BIO: Rick Kavanaugh has been in pastoral ministry for nearly 30 years. For 3 of those years Rick has served as the senior pastor at High Point First Wesleyan Church, a large congregation in the suburbs of High Point, NC. Rick urges, “it is more vital today than ever that we preach the word of God and to that end we must make it a life-long habit to meditate on the Scriptures.”
Lenny: Rick, you did several things early in the sermon that I think contributed to its impact. You used peddling a bike uphill as a metaphor for giving thanks to God always, especially when it’s difficult. You also framed your sermon with a mantra when you proclaimed “Peddling keeps us from coasting” in our journey with Christ. Your use of M&M, the metaphor and the mantra, gave your sermon the power of clarity and memorability. Do you try to use these devices often in your sermon?
Rick: I don’t always use an object lesson, but if there is one that fits well I think it helps to make an idea more tangible. I like to summarize the main focus of the sermon into a simple phrase. Andy Stanley calls it “a sticky statement.” I find that helps to keep the message on target and leaves the congregation with at least one idea they can remember.
Lenny: I noticed in the video of this sermon that you preached without notes. How do you prepare to preach with limited or no reliance upon your sermon notes?
Rick: I write a manuscript and then reduce that to a bulleted outline format. I transfer that to 3×5 cards and then memorize the cards. The main ideas and points are memorized but the specific wording is extemporaneous. At first I was nervous about preaching without notes because I was afraid of having a brain freeze, so I pray a lot! I like to preach that way because it gives me complete eye contact. It also guards me from blind spots. When I preached with notes, I would notice things after I spoke. I would think, “Now I see that problem. I wish I had seen that before I preached it.” Though there are always many things I wish I could change, the process of memorizing helps me see more before I preach. Because it is by memory I run through the sermon 5 or 6 times before preaching it.
Lenny: So often in sermons we put the completion, or application, of the sermon entirely on the shoulders of listeners. While you did challenge us to do our part, you also explored and emphasized the role of God in giving us the grace-filled capacity to “give thanks in all circumstances.” I have come to the conclusion that to truly preach the Gospel, we must point out not only what we must do but what God did and does for us. Why did you feel it was important to highlight this for your congregation?
Rick: I agree with you Lenny. The gospel is about what Christ has done and is doing in us. We can get stuck in our journey when we think the Christian life is about living our lives for Jesus. What God is really after is for us to reckon ourselves as dead and allow Him to live His life through us.
Lenny: You exposed the “rose-colored glasses” through which the Church has too often interpreted Romans 8:28. Things don’t always go our way even if we love God with all our heart. Do you feel the people in your community and/or church context have this shallow, simplistic view? How can preachers help offset this popular view of God as the cosmic lucky rabbit’s foot?
Rick: I think the popular trends in the North American church are drifting toward what Bonhoeffer called, “easy believism.” Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. We are to march to our death so that He can live through us. Those who wish to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. I don’t think the church would deny that, because it is stated plainly in Scripture. It’s just that we are perhaps out of balance in that we shy away from that message. It is important to keep a balanced perspective.
Lenny: About two-thirds of the way through your sermon you described with passion what God through Christ has done for us. Your listeners clapped at the climax of Christ. There is some debate among homileticians about whether or not Christ should, in fact, be the climax in every sermon. What do you think? Should every sermon, even those preached on texts that don’t focus on Christ, climax with Christ?
Rick: I wouldn’t say that every sermon should climax with Christ, because that would be disingenuous, because some of my sermons do not. However, Paul gave us the example when he said he preached Christ and him crucified. The Reformers believed that Christ is at the center of every passage, even the Old Testament Scriptures. He is the theme of the entire Bible. I don’t think we could go wrong if we kept Him at the center of every message.