SERMON: On the Other Side of Nowhere
BIO: Mark Wilson has been serving as the Senior Pastor of the Hayward Wesleyan Church in rural Wisconsin for 20 years. This church of 600 contains a mix of socio-economic classes, ages, and levels of Christian maturity. Mark’s advice to preachers is, “Give ‘em Jesus! Love them from the pulpit.” (Note: Mark’s book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose will be released in April).
Lenny: Mark, I love how you kept finding subtle and sincere ways of valuing your people. You pastor in a small town full of farmers and validated them, even joking that we should vote out politicians and vote in the farmers. You also highlighted that Moses himself was a farmer when he was called by God to go to Pharaoh. What affect does this have on your rural, blue collar listeners?
Mark: Actually, there are very few farmers in my church – but we all love them! Hayward is a northwoods tourist town, with an eclectic mix of loggers, construction workers, retirees, summer residents, fishing guides, etc. About half of the congregation has escaped to the woods from the suburbs and corporate America. They could relate with Moses who escaped corporate Egypt for the wilderness. Our northwoods culture values living close to the earth – so farmers are heroes. The farmers in my congregation really appreciated the affirmation – -and everybody else agreed.
Lenny: Your sermon was a beautiful weaving of text with context. You remained true to the story of Moses and to the story of our lives by asking probing and insightful questions that flowed from the Moses account to us. You sermon was clearly biblical, insightfully theological, and culturally relevant. What do you think it takes for preachers to hit these three important targets today?
Mark: I always start with the text and then ask how I can apply it to where people live. I want to make the Gospel practical. If that bridge isn’t crossed, a sermon ends up being irrelevant or shallow. A sermon is not just speaking truths – but helping people experience truth in their hearts and lives. This requires the preacher to pray deeply for the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon the message. My daddy called this “unction,” or truth on fire! Without it, I feel like the Charlie Brown teacher, “Blah, Blah, Blah.” With the anointing, I know that the Holy Spirit is truly helping the congregation spiritually with the message. Anointed preaching is, then, a significant point of pastoral care. Also, good stories generally bring the truth home. When I come to the text, I dig out the truth that needs proclaiming and then ask myself, “How can I paint a picture for the people so they’ll get it?”
Lenny: You mentioned in your sermon some of the ways your church offers missional hospitality to the community. You open your doors for Boy Scout meetings and hunter’s safety courses. While this is more of an outreach question than a preaching question, how did your church discern and decide to meet these practical needs in the community?
Mark: We’ve always believed that God wants to use all of our resources for His glory and to bless the people in our small community who do not belong to our church– and that certainly should include our building and budget. What do we have in our hand? A decent facility that we can use to serve the whole community. Almost everybody in town has stepped foot in our church at one time or another. I want it to be a grace place –where those who enter immediately sense God’s loving presence.
Lenny: Speaking of mission and outreach, what I appreciated most about your sermon is that you didn’t just point out how God will stop at nothing to find us on the “other side of nowhere,” you also emphasized his invitation for us to join him in finding others who are where we once were. That was an important and dynamic shift in your message. Why do you think it was necessary for your sermon to make that shift?
Mark: I try to make that shift often in my messages. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are helped to help. We are comforted to comfort. In doing this, I’m standing against the self-absorbed, consumer mindset which prevails today in the American church.
Lenny: Probably the heart of your sermon, at least for me, was your theological statements about the God who is “I am.” You urged, “God is not just an ‘I was’ or ‘I will be’…he is not the God of merely the past or the future but the God of the present who is able to empower you to do what he calls you to do here and now.” That was powerful. While your sermon said a lot about us and our responsibility, your sermon hit a high note when you described the essence of God as “I AM.” Do you intentionally attempt to say something theologically substantive about God in every sermon or did it just happen to fit here?
Mark: I hope to include good theological substance in every message, but my primary concern is practical theology. That means teaching the grand truths of Scripture using simple language, story and metaphor. Some technical expositors, looking for Points A, B and C, are disappointed with my sermons. I’m a pretty simple guy. I love God. I love my people. I want my people to love God – and I’ll do whatever I can in my preaching to help them with that. “Exposi-story” preaching means using the power of word pictures to bring spiritual substance.