Preaching Roundtable: Culture-Shaping Sermons

Sermons are culture-shaping events. As we craft church mission, vision, and values, it’s important to see how sermons shape churches and communities. To address the issue, we’ve assembled a panel of some of the best culture-shaping preachers we know: Gina Colburn, Lenny Luchetti, Amber Livermore, and David Drury. As you read the conversation, think of your own tips for culture-shaping preaching; join the dialogue by leaving your tips in the comments below

First, what ingredients cause a sermon to shape congregational and community culture? 

ginaGina: Here are a few key ingredients: Biblical truth, applicable instructions, and questions engaging the listener’s growth in faith. I also attempt to insert our local church vision and mission several times each month.

lennyLenny: The sermon has to say something of substance about God, his nature and/or his work. The primary ingredient that shapes the lives of listeners is not merely good advice about finances, dating, etc. People can get that from a talk show. The sermon must bring people face to face, heart to heart, with Christ. The preacher can be considered a theotokos. This term literally means “God-bearer” or “one who births God.” The preacher must birth Christ in sermon, so people encounter Christ and not just the preacher. Christ architects a cultural DNA that aligns with the values of His kingdom. This happens best when preaching faithfully makes God the hero of the sermon by proclaiming his nature and work.

But, the theological substance of the sermon must be contextually connected to the particular people we preach to. The preacher does this through metaphors, illustrations and applications that are most relevant to his/her context. What cultural values are most likely to supplant Christ’s values in the lives of your particular people? We must put the Gospel in a container that fits our particular preaching context. We must be relevant.

There are four types of sermons:

  • Theologically shallow and contextually irrelevant
  • Theologically substantive but contextually irrelevant
  • Theologically shallow but contextually relevant
  • Theologically substantive and contextually relevant (the preacher must aim for this mark).

amberAmber: Sermons which can change the culture of a community in a positive way exegete, both Scripture and the community; culture is only shaped when Scriptural truth is presented in a contextually-engaging way.

davidDavid: Abraham Lincoln was bored with many preachers who he considered cut and dried. He preferred preachers who “seemed to act like they were fighting bees.”

Which bees do my sermons swat? A sermon can have a cultural effect if I can tie the point of the passage, first, to the felt needs of those in my congregation and community. Next, I can apply the gospel truth with rich theological urgency that provides the solution to those felt needs (rather than just cultural commentary “Ain’t-it-Awful” preaching.) Finally, my sermon can tap into the power of the Holy Spirit in Christians to overcome these things, not merely escape them for an hour at church.

A sermon’s content can shape the culture; but without theological urgency, no one will know it could in the first place. This theological urgency can be infused into any sermon if we preach as Luther advised: “as if Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is returning tomorrow.”

  1. I’m glad we touched on culture and Biblical faithfulness, because much of our audience is concerned with both. How do you tell if you’re delivering culture-shaping preaching?

ginaGina: Most pastors ask, “Is my preaching making an impact on culture?” I measure this by first assessing a cultural shift within the church. Are people changing the way they think? Are they engaging on deeper levels in our mission? Is there life change? Cultural shifts don’t happen when people become apathetic; they occur when action and sincere desire for change results in reaching our communities.

Don’t just pastor your church; pastor your community. Build relationships with everyone you can. Be a lifelong learner. Be open to listening to what people are saying and doing around you. Don’t let your “ideas of what should be” cause you to miss what is actually happening.

lennyLenny: I am not ready to preach until I have a “word from the Lord” for the people to whom I preach. The way to receive that “word” is to listen with one ear to the heart of God through the biblical text and with the other ear to the hopes of humanity through pastoral ministry.

Once I’ve done the exegetical work of digging into the text’s literary and historical context, I prayerfully invite God to take the scalpel of his word to my life and do surgery. How dare I unleash the word of the Lord on others unless I have let his word have its way with me first!

Then, I listen to how the text intersects with my congregation, community, nation and world. I expend lots of energy in sermon preparation trying to discern how the word of the Lord intersects with the particular people to whom I preach. How will this word specifically challenge, comfort, correct, or convict them?

When I come away from wrestling with the angel of the text so that I’m limping, with Jacob, under the weight of a word from the Lord, I am ready to preach. The sermon’s development and delivery must flow out of a sacred love triangle that incorporates love for God, love for people and love for Scripture. The sermon is the consummation of these three loves.

amberAmber: Sermon-writing must be a process of deep listening to the Word, the Spirit, and the community. Any time I am struggling to listen to one of these voices, the sermon loses its culture-shaping power. If I do not listen to the Word carefully, the sermon has no authority. If I do not listen to the Spirit, the sermon loses its anointing. Therefore, listening prayer becomes an extremely important ingredient in the sermon-writing process. If I do not listen to the community, the sermon loses its contextual delivery. For this reason, seeking to know and understand our community culture is tremendously important.

davidDavid Drury: Some say one should preach with “the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” But this clever preaching quip runs the risk (as Bonhoeffer bemoaned) of sermons “reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events.” We should free the sermon from the parentheses. Perhaps we preach with the Bible in one hand and human nature in the other. Helpfully, human nature is not like a newspaper you subscribe to, it is in the very hand that holds the paper: yours.

In the newspaper, on television, on the Internet, and yes, in social media too, we find useful contemporary catalogs of sinful human nature wreaking havoc in our culture. With these in hand I do not ask: “What does the Bible have to say about current events?” Instead, I ask: “what do current events confirm about what Scripture tells us of human nature and sin?” As I prepare the sermon I ask, “What is the solution to that sinful human nature through Jesus Christ?” These are more theologically urgent questions than the banal treadmill of fabricated relevance.

In his book The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson speaks about pastoral ministry being a subversive act. Sermons are an opportunity to subvert the dominant sinfully motivated culture of my church, and furthermore the same culture in my community. Then the sermon may spark two of the most critical tools of the Kingdom of God: subversive spiritual language and subversive biblical values.

Subversive spiritual language is made up of the shared terms and ways we describe our spiritual growth over and against cultural norms. Subversive biblical values are manifested in the stories we tell about how we made decisions with biblical wisdom and character in our everyday lives, rather than succumbing to sinful human nature. If you see these showing up in your church and surrounding community, your preaching has had a subversive Kingdom effect on the culture.

  1. So far, we’ve assumed culture-shaping matters. To shift directions a little bit: why should pastors worry about the cultural effect of their sermons?

ginaGina: Jesus came to change culture. At the core of His ministry was redeeming culture (people) back to him.  If we don’t care about culture, we don’t care about the people Jesus called us to reach. Our sermons should empower and engage people so they become involved in shifting culture.

lennyLenny: Preaching has produced various significant cultural movements. There are examples of people like Adolf Hitler, whose nationalistic preaching (that’s what it was) caused a movement of German people to seek the annihilation of non-Germans. Conversely, the Gospel preaching of MLK caused oppressed African Americans to seek the liberation they believed they already possessed in Christ. Preaching—not politics—got that ball rolling through the church and into culture.

