The Value of a Good Story

navets —  September 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Here are some reasons why this sermon was highlighted:

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

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

- Dave Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Dave Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons team

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Confessions of a Lazy Preacher

navets —  August 18, 2014 — 10 Comments

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

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

I pointed to the road ahead.

I called the people to live with a different mindset.

I unpacked the text.

I invited them to love God more.

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

There was just one problem. One extremely large problem.

It wasn’t my sermon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weeks that followed my homiletical trainwreck were a blur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the result?

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

A Closing Challenge

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

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

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

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


mccallum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________

Interviewed by Dave Ward, June 2014.

 

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kylerayPastor Kyle Ray is the lead pastor of Kentwood Community Church, a church of about 2,800 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Though there are lots of reasons to highlight sermon videos. You may have noticed we try to share some of the things that draw each sermon to our attention. Hopefully this helps Wesleyan Preachers listen to sermons not just for their content, but for their creativity in sermonic craft. Every preacher has to find their own way in preaching to a degree, and yet no preacher is a completely unique creation. Instead we cobble together our own unique preaching identity by learning from others.

In this message, Pastor Kyle Ray weaves in fundamental Christian doctrine by the use of analogy and a popular cultural touch point (a movie/book). He draws upon an analogy that he first picked up in the Alpha Course as a church volunteer and combines it with doctrine that he learned as a student at Asbury Theological Seminary. The analogy has been used so many times at KCC that Kyle doesn’t mention the origin of the analogy.



This week we’ll highlight some ideas you might try for your own preaching that this sermon by Kyle Ray illustrates well.

  1. Memorize the introduction. For the first several minutes he talks in an engaging, memorable, and fun way; much like he is talking with a friend, not reading a manuscript. It is very conversational, relatable, and engaging style. He is very confident in what he is saying, without any stuttering, “um’s” and “uh’s” present. A fluid introduction that is engaging and in the moment can set up a congregation well, put them in a positive attitude toward the preacher, and actually get them physically leaning in. A fumbled introduction is hard to recover. You can spend half the sermon juggling the ball down the field. Memorize the start, memorize the finish, and nail them both.
  2. Use popular culture as the hook (not the point). In this series, Catching Fire, Kyle connects the title with the books/movies of the same name so that whenever someone hears that name, they will remember the message that was brought during this series. This relation to culture makes everything in culture point back to the Word of God. Even the simple connection between the furnace and the Holy Spirit are great ways to help your congregation remember God in the everyday. We have to take care not to make everything in scripture point back to culture, though. The danger is in setting up a self-confirming cycle between culture and church. Then church is merely a reflection of its surroundings rather than a prophetic voice.
  3. Help us read minds. Pastor Kyle spends plenty of time explaining what is going on in the culture and in the minds’ of the disciples so that we are better able to understand what they are thinking and feeling. The best novels, plays, and movies all help you enter into the world of a character and think as though you were within their skin. That character identification is part of the key function of any story in moving us toward better lives. Being able to put your congregation into the context of the text makes it more understandable, relatable, and applicable. It also helps move the congregation in ways logical explanation can never do.
  4. In illustrating God, move from lesser to greater (there is no other true direction). The story of waiting on his mom for more gum, something so small, yet big enough to stick with him throughout the years, is nothing compared to what the disciples were expecting. Everybody was able to realize that there is no comparison between the importance of the gum and the Holy Spirit without Kyle even having to state it. This simple illustration no doubt made most of the congregation think of something so little that they wait for, and get disappointed when they do not receive it, and how minuscule that is compared to the promises of God that we do not wait with anticipation for. Often, we forget that all illustrations and metaphors fall short of glory of God. And we fumble saying things like “in the same way, God..” as opposed to “how much infinitely more then is God…”
  5. Draw me a diagram. While most people can learn through audible communication only, many struggle to keep their eyes on a talking head. Not only does this help keep focus and attention, but a diagram imprints on the memory a clear and easily grasped understanding. So the diagram does three things: gathers the eye, clears the mind, and stamps the memory.
  6. Let the scriptures be silent. Kyle does not insert into scripture what is not there as though it was. He says “We don’t know what they did here…” several times, and then he will often follow that by saying “But we do know…” It is ok for us to not know or understand one hundred percent of what goes on in the text. It is better to be honest and authentic, than to be fake and misleading. If you play with an imaginative idea for what could have been, make that clear. But when the text does say something, don’t avoid it.

