SERMON: Make Your Life Count
BIO: Dr. Jim Dunn has served as the General Director of Spiritual Formation for The Wesleyan Church since 2004. Prior to that he was a local church pastor for 15 years. Jim is a frequent speaker at churches, college campuses, leadership conferences, district gatherings, and classrooms in North America and around the world. He is also an author interested in motivating as many as possible to become more like Jesus Christ in everyday life.
Lenny: You did several things to build rapport as a guest preacher to the Greeley Wesleyan Church. Tell us what you did intentionally to connect with the congregation before launching into the sermon.
Jim: As a guest preacher, there is a limited window of time in which to build rapport. Pastor Steve Wilson was gracious to me in his introduction and I appreciated that. Once I walked onto the stage, I began to have a conversation with the congregation. I acknowledged several things:
- I walked onto the platform with a grocery bag full of bread, peanut butter, and jelly. It would be used at the end of my message, but since most preachers don’t bring PB&J ingredients with them to church, I thought I would simply acknowledge it with some stereotypical humor about guest preachers.
- I acknowledged the Men’s Retreat that I was privileged to be a part of that weekend.
- I related to their beautiful scenery and mountain life in Northern Colorado. It truly is gorgeous where they live.
- I honored Greeley Wesleyan’s magnificent contribution to the Kingdom of God, their ministry partnership with churches in Nicaragua, and The Wesleyan Church.
- I thanked the congregation for sharing their pastor with many camps and churches as an outstanding preacher of God’s Word.
All of this was a sincere expression to let the local church know that they too count in the Body of Christ and in the denomination. Churches need encouragement. This was also an intentional transition into the focus on the sermon that day. Every church counts and every life counts!
Lenny: How did you decide what to preach to this congregation? Did you preach the sermon previously? If so, how did you re-contextualize it for this particular congregation?
Jim: The context of preaching this message at Greeley Wesleyan Church was that I had spoken for two days at their annual Men’s Retreat that weekend. The content of the retreat was to look at the decisions King David made (good and bad) and the consequences of those choices (positive and negative). So, I knew this message would tie in nicely with what I had been sharing at the retreat that weekend. Indeed, I had preached this message on one previous occasion. It was the same outline I preached at my brother’s funeral six months prior. As a teenage boy, he wondered if his life counted since he knew God was calling Him to be a public school teacher. Thirty years ago, many young people caught that their life would only count if they entered vocational ministry as a career. As a result, I have encountered hundreds of folks who often wonder if who they are and what they do in life matters. The illustrations and verdicts for Greeley Wesleyan were obviously a bit different because I was not officiating a funeral on this occasion. However, the main points were precisely the same.
Lenny: You have been preaching for several decades now. Do you have a typical sermon preparation process? If so, can you describe the steps you take in the process of developing the sermon.
Jim: At the age of thirteen, I was given the opportunity to preach at my home church to 300+ people on occasion. Beyond some great, practical experiences, I was trained by gifted Wesleyan professors and mentors. As a result, I developed an approach to sermon preparation I still use after preaching on a regular basis for the past twenty years. I prefer to preach expository sermons. Yet, the message attached to this interview would be considered a textual/topical sermon, in my opinion. Here is the process I continue to implement in sermon preparation every time I’m invited to preach:
1. Pray about God’s message for this congregation and what He wants to say.
2. Read and think about what biblical text or truth will serve as the primary source of truth for the congregation in focus.
3. Methodically read the passage and surrounding sections of scripture multiple times – at least five times through.
4. Remember that the Bible is about God. It relates to us, but it is not about us. So, I need to find what this text/passage says about Him. His Word reveals Who He is and how He wants to transform us.
5. Look for key words or unique phrases that recur and do in-depth studies on those words that appear in the text. They are in there for a God reason.
6. Develop the truth about God in the given text.
7. Develop the outline and meat of the message.
8. Pray and develop the outcomes/verdicts/decisions God would like to see from the audience.
9. Pray and develop the introduction. Some claim we have eight seconds or less to initiate a connection with 21st-century listeners.
10. Continue to pray about what God truth(s) needs to be presented and then check outside resources or commentaries to see if they are correct in their treatment of the text/passage.
Lenny: You used humor often throughout the message, which is a good device especially for a guest preacher. What are some of your personal rules that govern your use of humor in preaching?
Jim: A high school speech teacher of mine put it this way – “Humor is the gateway to the soul.” Understanding we are to never manipulate “souls” as proclaimers of the Gospel, humor can be a helpful tool in building rapport and demonstrating vulnerability that can often lead to trust. Yet, caution should be observed with humor, because Jesus should receive the spotlight of every sermon. After all, declaring the grace and truth of Jesus is much more important than what I would call a “Howdy Doody hour.” That said, here are some governing rules for my personal use of humor in preaching:
1. Humor can help you relate and often put your audience at ease.
2. Humor should be centered on making light of you and your experiences.
3. Making others look bad in any sermon (and in everyday life) is never permissible.
4. My household knows that if family illustrations are used, I have to ask permission of the family members involved prior to using the specific story. If I don’t ask prior to using a given story, I am subject to a self-induced, monetary fine to the family member(s) involved. No kidding!
5. Humor should never ever receive more focus than Jesus – both in energy and content/space.
Lenny: Many preachers, regardless of whether or not they articulate multiple points, can articulate succinctly what they hope God will do through the sermon. In just a couple of sentences, what were you hoping the sermon would do in the lives of listeners?
Jim: Through this message, I was praying God would:
1. Instill confidence that God wants to work through each life He has created in meaningful ways.
2. Challenge each person (including me) to impact every life possible for Jesus Christ – even in the small stuff of everyday life.
Lenny: If you are like most preachers, you probably have some preaching convictions that have stayed with you from your first sermon until now and other convictions that have developed over time. Can you share with us one of your long-held preaching convictions and a recently developed conviction concerning your preaching?
Jim: A long-held preaching conviction is that the difference between teaching and preaching is that preaching should always lead to a decision of some sort. Decisions come in many forms, but we must preach for a “verdict.” A recently developed conviction related to this long-held viewpoint is that I need to be more direct in asking for obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading in bringing about life-change. Sharing information is terrific. Creating opportunities for tangible, obedient decisions to God’s leadership for a person’s life is something I desire to be extremely clear, even direct about. As a pastor, I was known as a preacher who “put it on the line” Sunday after Sunday. As a guest preacher, I find myself being even more direct in challenging congregations to obey God completely. Graceful urgency is something I pray for in every preaching opportunity.