Hitler preached towards cultural oppression. MLK preached towards cultural liberation. What we say from “the pulpit” (or music stand) in the context of Christian worship can lead to oppression or liberation, bondage or blessing. Your preaching can start a movement, and it should. Let’s make sure our movement preaches the values of a king not of this world, born to peasant Jews in Podunk, to redeem and restore what was lost in the Fall.

amberAmber: If sermons do not shape a faith community’s culture, they fall short of proclaiming the full power of God. God desires to speak to His people corporately through preaching and call them to communal transformation. Individual transformation is much more sustainable within a transforming culture. A sermon, then, becomes a powerful tool of speaking new vision and direction over a people, encouraging the kind of kingdom culture shifts needed for God’s work to be accomplished in new ways in that community.

davidDavid Drury: I should pay most attention to the difference my sermons have on my congregational culture. The best hermeneutic of the gospel, of course, is a congregation.[1] Preaching is not a solo sport. In the end what matters is not my preaching, but my preaching-in-community.

Unfortunately, most pastors face a spiritually oppressive culture within the church, as much or more so than a persecuting culture from outside of it. Some reading this might be discouraged these days, thinking their congregation right now is just about the worst hermeneutic of the gospel, not the best. Be encouraged. If one faithfully subverts the culture of their church and turns its language and values toward Kingdom language and values, it will transform the community around it in time. Community transformation is the mission of God. We join in proclaiming the Word, and the church is his tool in that mission, with our preaching embedded in it as a sort of voice box in the body of Christ.

When speaking of his style of preaching, Billy Sunday reflected, “They tell me that I rub the fur the wrong way.” Billy wasn’t all that worried about this accusation of his subversive preaching—and we shouldn’t be either. It might be the best criticism we ever receive. When told his preaching rubbed the wrong way, Billy mused, “I don’t rub the wrong way; let the cat turn around.” I hope the cats your preaching rubs the wrong way this Sunday start turning around.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin makes this lesson essential for preachers in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.


About the Panelists:

davidDavid Drury is the author of eight books including Transforming Presence, Being Dad, and SoulShift. He serves as the chief of staff for The Wesleyan Church international headquarters.

lennyLenny Luchetti is the professor of proclamation at Wesley Seminary, a graduate school of Indiana Wesleyan University. He also writes articles and books to equip and inspire the church and her leaders.

ginaGina Colburn is the lead pastor at Trinity Wesleyan Church in Allentown, PA. A 2011 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Gina’s expertise in communication has been honed through her experience in children’s ministry, and nonprofit work.

amberAmber Livermore is a Global Partners missionary in New Zealand. Amber trains and develops young leaders to influence their communities for Christ—helping lead and organize regional/national youth events, as well.


Ethan Linder is a staff writer for wesleyansermons.com. A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is College Pastor at College Wesleyan Church, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies.

Find Your Strength of Character for Preaching

  1. Do people tell you they feel like you read their journals?
  2. Have you had people tell you that you are a healing presence in the pulpit?
  3. Do you gravitate toward psychology as a helping discipline more than other schools of thought?
  4. Do you naturally think of the pain people are going through as a primary motive for preaching?
  5. Have you preached on grieving, suffering, or pain as a primary preaching theme this month?
  6. Would you rather consider yourself compassionate than passionate?
  7. Do you gravitate more toward Ephesians than Hebrews?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions empathy may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

  1. Do people tell you that they love your vulnerablitiy in the pulpit?
  2. Do others tell you your brokenness is one of your best qualities?
  3. Do you gravitate toward exegesis more than topical preaching because it helps you find something to say?
  4. Do you naturally think of the ways this passage confronts and challenges you before you think of how it might preach?
  5. Do you gravitate more toward Proverbs and Philippians more than 1 and 2 Kings or Romans?
  6. Are you surprised when numerous people respond physically, visually, or verbally to your preaching?
  7. Have you been told that your tone is easy to listen to and that you do not “talk down” to people?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions humility  may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

  1. Do you have a few burning concerns about unfairness in the world that you want to see changed?
  2. Have you been called a “prophetic voice” for your preaching in your community or broader ministry?
  3. Do you gravitate more toward James or the prophets than the Pentateuch or Galatians?
  4. Are there issues about which you feel you just cannot be silent in the pulpit and be true to yourself?
  5. Have you preached on racism, sexism, materialism, sex trafficking, or immigration in the last month?
  6. Do you serve on the board of a ministry to the poor or oppressed or regularly volunteer in one of those ministries?
  7. Do you feel that action is more important than words and that your actions are your best sermons?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions justice may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

  1. Do you feel that you have gathered many insights and ways of living over the years that you want to share with your congregation so they can live better lives?
  2. Have you been told you are mature for your age, have more knowledge than your years should allow, or that you are a trusted source of counsel in a way that surprises you?
  3. Do you naturally gravitate toward Proverbs, Romans, or James more than the Gospels or Psalms?
  4. Is cutting down your sermons more of a challenge than filling the time? Even before you add stories and illustrations?
  5. Has someone said that the “light bulb finally came on” for them after hearing one of your sermons on a difficult topic?
  6. Do you prefer reading Andy Stanley or John Kotter to Henri Nouwen or Mother Theresa?
  7. Do you find mentoring and coaching to be rather stress free but counseling others to be difficult and frustrating?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of the above questions wisdom may be one of your greatest strengths in preaching.

These strengths are not the kind of strengths you find in the secular model of the Strengths Quest, as helpful as that is. They also are not performative strengths exactly though some elements of performance can be of benefit. They are strengths of personhood. They are parts of our character as preachers. Each of them should play a role in every preacher’s life. But not preacher will be the perfect model of all preaching virtues. So think on these things:

  1. Growing your strengths is almost always more productive than trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. How can you emphasize the area of your greatest strength and bring others around you in the pulpit who complement you rather than clone you?
  2. Weaknesses that are too weak are like flies in the ointment, it damages the whole. Consider creating a targeted growth plan for the weakest of the three for you for the coming year.

Now read below for some next steps to grow your particular area of strength and minimize the downfalls of the strength:

Senior and young holding handsEmpathy: Empathic preachers really deliver well on topics related to therapeutic needs, personal growth, and human relationships. Be careful not to avoid the difficult theological work that needs done for counsel and healing to be truly Christian. The gospel is a healing power, but it is not self-help. Lean on others around you to press you to think more carefully theologically and to submit yourself to the teaching of doctrine not just the insights from psychology.

Humility: Humble preachers really deliver well on topics related to conviction, sin, and flaws of character. Be careful that your humility not turn to shame, otherwise you may put too heavy an expectation on yourself and your listeners as a result. Gospel, gospel, gospel people do not guilt them. Lean on people around you for the empathy to know when you are expecting too much, and the wisdom to know the difference between shame and conviction.