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quotingReferencing sources verbally in sermons is actually easier than you might think. Often pastors slip into the plagiarism of preaching realm because they feel like referencing sources makes their sermon sound like a paper. You do not have to sound as though you are giving a presentation in a freshmen speech class to cover your integrity in preaching.

After talking with a few Wesleyan preachers, hearing their way of handling references, and reviewing some of the sermons that we have on our site that did show integrity we came up with some ways to make it natural. Here are some “cover your integrity phrases” you can use easily without sounding like a geek:

1. “Here’s an idea I heard while listening to another pastors’ sermon this week. I think it is a powerful way to put it…”

2. “Like a great author once said…”

3. “As the poet put it…”

4. “Chuck Swindoll preached on this passage several years back. I must admit that his outline so well matched this passage’s message that I am using it heavily today. But you can’t blame my stories on Chuck.” [Smile]

5. “I want to share with you a sermon preached by a pastor I look up to greatly, Nancy Ortberg. She said it better than I could. So if you’ll forgive me, I am going to share with you major sections of that sermon because I think they fit our church like a hand in glove. Where they don’t fit, I have added in my own thoughts.”

6. “For today’s sermon I used a significant amount of material I found in my research. A list of the sources are posted online for those of you who want to dig into it some more. It would just take too much time to reference them all.”

7. “I once heard a preacher stand in front of his congregation and preach on this very text. He looked out over his congregation after reading this passage and said….” [then just tell the story of the preacher preaching].

All of these are attempts to give credit where credit is due just enough that people know when ideas are yours and when they are not. The goal is to find natural ways that fit your speaking style and send the signal clearly. If honesty is our guide, and we are creative in our phrasing a few things will happen.

First, we will not have to worry about using other’s thoughts as all good sermons use insights born from research. Second, our people will have an increased sense of our integrity. They will subconsciously know that if we use other’s thoughts, we are honest about it. Third, we may even increase the respect our people have for our sermon work. Phillip Brooks was right that preaching is “truth poured through personality.” So it needs to be our own. Yet at the same time, the truth that pours through us gains validity when verified by others voices as well.

Once you have a quiver full of casual phrases ready at hand, it’s easy to follow this simple rule. When in doubt, give a shout out. Happy preaching.


- Dave Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons Team

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preachingHow much copying is too much? When does inspiration by others turn into stealing other’s intellectual property? If a sermon is inspired by God, can a preacher own it? If we get a spark of an idea from another preacher, can we use it without mentioning them? Or does the barest mention of someone else’s phrase or idea have to be referenced every time?

These types of questions are dealt with in every homiletics course I have ever taught. Yet, the consistent conclusion that always seems to emerge is that there are no hard and fast rules. In my opinion it is better to err on the side of caution than on the side of forgiveness where plagiarism is concerned. At the same time, how cautious is too cautious? Pastors have a lot of worries beside the preaching moment. Sometimes they do not feel they have a clear word of their own origin to share. Is it ethical to share another’s ideas?

Here are some tests that may help you discern whether or not you have gone to far in “begging, borrowing and…”

1. THE PEOPLE TEST: If your congregation Googled the phrases of your sermon, would they think you mislead them? If they might think you mislead them by passing off someone else’s work as your own, then you probably need to reference. After all, whether or not it is ethical becomes a moot point once you lose your congregation’s trust.

2. THE QUANTITY TEST: If 90% of a sermon is yours, most people will not blink an eye at an idea or a phrase or a metaphor you forget to mention. They will ascribe it to forgetfulness or limited time. But if even 30% of a sermon’s main concepts are not yours, you’re shaving the integrity ice awfully close unless you are constantly saying “according to..”

3. THE QUALITY TEST: If the best portions of the sermon are yours and yours alone then it’s a good sign. In other words if quotes and metaphors others offer come from diverse sources and only support your ideas, it’s a good sign. But if all the best insights are someone else’s, especially if they are from the same source, you’ve crossed a line. You have to tell people “Most of the best parts of this sermon come from so-and-so’s great work titled such-and-such. I hope you will take the time to look it up and read it. To reference every idea I use would simply take too much time, but I cannot take the credit for the lion share of this sermon.” And if we have to say that, most preachers would opt for their own C+ sermon anyway.

4. THE HEADLINE TEST: If the headline of a newspaper accurately described how many sermons you preached this year that were “borrowed” how bad would you look? The headline, “Local pastor preaches someone else’s outline last sunday” probably won’t raise too many eyebrows. But you should reference it in the future, unless you substantially change the outline and make it yours.  “Pastor preaches someone else’s sermons 75% of the time” is probably the end of your ministry there. Or how about this “Pastor preaches someone else’s sermon word for word.” That only has to happen once and you may be moving.

