BIO: Dr. Keith Carroll serves as the Senior Pastor of Mt. Zion Wesleyan Church in Thomasville, NC. This rural church draws 800 worshipers every weekend to one of their three services. The church draws people from a number of neighboring towns and communities, and quite a few families drive 30-40 miles to attend. The church is diligently working to become more diverse but is primarily Caucasian. About 60% of the church is 35 and younger and 40% are in mid life or older. Keith has served as a pastor for 30 years and for 16 of those years at Mt. Zion. His advice to preachers is “Be yourself and stay true to the Word in a simple, practical, applicable way.”
Lenny: Keith, do you have people who visit your church on Easter only? If so, how did you craft the sermon to connect with that unchurched group?
Keith: Yes, we usually have first timers who come with family members, neighbors or friends. Also, we usually stage some community outreach events a few weeks prior to Easter weekend that are specifically designed to draw folks to our services on Resurrection Sunday. In addition, I always come as a “special guest” for our sunrise service. (a dramatic monologue featuring a biblical character who experienced the empty tomb firsthand) This usually draws visitors who will often stay for breakfast and then remain for one of the following services. These days, more than ever before in my ministry, I find myself going for basic simplicity in the outline, as well as in the delivery. We have many new families every week. This is especially true on a special day, such as Easter Sunday. I don’t want pre-Christians or first timers to the Mt. Zion scene to get lost in some deep, theological treatise. Our main objective is for them to hear the life changing Gospel in an understandable, applicable way. I have fewer points than normal. I want the message to be as easy to follow as possible. It also must be relevant. I work hard to “paint the picture,” to creatively place them in the text.
Lenny: The outline for your sermon was fairly simple. How did you structure the flow of the sermon for impact? Obviously, the preacher must carefully place the parts of the sermon in an order that has focus and flow. How did you do that with this sermon?
Keith: I started with a concept that we can all relate to: emptiness. I attempted in the first few minutes to evoke the feelings and emotion that are stirred by the experience of emptiness…whether it’s in the water bottle or the gas tank. These include hunger, thirst and a general dissatisfaction. This is the HOOK. At this point the hearer can better relate to how the female followers felt as they made their way to the grave. Next comes the TRUTH of the empty tomb. At this point I validate the historical fact of the resurrection with some simple stories of those who have tried in vain to disprove it. Then comes the most important part of the message…the APPLICATION. I learned long ago that truth without application is abortion. This is where the hearers see that this is the one instant in all of life when “empty” does not have a negative connotation. It is in fact the best news ever! This truth is then applied to various “emptiness” scenarios in life which leave us feeling bankrupt and betrayed. The greatest remedy for an empty life is the empty tomb!
Lenny: While we can hear your passionate delivery, we can’t see it. Describe your style of sermon delivery and a few of your sermon delivery convictions?
Keith: I would say my style is relational/conversational. I’m constantly on the move as I preach. I frequently come down from the platform to walk among and, at times, sit with my hearers. I also use lots of objects, props and visual aids. Sometimes we even build a specific set for a message series. I’m a visual learner myself, so I try to engage the hearer on as many sensory levels as possible. My delivery convictions are pretty basic: Make it true to Scripture, make it believable, make it understandable, make it memorable.
Lenny: You have been preaching for 30 years. Would you say your preaching has changed over time or stayed relatively the same?
Keith: Man, has it changed…but not in the way you might think. I once longed to be known as a “deep” preacher. These days nothing would thrill me more than to be known as a clear, honest communicator. I still work as hard as ever in my preparation, maybe even harder. But my goal is different. The greatest compliment I could receive is for a parent to say “That was so simple my eight year old got it!” My goal used to be to impress. These days my goal is to relate.
Lenny: Can you describe the steps in your sermon preparation process and how much time you spend, on average, preparing your weekend sermon?
Keith: I try to work two weeks out. The first couple days are spent in exegesis. I amass lots of notes regarding contextual issues. Next I spend time on creatively painting the picture. I look for innovative ways to tell the story. Finally I work on application and relevance. I use a bucket file for real life applications and stories. I also utilize a research team of lay people who assist me in relating the text to life. I probably spend an average of 20 to 25 hours a week in preparation. I always prepare a full manuscript though I don’t read from it in the pulpit.