Sermon: The Call | Amber Livermore

Preacher: Amber Livermore
Sermon Title: The Call

Direct-link to sermon video

Pastor Amber LivermoreAmber Livermore is the lead pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Princeton, Indiana. This sermon, however, was given as a part of Brookhaven Wesleyan’s “On Mission” series, where she spoke about the call of God on our lives.

Below are some of her preaching patterns that caused us to highlight this sermon.

Great vocal inflection is fine-tuned passion.

One of the primary reasons that Pastor Amber has great vocal inflection is because she is passionate about what she is communicating. That does not mean she maintains a consistently loud volume. She varies her tone, conveying truth with tone in a way that fits what she is trying to say in that moment. Good vocal inflection often starts with passion, but must be fine-tuned as we gain experience as preachers. Her vocal inflection used during her introduction plays a major role in engaging her audience well. She hooks them early and this vocal inflection certainly helped grab our attention, which she maintained with continued inflection.

She helps us find our place.

During the sermon, Pastor Amber sets up a list of ways in which the congregation might fit into the puzzle she describes that sweeps each listener up into the sermon. All are asked to respond to the call of God at the end. In doing both of these things she helps us find our place in this message. Throughout this sermon, she compels people to find their place in the story of God and describes how we can do so. If our congregation is unsure where they fit into the story we tell, unsure of how they might respond or unsure if this sermon is relevant to their lives, they will likely forget it. The most unfortunate thing is not that they forget our words (which are just tools used to bring a message) but that they have missed an opportunity to hear from God and respond back to Him.

She preaches from conviction to conviction

Anointing is a word that we should not throw around lightly. It cannot be earned, and is not easily discerned. Young preachers in particular often label the passionate or the powerful personality “anointed” only to be disappointed deeply by the flaws and clay feet of the real preacher over time. Something much easier to sense, to experience, and to name is conviction. This is a sense of conviction that something is true and that the truth bears weight upon the preacher and the listener. The preacher stands under the conviction of the sermon, yet speaks with authority to all in such a way that there are only two choices: respond with conviction, or harden against conviction. Amber presses forward with conviction in a way that does not leave the preacher behind, and refuses to leave a listener behind either.

We can learn much from Amber’s preaching, but here are a few things we can practice this week to hone our preaching effectiveness.

  1. Do you pray for the conviction of God? Conviction is the precursor to anointing. And there is nothing we can do that will match the Holy Spirit’s power moving in our churches. This does not negate our roles or efforts. Rather, we give our best offering to God and trust the Holy Spirit for the results.
  1. Does your conviction reach your voice? When someone tells you a story, you’re far more likely to listen well if they show excitement and some range of emotion. That makes for a good story! Preaching is no different. This week, get online and listen to last week’s sermon, listening specifically for points of good vocal inflection. Where did you do this well, so that it served the purpose of what you were saying? Where did you not do this well, and did it hinder what you were trying to communicate? Then mark your manuscript or outline with points where you plan to add inflection for this week. Perhaps down the road this will come naturally, but for now, script it. There’s nothing disingenous about doing this; hopefully, the passion is already there. It just needs to find the right places to let itself out!
  1. In what ways will you help the congregation find their place in this sermon? In what ways do you encourage people to begin reflecting even while they are listening? Do you ask them to place themselves in the Scripture text? Do you encourage them to use their imagination or engage their intellect? Do they understand why this message matters and how they can respond to it? Consider how you will help people find their place in this message. Over time, if we continually help people find their place in the message, they will grow also in conviction that they have a place in God’s kingdom.

Sermon: Impoverished: Divine Intelligence | Craig Rees

Preacher: Craig Rees
Sermon Title: Divine Intelligence (link to video)

Pastor Craig ReesCraig Rees is the lead pastor at Central Wesleyan Church. In a series called Impoverished (their Lent series), he speaks about Divine Intelligence as the intelligence of God beyond human understanding, and yet given to us by God. Craig is a great communicator. Here are a few things we can learn form him.

When it’s beneficial, talk about the original language.

As preachers, we should look at the original languages with whatever capacity we have been able to acquire. Things can and do (literally) get lost in translation. This does not mean, however, that we need to explicitly talk about it every week. Greek and Hebrew are not the worlds in which our congregations live. However, doing so from time to time can be eye-opening, as it is in this passage. When the rich young ruler asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?,” the word lack implies a certain kind of impoverishment. It can be translated, “to suffer need,” and implies missing out on what is vital. In a word: impoverished. That’s a much stronger word and more loudly calls attention to the reality at hand; this man though rich and religious is empty. That strong disconnect is better realized through the tone of language that Craig discovered in the Greek. Often the tone of the Greek or Hebrew is what is lost in the word-for-word or thought-for-thought translations we have in our versions. For those without strong language capacity, use free sites like to access the alternate meanings, and perhaps most importantly, connotations or feelings connected to the original words.

Use creative audience participation.

In a metaphor about the changing lens that Scripture can give us, Pastor Craig Rees simulates a virtual reality scenario and asks an audience member to come up to participate in this with him. This served to give the audience a visible and engaging example about the worlds we hide ourselves away in, compared with the augmented reality glasses that kept us in the real world but changed how we looked at it. This demonstration would have taken time and careful preparation to make this happen. This metaphor was one that not only served the sermon, but was one the audience could (and likely would) take with them—it was memorable and engaging.

Call them higher.

People respond to the level to which they are called. Craig Rees does not shy away from calling his congregation to big things. Calling people to greater spiritual responsibility and engagement can result in powerful eternal dividends. Sometimes we hesitate to ask people for a big response, afraid that we’ll scare them away. Perhaps that will be the case with some, but for many others the opposite will occur. They will dig in and take the challenge you give them. Who knows? They might even exceed it, and God may use it beyond what you can imagine. That sounds like God, doesn’t it? One of the things Craig Rees challenged his congregation to a fast, one of the spiritual disciplines we like to often ignore. This, however, could prove to be powerful in the life of his congregation.

