Sermon Title: Free: The Foundation

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

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

Sermon Review:

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

Questions to Consider:

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

This review contributed by Ethan Linder, Staff Writer for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© David B Ward, 2015

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Sermon Title: THRIVE: Risk

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

Sermon Link:

Reasons this Sermon Was Highlighted:

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

Follow-up Exercises:

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

This review contributed by Ethan Linder, Staff Writer for

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

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Preaching in Series

navets —  May 25, 2015 — Leave a comment

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

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

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

© David B Ward, 2015

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

preacher_box1. Locked Gesture Box

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

2. Follow the Bouncing Ball

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

3. Impact Sprinkler

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

4. Mixed Signals

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

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

5. Dopple Ganger

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

6. Touching the Face

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

7. If I Had a Hammer

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

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

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

 – By David B. Ward, © 2015

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awsIf you go looking for a good book on funeral services, you will look for a while. Eventually, you will end up with one good book in hand: Accompany Them with Singing.

Most pastors I know would rather perform three funerals for well loved saints than one wedding full of family conflict and superficial pageantry. Ask yourself which wedding you performed lately that was really truly “meaningful” and you will probably find suffering or a funeral somehow connected to the story. Funerals are one of pastors’ most significant acts of ministry. So why are there so few books on how to engage them well?

The answer, apparently, is that funerals and worship at the time of death have been absorbed into the counseling sphere. In an interview on his book Tom Long states that “the disappearance of [writing] about the funeral was a major clue. That it had been absorbed into grief and psychotherapeutic literature was a good clue that there had been a shift, but I did not pick up on it.” Though he tries to help pastors realize there is more to funerals than grief care, more to the story of the people of God than a dead body, Long finds it difficult to convince people like you and me. “I can talk for six hours to a group of clergy, and they will still ask “but isn’t it really about grieving?” That’s how powerfully we have been trained in the psycho-therapy model to see death and dying only through that set of glasses. If you believe that even lament needs to be as much or more about God than about us, this book might help you find your way.

How do we know if our funerals have lost their way? Long highlights three elements that are required : necessity, custom, and conviction.

  1. Necessity reminds us there is a dead body and someone needs to do something about it. It cannot stay the way it is where it is. How are we dealing with that necessity? Are our dealings with it truly Christian?
  2. Custom is the simple realization that every society from the beginning of human history has found ways to ritually deal with death and the honor the body of the deceased. Christian pastors must deal with the necessity of the body and the customs of the community but what guides their choices Christianly?
  3. Conviction moves beyond “is” to “ought” and is rooted in the theological concerns of the Christian community.

For the process that includes a funeral to be done “well”, Long suggests it must attend to necessity, custom, and conviction. We cannot hand the entire enterprise over to business professionals, even Christian ones, and expect theological convictions to carry a significant force. We also cannot assume that every custom a community has is necessarily compatible with the convictions of the Christian faith. Long suggests we use this simple phrase when our convictions suggest our way of handling necessity could be more Christian: “consider this alternative…”

Where do we find alternatives to offer? One of the best contributions of Long’s book, perhaps even more significant than his very practical help in officiating funerals well, is a major shift in perspective about what funerals have traditionally been for Christians. Notice Tom Long’s journey toward realizing the difference between today and the past:

“The thing that finally was the figure/ground shift for me was doing the research on the history of the first five centuries of the Christian practice about funeral. I realized that I kept looking for what they did at the funeral. What did they do at the funeral? There was all this about how they would wash and anoint the body and sing and dress it in baptismal garments. They would carry it in broad daylight singing psalms to the cemetery and have Eucharist at the cemetery. Yeah that’s interesting, but what did they do at the funeral? And it suddenly dawned on me that that was the funeral. The drama of carrying the body to the place of farewell, with tear-soaked psalms of gratitude and thanksgiving, to give it back to God and to gather at the table with the saints—that was the funeral.”

Rather than a communal act of moving the body from the place where it died through theologically rich lament and worship to the place of its rest has been replaced, the funeral is now broken up into parts with very few people (even the family) knowing what happens in each of the parts. A sort of assembly line of death has been created, with a personal memorial at the end. God gets a brief cameo somewhere in the funeral sermon, primarily as cosmic counselor. Tom Long again, “everywhere I go the assumption is that grief management is what the funeral is about. That is a very powerful thing. I think that grief is accounted for and is part of the story: the great lament happens, but it is part of the larger script.” The plot for funerals according to Long, is the plot of the gospel not the descent into the soil.

The book is full of practical help for pastors who want to think through the theological, societal, and pragmatic issues related to pastoring at the time of death. The characteristics of a good funeral sermon are there. The elements of a well planned funeral are there. The best part of the book is this realization: the best way to grieve is to gospel. The lament is embedded in the gospel, but the gospel brings meaning to lament. I think Long is right in saying “the most basic need is not to be just comforted but to find meaning.” We need more than grief care at the time of death. To be sure we need that, and pastors for centuries failed to give it. Yet more than grief management, we need meaning for the soul. Otherwise with each death, a little more of our light leaks out.

