they have no reason to listen beyond the sermon introduction. Craddock, as well as Jesus in his parables, taught us the art of the inductive sermon by taking listeners on a journey of joyful discovery. Sometimes Craddock would hold back the sermon focus and resolution until the last minute of the sermon. Craddock’s sermons moved toward the focus inductively instead of starting with the focus deductively and proving it.
  1. TD Jakes

    TD Jakes

    T.D. Jakes and Contextual Colloquialisms:  Jakes puts biblical concepts and narratives in the language of his people with power. He playfully connects the characters in the biblical text with contemporary images and situations. He is careful, when he does this, not to neglect the historical and literary context of the text. Instead, he contextualizes the exegetical realities of the text so that the world of the bible and the world of the listener are merged. So, Jakes might describe Moses as shedding his high-top Air Jordan sneakers because he is on holy ground. He might paint a picture of Pilate as a divorced politician coasting toward retirement. Jakes finds ways to contextualize biblical realities by using the colloquialisms of his people. He does this in ways that are faithful to the intent of the text and to the realities of his context.

  1. Steve Deneff and Itch-Eliciting: Steve is my pastor so I have the privilege of hearing him on a weekly basis. His sermon introductions are lengthy. He will use the first 10-15 minutes trying to expose and elicit an itch in listeners that we didn’t even know we had. He exposes our assumptions and debunks them. Steve recognizes that the sermon introduction must elicit an itch the listener will want to have scratched. If not, the listener might not listen. Steve knows his context. Most of the congregation consists of long time churchgoers, people who might assume we already know what we need to know and live how we need to live. Steve has to work extra hard in this context to help us feel an itch we didn’t even know needed to be scratched. He does this masterfully.
  1. Barbara Brown Taylor

    Barbara Brown Taylor

    Barbara Brown Taylor and Poetic Word-Smithing: There is no one alive who is better at stringing words together than Taylor. She weaves biblical exegesis into the sermon seamlessly without saying “look at my word study” or “check out the historical background of the text.” She is more subtle, more artful in her weaving of the “then and there” of the text with the “here and now” of her context. Taylor poetically words her sermons in a way that blurs the lines between the biblical world and our world, so that our story is caught up in the story of God. She is a manuscript preacher, so her delivery may not be charismatic enough for some. Her content, not her delivery, is her lead card. One gets the sense from listening to Taylor that she labors over every word to find just the right one to fit with all of the others. Listen carefully to the way she uses words to concretize concepts, to paint profound pictures.

  1. Eugene Lowry and Tension to Twist: Lowry is a genius at developing narrative tension in the sermon. And just as listeners are feeling the tension of the biblical text, Lowry will pull a fast one and offer a new twist on a familiar passage. Here’s an example. I heard him preach on the familiar Mary and Martha passage in Luke 10. What is typically preached from this text is the tension between serving and Sabbath, between doing and being, between busyness and stillness. Lowry starts there but then digs deeper to create a new tension and twist. He pulls a fast one by revealing that Mary is not to be commended merely because she sat still at the feet of Jesus but because she was counter-cultural. Mary took on the posture of a disciple, a role reserved for men alone in her culture. Martha stayed in the kitchen doing what women did in that day. Jesus commended Mary not Martha. Lowry used tension and twist to help us see this familiar biblical narrative in a new light.

What skills from the preachers above do you most need to adopt in your preaching today? These skills are not the ones we traditionally learn from a basic preaching course. They are advanced skills that come with experience and intentionality. Go online and check out the preachers who possess the skills you need to enhance your preaching.

Serving Christ with you,

Lenny Luchetti

Staying is the New Going | Josh Cooper

Sermon: Staying is the New Going

Josh Cooper

Josh Cooper

Preacher: Josh Cooper is the North Campus pastor for Grace Point Church in Topeka, Kansas. Grace Point “leads people into growing relationships with Jesus Christ by creating environments where life-change can happen.”[1] In this sermon, Josh demonstrates the following preaching principles:

Be the Guide: “I get to share with you as a learner—not as an expert or a pastor who has this somehow figured out.”

Josh isn’t trying to be the congregation’s hero; he serves as a guide. Humility breaks down psychological barriers between pastor and congregation, offering parishioners an opportunity to hear the message without obstruction.

Great preachers stay away from becoming the hero of their story; instead, they focus on guiding their people to fulfill God’s calling.

Describe the Problem: “For me, the city in Topeka is like a diamond in the rough, because there is incredible beauty in the heart of this city. But it’s masked on the outside by the more obvious harsh realities that surround us us: things like homelessness and poverty, drug and human trafficking, empty commercial buildings and abandoned homes… We are not alone. This list that plagues our community isn’t just for us, it’s for cities all across the United States.”

Pastor Josh begins his sermon by discussing the problems the congregation faces. Optimism glances over harsh realities; hope acknowledges a way through the harsh realities. Cooper’s sermon isn’t optimistic—he acknowledges the struggles of Topeka—but it is hopeful. Josh artfully anticipates the difficulties of the congregation and gives them an opportunity to ponder these difficulties at the beginning of his sermon.

Great preachers preach sermons that acknowledge difficult circumstances without always resolving them. Then the listener feels the need to resolve the tension with changed living, not just a sermon conclusion.

Disclose the Resolution: “The solution to our city’s biggest problems has been right under our noses for the last 2,000 years. When Jesus was asked to reduce the entirety of the Scriptures into a simple command, he said to love God with everything you have and to love your neighbor as yourself. We get the loving God—we know how to love God. But who is our neighbor?”

The Gospel doesn’t excuse us from difficult problems (nor does it release us to answer complex issues with simple answers). Josh’s message recognizes this, asking difficult questions and guiding the congregation in a search for answers. In doing so, Cooper allows his sermon’s hope to match the hopelessness of his community.

Great preachers tackle difficult problems without giving simple, shallow answers. In order for the Gospel to be “good news,” it must match the emotional complexity of the problems it addresses.

Offer Credit: “What I’m sharing with you is in conjunction with what Alan shares in his book here.”

Though it would have been easy for Josh to plagiarize Alan’s content, he instead chooses to offer credit. In doing so, he also exposes the congregation to his own mentoring practices, and offers them a resource to benefit from.   It doesn’t take much to offer credit. For a refresher on preaching and plagiarism click here. For a panel discussion of how to maintain your preaching integrity click here.

Great preachers maintain integrity in their use of others’ content, and are quick to offer praise for resources the congregation might find helpful.

Ask Great Questions: “Would anyone in your neighborhood care if you moved tomorrow?”

Josh asks excellent questions throughout his sermon, helping the congregation consider the Gospel’s impact on their lives. Rather than closing the gap between the Gospel’s demands and the people’s effort, Josh asks questions that help them do so.

Great preachers ask excellent questions; they also help their congregations hopefully carry these questions toward resolution after the service.

Application Exercises:

  1. Be Quiet:The next time someone seems like they need advice, don’t offer a solution. Instead, build trust by offering empathy, and craft excellent questions (not “yes” or “no” questions) that help them grapple with their own solutions. Preachers are known for talking. Pastors should be known for listening. The best preachers get their insights from years of being great pastors. Listening leads to talking not the other way around.
  2. Give Credit: As you prepare your next sermon, utilize a resource that you can credit in your sermon. Once you’ve selected the source and written the sermon, practice your “citation speech.” Use Josh Cooper’s as a template or see the links above for additional ideas for citing seamlessly in a sermon.
  3. Build Tension:Discern your congregation’s needs, and consider how the Gospel could meet them. Analyze the gap between congregational need and the scripture’s demands. Try to connect them using a wide understanding of the “good news” in your next sermon. How does the good news in all of its ramifications make the demands of scripture not only possible, but also likely, once we believe it fully?

 

[1] http://gracepointtopeka.org/about/missionandvalues/

 

RE-IMAGINING GENEROSITY | THE ALL SHORES WESLEYAN STORY

9829568_300x300When leaders from All Shores Wesleyan Church came to a GenerousChurch Generosity Encounter, they were poised for change.  They were already positioning themselves for a larger geographic footprint by changing their name.  What they didn’t realize is that they were also positioning themselves for re-imagining generosity.

This Spring Lake, Michigan church is known as a church that encourages people to join no matter where they are in life.  However, they are also known as the church that blocks traffic trying to get to the beach every Sunday.  The leadership realized that their members wrestled with the distracted and highly recreational lifestyle of a beach community. All Shores wanted serving and giving to become a lifestyle of its people.