To grow in your sermon development, try these few tips:

  1. Press yourself to use what original language material you can. If you don’t know original languages, that’s okay. But don’t run away from that material when you find it in commentaries! It can be still be incredibly useful. You don’t have to be fluent in Greek to learn from the original languages. Word studies can easily be done on Blue Letter Bible or Bible Hub. Find a friend who can refresh your memory on how to do these. If you do have some familiarity with the original languages, invest. Invest a little time this week into a study of just one verse; you may be a little rusty, but some of it may even come back to you. Better yet, find a friend who is also studying the original languages and invest this time together. Do no mention it in every sermon. Let it stand in the background like the studs that support your drywall.
  1. What is the main point you want to convey this week? How might you bring the audience to greater understanding of that point with some participation on their part? As Fred Craddock and Tom Long have written about in their preaching books, the weight of the sermon does not lie only with the preacher; some responsibility lies with the congregation. There are many ways to encourage participation and engagement; you don’t need to call someone to the front every week. You can ask for audience response from their seats. You can give them something to do in their seats. Give them a note sheet to record main ideas. There are a hundred ways to do this— be as creative and out-of-the-box as you can. What will make the point memorable? What will engage your audience effectively?
  1. Finally, carefully consider your response time. What might you ask them to do that would be faithful to the Word the congregation (and you, the preacher) have received? Is this response challenging? Compare this with your prayer life. We pray for things that are in sight, but out of our reach. We know how to pray for it, but it’s going to take God’s intervention to get an answer to that prayer. Ask your audience to see what is just out of their reach, a bit uncomfortable for them. Something they’ll need to ask for God’s help to do. Call them to something higher than themselves that will require our dependence on God. This is how we grow.

Sermon: Every Day Matters | Ken Nash

pastorkennash_websliderPreacher: Ken Nash
Sermon Title: Own Your Story
Original Sermon Link:

#everydaymatters-journeypromo2-1080-screen-01It is difficult to talk about pain well, much less preach about it. Hamburg Wesleyan’s relatively new lead pastor, Ken Nash, navigates this sermon with grace placing it within a larger context of the series “Every Day Matters.” Mixing video, social media, live presentation, and more this series shows a lot of relevant cultural connection points while staying rooted in the deeper wisdom of ancient Christian thought. For this particular sermon, here are a few things Ken does well.

Ken’s gestures add to the sermon.

When preaching, you might find it easy to move your hands around more than a little, especially in moments of excitement. You should ask, are your gestures purposeful? Or do they simply give your hands something to do? Have your gestures become more of a distraction for people than a helpful preaching tool? Ken Nash, for significant words or phrases uses his hand gestures as a tool to of emphasis or clarification and keeps the audience engaged without overly distracting unnecessary movement.

He tells one story that isn’t his own, as well as one personal story.

In general, we know that it is good to try to use as many stories as we possibly can that are not our own. We look for related stories from history, film, literature. These stories remind us (and our congregation) that the Gospel is not all wrapped up in us, and certainly not focused primarily on the preacher. It is worth noting, however, that on a Sunday on which he preached specifically about pain, he told two stories. One was not his own, and one was a personal story.

Before you went into ministry, did you ever imagine that your preacher surely had his/her life all put together? That surely they did not deal with the same things you did, and if they did then they certainly went about it in a way that was much more holy and unattainable? It’s not hard to place preachers on unhealthy pedestals. Pastor Ken displayed healthy vulnerability by sharing a piece of his own story, reminding us that he’s a real person who has seen real suffering. Moments like this show what could be a great harvest.

He allows them time to sit.

While much of this sermon is for those who have already walked through fire and come out on the other side (and he asks them to minister to others as they own their story), Pastor Ken Nash acknowledges that there is another group in the audience. There are those who still walk through deep hurt. He doesn’t demand that they move immediately forward, telling them that they should do as the rest of the congregation ought to. He asks them to take time to sit and be comforted by God. This is absolutely essential for those in the congregation who are still suffering. In doing so, he shows his pastoral heart in preaching. When preaching about pain, make it clear that the next step isn’t always “do,” but sometimes simply, “rest.”

Here are three things we can do (one in general, and two related to preaching specifically about suffering) to follow Pastor Ken’s preaching example.

Mark your movements.

“Stopping.” “Ever-changing laws.” “Oppressed.” You can probably imagine in your mind what gestures Pastor Ken might have used to make these words and phrases come to life. Before you print off your sermon outline/manuscript this week, ask yourself this: What are 5 key words from your sermon this Sunday that you could place gestures with to help you make your point and make it more engaging for your audience? Perhaps when you have begun to do this well, you can begin to mark other body movements— movement across the stage, kneeling down. What gestures can you add that will best help make your point? If you’re unsure, practice in front of a mirror and look for any sign of inauthenticity, overly dramatic flair, or awkward uncertainty.

Tell Two Stories

Of course you will not fully understand every circumstance that the people in your congregation are dealing with. You may not yet know what it is like to lose a parent, or to have a wayward child, but you have faced other struggles that God has brought you through. The next time you preach on pain or suffering, allow yourself to share a moment of healthy vulnerability. Let your congregation know that you have experienced pain and tell them how God brought you through it. This is a golden opportunity that can swing wide the door for further opportunities to have meaningful conversations with people about their own struggles. When people know you have been through suffering, they will be more likely to trust you with their own. Be careful that you do not share a minor suffering and imply that you therefore understand major sufferings. This can back fire in very hurtful ways. Also be careful not to share things that would make those closest to you uncomfortable in appropriately. There are some things we experience that we might be willing to share, but that those who experienced them with us are not.

Don’t skip ahead.