Wisdom: Wise preachers really deliver well on topics related to living well, discernment, difficult situations, leadership, doctrine, and finance. Be careful to remember that people do not always have the easiest time doing the wisest thing. Personal baggage, wounds, self doubt and more can cause a person to act against wisdom. Wisdom alone does not always win the day. Lean on people around you for the humility and empathy to realize that what motivates you does not motivate the average person.

justiceJustice: Prophetic preachers deliver well on topics related to social justice, oppression, greed, sexism, racism, or other prejudices. Be careful the fire of your passion does not leap the bounds and become a prairie fire of anger. Anger pushes people away, passion draws people in. Lean on those around you to help you discern when your sense of justice lacks compassion for the one in power or privilege. Also be ware that your passion areas may blind you to your own lack of just living. Also lean on those who are wise in the ways of the world to help you find strategic steps from the real toward the ideal.


© David B Ward, 2015

Preaching in Series

If you preach regularly, you probably preach in sermon series. It creates efficiencies of sermon study, overlapping insights leading to greater depth, focuses the preaching plan for that season, and allows the listener to zero in on one area of their life instead of pin balling back and forth across many zones. It isn’t the only way to preach regularly and responsibly, but it is a good one. We regularly receive questions both in person and via email related to preaching in series. I have gathered insights from regularly preaching pastors, my own series preaching, texts on preaching in series, and some good old logic plus common sense. The result is 21 tips on preaching in series.

  1. Pastors Sermon RetreatSchedule a yearly sermon planning retreat. A lot of preachers find late July or early August to be a great time to do this. Many find that if they plan for October through September the sermon retreat doesn’t have as much pressure and gets them ahead of the game enough. Give significant time to listening prayer. Pastors do not get nearly enough time to listen to God deeply within their souls.
  2. Book guest or staff preachers surrounding the sermon planning retreat. You do not want the pressure of an up and coming Sunday blocking your creativity on your retreat. Get away, turn off the phone and email for blocks of time, and relive the creativity pressure for coming sermons.
  3. Use the church year, the civic year, the lectionary, expository series, and topical series to prevent you from getting into a rut. All of them have value. All of them have downfalls. Put another way…
  4. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to the lectionary. Some people feel that if you are not using it you are not Christian. Silly.
  5. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to the civic calendar. Some think if you use the lectionary you’re somehow off the ranch of the faith. Also silly.
  6. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to topical preaching. Needs based preaching unchecked by another form ends up creating God in our own image. God asks questions we do not ask.
  7. Avoid the liturgical snobbery of a cult-like devotion to expository preaching. Preaching books of the bible is not the only legitimate form of series preaching. It is okay even good to preach toward people’s felt needs as long as you do it with faithful exegesis not motivational speaking.
  8. Create an easily accessible filing system for each sermon series. Think of it like having 10 crockpots cooking for the year. Keep throwing new materials into each crockpot to let it simmer whenever you find them. The longer the simmer the better the flavor.
  9. Choose your texts during the sermon planning retreat. 1/4th of preaching preparation time is wasted during the weeks leading up to the sermon anguishing over which text to preach. All of it is God breathed. Choose one, and preach on it!
  10. Get close to the focus of your sermon in your sermon planning retreat. You may say something different about the them than you thought you would, after all the text should rule the day. You may change the application direction. You may even have to change the theme occasionally. But having one directs the mind, focuses creativity, allows your team to help, and gets your brain started working while you sleep.
  11. Cut, clip, copy, paste, and do everything else you can to hoard up illustrations, ideas, insights, exegesis, and other sermon material in that sermon series’ file. Actively fill each crock-pot throughout the year. Some pastors find it helpful to use Evernote. I agree…it’s a great digital tool that you can clip right off the net into your file. Or snap a smartphone pic and drop it into that sermon series. Scan a page of a book and send it into the future three months.
  12. Only use verses topically that you have studying exegetically. That usually means 3 or 4 texts in a single sermon is the max no matter what some famous preachers do. If you buy sermons off of big name pastors be careful. They may believe something you do not. Given some pastors’ failing over the last few decades, you may not be getting truth. You might be buying misguided ideas.
  13. Keep review from previous sermons to the absolute minimum. Some pastors “review” introductions snowball into 10 minutes by the final sermon in a series. Just have them listen to the old ones online.
  14. 4 months out from the sermon series spend 2 hours a week on each message. The aim is to get to the point of clarity for your creative arts and worship team. If you do this regularly your preaching anxiety will drop immensely. It takes scheduling and discipline for a year. Then you will see the benefits and always want to schedule that discipline.
  15. Rarely work on just one sermon at a time. When you are truly stuck, switch passages. Creativity can hit a roadblock that the subconscious works on better than the conscious. Sermons often cross pollinate each other as well. So sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away, and come back fresh another day. So long as you are working ahead this isn’t procrastination.
  16. Remember that base hits win games. Avoid the temptation to make every sermon a home run. Move the listener one significant step closer each sermon in the series.
  17. Strategically map your application and decision moments so that they build upon the last sermon and catalyze the next. Start with applications that are foundational or catalytic at the beginning. Move toward greater leaps at the end.
  18. Avoid using a multitude of metaphors. A few metaphors are all that the series can handle. Keep them clear, concrete, and compelling.
  19. Listen to someone else preach on that text, topic, season…then write your own sermon. Preaching inspires preaching. You cross the line when you use their words, their illustrations, or their sermonic moves without credit. Just get inspired and write your own thing.
  20. Get another voice. In your sermon series, avoid carrying all the weight. If you can get one sermon handed off to someone who you can count on it will benefit the listener, the church, and you. You have blind spots in every sermon series you will ever preach.
  21. dominoes-02Practice 4, 3, 2, 1 rhythm for your sermons:  4 weeks out have a beginning outline you can work from even if you change it later. 3. weeks out have a story, an illustration, or an object that you can be excited about. 2 weeks out preach through the sermon for the first time and make necessary adjustments. 1 week out get down to polishing the sermon out loud.

These aren’t the only 21 tips we have for preaching in series, but they are 21 good ones. If you do these things you will be blessed in your preaching. Your anxiety will decrease. Your creativity will increase. Your teamwork will synergies. And best of all, God will be with you and made the work of your preaching fruitful.