~ Review by David B Ward, © 2015

Long, Thomas G. Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral
Louisville, KY, Westminster John Knox, 2009

Interview quotations taken from: Accessed, March 2015

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

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

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

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

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

~ By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

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The Effective Change Leadership Web Summit is April 16th. Seven ministry thought leaders and excellent preachers will come together in a live web summit to share stories and principles for leading effective change.

You do not want to miss your chance to register. We already have significant registrations and slots may fill. Register here today.

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Milestone 35 Schmidt ArticleFor 30 years I was privileged to preach to believers gathered as the Kentwood Community Church family.  The well stayed deep and the inspiration fresh over those three decades.  I thankfully avoided the burn-out viewed as an occupational hazard of long-term preaching.  The 35-year milestone in full-time ministry provides a good opportunity to reflect on the vitality that consistently accompanied that longevity in preaching.

1. I didn’t go it alone.

Never Go it Alone SChmidtPreaching was rarely a solo effort for me.  From my earliest days I sought the involvement of others.  As a young pastor a more seasoned and educated pastor met with me regularly to help me exegete the passages and mine the key points that would be shared.  I participated in small groups studies focused on the section of Scripture or the key themes of an upcoming sermon series.  I found a “study buddy” who I knew was planning on me to show up – even though we didn’t talk much as we worked, his presence provide encouraging accountability to not let study time get squeezed out.  What started out informally was pursued more intentionally as the years of preaching went by.

At least a month before beginning a new series a “Dream Team” would be assembled – a gathering of highly creative individuals (almost all volunteers) to brainstorm the more visual, musical and illustrative dimensions of the upcoming messages.  No idea seemed too crazy (though more than a few pushed the limit) as songs were suggested, visuals we envisioned, related media was identified, and possible resources were listed.  Not only did this result in a more engaging series, but being around such “out-of-the-box” thinkers stimulated my own creativity and energy leading up to the series.  It amazed me how the outline of the series I prepared for the Dream Team came alive as they interacted with it.  Only a modest percentage of their work was eventually used – yet these times filled my well.

When our church was young and in its formative years I preached 45-48 weekends a year.  As the church grew and a pastoral team developed, that number was closer to 40 weekends a year.  As our church matured and we were increasingly committed to being “fully functional in our mission and vision without being dependent on any one person” a Teaching Team was developed.

More than just a random group that divided up the calendar, the Teaching Team was made up of four individuals whose gifting was affirmed by the church body.  We met each week for an hour – to give 15 minutes of feedback to the previous weekend’s preacher, and 45 minutes of input to preacher scheduled two weeks ahead.  I preached thirty weekends a year, while the other three each preached six…48 weekends a year were covered by the Team.  That frequency, combined with consistent feedback and input from a diverse Team (in ethnicity, gender, ministry responsibility, family dynamics, etc.), kept the burden light and the well fresh.

If I was in a smaller context I would have a Teaching Team of volunteers.  They may not preach as frequently, but in every congregation there seem to be people wonderfully grounded in the Word or creative in communication.  That input/feedback loop keeps burnout at bay.

One more practice that at first may seem only tangentially connected.  Years ago I read the book by Gordon MacDonald entitled Restoring Your Spiritual Passion.  He identified five types of people – Very Resourceful People (VRP), Very Important People (VIP), Very Teachable People (VTP), Very Nice People (VNP) and Very Draining People (VDP).  In ministry I’ve found you have to be intentional about seeking out VRP – you do don’t have to do that with VDP, they will seek you out!  I always made sure I had those Very Resourceful People in my life – sometimes within the Church, sometimes in the broader Community and beyond.  These VRP help keep the passion strong, and that passion is the fuel of preaching.

Who are the resourceful people in your life?  Who might you team with to stimulate creativity or share the preaching load?

2. I found a “sacred” study space.

Having a dedicated space provided an oasis for sermon preparation.  For me it was a library of a nearby Seminary.  I was rarely interrupted in my study nook – and was surrounded by resources that helped me do the exegetical work on the biblical text.  When people called the Church to ask for me, he’s “out of the office” and will be back at the end of the day seemed to be a very acceptable answer.

Time for full confession – it wasn’t just the academic resources that drew me to that space.  The Seminary was located on a beautiful campus…so my Mondays there often included a walk around the campus to let my feeble mind recover from wrestling with more complex truths.  And there was a great little coffee shop.  The right variety of secluded study, physical enjoyment of nature and caffeine was something I looked forward to as a beginning of my week.