When preaching on pain, do not skip to the end of their story. Ken Nash acknowledges that while this is a passage talking about comforting others from the comfort we have received, that some people aren’t ready for that stage yet; the wound might still be present. He suggests to his congregation that if they are still in a place of deep hurt, that they seek comfort. He talks about what to do when they do receive healing, and how they use their struggles in the Kingdom. But Pastor Ken is sensitive to the struggle. His entire time of response is not for those who have received comfort and are now able to minister. Instead, that time is for those who are still suffering, and he asks them to come forward and receive comfort. You can’t skip to the end of the story. When preaching on pain, implore people to walk through it and receive comfort from God.

Sermon: Full or Flat | Kathy Resel-Chambliss

Kathy Resler ChamblissPreacher: Kathy Resel-Chambliss
Sermon Title: “Full or Flat”
Original Sermon Link: here

Pastor Kathy Resel-Chambliss is the Awaken Pastor at Kentwood Community Church. She preached a sermon recently as a part of their series called “Momentum,” which focused on the early church in the book of Acts. She is a pastor who preaches with practical, passionate clarity.

1) Pastor Kathy brings us into the Scriptural journey. The transition from introduction to scripture reading is a familiar one to free church traditions like ours. Many traditions have the scripture read before the sermon. There are plenty of Wesleyan churches who follow that liturgical pattern.  The average church however includes the scripture reading within the sermon with standard words indicating that moment like these: “If you have your phone or your bible with you, go ahead and pull that out. Our reading today is found in _______.”

The pastor in that moment has implicitly invited the congregation to join the reading of the Word, but Pastor Kathy takes the extra step and makes the invitation explicit. “Won’t you join me?” she asks. Then three times throughout the rest of the sermon when she returns to the text, each time she uses the same commanding word— “listen.” She draws us in to the journey and then asks us to stay with her as she moves through the text. Many congregations desire a sermon that not only preaches something that is biblical, but shows them the connections with the text the preacher is making. Looping back to scripture multiple times both increases the preacher’s authority and models the preacher’s hermeneutic.

2) Pastor Kathy draws us into the capital “C” Church. The Gospel is more than about what the individual can get out of it, and it is even more than about what is happening in our own church. It is helpful , even necessary to remind our people week-by-week that the Church is much bigger than our immediate context. We have brothers and sisters in the faith all over the world who are living for Christ, many of whom are persecuted for their faith, as in Pastor Kathy’s story. A gospel that does not keep the world in view is a gospel that is out of perspective. Certainly one of the most common themes of the New Testament is the use of spiritual authority to remind the church of Christians suffering in other places and cultures

flattire-ebike3) This sermon is visual, intellectual, and emotional — One of the ways pastor Kathy accomplishes this is with contrasts so common to good preaching: good and evil, light and dark, holy and unholy. If we are not careful to make those contrasts clear and explicitly, they become hard to see and apply in our day-to-day lives. Pastor Kathy does a great job of making the contrast between “full and flat” very clear. She does this in three ways: she tells a story about her bike, in which we feel for her the contrast between riding with full tires and flat tires. As a visual tool, she places two boards on opposite sides of the stage, one saying “flat” and one saying “full.” She then outlines descriptors of these two ideas and puts them in her sermon notes for all to see from the screen (another visual tool), and she points out the contrast between full and flat characters in the biblical text. She’s helped us understand this with our eyes, with our emotions, and with our intellect.

So what can we do to give our sermons this practical, passionate clarity that she exhibits?

Watch your “This is the Word” words.

If you’ve been in ministry for a little while, maybe you’ve settled into a bit of a rhythm with the words you say when it comes time to read Scripture. Many pastors settle on a certain phrase that they may change a little bit from week to week but stays primarily the same. There’s nothing wrong with having rhythms;. Still if you do say the same words from week to week, make them intentional. Whether you realize it or not, you are theologically shaping your congregation’s minds in regard to the corporate reading of the Word by the words you choose to say in those moments. Make them purposeful. Take time out of your sermon prep this week to craft that phrase.

How do you connect your church to the global Church?

Perhaps your church is well connected to the global Church and other churches in the community; perhaps this is an area where you have a lot of room to grow. Regardless of where you are at on that spectrum, ask yourself this question: how, in this preaching series, can I connect our church to the global Church that has spanned two thousand years and is in so many corners of today’s world? Can I connect what we’re discussing to another period in Church history? Can I tell a story about something another church is doing really well to spur my people on to good deeds?

In your next sermon’s key content, how will you deliver it in ways that make sense for the emotions, the intellect, and the eyes? 

Remember that old writing adage? Perhaps you learned it in school. “Show, don’t tell.” Show your people what good is. Show them what evil is, do not just tell them. Make it imagistic so they can see it, put in in stories so they can feel it, and understand it. Talk about what it looks like for someone to live in goodness and to live in wickedness. Write it. Sing it. Display it. Narrate it. In doing this, you are not beating a dead horse. Instead, you are conveying contrast from Scripture in a variety of ways so that their whole person can understand— their eyes, their intellect, and their emotions.

David – The Giant Killer | Heather Semple

heather-semplePreacher: Heather Semple is the Lead Pastor at Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake, WI.

Sermon Title: David – The Giant Killer

Sermon link:

Red Cedar, a Wesleyan congregation in Rice Lake Wisconsin, recently launched a series called “The Making of a Giant-Killer.” In this first sermon of the series, You will have to listen to the sermon itself to gain a clearer understanding of her views on “Giant-Killer Training.”  It is certainly a well known phrase and concept, but shared in pastor Heather’s unique edgy style. If you feel you can agree “our giants loom” even in your own life, this sermon might be as much for you as much or more than this review.

Once you have heard the sermon, you will agree that Pastor Heather does several things that make her a uniquely gifted communicator. We will phrase what we liked about the sermon as reminders to each of us:

1) Seek to be natural, authoritative, and humble.