© David B Ward, 2015

7 Gestures Preachers Should Avoid

Since I started coaching preachers nine years ago I have been finding ways to describe to preachers what we see in the seats. Over and over again a few patterns crop up in all kinds of preachers: young, old, big church, small church, women, men, gifted, and not quite as gifted preachers. Since I have seen them emerge across the spectrum of preachers, I imagine one of them just might plague you too.

preacher_box1. Locked Gesture Box

Draw a stick figure on a piece of paper. Then draw a dark line from the edge of one shoulder to the next. Draw a dark line directly across the waist of the imaginary figure. Now connect the shoulder lines with the waist lines. The dark lines form the gesture box. Human beings are very self conscious creatures. As a result, when we speak in front of others our gestures are diminutive, limited, constrained, and often forced. We think too much about what others must be thinking. The tendency when anxiety hits is to constrict gestures and to keep your arms closely over your torso. It’s a protective maneuver. It’s as if the gesture box is a jar and your hands are flees hitting the walls and lid. It’s hard to break out of the gesture box especially for less-than-confident ministers.

2. Follow the Bouncing Ball

Many preachers feel it is their job to communicate passion through their speaking. Since gestures are intuitively understood as emphasis markers, overly passionate speakers over gesture. Remember the bouncing ball on kid’s reading movies? Our gestures start to look like that, bouncing on every word. It can be quite distracting, even humorous for listeners. More importantly, since they do not know what the preacher intends to emphasize they pick their own.

3. Impact Sprinkler

The impact sprinkler is a rhythmically rotating, but stationary sprinkler that moves by the force of water in an arc. It hits the stopper on one side and rotates back to the other. Some preachers look like that sprinkler rhythmically, predictably, and steadily rotating from one side of the room to the next. Their torso faces one group, then the next, then the next, then the next, then works it’s way back. Some people are more like the old type writers and quickly return to the first position, but most are like sprinklers. It subconsciously undercuts a sense of authenticity, gives the air of a performance, and undermines the perception of speaker authority and confidence. Randomizing which section to focus on, varying the angle of presentation, and moving the zero-position for the feet from time to time in purposeful ways eliminates this issue.

4. Mixed Signals

Pounding the pulpit, flexing the muscles, furrowing the brow, then pointing the finger, the preacher shouts “God loves you!” Or, with milquetoast mild manners the preacher speaks yawningly of the hope and joy we can have with the fullness of the spirit. Christian life is unpredictable, the preacher claims, dynamic and exhilarating…all without moving an arm more than an inch, or an eyebrow a millimeter. Or the preacher paces like a lion from one side of the platform to the other, slightly crouched, frantically gesticulating on “be still and know that I am God.” When our non-verbals mix the signals our verbals are attempting to send, it’s no wonder our people “don’t get it” or fail to recognize our point.

Your gestures are speaking so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.

5. Dopple Ganger

A dopple ganger is a parallel person in another universe, or another place with great similarity. If you put this gesture pattern on fast forward it starts to look like conducting a choir. Two arms in relatively symmetrical or parallel patterns. Lock step they travel, completely synced they stop. They move right, they swerve left, all the while attached by invisible strings of sameness. The speaker begins to look stiff, formal, rehearsed, even formulaic. I remember a well known speaker in my young adult years had this problem. His arms were so consistently together, he would even place both hands on his backside at the same time in a very comical way. They went everywhere together, even places you wished they would not go.

6. Touching the Face

One hand to the check with an elbow resting on the other arm (half thinker pose). Wiping the brow (evangelist move). Tugging the ear (apologetic pause). Rubbing the nose (uncertain of gold dust). Pinching the chin between thumb and finger (calculated consideration). Rubbing the cheek (not sure how to say this). The real translation of all of these gestures is, “I feel uncomfortable and touching my face gives me comfort.”

7. If I Had a Hammer

The closed fist like a piston rises and falls. That’s the classic hammer gesture of course. The arm is the handle, the fist the head. Every phrase or key point is the nail. But I use this phrase to describe any gesture that happens so much so, that you begin to think the gesture tool box has only one tool: call it a hammer. So every need for emphasis looks like a nail. If you are this preacher, and you had a hammer, you would hammer in the morning, hammer in the evening, all over this land. You would hammer the same way with almost every mood, almost every sermon, almost every time.

What’s your Gesture to Avoid? Don’t know? Here are some quick and easy ways to find out:

  1. Ask someone who watches you preach often and tells he truth without fear. Just be sure you are ready to hear what they have to say. Maybe wait until Wednesday. It’s far enough from Sunday so that you recovered, and far enough from Sunday that you can recover again.
  2. Watch yourself on fast forward. DVD’s make this more difficult than the old VHS model but 2x speed can still  be somewhat helpful. Even better, get an old recorder and do it the VHS way or the mini-cam way. Then watch it on smooth fast forward to catch your repetitive gestures.
  3. Preach with a mirror. I mean it. Preach in front of a mirror at a time when no one can see you. Don’t look at the mirror for a while, then glance at it to see your gestures. How’s your stance? What’s repeated? What is incongruent?
  4. Remember this formula: Congruent (match the idea), Asymmetrical (no arm mirroring) , Unique gestures (non-repetitive). Congruent, asymmetrical, and unique. 

 – By David B. Ward, © 2015

How I Preached for 30 Years without Burning Out | Dr. Wayne Schmidt

Milestone 35 Schmidt ArticleFor 30 years I was privileged to preach to believers gathered as the Kentwood Community Church family.  The well stayed deep and the inspiration fresh over those three decades.  I thankfully avoided the burn-out viewed as an occupational hazard of long-term preaching.  The 35-year milestone in full-time ministry provides a good opportunity to reflect on the vitality that consistently accompanied that longevity in preaching.

1. I didn’t go it alone.

Never Go it Alone SChmidtPreaching was rarely a solo effort for me.  From my earliest days I sought the involvement of others.  As a young pastor a more seasoned and educated pastor met with me regularly to help me exegete the passages and mine the key points that would be shared.  I participated in small groups studies focused on the section of Scripture or the key themes of an upcoming sermon series.  I found a “study buddy” who I knew was planning on me to show up – even though we didn’t talk much as we worked, his presence provide encouraging accountability to not let study time get squeezed out.  What started out informally was pursued more intentionally as the years of preaching went by.

At least a month before beginning a new series a “Dream Team” would be assembled – a gathering of highly creative individuals (almost all volunteers) to brainstorm the more visual, musical and illustrative dimensions of the upcoming messages.  No idea seemed too crazy (though more than a few pushed the limit) as songs were suggested, visuals we envisioned, related media was identified, and possible resources were listed.  Not only did this result in a more engaging series, but being around such “out-of-the-box” thinkers stimulated my own creativity and energy leading up to the series.  It amazed me how the outline of the series I prepared for the Dream Team came alive as they interacted with it.  Only a modest percentage of their work was eventually used – yet these times filled my well.

When our church was young and in its formative years I preached 45-48 weekends a year.  As the church grew and a pastoral team developed, that number was closer to 40 weekends a year.  As our church matured and we were increasingly committed to being “fully functional in our mission and vision without being dependent on any one person” a Teaching Team was developed.

