BIO: Joel Gorveatte serves as the Senior Pastor of the First Wesleyan Church of Tuscaloosa, AL. Joel preached this message to his congregation 10 days after the massive Tornado destroyed over 5000 buildings and claimed 43 lives in Tuscaloosa. He has been in ministry for 16 years and at his present church for 3.5 years. Joel shares this piece of preaching wisdom: Continually read and study (more than just the “common” leadership books, but also history and theology), learn the techniques of strong communicators, pray and trust God to speak through you in ways you could never do on your own.
Lenny: You preached this message only ten days after a tornado devastated the city of Tuscaloosa. Describe the community and church “pulse” during this time and how you designed your message to connect with what was going on in your context.
Joel: At this point we had over 5000 buildings destroyed in our city, and the complete death toll was yet to be fully calculated. The word I would you use to describe our emotion is “raw.” We were devastated and yet this message (originally inspired by something I read by Rick McGinnis) was one filled with hope. Amazingly, I had already scheduled this message for that day. And so the conclusion’s emphasis on “God’s presence in our sufferings” was truly a matter of God’s timing for our church.
Lenny: One of the subtle things you did in the telling of the story in Mark’s Gospel that I thought was effective was that you gave the religious leaders multiple dimensions. You didn’t just paint them with the legalistic villain brush that is so typical. Instead you helped us get into their sandals and appreciate their quest to uphold the monotheistic worldview they received from the OT. Why do you think in-depth character development is important when preaching a narrative text?
Joel: It is so easy to read biblical stories through the lens of caricature. We assume that we already know the characters, and therefore we spend very little time “walking a mile in their shoes.” One of the most important things we can do with any text is to view it through the eyes of a skeptic. This is vital to embracing and addressing the arguments of the skeptics in your audience. It also helps the life-long believers to put aside their assumptions and look at the text through fresh eyes.
Lenny: Your message presented a solid blend of theology (“words about God”) and contextuality (“words for us”). How do you as a preacher avoid the two extremes of theology that does not connect with people in your context and contemporary relevance that says nothing of substance about God?
Joel: Isn’t that the goal of transformational communication? To not only teach truth, but to answer the question: “Why does this truth matter?…What does it mean for my life?.”
Lenny: I am amazed at how much of the biblical story you told in this message. You moved from Jesus to Abraham, from covenant theology to the cross, in a very powerful way. Your exposition of the blood covenant was insightfully perceived through a Christian lens. You used Scripture from the Old Testament to interpret Scripture from the New Testament. Is this Scripture interpreting Scripture a new or typical pattern for your preaching?
Joel: So much of our job as teachers of Scripture is to provide Scriptural, historical and cultural context. Some passages lend themselves to the richness of that context more than others.
Lenny: Who are some of the preachers who have influenced your preaching? What are some of their homiletic convictions and practices that you hope to emulate?
Joel: Even though my platform style and personality is very different from him, John Maxwell probably influenced me more than anyone else. As a brand new pastor fresh from college, I would listen to John Maxwell sermons over and over, and I would listen to how he told stories. I would listen to the rhythm of his speech patterns. I would listen to his vocal inflections. I realized that he was a master at what I call “Fast and Slow, High and Low.” Sometimes he would get really excited and pick up the pace and raise his voice really high. And then other times he would get serious and slow down and lower his voice in a hushed tone. Other more recent inspirations would be Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, and Timothy Keller. I find myself borrowing greatly from them, because they give so much of that Old Testament/New Testament/Historical/Cultural context to each passage. Their application of the text often challenges, convicts and inspires me.