Have you ever caught yourself putting on a different voice when you step up to the pulpit? A very natural and easy going preaching student of mine came up to the pulpit a few weeks ago and started with “Isn’t it good to be in the house of the Lord?” with a sanctimonious nod to each section of the room and a repetition of “Amen…Amen” in a stain glass voice.  It’s as if the preacher is trying to wear a jacket that doesn’t fit. It may make you feel a little more comfortable but everyone looking at you knows that something is off. Yet t it is deceptively easy to do. Heather preaches with confidence and a natural, easy presence that signals a humility couched neither in shame nor falsehood. While each of these are vital to preaching, they aren’t concepts you work at so much as someone you become. You can, perhaps, develop a more natural stage presence over time, but humble authority is something that comes from the life within. It comes from knowing that you are secure in your identity as a child of God while always remembering that you speak in Christ’s authority and not your own. Pastor Heather Semple’s presence in the pulpit is natural, authoritative, and humble. Some preachers are one, fewer are two, and the best are all three.

2) Seek to make scripture tangible, and therefore living

Anyone can tell you what Scripture says, but a preacher helps bring these words feel alive in a way that matches what they describe. Heather’s sermon from the story of David and Goliath first become tangible when she describes her own experience in visiting the Valley of Elah. You can imagine in your mind what it looks like this large valley between two cliffs. A good storyteller helps their reader (or listener) picture the scene for themselves. Heather takes it a step further and brings a stone out when she talks about the stones that David pulled from the river. As she holds it out you can almost feel its texture in your hand. To make the most startling feature of the story more concrete she shows us a 9 foot tall giant via a cardboard silhouette.The listener can see with her own eyes how tall and intimidating Goliath might have been. It is a concrete and tangible picture of how our giants loom over us now. Helping listeners see the Bible with their own eyes makes the story become more real. Help your listeners see, hear, taste, smell, and touch at the very least with their imaginations if not in actuality.

3) Preach into the realities of the listeners

It’s possible to preach a sermon that doesn’t quite seem married to your context, as if it lacks connection with parishioners. This is after all, the regular complaint of listeners. Pastor Heather avoids this in several ways. One of which is done by speaking about the life of a man in her circles whom she had gone to visit that week. This man recently landed in jail and expressed (in similar terms) that he felt he had giants he could not defeat. I should note here that she protects his name by not sharing it and by not sharing why he went to jail. You can tell that Heather knows her context; this is not a pastor who prepares only from within the four walls of her study. She knows her people and speaks into their reality. The practicing of Christian faith (whatever you do for the least of these) does not have to be separated from the writing of sermons. And the visiting of our people, even those who cannot come on Sunday, is often the best thing we can do for a sermon. Leave the study once you know the passage. Take it with you to the prison or the nursing home or the soccer field or the middle school cafeteria. Then watch the sermon unfold before you.

This week, only one of the following action steps has anything to do with “technique.” So perhaps, they will be even more helpful than our action steps sometimes are. Technique will help our preaching to be sure. There are better forms of practice, those that help our souls as well:

  1. Spend some time in your prayer closet, and other time comfortably alone with yourself.
    We achieve humble authority not by mimicking another preacher’s style but by becoming whole and content with God and ourselves.  We are not trying to just sound authoritative or appear humble. We are called to be both of these things by the grace of God. Humility and authority must be genuine in order for our preaching to be genuine. We honor God and do well for ourselves and our people by spending time with God, being filled with the spirit of power and humility before Sunday morning comes. We also do our people well if we can become comfortable in our own skin. Otherwise many of our sermon introductions will really be attempts to gain that comfort through the laughter or nodding approval of others.
  1. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What tangible details can you pull from this week’s Scripture to help bring the Scripture more alive for people who are listening?
  • Are there physical objects that would help this passage make more sense for me, the preacher? Would they help others?
  • Are there any media elements that would help tell the story— a picture, a video, a timeline, a diagram?
  1. Practice a Matthew 25 and Romans 12 faith outside your office.
    Go visit some people in your congregation. Have a meal at your home or meet them for coffee. We need to be careful not to use people for their stories. That does not honor them. If we tell their stories, we should have their permission. Knowing what your people love, despise, the things that are hard for them, and the things that give them abiding joy helps you better connect scripture’s world with their world. Knowing their lives helps us love them well in person and from the pulpit. Preaching into their reality lets them know that the Gospel matters for them no matter where they are in life. We will always do well to remember that love covers over a multitude of sermonic sins. Love your people concretely and in person. Love them even while you are preaching, and they will forgive your rambling, your mumbling, and your momentary lapses into stained glass voices.

Dave Ward with Elyse Garverick

What Are You Waiting For? | Emily Vermilya

Emily Vermilya

Emily Vermilya

Preacher: Dr. Emily Vermilya is the Pastor of Formation at College Wesleyan Church. A regular member of the preaching team, a mentor of resident pastors, and a key leader in the church Dr. Vermilya is a strong example of the benefit of great preaching staff.


Sermon Title: What are you Waiting For?

Given during College Wesleyan Church’s Advent series, Dr. Vermilya’s sermon is attentive to the congregation’s anticipation for Christmas and the Church calendar’s movements during Advent. By attending to both, Dr. Vermilya demonstrates the following helpful strategies for preaching:

  1. Lose the Cape: “In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m going to start with a confession today. I am terrible at waiting.”

Emily begins the sermon by admitting to the same problem the congregation faces. She doesn’t try to be the hero of her sermon; she recounts her own struggle against accepting the Gospel’s invitation. This story disarms the audience and helps them hear the Good News. It also avoids the parallel trap of exposing too much of the pastor’s personal life or struggles. The pulpit is the place for empathetic connection and authentic admittance of humanity. It is not the place to air this week’s dirty laundry or unburden the pastor’s conscience.