Pete Yoshonis

Pete Yoshonis

Conversations with GenerousChurch lead Pastor Pete Yoshonis and the All Shores team to dream of ways the church could demonstrate the generosity of the Kingdom of God through their people.

God had a surprise in store for them.  He first wanted them to experience His generosity.  During the low-attendance summer months, the team launched out in faith to fund three church socials to bring a sense of community to the church.  The leadership team was amazed as God provided the almost $10,000 expense completely through donations.  They witnessed God’s generosity in such a big way, they couldn’t wait to shovel it back out.

The church demonstrated their generosity by reaching out into the community through a “beyond the 4 walls VBS” and a food drive in partnership with a local grocery store that netted $20,000 for the food pantry (6x more than the usual drive).

Many members adopted this phrase, “How can I be a giver not a taker?” Rather than waiting for the church to develop a program, they began solving problems.  In addition to helping each other with around-the-house projects, members also found ways to raise money for missions efforts.  One five-year-old boy joined his grandmother in an initiative to raise money for clean water in Guatemala.  They, along with many others, rode their bicycles for this fundraiser and the five-year-old rode over 30 miles on a single Saturday morning!  Their efforts contributed $12,000 of the $300,000 raised by All Shores’ members for local and global missions.

During the fall, Pastor Pete launched a sermon series “Lavish” to give new language to their generosity efforts and the way that they would engage the world around them (Lavish series here).  The series was accompanied by a prayer focus and serving opportunities for individuals and groups with 12 local non-profit organizations.

They began to embrace a whole life definition of generosity:

From the moment our feet hit the floor until our heads hit the pillow, we are called to be generous, to ask The Lord, what do you want me to do today through my heart, my gifts, my resources, my very life, in order to bring your love to others.

generouschurch-logoUsing research from GenerousChurch’s survey, Pastor Pete did a follow-up series addressing the barriers to generosity (watch here).

After a year of living generously, All Shores leaders reported growth in every area of whole life generosity:

  • 75% had served sacrificially outside the church
  • 60% grew in daily intentional acts of generosity
  • 55% increased their financial generosity

Operations Director, Julie Burns reports that giving to the church has been “unbelievable.”  Without any unusual push, the All Shores Christmas Eve offering grew by 50% over last year.  In January, All Shores partnered with an Ethiopian village in sponsoring 150 kids through Children’s HopeChest.  Pastor Pete noted that the focus on whole life generosity has been unlike any financial teaching they have done in the past; “Following God’s generous ways has given us a new spiritual depth.  It is changing our everyday lives.”

Remarkably, this kind of growth in generosity has not been limited to individual families.  All Shores is witnessing groups coming together to serve their community and to express new levels of thankfulness for God’s generosity to them.

As All Shores began intentionally focusing on Biblical generosity, they also were in need of a second driveway at their facility.  In the words of Pastor Pete, this project came together “supernaturally” and a second driveway was approved.   God’s generosity toward the church led to something the staff had never experienced previously.  In an outpouring of gratitude, the staff came together and knelt together in a prayerful time of worship and thanksgiving.  Church members noticed that this growth in the culture of generosity has led to a remarkable increase in the spirit of gratitude around the church community.

All Shores has entered new season of spiritual growth and financial health.  They have found that imitating God’s generosity is fun, exciting and a dynamic way to unleash generous disciples. As Julie Burns, the Operations Director said, “God’s goodness is so evident to us, we can’t wait to share it.

What we love about this story at Wesleyan Sermons is the integrated nature preaching played in the ongoing corporate formation of the life of the body. The preaching series was not a stand-alone effort dropped into the status quo programming of the church. There was a leadership effort that led up to the sermon, and culture changing efforts that led away from the sermon. The public celebration of the shift in generosity for the church after the fact only plays into the longer-term effect. Cycling the stories of shifts toward generosity of life in future sermons keeps the synergy going.


 

Though we have edited this document for posting on Wesleyan Sermons, Sharon Epps and the GenerousChurch team wrote the original post and gave The Wesleyan Church permission to distribute. For more on Sharon Epps and the Generous Church team visit generouschurch.com.  ~ Dave Ward, General Editor of WesleyanSermons.com.