More than just a random group that divided up the calendar, the Teaching Team was made up of four individuals whose gifting was affirmed by the church body.  We met each week for an hour – to give 15 minutes of feedback to the previous weekend’s preacher, and 45 minutes of input to preacher scheduled two weeks ahead.  I preached thirty weekends a year, while the other three each preached six…48 weekends a year were covered by the Team.  That frequency, combined with consistent feedback and input from a diverse Team (in ethnicity, gender, ministry responsibility, family dynamics, etc.), kept the burden light and the well fresh.

If I was in a smaller context I would have a Teaching Team of volunteers.  They may not preach as frequently, but in every congregation there seem to be people wonderfully grounded in the Word or creative in communication.  That input/feedback loop keeps burnout at bay.

One more practice that at first may seem only tangentially connected.  Years ago I read the book by Gordon MacDonald entitled Restoring Your Spiritual Passion.  He identified five types of people – Very Resourceful People (VRP), Very Important People (VIP), Very Teachable People (VTP), Very Nice People (VNP) and Very Draining People (VDP).  In ministry I’ve found you have to be intentional about seeking out VRP – you do don’t have to do that with VDP, they will seek you out!  I always made sure I had those Very Resourceful People in my life – sometimes within the Church, sometimes in the broader Community and beyond.  These VRP help keep the passion strong, and that passion is the fuel of preaching.

Who are the resourceful people in your life?  Who might you team with to stimulate creativity or share the preaching load?

2. I found a “sacred” study space.

Having a dedicated space provided an oasis for sermon preparation.  For me it was a library of a nearby Seminary.  I was rarely interrupted in my study nook – and was surrounded by resources that helped me do the exegetical work on the biblical text.  When people called the Church to ask for me, he’s “out of the office” and will be back at the end of the day seemed to be a very acceptable answer.

Time for full confession – it wasn’t just the academic resources that drew me to that space.  The Seminary was located on a beautiful campus…so my Mondays there often included a walk around the campus to let my feeble mind recover from wrestling with more complex truths.  And there was a great little coffee shop.  The right variety of secluded study, physical enjoyment of nature and caffeine was something I looked forward to as a beginning of my week.

That library also has a great periodical section with a wide variety of magazines and journals.  Many Mondays I’d spend the better part of an hour doing a quick read of popular secular publications as well as meatier materials.  This stroll through the display cases gave me a quick overview of current events, theological themes and relevant topics.

What is your ideal study space like?  It can be a room at home, a booth at the coffee shop, or a nearby library.  Some like it secluded, others like it alive with social stimulus.  Can that space become “sacred” for you, set apart of the demanding yet holy work of sermon preparation?

3. I sought to avoid preaching practices that created undue wear and tear.

I’m sure I’m the only one who does this…replay the message I’ve just delivered, usually from a hyper-critical mindset enhanced by the post-delivery malady of emotional fragility.  I call it the “black hole” – a place of no return, often disconnected from objectivity and reality, where I beat myself up for not having prepared more fully, delivered with greater clarity or left the congregation clamoring for more.

If you don’t do this…never start.  If you do…stop!  I built relationships of accountability to help me suspend the self-analysis to a time when I’m more ready for it to be a healthy contribution to growth as a preacher.  This black hole can beat you up and burn you out.  I knew I would not go the long haul if every time I preached I played arm-chair quarterback to myself.

I have also found “cramming” for a message to result in unnecessary wear and tear.  I know some people are crammers (usually they pulled regular all-nighters in college) while others prepare well in advance.  Admittedly, I’m more of a crock pot than microwave in sermon preparation.  If I pace my preparation it is a totally different experience than if I procrastinate with preparation until the eleventh hour.  Even if the message were of equal quality, the price paid to get there would be unaffordable in the long run.

Last-Minute-Study Schmidt 14I believe there is an emotional and spiritual “faithfulness” zone.  If I overemphasize its importance of preaching, I may decrease my dependence upon God and subsequently place inappropriate emphasis on my performance.  If I underemphasize its importance, I may give it only last-minute leftovers of my time and succumb to the temptation of proclamation plagiarism.  Both the “over” and the “under” create wear and tear.

4. I deepened the well through continuing education.

I’m running the risk of being accused of an infomercial since I’m a raving fan of Wesley Seminary at IWU where I’m privileged to serve.  But stay with me…I entered full-time ministry right after graduation with my Bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry.  This was back in the day where technology for distance learning was yet to develop, and providentially, I was located near a Seminary.  Since I was planting a church it took me nearly a decade to complete my Master’s degree, and another half a decade for my doctoral degree.  In other words, the first fifteen years of full-time ministry I was simultaneously deepening my well through increasing my capacity for theological reflection and effectively seeking deploy that learning in real-world ministry.

There was something powerful about a program of continuing education alongside full engagement in ministry during my formative years.  Now it doesn’t have to be seminary (it pains me to admit that) and it doesn’t have to be in the first decade of ministry, but I have become convinced that the parallel track of education and engagement helped me to be a preaching marathoner.

5. The audience kept changing.

A final thought – yes, I preached at Kentwood Community Church for 30 years…but not to the same congregation.  There were fresh converts, the unfolding of new generations, an increase in ethnic diversity, changes in environments than enfolded a variety of worshipers – a newness rather than a sameness as the years went by.

It’s energizing to preach when it requires the discipling of new believers and the bridging of new cultures.  Equipping a church to reach out is connected to the ability of a preacher to avoid burnout.  New people require new music and new messages – which has a renewing effect on those who feed them and lead them.

Three decades – where did the time go?  While the youthful energy has moderated, the deep-down reservoir of preaching passion still circulates…which causes me to relish the years yet ahead.


schmidt_wayneAfter serving on the Kentwood Community Church (KCC) pastoral staff since 1979, Dr. Wayne Schmidt started as Vice President of Wesley Seminary at IWU in January 2010.

Are You Burning Out Preacher?

burnoutWe have been talking to a lot of pastors about burn out. We even helped launch a conference called “Flourish” last year to address clergy well being and flourishing.

In coming weeks, we will focus on burnout from multiple directions. First, we will hear a few sermons that seek to address the root of burnout. The sermons are by Wesleyans. The sermons are meant for congregations. We believe, though that if you listen as a pastor, you will find the root of your problem in burnout addressed in some degree in the those sermons. Next month we will post a great article by Dr. Wayne Schmidt, Vice President of Wesley Seminary, on “How I Preached for 30 Years without Burning Out.”

This week we want to talk about a different side of the issue: how to know you are burned out, and what to do about it.

We have adapted a quick self-test to measure whether or not you are entering into preaching burnout below. It is adapted from an informal self testing tool meant for general burnout. We have shifted it toward preaching. Here’s what we think you should do. Copy these questions into a file. Answer them with a sentence or two and some explanation of each answer. Then bring your answers to your spouse, a ministry friend, a counselor, or a spiritual director. Let them help you work through just how burned out you might be. Next week we’ll give you some ideas to start your preaching turn around.