Great preachers foster common ground between preacher and parishioner. Sermons recite God’s mighty acts, not the preacher’s exploits or. They also proclaim God’s compassion with our human condition, not the preacher’s incompetence to guide others spiritually. By establishing common struggles in appropriate ways, preachers pave a path for resolution through Good News.

  1. Paint with Different Colors: “You’re getting the drift here. In any given year, it was a whole lot of Luke! Luke’s account of the nativity is the one we’re most familiar with… and yet Matthew gives us Joseph’s story.”

Preachers tend to gravitate toward familiar Scriptures like houseguests forming closed circles at the office Christmas party. But unfamiliar Scriptures provide a chance to explore. Rather than straying towards the oft-used Lukan narrative, Emily offers the congregation a different perspective. Still lauding Mary’s faithfulness, Dr. Vermilya offers Joseph’s perspective on Christ’s incarnation. Exploring ancient Jewish customs, Dr. Vermilya discusses how Joseph’s thoughtfulness shielded Mary from danger and humiliation. Sometimes gender diversity helps highlight the male figures in scripture men often ignore, or see only from a masculine perspective. Pastor Emily’s sermon is a clear example of the insight diversity in the pulpit can bring.

Great preachers tell familiar stories in an unfamiliar way. Congregations under these preachers read Scripture with heightened awareness of God’s work in the text, leading to greater opportunity for application. Always look for something that is new-to-you in this sermon. It ensures the congregation receives fresh baked bread.

  1. Address All Audiences: “In the midst of this story of Joseph’s awaited explanation for all the chaos that’s just broken loose in his life, Matthew inserts a message to a group of people who also knew a thing or two about waiting and seeking explanations. Israel had put their faith in God, trusting that He would deliver them… but how many times during that waiting do you think they asked, ‘How is this going to happen?’”

Emily invites her congregation to consider the Jewish population’s interpretation of the text. Vermilya’s interpretation of the Scripture delves into modern methods of interpretation—historical and literary analysis—while also exploring the ancient readers’ interpretation of the text. Both modern and historic audiences are tied together by anticipation of the Messiah.

Great preachers build empathy by exposing the Gospel’s demands of various communities. With a tight and well crafted phrase, the bridge between diverse communities and diverse listeners in your pews is made. Every person has asked of God’s promises for them, “how is this going to happen?”

  1. Leave Tension Unresolved “This morning, I wonder how many of us find ourselves in some sort of waiting room. This is really the reminder that Advent brings to us: that in the waiting God  is preparing an answer, or a way, or an outcome that will resolve any tension and solve any problem this life could throw at us. And our challenge is simply to not allow our need for an explanation to cause us to doubt things we know or true, or get impatient and trying to create solutions on our own—even righteous ones—or to manufacture an explanation for God in the midst of our waiting. What are you waiting for? And how can you—like Joseph—faithfully and obediently walk with God through the waiting, even if you don’t fully understand why this season is even needed?”

Dr. Vermilya leaves the congregation grappling with the tension of waiting. Her sermon mirrors its message: resolution does not come quickly, but God offers hope in the process. Because Emily dismissed the congregation in tension, they are forced to grapple with the sermon’s implications after the church service is over.

Great preachers provide diverse response elements, allowing their congregation to feel resolution with an in-service response element, or offering the congregation productive tension by ending the service without an in-service response. As Fred Craddock once said, “The listener should not be able to

Action Steps:

  1. Be An Archaeologist: During your next sermon series, explore the cultural background of your preaching text. If a cultural festival serves as the backdrop for your sermon, discuss how the festival might’ve changed the flow of the story. If a Jewish or Greco-Roman custom made a gesture especially significant, include the detail. Foster a common point of contact between your congregation and the ancient Near Eastern audience.
  1. Use Vignettes: Near the beginning of her sermon, Emily offered several examples of waiting—a patient in a waiting room, a car in traffic, and a traveler who recently purchased tickets. Before you craft your next sermon, come up with three to five colorful vignettes that would help illustrate your sermon. Rather than using one long illustration, use these to punctuate your sermon. By using diverse small stories, you’re more likely to resonate with a greater percentage of your congregation.
  1. Reexamine the Familiar: During your next standalone sermon, preach from an unfamiliar passage. Search the lectionary to see which passage fits with the Church Year; open your Bible to specific passage and try to write a sermon for it. Preaching from unfamiliar passages leverages your preaching skills, providing freshness in preaching and diversity in reading.

Staying is the New Going | Josh Cooper

Sermon: Staying is the New Going

Josh Cooper

Josh Cooper

Preacher: Josh Cooper is the North Campus pastor for Grace Point Church in Topeka, Kansas. Grace Point “leads people into growing relationships with Jesus Christ by creating environments where life-change can happen.”[1] In this sermon, Josh demonstrates the following preaching principles:

Be the Guide: “I get to share with you as a learner—not as an expert or a pastor who has this somehow figured out.”

Josh isn’t trying to be the congregation’s hero; he serves as a guide. Humility breaks down psychological barriers between pastor and congregation, offering parishioners an opportunity to hear the message without obstruction.

Great preachers stay away from becoming the hero of their story; instead, they focus on guiding their people to fulfill God’s calling.

Describe the Problem: “For me, the city in Topeka is like a diamond in the rough, because there is incredible beauty in the heart of this city. But it’s masked on the outside by the more obvious harsh realities that surround us us: things like homelessness and poverty, drug and human trafficking, empty commercial buildings and abandoned homes… We are not alone. This list that plagues our community isn’t just for us, it’s for cities all across the United States.”

Pastor Josh begins his sermon by discussing the problems the congregation faces. Optimism glances over harsh realities; hope acknowledges a way through the harsh realities. Cooper’s sermon isn’t optimistic—he acknowledges the struggles of Topeka—but it is hopeful. Josh artfully anticipates the difficulties of the congregation and gives them an opportunity to ponder these difficulties at the beginning of his sermon.

Great preachers preach sermons that acknowledge difficult circumstances without always resolving them. Then the listener feels the need to resolve the tension with changed living, not just a sermon conclusion.

Disclose the Resolution: “The solution to our city’s biggest problems has been right under our noses for the last 2,000 years. When Jesus was asked to reduce the entirety of the Scriptures into a simple command, he said to love God with everything you have and to love your neighbor as yourself. We get the loving God—we know how to love God. But who is our neighbor?”

The Gospel doesn’t excuse us from difficult problems (nor does it release us to answer complex issues with simple answers). Josh’s message recognizes this, asking difficult questions and guiding the congregation in a search for answers. In doing so, Cooper allows his sermon’s hope to match the hopelessness of his community.

Great preachers tackle difficult problems without giving simple, shallow answers. In order for the Gospel to be “good news,” it must match the emotional complexity of the problems it addresses.

Offer Credit: “What I’m sharing with you is in conjunction with what Alan shares in his book here.”

Though it would have been easy for Josh to plagiarize Alan’s content, he instead chooses to offer credit. In doing so, he also exposes the congregation to his own mentoring practices, and offers them a resource to benefit from.   It doesn’t take much to offer credit. For a refresher on preaching and plagiarism click here. For a panel discussion of how to maintain your preaching integrity click here.

Great preachers maintain integrity in their use of others’ content, and are quick to offer praise for resources the congregation might find helpful.

Ask Great Questions: “Would anyone in your neighborhood care if you moved tomorrow?”

Josh asks excellent questions throughout his sermon, helping the congregation consider the Gospel’s impact on their lives. Rather than closing the gap between the Gospel’s demands and the people’s effort, Josh asks questions that help them do so.

Great preachers ask excellent questions; they also help their congregations hopefully carry these questions toward resolution after the service.

Application Exercises:

  1. Be Quiet:The next time someone seems like they need advice, don’t offer a solution. Instead, build trust by offering empathy, and craft excellent questions (not “yes” or “no” questions) that help them grapple with their own solutions. Preachers are known for talking. Pastors should be known for listening. The best preachers get their insights from years of being great pastors. Listening leads to talking not the other way around.
  2. Give Credit: As you prepare your next sermon, utilize a resource that you can credit in your sermon. Once you’ve selected the source and written the sermon, practice your “citation speech.” Use Josh Cooper’s as a template or see the links above for additional ideas for citing seamlessly in a sermon.
  3. Build Tension:Discern your congregation’s needs, and consider how the Gospel could meet them. Analyze the gap between congregational need and the scripture’s demands. Try to connect them using a wide understanding of the “good news” in your next sermon. How does the good news in all of its ramifications make the demands of scripture not only possible, but also likely, once we believe it fully?




He Knows Me, Why Am I Here? – Kenneth Wagner

Sermon Title: He Knows Me—Why Am I Here?

Sermon Link:

Preacher: Kenneth Wagner is the Lead Pastor of United Church in Dover, DE. One of the greatest Wesleyan Missional Priorities[1] is Urban Urgency—a focus on reaching the unchurched in cities and large towns. Church planters are at the forefront of reaching the unchurched in these communities. Kenneth and Sherry Wagner planted United Church in Dover, Delaware with a mission to “See those far from God be united in Christ.” In this preaching moment, Kenneth demonstrates some replication-worthy communication strategies which we’ll highlight below.

Pastor Kenneth Shows Us:

  1. Celebrations Shape Preaching: “We saw 30 people come home here within the last weeks.”

Kenneth opens his sermon by celebrating the church’s fulfillment of their mission to reach the lost in Dover. By discussing salvations as “coming home,” he also reminds the church of an opportunity to rejoice with people newly welcomed into God’s family. Wagner also uses the beginning of the sermon to discuss their church’s #ForDover mission: United’s way of engaging the community outside the church walls. This #ForDover initiative has taken United into service at community events, partnerships with local schools, and relationships with police officers in Dover (along with a whole lot of other exciting things). By sharing these “victories” with the congregation, Pastor Kenneth reminds us that celebration often leads to replication.

  1. Preaching Redefines the Common: “The average human’s lifespan is 28,750 days—and this seems like a long time, but we wake up tomorrow and it’s 28,749 days; and by the end of the week, you have 28,743. I’m 29, which means I’ve lived about 10,585 days; that’s pretty sobering.”

Earthly life is a limited resource; most of us know this. But when was the last time we put a number to this assumption? While we’re aware of the finitude of our lives, Kenneth’s day-by-day breakdown brings perspective on how we spend our days. Seasoned preachers (and congregants) can sometimes be lulled into repetition of the same rhythms, phrases, and perspectives: leaving their congregations with a bland diet of spiritual food. Kenneth reminds us of our need to shed new light on ancient truth—providing fresh perspective on something that could’ve otherwise passed unnoticed. As a result, every key point of Kenneth’s sermon helps the congregation read with “fresh eyes.” When we hear a preacher sharing new discoveries in familiar texts, we can reframe our own spiritual journey: anticipating fresh spiritual insights from long-known truths.

  1. Transitions Move the Mind (in the right direction): “If these numbers are legit, wouldn’t it be wise to ask ourselves, ‘Why am I here?’”

Transitions are like switch-rails: they can either provide new direction or derail the sermonic train. Kenneth masterfully transitions between concrete statistics and existential questions. The congregation has a grasp on the finitude of life, which establishes urgency to know life’s meaning. Wagner uses this shift to provide insight into God’s perspective on life’s purpose, and injects a communal emphasis (at United Church) on seeking God-imbued passion and purpose. This flows harmoniously with Kenneth’s earlier articulation of United’s “wins,” catalyzing his later discussion of how each person contributes to United’s mission of seeing those far from God united in Christ.

  1. Words Can Dance: “Regardless of what anyone has said about you in the past, you are not an accident. Your parents may not have planned for you, but God did. There are such things as illegitimate parents; but there’s no such thing as an illegitimate child.”

Pews are full of rejection, wounds, and pain. Through this quote, Kenneth sheds light into God’s redemption of hurtful labels and discouraging words carried by some in the congregation. Because he knows Dover’s family demographics, Pastor Kenneth’s words are crafted to remind those who are coming from broken homes that God longs to see them restored to His family (even if their family has no interest in restoration). He also reminds the congregation of God’s longing to know, love, and be for them.

“Even greater than being known by Dean Rizzo, even greater than being known by the mayor of Dover is being known by the Creator of the Universe. He knows you; and not only does He know you, He loves you. And not only does He love you, He is for you. He wants you to thrive right where you are.”

To a community full of people who have experienced rejection, Kenneth provides a reminder of God’s faithful love and steadfast commitment to His people’s well-being. During any given Sunday, we preach to people in pain. Our preaching must contribute to people’s healing, not pile on greater wounds and burdens of insufficiency.

Action Items:

  1. Define The Celebration: As you prepare your next sermon series, define what you celebrate. What does your church doing for our community? What would we like to see more of in our congregation?
  1. Redefine Something Common: What part of the Gospel doesn’t speak to you very much anymore? Identify a few key passages, and write down how you might be able to preach one of these passages by looking at it with fresh eyes. Ask questions you haven’t asked before, talk to others about their perspectives on the passage, and read a new commentary by someone whose opinion you might not usually consult.
  1. Heal with Words: As you prepare the coming sermon series, try to identify people’s pain before identifying their problems. Ask: “What hurt might my preaching help heal in the coming weeks?” By doing so, your preaching might become even more compassionate—and may heal some deep-seated wounds in the hearts of your congregation.

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

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How to Be Rich – Julie Penta

Sermon: How To Be Rich

How To Be Rich | Week Five from The Grove Church on Vimeo.

Sermon Link:

Preacher: Julie Penta is Senior Pastor of The Grove Church in Fort Collins, Colorado: a congregation committed to Love God, Love People, and Live Out. As a result of The Spirit’s work through her leadership and the church’s mission, The Grove Church has been effective at reaching many with the transformational Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We want to highlight for you some of the things that Pastor Julie does in this sermon that are worth replicating in your own preaching.

Julie Shows Us That:

  1. Stories are Pivots: “They said, ‘It’s not actually our car, it’s God’s car.’ And that has been an example in my mind for a long time: what it looks like to say, ‘I have this item and I’d like for you to borrow it.’”

Julie begins her sermon with a story, using the narrative as a pivot: relating neighborly kindness to God’s generosity. Through the story, Penta reveals God’s actions through other people’s participation. Penta also utilizes her words to pivot our definitions (of wealth, for example). After reading the Scripture, she says “When I read these verses in the past, I’d be like, ‘This doesn’t apply to me, this applies to the Bill Gates’s of the world; I’m actually not rich.’ But these verses apply to you and apply to me. We need to learn how to be good rich people.” This quote shares Penta’s own experience of transformation, and relates her self-discovery to the Christian motivation toward generosity. In doing so, she transfers responsibility from the “super-rich” to the rest of us (even if we don’t feel wealthy).

  1. Less (Movement) is More (Focus): Penta’s upper-body movements mirror the story her sermon is telling. As she discusses the tight-fisted approach to money, she tightens her fist; as she discusses being willing to give, her hand uncoils into an open palm (more about this below). During each segment of the sermon, however, Pastor Julie’s feet remain rooted in the stage, helping the congregation retain focus on her storytelling gestures without being distracted by unnecessary movements around the stage. Many preachers pace the stage like caged lions waiting for their next meal. In the preacher’s mind he is connecting with each section of the audience. For the audience, it’s pure distraction. When you move, make it purposeful. If you want to connect with a different section of the sanctuary, move once and stay there for a time. Allow your energy to move up the trunk of your body from your planted feet, and come out through your facial and bodily gestures.
  1. Matter Matters: “It’s ours, we earned it, we don’t want it to go to anyone else. So we have a tight-fisted approach with our money.”

Rather than relying exclusively on technological media, Collins provides an illustration using physical currency. As mentioned above, Pastor Julie compresses her hand around the cash, recoiling her arm from the thought of giving her hard-earned money away to someone else. After embracing God’s value of generosity, she extends the cash in front of her—embodying an open-handed approach to financial blessing. The message is clearer because she used a physical medium to drive her point home. In a digital media-driven world, physical illustrations are a less “noisy” way to make the sermon stick in the congregation’s memory. Anything tangible, actually real, stands out to us as we are used to seeing every “thing” only virtually really.

  1. Heroes are Celebrated: “Rather than facilitating their own self-interest, they were the most giving people I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Pastor Julie allows someone else to wear the cape. Instead of using narratives bolstering her own image to the congregation, Pastor Julie opts to tell stories of people who have exemplified generosity during her own times of need. This provides a helpful example to us: when we tell stories, do we subtly polish our reputations, or allow someone else to be the protagonist in part of God’s story? Towards the end of the sermon, Penta identifies two people in the congregation who took a 90-day tithing challenge. During their walk to the stage, Pastor Julie extols their service to the church while discussing the journey their journey towards sacrificial generosity. (People are usually only seen virtually too…bringing them up front plants them in the memory almost as strongly as the pastor.) In doing so, she subtly communicates to the congregation: I admire you; you can be the hero.

  1. Response Doesn’t End at the Altar: “When you hear about raising money for Ebola, or getting the children’s ministry started, or helping with flooding in Estes Park, are you living open-handed?”