That library also has a great periodical section with a wide variety of magazines and journals.  Many Mondays I’d spend the better part of an hour doing a quick read of popular secular publications as well as meatier materials.  This stroll through the display cases gave me a quick overview of current events, theological themes and relevant topics.

What is your ideal study space like?  It can be a room at home, a booth at the coffee shop, or a nearby library.  Some like it secluded, others like it alive with social stimulus.  Can that space become “sacred” for you, set apart of the demanding yet holy work of sermon preparation?

3. I sought to avoid preaching practices that created undue wear and tear.

I’m sure I’m the only one who does this…replay the message I’ve just delivered, usually from a hyper-critical mindset enhanced by the post-delivery malady of emotional fragility.  I call it the “black hole” – a place of no return, often disconnected from objectivity and reality, where I beat myself up for not having prepared more fully, delivered with greater clarity or left the congregation clamoring for more.

If you don’t do this…never start.  If you do…stop!  I built relationships of accountability to help me suspend the self-analysis to a time when I’m more ready for it to be a healthy contribution to growth as a preacher.  This black hole can beat you up and burn you out.  I knew I would not go the long haul if every time I preached I played arm-chair quarterback to myself.

I have also found “cramming” for a message to result in unnecessary wear and tear.  I know some people are crammers (usually they pulled regular all-nighters in college) while others prepare well in advance.  Admittedly, I’m more of a crock pot than microwave in sermon preparation.  If I pace my preparation it is a totally different experience than if I procrastinate with preparation until the eleventh hour.  Even if the message were of equal quality, the price paid to get there would be unaffordable in the long run.

Last-Minute-Study Schmidt 14I believe there is an emotional and spiritual “faithfulness” zone.  If I overemphasize its importance of preaching, I may decrease my dependence upon God and subsequently place inappropriate emphasis on my performance.  If I underemphasize its importance, I may give it only last-minute leftovers of my time and succumb to the temptation of proclamation plagiarism.  Both the “over” and the “under” create wear and tear.

4. I deepened the well through continuing education.

I’m running the risk of being accused of an infomercial since I’m a raving fan of Wesley Seminary at IWU where I’m privileged to serve.  But stay with me…I entered full-time ministry right after graduation with my Bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry.  This was back in the day where technology for distance learning was yet to develop, and providentially, I was located near a Seminary.  Since I was planting a church it took me nearly a decade to complete my Master’s degree, and another half a decade for my doctoral degree.  In other words, the first fifteen years of full-time ministry I was simultaneously deepening my well through increasing my capacity for theological reflection and effectively seeking deploy that learning in real-world ministry.

There was something powerful about a program of continuing education alongside full engagement in ministry during my formative years.  Now it doesn’t have to be seminary (it pains me to admit that) and it doesn’t have to be in the first decade of ministry, but I have become convinced that the parallel track of education and engagement helped me to be a preaching marathoner.

5. The audience kept changing.

A final thought – yes, I preached at Kentwood Community Church for 30 years…but not to the same congregation.  There were fresh converts, the unfolding of new generations, an increase in ethnic diversity, changes in environments than enfolded a variety of worshipers – a newness rather than a sameness as the years went by.

It’s energizing to preach when it requires the discipling of new believers and the bridging of new cultures.  Equipping a church to reach out is connected to the ability of a preacher to avoid burnout.  New people require new music and new messages – which has a renewing effect on those who feed them and lead them.

Three decades – where did the time go?  While the youthful energy has moderated, the deep-down reservoir of preaching passion still circulates…which causes me to relish the years yet ahead.

schmidt_wayneAfter serving on the Kentwood Community Church (KCC) pastoral staff since 1979, Dr. Wayne Schmidt started as Vice President of Wesley Seminary at IWU in January 2010.

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davis_arlieWe are continuing our focus on burnout for pastors by posting sermons we hope pastors will overhear even though they are sermons preached for congregations. These are sermons by Wesleyan pastors that we believe help get at the root of the causes of burnout if we have ears to hear.

Fruitful VineThis sermon by senior pastor Arlie Davis from Milton Wesleyan Church, focuses on John 15, the famous vine and branches passage. We love that Pastor Davis presents an expositional message. We love that he had the courage to take on a famous, well known, and well worn passage to pull out new thoughts. We also love the idea of including extra material in a handout that cannot make it into the sermon. Yet none of those reasons are the reasons we are posting this sermon. We are posting this sermon because of the content.

Sometime between now and when you sign off of looking at this sermon we ask you to do two things:

1) Ask God to show you something new about being a branch on God’s vine that you haven’t realized before.

2) Ask God to show you how remembering you are a branch might help you avoid burnout in your ongoing ministry this year and in years to come.

Who Am I? Part 5: I Am a Branch from CWC Milton on Vimeo.

~ David Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons team

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