Preaching/Pastoring Burn Out Self Test:

1. Do you feel drained of energy more than a couple times a week?

2. Do you think more negatively about your ministry than positively?

3. Do you or those close to you feel that you are often harder on people than you need to be? Does your preaching take on a condemning tone more easily lately?

4. Do you find yourself getting easily irritated by small issues or small interactions with people? Does this increase or decrease on days you work on sermons?

5. Do you feel misunderstood or unappreciated by your staff or by your congregation?

6. Do you feel that you have no one to talk to, no one to shoulder the preaching burden with or debrief the preaching experience with?

7. Do you often think your preaching is accomplishing less than it should?

8. Do you feel under an unpleasant amount of pressure when you think about preaching?

9. Is there something you wish you were getting out of preaching that you are not getting?

10. Do you wonder if you should leave the ministry or at least stop preaching?

11. Overall, are you frustrated with preaching?

12. Does the “political” nature of preaching, e.g. pleasing the crowd or balancing conviction with encouragement, frustrate you?

13. Is there more work to pastoring and preaching than you feel like you can possibly accomplish?

14. Have often in the past three months have you felt that you needed to let go of doing a “quality job” in order to get everything done?

15. Do you find that you do not have time to plan your preaching as much as you would like to?

There is no “score” that automatically tells you burn out is your condition. Instead, answer these questions honestly, as honestly as you are humanly able. If you have a hunch that you have some level of burn out developing, we strongly suggest you start a season of Christian counseling. If you cannot afford it, ask your board to include it as part of next year’s pay package.

If you think it is just the day you are asking the questions (Monday may not be the best measure) take it again in a few days and see how you respond.

If you do believe burn out is a near, present, or past reality the next few months of Wesleyan sermons are dedicated to you.

~ Dave Ward, General Editor

Honest Preaching

Redundancy is, as defined by Dictionary.com, “superfluous repetition or overlapping, especially of words.”

Honest preaching, is, well, redundant. Aren’t we, as preachers, supposed to be honest? Isn’t truth-telling inherent within the very nature of Biblical proclamation? Can you stay in ministry and be effective long term and not tell the truth?

As a local church pastor, I found myself in a ministerial dilemma. One of my long time parishioners met a nice guy, and they were quickly engaged. We immediately set up premarital counseling. Through our time together, I realized that they were cohabitating. I recommended physical separation until marriage, which was not well received by one of the partners. They continued to live together right up to their wedding day. During their engagement period, I preached on marriage and specifically addressed cohabitation. I distinctly remember that Sunday. I had secretly hoped they would be absent. However, they were fully present. In the moment, I had these thoughts run through my head. “Maybe I should cut out the portion on cohabitating altogether.” “Should I really speak out?” “I could ‘beat around the bush’ and the point will still be clear, right?”

When preaching on more sensitive cultural and social issues, I have learned a few key lessons during my decade or so in full time, pastoral ministry.

  1. Higher Authority – As pastors, if we don’t preach truth as found in Scripture, we are held accountable by more than our local board of administration (James 3:1). God has called us to deliver His message to His people. We must be obedient, as eternity hangs in the balance for so many. Cognitively, I would rather hear “well done my good and faithful servant” from God rather than from humans. However, I frequently find myself marching to the beat of another’s drum. What might our preaching look like if we focused more on God’s opinion and less on the opinion of others? God is our ultimate judge. As we seek to share truth with others on a weekly basis, we also need someone to share truth with us. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently stated, “When you’re in a position of authority, you need truth-tellers around you” (Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit 2014). Christ is our higher authority. He seeks for us to honest, just as He was honest.
  2. Wrestling is Vital – Do you wrestle with your message in the days leading up to delivery? I don’t mean wrestle so much with your title, or a particular illustration, or even what joke to share. Instead, do you wrestle with the impact upon your people? Will the Spirit use this message to enact life change? Am I being too blunt, or not real enough? Am I really living out the message in my own personal life? As Jacob wrestled with God (Gen. 32) for his blessing, we must also grapple with our sermons. Time is precious, and a commodity in short supply. We have our people’s attention for 30 minutes a week. What will we share that will influence them in the here and now, and have an impact in the life to come? When we have genuinely struggled with the sermon, we can be confident as we step behind the pulpit.
  3. Have Mercy – Not all pastors have the spiritual gift of mercy, but we are still called to preach with compassion. Special speakers are in and out. By nature, they can speak truth and drive off after service. The local pastor is charged with the spiritual next steps. When preaching truth, we must remember that our churches are full of people. These people have real struggles, real hearts, and real dreams. The next time you preach on generosity, remember the single mom on the back row who gives sacrificially. The next time you share on rest, remember the night shift security guard. He is physically present, but his closed eyes communicate more about his reality than your speaking ability. Honest preaching must always be saddled upon the horse of mercy.
  4. Pray Always – No substitute exists for prayer. God guides us through prayer. He humbles us, and He reminds us of His love and grace. Isaiah 6 records the prophet’s call to ministry. He found himself in the very presence of God, which in turn produced radical change. He was now willing to go and do whatever God commanded (6:8). Because of Isaiah’s time spent in the presence of the King, he was all the more willing to wholly do the King’s bidding. If you find yourself lacking for honest preaching, increase your time spent with God and watch how God changes you…and your church.
  5. Preparation is your best friend – Some parts of ministry are more flexible and fluid than others. When pastors are called upon to pray off the cuff, most of us can handle the challenge. However, solid preaching requires adequate preparation. This reality is even more important when addressing sensitive issues. Write out exactly what you want to say, and then practice verbally the delivery. Be clear and concise. Avoid rabbit trails and speaking whatever pops into your head in the moment. Prepare well, and your congregation will be grateful for the clear articulation of a tough issue.
  6. Practice at home – Do you have hard conversations with your family and close friends? Are you an avoider of conflict with those you love the most? Like me, many pastors are people pleasers. We do not like to rock the boat too much. Many of us erroneously believe that, if we only work hard and pray fervently, everyone will simply get along. The hardest place to have the tough conversations is at home. Why? At the end of every day, we must have dinner with those we love. We have to look them in the eye. Our congregations become our families over the years. Your bond with your church grows exponentially as your tenure increases. Tough talks should become easier. However, they actually become harder. You know them so well, and they know you so well. You know their faults, but they also know yours. So…what should become easier can actually become tougher. Ask yourself this question. Am I willing to address hard topics at home with my family and those closest to me? If so, you will likely be willing to do the same with your church.