5. THE COMMUNITY TEST: This shouldn’t come first. Frankly, there is a significant number of pastors who seem to lack integrity in the preaching department. The internet hasn’t just made sinful material easy to find for free, it has found preaching easy to steal for free. And a lot of pastors are justifying it to themselves. Find a few pastors whose integrity is strong, who won’t just tell you what you want to hear, and run your use of other’s material by them.

6. THE OLD SCHOOL TEST: If you presented a sermon that you just preached to your old school’s preaching professor with only the references you listed, would you pass the sermon? If they found your sources of inspiration, would they also find references to support them? Our students fail an assignment at Indiana Wesleyan for one instance of plagiarizing another’s work without referencing them. If it is done twice they fail the course. If it is done three times, they are kicked out of the University. I am not sure that’s the model for how we should handle preachers’ plagiarism in the pulpit. Academic work is different than ministry work. At the same time, if you would fail the assignment otherwise, consider referencing the source.

Referencing sources verbally in sermons is actually easier than you might think. Here’s some “cover your integrity phrases” you can use easily:

1. “Here’s an idea I heard while listening to another pastors’ sermon this week. I think it is a powerful way to put it…”

2. “Like a great author once said…”

3. “As the poet put it…”

4. “Today’s sermon outline was greatly inspired by Chuck Swindoll with some significant changes of my own.”

5. “I want to share with you a sermon presented by a pastor I look up to greatly. She said it better than I could. So if you’ll forgive me, I am going to share with you major sections of that sermon because I think they fit our church like a hand in glove. Where they don’t fit, I’ll add in my own thoughts.”

6. “For today’s sermon I used a significant amount of material I found in my research. A list of the sources is posted online for those of you who want to dig into it some more.”

You get the idea. If in doubt, give a shout out.


This article was Written (in its entirety) by David B Ward | Director of Kern Program | Assoc Dean, School of Theology & Min. at Indiana Wesleyan University
© 2014

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“Wonderland” is Moncton Wesleyan Church’s 2013 Advent series. You may wonder why we would present Advent messages to you after Advent is done adventing. Well, we hope that we give you resources that spark your thinking for the coming year. We do not want to give you resources you copy and plagiarize for the next Sunday. With that in mind, and a smile in our eyes, we offer you this advent sermon in hopes that you might start planning this coming Advent in advance.

Towards the beginning of his message, Pastor Tim explains that “Wonderland” holds a double meaning, capturing both the wonder that we find at Christmastime and also bringing into focus those things about the Christmas story that we “wonder” about- the Virgin Birth, angels, wise men, etc. In week two of “Wonderland”, Pastor Tim focuses on the faith and the fear that Joseph experienced in Matthew 1.

You are welcome to download audio MP3 here.

A Few Things We Appreciate About This Sermon:

  1. Tim addresses nonbelievers in the congregation.  Sometimes in church we become so comfortable with our congregations that we forget that there are unbelievers sitting in the pews, too. Pastor Tim acknowledges that some listeners may not believe; it’s important to let your congregation know that you understand where they are at in their faith journey, even those who don’t yet believe. Several times throughout the sermon, Pastor Tim addresses nonbelievers, including in the response time. Of course every experienced pastor will nod their head in silent approval. Yet not every experienced pastor will remember to do so diligently week after week. Believers and non believers alike need to hear the gospel in all its fullness. As non-believers overhear the gospel, acknowledge that they are there. As believers overhear the gospel, acknowledge that they still need to hear the word of grace again and again.
  1. Tim acknowledges that Christ’s power still moves today. Through story and through simple words, Pastor Tim acknowledges that God still moves among us. he tells a story of a time that God spoke in a voice that seemed audible to him; he also mentions that there are stories throughout his congregation of people who have found Jesus. Pastor Tim proclaims that Jesus still breaks chains. We can get rather human about our preaching at times. Overreacting to the health and wealth movement, or chasing respectability from mainline denominations we can stop preaching miraculous intervention and start preaching helps and tips for hurting people. May God give us courage to preach a faith that involves the miraculous.
  1. Tim provides time for response.  Do you ever hear a sermon and think, “Wow. That was powerful, the air is thick!” Then the pastor closes the service and you’re left sitting in your seat not knowing what to do next, not wanting to leave that moment? Pastor Tim provides an appropriate time and means for people to respond to the word and leaves it wide open; he doesn’t make it complicated, but simply asks those who want to response to the Word of God to come forward.

