BIO: Lawrence W. Wilson has served in ministry for 22 years and for 2 years as pastor at Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Ind. The church is located in a fast-growing suburb of Indianapolis. Fall Creek began as a church plant in 1995 and today comprises about 225 believers with varying levels of faith and maturity. When I asked Larry what advice he had for preachers he said, “Preach your passion, and stay close to the Word.”
Lenny: Every church context is different and warrants the preaching of sermons on specific topics. I suspect that this sermon grew in you as a result of something going on in your context. What was going on in your community and/or church that necessitating the preaching of a message regarding the variety of people who land in the body of Christ called the Church?
Larry: Two things. First, I wanted to give permission for people attending our church to retain their own sense of identity and not feel that they must blend into white-bread Evangelical mush by coming to Christ. I wanted them to understand that faith in Christ is the heart of who we are—not career trajectory, politics, or anything else.
Second, I realized that our community is growing more diverse. We are now 13 percent minority, which is a 6 percent change from the previous census. There are 80 first languages (other than English) spoken in this school district. I wanted to challenge our core to see that we must be reaching across cultural and social lines with the gospel.
Lenny: The fish store became a prevailing metaphor for Christ and the Church. When did the fish store metaphor surface during your sermon preparation? Did the metaphor lead the sermon or develop within the process of developing the sermon?
Larry: In this case, the metaphor drove the sermon. I seized upon it after hearing a message by Dave Stone at Southeast Christian Church (Louisville, Ky.). He had a great illustration about the centrality of Christ in the church drawn from an anecdote about Disney World—where every day includes a parade featuring Mickey Mouse. I wanted to preach a similar theme and felt that my fish store experience conveyed it well. Being my own experience, it was also more powerful to me than relying on a generic anecdote.
Lenny: In Tom Long’s book, The Witness of Preaching, he encourages preachers to develop two statements that flow out of the meaning of the biblical text and guide the sermon with clarity and precision. The focus is a declarative sentence that states what the sermon says? The function is a declarative sentence that highlights what the sermon will do in and to the listeners. What was your sermon’s focus and function?
Larry: Jesus Christ is the absolute center of the church. This message will give mission clarity to the congregation so it can be effective in its true purpose—making disciples of Christ.
Lenny: Some might listen to your sermon and say, “He only preached for about 18 minutes and you can’t say much in that short amount of time. We need a longer sermon than that.” I wouldn’t say this simply because I assume it takes more work to preach shorter sermons than longer ones. How would you respond to someone who is convinced that a biblical sermon needs to be longer in length?
Larry: I’d say that the true measure of a sermon is its impact upon people (given that the content is true and faithful to the text). Providing more information doesn’t always improve the likelihood that the message will be acted upon. Sometimes it’s quite the reverse.
This message was a little brief, even for me. My average is about 25 minutes. That’s down from 35–40 back in the ‘90s.
Lenny: Larry, you did a masterful job of helping listeners imagine the fish store in a manner that enabled us to see the sights, hear the sounds, and smell the smells. Why did you feel it was necessary in this sermon to take the time to vividly paint a picture of the fish store?
Larry: I felt that I had to recreate the experience of entering the store in order to convey the impact of the realization I’d had. The power of this illustration lay more in the environment than in any declarative conclusion I could paste on it.
Also, I’ve been making a conscious effort to use more narrative in sermons, rather than simply dropping in quotes or brief anecdotes to clarify the argument. Here was a case where I could present a more well-developed experience, if not a full-blown story, and draw truth from it rather than presenting the truth and using a story to clarify it.
Increasingly, I think preachers will need to organize their ideas around stories rather than organizing their stories around an inductive or deductive argument.