The local church is indeed the great crucible of all pastors. Don’t get me wrong. I love the local church. There is nothing like it. As Pastor Bill Hybels consistently states: “The local church is the hope of the world.” Coming out of seminary, I thought preaching would be the easiest part of my job. I loved the art of crafting, shaping, and delivering a timely message from God’s Word. Preaching was always “easy” when doing evangelistic work at camps, retreats, and even congregations where I served short term. However, the longer I stay at my current church (5+ years now), the more God shapes me. Just like he uses our spouse to shape us more into His image, I firmly believe He uses our church to make us better “truth-tellers” on Sunday mornings.

So, what did I do with my sermon on marriage and cohabitation? Did I shrink back from full, biblical disclosure? I must confess. Although I did challenge my congregation to steer clear of cohabitating, I did not speak as clearly as possible to the issue. Looking back, I wish I possessed more courage. Like Joshua, I should have been “strong, and very courageous.”

The next time God calls you to speak directly to an issue in your congregation, and you know and love the people struggling with that very issue, what will you do? How will you handle the challenge? Will you shrink back, easing up on all God has laid on your heart? Or will you share the full message from the King? Until then, may you forge ahead, leading with Scripture as your foundation and the Holy Spirit as your guide.

Preach on, preacher, and be honest in your proclamation!


Article by Dr. Brian Bradford, pastor of Horizons (Wesleyan) Church, The Colony, TX, © 2014

bradfordBrian Bradford is the lead pastor of Horizons Church. He is married to Shannon, and they have 2 beautiful girls, Halle (7 years) and Lily (4)! Pastor Brian was born in Alexandria, LA and spent the early years of his life in Rockwall, TX. He has an undergraduate degree in Religion and Political Science from Indiana Wesleyan University, a Master’s of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry degree with the Beeson Pastor Program from ATS as well.

The Value of a Good Story

bibleNothing like a 16-hour car ride to bring people closer together.  My husband and I served as house parents for our daughter’s and her six best friends’ senior spring break this past week.  The week concluded with a 16-hour car ride home.  After a week of constant togetherness you would think these girls would have run out of things to talk about but apparently not.  In order to pass the time, they shared stories – personal stories of their own family vacations over the years.  The stories were humorous, and we all rolled in laughter together.

The stories did something more than offer laughter and a distraction though, they provided insights into who these girls really were.  Their stories:

  1. Provided a context, offering a glimpse into how their families function, what they value, and where they came from.  The stories provided the context that explained a great deal about why these girls said the things they said, did the things they did, and reacted the ways they reacted.  So many things we experienced in the previous week now made sense – because we heard their story.How often are we caught up making assumptions about a person based on our personal presuppositions?  We dismiss them – ignore them- shun them – maybe even judge them because we assume their actions, attitudes, and words come from a source we fully understand – like ignorance or rudeness.  Perhaps, however, if we knew their context we would understand why they have an attitude, where those hurtful words came from, or why to them the actions we find quite inappropriate are actually fitting.

    Hearing the stories from the girls in the back of the car gave me a glimpse into their context – their home life.  A context that I had assumed was similar to ours, but I came to realize was a home life quite unexpected that provided the correct perspective for truly seeing them.

  2. Their stories also created a connection that a week of sharing close living space, beach towels, and a common table didn’t.  In each of the girls’ stories, we saw glimpses of our own and discovered that the commonalities that connect us were much richer than the often louder external differences that separate us.  Sitting in the front seat of the car listening in on stories of family vacations of the past forged a bond with these girls that overcame generational, religious, political, and racial divides.J.F.K. in 1961 offered a phrase while giving a speech to the Canadian parliament that has been over-used and abused in the past 50 years, but it hit me in the face sitting in my car: “What unites is far greater than what divides us”.   We distance ourselves from people emotionally and sometimes physically because we think that our differences are too great to overcome and too profound to find a common language.  We make excuses that include: “we have nothing to offer them”, “they will never understand us”, or “we have no idea what they need ”.  We allow the things that are different – they are so old or so young, they are so conservative or way too liberal, they are way too progressive or so traditional, they look different, eat different food, speak a different language, wear different clothes, and even smell different – to become a barrier to connection.  But, when we listen to their stories we discover that they love, laugh, and cry just like us.  We discover the many things that we have in common – things that connect us.  When we see our commonalities and points of connection, the barriers become negotiable and the walls surmountable.
  3. And their stories compelled us to respond, rethink, and re-write.  Before our spring-break beach adventure I had developed opinions about the girls – who they were, what behaviors and attitudes they possessed, how I enjoyed them as my daughter’s friends, and how I didn’t. Through the week they all lived up to my expectations – I saw in their attitudes, behaviors, and words exactly what I expected to see.  When I heard their stories though, I was compelled to re-examine my own presuppositions, filters, and expectations and frankly their stories helped me see in many places how wrong I was. Their stories changed my attitudes and my thinking.  I was compelled to re-examine and truly see them for the first time without the blinders of prejudice.What blinders of prejudice are you wearing?  Do they blur your vision so that you can’t truly see the people in front of you?

    About ten years ago I began to have trouble seeing my dinner plate. I didn’t notice that anything else in my life was blurry –just my dinner plate.  Convinced that it must be something extreme wrong, I phoned my eye doctor, requested an appointment, and suggested perhaps my blurred dinner plate was caused by a brain tumor.  He was kind but did chuckle when he said – “oh the dreaded blurry plate syndrome”.  “You mean this is common?” I responded. “Only in people your age” he replied and went on to identify my out of the norm culprit as age induced poor eyesight!  A lovely pair of reading glasses later and my dinner plate came fully into view!

    Hearing the stories from the girls in the back of the car did the same thing that my reading glasses did for my dinner plate – it corrected my blurry vision and brought the girls into focus; I was compelled to see them.  The power of a story helped a middle-aged woman truly see!

The power of a story – It can bring laughter and offer a distraction, it can also provide a context and bring clarity, it can create a connection that overcomes apparent differences, and it can compel us to do something and change our thinking.

A seminary student in describing the impact of Scripture on faith formation in the home offered this insight: God could have filled the Bible with facts and figures to answer all of the scientific questions and give us wonderful statements of faith to memorize that would fill our minds, but instead He chose to tell a story.  The greatest story.

  1. A story provides the context
  2. A story connects
  3. A story compels and
  4. The Story through the power of the Holy Spirit brings hope, healing, and transformation.

St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises encourages the exercitant – a “person who sincerely desires to discover how he or she can please and serve God best” [1] – to contemplate the biblical story:

–          By the “sight of imagination” in order to see the details of the circumstances
–          By hearing to listen to what is being said
–          By smelling the fragrances present and tasting the “sweetness and charm”
–          By touching what they touched, where they sat and where they walked[2]

St. Ignatius understood that through engaging the biblical story with our imaginations and invoking our five senses we would in part grasp the context of the biblical story, understanding more fully the background and circumstances; we would connect with the biblical story in a personal, relational, experiential way; and the biblical story would compel us to do something – change our attitudes, change our hearts, change our thinking…we would be transformed, and we would discover how to please and serve God best.