Remember, every hour after a sermon without any tangible response reduces the likelihood by half that the listener will do anything with the sermon.

To get you thinking:

1. If I counted the number of times I preached about the miraculous intervention of God in recent months, how may fingers would I need?

2. How can I give my people space to respond, simply and without manipulation this coming Sunday?


guptillTim Guptill is the Lead Pastor of the Moncton Wesleyan Church.

Tim served on staff at Moncton Wesleyan from 2000-2005. Most recently he served as the Director of Adult Ministries at World HQ of the Wesleyan Church in Indianapolis and then as the Lead Pastor of Crosspoint Church in Fredericton before returning to lead Moncton Wesleyan. Tim has a passion for changed lives and for the local church and is looking forward to using those passions to help move MW forward into the future.

Tim and his wife Gayla have been partners in life and ministry for 21 years. They have two daughters, Hope (16) and Autumn (12), for whom, Tim & Gayla are ridiculously proud.

Tim blogs at timguptill.com and Tweets at @timguptill

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quoteA friend of mine teaches an entire class on reading for the sake of preaching. Reading great literature has always been a way to help foundering preachers find their footing with words. Recently a set of controlled studies intimated that people who read “serious fiction” have a higher emotional intelligence than the average population. People who read fluff fiction, popular fiction, have no statistical difference. People who read significant amounts of nonfiction at any level of difficulty, also show no sign in increase in emotional intelligence. I can attest to that. I work in the academy with a lot of professors who read high level books, and have low levels of EQ.

Of course this begs the chicken and the egg question: which caused which?  It is possible that emotionally intelligent people simply enjoy reading great literature because they “get it,” while others do not. It is also possible that simply reading great books is the way to get a high EQ, the new success path for your future. It is more likely a mix of the two. A budding EQ when combined with reading of serious fiction gives rise to an ability to understand character, to empathize with wider suffering, to celebrate the accomplishments of the human spirit, and to recognize the kinds of activities that offend others without having to be told.

When was the last time you read a good piece of serious fiction? Hemmingway would count. Harry Potter would not. The Orphan Master’s Son would count. Hunger games would not. Gilead would count. The Shack would not. All of the “would not count” novels are fine in their own way. They simply are not the kind of novel that studies demonstrate having a correlation with EQ.

Why does Emotional Intelligence matter for preaching? Do we have to answer? Does it need asked? Preaching peers into the person of God through the lens of scripture. Then when the eyes of faith refocus, the preacher perceives the human spirit in the mirror that was once a lens for God. In other words, is there anything to preaching that is not deeply touched by Emotional Intelligence? Emotional Intelligence helps us discern the divine and offer help to the human.

There are some challenges for the preacher who wants to become more emotionally intelligent and thinks reading might help her along the way. First, there is NetFlix and the smart TV. They call our names and asks us to sink into the soft pillow of intellectual numbness. TV is wonderful for moving our emotions, for pulling us out of the here and now, for getting “our minds off of” whatever ails us. Second, serious fiction is serious effort. It does get you out of anxious focus on your church, your projects, or your conflicts. However, it isn’t an easy page turner like a Tom Clancy. It takes effort. Serious novels are often thicker books…with less pictures.

Here are two pieces of serious fiction you might consider:

invis1. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison. You will have to brace yourself for some content that is mature in nature, even offensive at times. Yet this novel about racism and the experience of the African American male in particular remains a classic for a reason. If you can set aside pharisaical judgment of the content, and face the world as it is, you will come out of reading this book with new insights into the race problem in America you would not have had otherwise.

the-winter-of-our-discontent-by-john-steinbeck2. The Winter of Our Discontent - Steinbeck’s smaller and lighter hearted work than some, this novel is shaped around Lent headed toward Easter. The main character however, does not repent from evil, he repents from good. He turns his soul over to greed and power and watches the “light go out” in his personhood.

If those don’t grab you, head over to the Pulitzer Prize novels list. Look up some novels from the recent past. (Teaser: one recent winner is a novel written in first person from a dying pastor written to his son. Interested?) These are works the literary world finds to be some of the best of the serious.

When you find yourself frustrated by the world view presented in the book, remember this one thing. You are now reminded of how the lost you seek to love think, believe, and dream. You are now entering into the world darkened by the fallenness of humanity. And, in case you are tempted to think that world does not come into your church, your people might think more like the characters in these novels than you care to admit.

One more unexpected surprise: you learn how to use words well. As preachers know, words help shape the soul. Words are the tools the master sculptor has chosen to use. Learn them well.

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