SERMON: What If Series: Part 8
Introduction: Pastor Thad Spring serves as the Pastor of College and Outreach at the College Wesleyan Church in Marion, IN. Thad has been a pastor for 21 years and has served in staff positions focused on Christian Education, Children, Youth, Family Life, College, and Outreach. In 1998 Thad and his family were called to plant a church in Marysville, MI where he served as Lead Pastor for 10 years. Thad and his family have been at College Wesleyan now for four years and recently became the first Outreach Pastor for the church. Thad advises preachers,“If the message doesn’t challenge you, correct you, or call you to something more…it won’t do that for your congregation either. You have to own it first.”
Lenny: You have been a Lead Pastor who preached every week and now you serve as an assistant pastor who preaches at the Sunday morning worship gathering every 6 weeks or so. What are some of the advantages and challenges of preaching for a staff pastor?
Thad: Along with the preaching on Sunday mornings, I often preach for our college ministry, so it gives me many more opportunities to be behind the pulpit. The advantages for Sunday mornings are more time in study (especially following someone who spends more time than any other pastor I know), an idea of where the series that we are in is going, and more support from the staff in other areas during the week that I am preaching. I never had that as a solo pastor.
Lenny: Your sermon introduction about the rule and by-laws of the motorcycling culture was engaging but lengthy. Some might say that the introduction was too lengthy. Why did you feel the need to spend so much time framing the sermon with this particular sermon illustration?
Thad: My agenda was to help our congregation understand that every sub-culture has rules and by-laws that others don’t understand. Because College Wesleyan is not known for being a Biker church, I wanted to illustrate and educate our congregation on that culture. The goal was for them to understand that just because the church accepts each other, there may be those we are leaving out who we don’t understand or recognize. As lengthy as it was, I still get emails and responses from individuals (just this week) who are still challenged to see others differently because of the “Biker Wave.”
Lenny: Thad, your sermon was biblically thoughtful and contextually relevant. First, how do you tend to tackle exegesis of the biblical text? Describe the exercises and tools you utilize to wrestle with the text for the sermon? Second, how did your particular preaching context impact the shaping of the sermon? Describe your congregation and how this sermon intersected with their unique needs.
Thad: Tackling the exegesis for me means saturation. It takes me more than a week to study and dissect the one point or theme of the passage. I usually start about three weeks out with word study and historical background and let that simmer for a while. I then exegete the congregation; who they are, where they are at in the season of life, and where I believe God is taking us all. I then work through an outline very similar to the one Andy Stanley uses in his book, Communicating for a Change, which is close to Eugene Lowry’s work, The Homiletical Plot. Illustrations usually come after all the study and theme has been worked out. It has really helped me to stay with a one point message over the last 6 to 7 years. I can have points within the big idea, but I can always bring it back to the main message, which on this occasion was, Your Theology Needs a Place.
College Wesleyan is a strong church made up of leaders from all walks of life and has strong connections to Indiana Wesleyan University and Taylor University. So in many ways the challenge is how to “preach to the choir.” This particular message and series was so relevant because God is moving our congregation outside our walls and outside the evangelical education bubble to minister in local schools, create after-school programs, sit on boards for many non-profit agencies, partner with housing agencies, mentor in the jails, etc. Showing no favoritism is a great step for College Wesleyan and I believe the message either confirmed the change for many or challenged individuals to join in God’s work in Marion and abroad.
Lenny: I really appreciate the way you repeatedly and strategically emphasized that Peter’s “conversion” toward inclusion of Gentiles was the result not of human moralism but divine initiative. Why did you sense the need for this theological emphasis?
Thad: Christians need saving too! I think the church can settle into complacency and think that just because God is doing things inside our congregation that we have all that God intended. Peter, I believe, would have been satisfied with Jerusalem, Judea, and maybe Samaria…but God’s initiative was stated both in the Old Testament and through Jesus and Peter needed to be nudged or called to something bigger. Our congregation and perhaps many others are finding wonderful experiences within their context, but I’m often challenged to think more globally and I believe we need to be nudged or called to something more.
Lenny: You challenged the College Wesleyan Church to move out from safe Joppa and toward unsafe Ceasarea. This was a vision-shaping sermon for the people of the church. What is the relationship between preaching and kingdom vision in the life of the local church?
Thad: I think Kingdom vision comes first. Where is God moving? What is He all about in our context? What is He doing in the lives of our people? Preaching, for me, follows that. It is a means to expose the Word of God in all it’s fullness or narrative when it comes to the issues that we as a people are facing. It’s not that our preaching is relevant or not, it is the fact that the Word of God is relevant and by hearing the messages we preach, it becomes transformationally relevant to our people.