How can you share God’s Story in such a way that people can truly picture it, smell it, feel it, hear it, taste it, experience it?  Help them see God in the biblical story and themselves!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, NIV).

You have a story of grace and forgiveness – you need to share it.  Those you serve and meet have a story – you need to take the time to hear it.  And we are compelled to share the greatest story of redemption, restoration, and love – you need to tell it.

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So he began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34, NIV).


derrDr. Colleen Derr serves as Associate Professor of Congregational Spiritual Formation and Christian Ministries, Wesley Seminary


[1] From: Ganss, G. E. (1992). The spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius: A translation and commentary. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, (p. 4).

[2] The Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius, the second week, “The Fifth Contemplation will be an application of the five senses”

How I Changed from Lazy Preacher to Inspired Preacher

Untitled-2Our last post was an incredibly vulnerable post from Chad McCallum. We’re grateful for his willingness to be honest, forthright, and bear his soul and painful wake-up call with plagiarism.

One of our potential panelists from a couple weeks ago who actually never participated in the panel asked why were “hitting this issue now.” Our goal is not to shame or blame pastors, or to raise some too-high to live above bar of preaching morality. Instead, we simply want to create space to talk about this issue.

Sometimes, district superintendents and LBA members, denominational leaders and parachurch workers think very differently about this issue than those of us who have actually preached week after week after week and felt the pressure to produce new material. I remember preaching weekly while leading a Sunday school class and a Wednesday night event and a Saturday night service (where I also preached). Four content preparation points a week for fifty weeks will put anyone in a place of temptation.

Our main goal is to give you space to think, talk, pray, and start over.

That’s our goal today. Would you be willing to share in the comments section below how you changed your mind about using others’ material in preaching? Share with us an area where your diligence lagged, and how you moved from lazy to inspired preaching. Consider it “armistice day.” If you think it’s unsafe or unwise to share, simply share anonymously.

This is our last post on plagiarism and copying in preaching. We’ll move on to related issues from the positive side of the issue: creating your own stories, being honest in your preaching, facing the tough issues, and avoiding burnout. We’ll also include some fantastic original sermons by Wesleyan preachers from around the country. If you have a sermon you think we should feature, send it along with a link to the audio or video. We’d be happy to consider it.

For now, It’s a judgement free zone. Share your preaching testimony below, in the comments section of this post. Get a clean slate. Start your preaching patterns over.

Dave Ward and the Wesleyan Sermons team

Confessions of a Lazy Preacher

618791_89383244I should have seen it coming but I didn’t.

Just that morning I had stood in front of the church and I preached my guts out.

I pointed to the road ahead.

I called the people to live with a different mindset.

I unpacked the text.

I invited them to love God more.

I was eloquent. I was funny. I was motivating.

There was just one problem. One extremely large problem.

It wasn’t my sermon.

Or, let me rephrase that, the vast majority of what I said on morning was not my sermon. To put it into other terms, I shared a kind of homiletical karaoke. While the words were compelling; the spirit was absent.

And then something happened that stopped me in my tracks. I got called on it.

Seated before the church board sat a man who held in his right hand the manuscript of the message I had preached and taken the time to highlight all of the areas of crossover from the internet message to mine.

I felt naked. I wanted to hide. I was speechless.

It was like every square inch of air in the room had been removed by a cosmic vacuum.

To add to the drama, the karaoke sermon that I had preached was a candidating message at a church. And while offered the role, I didn’t accept the position.

The weeks that followed my homiletical trainwreck were a blur.

Some defended my message under the argument that “everyone has done it” and as such there is nothing wrong with it. While others decried my message and called for my dismissal from The Wesleyan Church.

Some celebrated the spiritual truth that I presented that was indeed unique to my message. Others scoffed saying that I was little more than a cover band who sounded way too much like a Baptist preacher. Through it all I felt sick to my stomach. Alone. Angry.

I was angry, not at any of my accusuers (they had every right to raise the questions that they raised), but more than anything I was angry at myself for what I had become as a preacher.

I had become a homiletical couch potato who found way too many a sermon on the internet and far too few on my knees in prayer. Put simply, I was a lazy preacher. There was a day that I was filled with passion when it came to the preaching task, but somewhere along the line I became more concerned with sounding eloquent than speaking well of Jesus and my passion had faded.

Deeper still, and even more alarming to me personally was that I realized that I had fallen into the trap of finding my identity in preaching and not in Christ. When I spoke well (which I equated with getting an amen, drawing a laugh or creating a moment of emotion) then I thought I had succeeded.  When the message “didn’t come out right” I thought was a failure.

Preaching had become an idol for me and I was living out a perilous pursuit of pleasing an idol. So some weeks later after lengthy soul bearing conversations with everyone from pastors to a counselor friend, I realized that this was not a time for tweaking my approach. Tweaking my approach would have only resulted in a relapse to my preaching as an idol ways.  Instead, I needed to overhaul the machine.

So what did I do? As I look back I didn’t make a list, but I did take some intentional steps of action.

1)    I deleted all of my sermons off of my computer and burned all the ones that were on paper.  If I was going to preach with a freshness then I needed to do some purging.  And while it felt like a slow death, it brought a freedom in my soul that I hadn’t anticipated.

2)    I scheduled my preaching preparation and guarded it as I would any other important appointment.  I realized that far too many of my sermons were being microwaved instead of slow roasted.  Far too many of my messages were being prepared in a panic on a Saturday night. So for me, I had to schedule some time every day to work on message preparation and I had to guard that time with diligence.

3)    I became a greater student of scripture and less of a student of Warren, Ortberg, Hybels and Platt.  When I did reference another source I did all I could to give credit where credit was due. Along with this pursuit of scripture, I went on a 90 day fast where the only book I read was scripture and then after the 90 days I still read the others and referred to them, but not until late in my preaching preparation process.

I purposed in my heart to “preach the book” instead of “entertain the masses.”

4)    I prepared on paper vs. on my laptop.  This might sound odd, but preparing on my laptop made it all too easy for me with a simple Google search to lift from another message.  So the vast majority, maybe two thirds of my preparation was done with Bible & legal tablet and no internet connection to be found.

What was the result?

Many commented that my preaching became stronger with a higher level of clarity and conviction.  People commented that God spoke to them through something I said.  More than anything I had a deep peace at the end of the preaching task that I had endeavored as faithfully as I knew how to present well the truth scripture.

A Closing Challenge

In the years since this encounter, many a time I have found myself in conversation with a young preacher who is struggling the many of the same temptations that I faced – almost always I shared the same central truths.

–    That God has given you a mind to process truth…so use it.

–    That God has given you a heart to be stirred by His word…so engage it.

–    That God has given you a voice for a reason…so speak clearly the words that God given you.


mccallum

Written by Rev. Chad McCallum, Director of Mobilization for Global Partners.