What Are You Waiting For? | Emily Vermilya

Emily Vermilya

Emily Vermilya

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


Sermon Title: What are you Waiting For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Steps:

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

You Can Learn a Lot from a Preacher

Lenny Luchetti

Dr. Lenny Luchetti

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

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



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

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

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

    Christine Caine

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

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

    TD Jakes

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

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

    Barbara Brown Taylor

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

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

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

Serving Christ with you,

Lenny Luchetti

Staying is the New Going | Josh Cooper

Sermon: Staying is the New Going

Josh Cooper

Josh Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application Exercises:

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


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



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

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

Pete Yoshonis

Pete Yoshonis

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

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

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

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

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

They began to embrace a whole life definition of generosity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Kenneth Shows Us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Items:

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

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

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

How to Be Rich – Julie Penta

Sermon: How To Be Rich

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

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

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

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

Julie Shows Us That:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application Exercises:

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

The Coming Lord – Clint Ussher

Sermon: The Coming Lord

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

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

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

Pastor Clint Shows Us That:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application Exercises:

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

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

The Will of God – Dr. Elaine Bernius

Sermon: The Will of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application Exercises:

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

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

The God of Our Losses – Ron Gormong

Sermon: The God of Our Losses

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

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

Sermon Review:

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

In This Sermon, Ron Tells Us That:

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

Application Points:

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

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

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



Matt Leroy at Embrace

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

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

Sermon Review:

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

Through This Sermon, Matt Teaches Us That:

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

Application Exercises:

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

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder