DOWNLOAD: Sermon Audio (.mp3)
Introduction: Steve Deneff preached this message entitled Unstable during the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. He has been preaching for 30 years and has served for more than 10 years as the Senior Pastor of College Wesleyan Church, a large church in Marion, IN on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University. College Wesleyan Church is an inter-generational congregation in an academic setting that exists within a city that is economically and educationally strained.
The periodic analysis of an excellent sermon will be a new feature on Wesleyansermons.com. One of the best ways to learn how to preach is to analyze our sermons and the sermons of others. As you listen to this powerful sermon from one of The Wesleyan Church’s most effective preachers, consider the following observations:
• Sermon Introduction: Notice how Steve takes very familiar ideas, images, and words centered on the poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas, to focus our thoughts on the more conceptual notion of waiting in hope during the dark times of life when God seems silent. Steve’s ability to toy around with something familiar to most listeners in order to say something profoundly insightful about God and the Christian life is one of the hallmarks of his preaching. Some might argue that the introductory framing of the sermon took too long. In defense of the length, I would say that in this case the introductory framing was crucial to the thrust of the sermon later. The night that comes before Christmas is the metaphor for the hope that we muster in waiting for the God who seems silent at times but will, eventually, show up and speak.
• Contextual Connectors: Steve did several things to connect with the people in his particular context. Many of the people who attend College Wesleyan Church are intellectual academics. He spoke to the limits of human reason to make sense of the “night before Christmas,” the apparent silence and absence of God. But his main contextual connector was with the senior citizens of the church. Most sermons are aimed at the younger generations, helping them consider their future with Jesus as Lord. In this message, Steve used Zechariah to give voice to the struggles and strengths of senior saints. Focusing on Zechariah, Steve was able to challenge seniors in big ways. But I won’t say how, since I don’t want to spoil the sermon for you. This message raised the hopes and dreams of the seniors in the church to a new level. Steve connected the biblical story of Zechariah to the story of local church seniors in a way that was theologically substantive and contextually relevant.
• Repeated Mantra: There were several repeated phrases Steve used strategically to anchor the focus of the sermon. Phrases like “God ain’t finished yet,” “God is on the move,” and “God is fixing to do something” were repeated strategically not redundantly to intersect with the anticipation that surfaces on the “night before Christmas,” the dark before the day.
• Sermon Structure: There are two major kinds of sermon structures, though each contains various forms. The linear structure is built on points. The narrative structure is built on plot. In the linear, point by point structure the preacher will state a point, or proposition, and then support it with exposition, illustration, and application. In the narrative, plot-based structure the preacher will develop the tension, climax, and resolution of the biblical text in a way that parallels a similar tension, climax, and resolution for listeners. The structure for this particular sermon was sort of a hybrid between the point-based and plot-based sermon. The sermon was primarily narrative. Steve elicited the tension we feel with Zechariah when God seems silent and/or absent. Steve resolved the tension by highlighting repeatedly that God will show up and speak, that Christmas will eventually come. It comes for Zechariah and it comes for us as we wait in hope for Him. But, Steve’s sermon had some points that he introduced with the phrase “Message to self.” This message, in my estimation, would appeal to both linear and narrative processors.
We would love to read your homiletic observations based on this sermon. Please reply and share your thoughts about Unstable from Pastor Steve Deneff.