Altar calls are tremendously useful; but they can sometimes become the end of a journey rather than a new beginning. Knowing this, Pastor Julie invites the congregation to respond after the service. The congregation won’t have fulfilled their responsibility before they leave; they must fulfill it after they leave—maybe even at lunch: “We are the worst tippers; nobody in the service industry wants to work Sunday afternoons, because all the cheap church people go in there. How sad is that? We need to be the people that change that around; we need to be people that are open-handed with our money.”

In our service planning, we must be mindful of our motive in an altar call: are we providing this opportunity for the congregation’s benefit, or including an altar call because it’s an easy way to gratify our desire for an easy conclusion and “results”? This message reminds us: sometimes the best response elements come after the service has concluded. God’s work is planted in the pew, but it may bear fruit in a restaurant. If the congregation can shake off the sermon and say “check” or “done!” when the service is over we might want to revisit our call to action.

Application Exercises:

  1. Identify Heroes: Jim Dunn once said, “If one month of the year is pastor’s appreciation month, then eleven months of the year are congregation appreciation months.” We think he’s right. As you think of your sermon illustrations, consider how you can use your examples to let someone else wear the cape. In doing so, you’ll help your congregation see your attentiveness to God’s work in their lives (rather than just your own). If preaching doesn’t elevate communal-esteem it might be worth asking what it is elevating? After all, this is Christ’s bride we are preparing.
  1. Use a Physical Illustration: As you prepare this Sunday’s sermon, think how you might physically represent the change you want to see in people’s lives. Doing so might help your congregation remember God’s demands on their lives as seen in your sermon.
  1. Put the Altar in the Week: What if your sermon ended outside the church? As you prepare your next series, aim to have at least one sermon during which there is no altar call in service. During this sermon, the altar call should be an “assignment” that’ll help your congregation fulfill God’s vision for their lives during the week. Make this a simple, singular, concrete action that helps them inculcate godly principles.

The Coming Lord – Clint Ussher

Sermon: The Coming Lord

Sermon Link

clint-jamie-ussher-246x300Preacher: Clint Ussher is the lead pastor of The Well Church in Christ Church, New Zealand: a five year old church plant that longs to see big things happen through an encounter with God and awakening to His love.

Preaching reveals much about the preacher’s homiletical practices. During this sermon, Pastor Clint displays some superb preaching principles.

Pastor Clint Shows Us That:

  1. Context is Important: “This is one of those times where we pray for car parks. We think, ‘Oh, Lord, if I can just get into one quick, I don’t mind walking a little farther than I’d like to.’ I think it’s funny right here in New Zealand where everything’s frantic and hectic and then everything stops for a month.”

Pastor Clint begins his sermon by appealing to collective experience: the busyness of the Christmas season. As New Zealanders shop for gifts at the local mall (which he references by name), their prayers turn from more spiritual matters to trivial self-absorption. By naming familiar places, Pastor Clint appeals to his congregation’s shared consciousness: the locations they visit regularly. But he also points to the feelings most Christian-influenced cultures experience around the holidays: pressures of consumerism, anxiety about holiday preparations, and prioritization of the “reason for the season.” Because he knows his the feelings, locations, and struggles of his congregation, Pastor Clint makes insightful connections that lend him immediate credibility with newcomers.

  1. Words Can Sizzle: “‘I will dwell among you.’ This is the same language used in regards to the purpose of the Temple and Tabernacle. God’s covenant is for all people. God longs to tabernacle in us.”

Pastor Clint uses a word study to express, not impress. He discusses the purpose of the word, and how its inclusion in both passages draws us into God’s redemptive work. Although his research is evident, he keeps his explanation concise and pertinent to the conversation—using study to drive home his point. As we write our sermons, we also need to attend to the motives behind our word studies. Does the word study make the connection “sizzle”? Or are we including word studies to extol our own knowledge of original texts? When we savor Scripture’s words, they reveal deeper meanings… and when we present them to others, they sizzle.

  1. Point to Resolution (make us want to feel it): “Our worship should include both/and. Our experience of worship is reduced if we pick one over the other; we need an approach that balances the transcendence of God… with His immanence. We need one that helps us balance the exaltation of God with His closeness to us. We need an approach that balances exuberance and expressive praise with quiet and reflective worship.”

Ussher notices a conflict in church culture, and proposes a way forward. Recognizing denominational disparity surrounding worship, Pastor Clint helps his congregation realize the relative unimportance of preference. As a result, the congregation is liberated to see other denominations as co-worshippers, collectively responding to God’s salvific action. Ussher’s conflict resolution enables the congregation to see the church as a God-woven tapestry composed of the “fabric” of diverse opinions and traditions.

  1. Focus Outward: “The work in Cambodia is flourishing; a sustainable model is breaking through. God raised up two families in response especially to the prayers of an eight year old boy. There are now many more Wesleyan churches in that part of the world.”

Not only does pastor Clint point out where God is “springing up” in Christchurch, New Zealand; he also takes a significant portion of the service to highlight God’s work of other nations’ churches. He highlights missionary efforts by Global Partners in Africa and Cambodia, talks about an Australian Church’s work, and discusses 12Stone Church’s reverse-offering in Georgia. After doing so, Clint locates The Well in God’s work of springing into action.

  1. Open Up New Possibilities: “Don’t miss those ways in which God is springing into action. Ask God to attune your hearts to them so we don’t miss them.” “Church, God is here; He is far more present, far more active, and far more involved in our world than we can ever imagine. He is springing into action all over the place. It’s been true for us in the past, and because of that, we can hold true to this: knowing it will be true in the future.”

Pastor Clint’s tone and word choices harmonize to convey anticipation for God’s saving work. As a result, the congregation walks away with a desire for attention to “God-sightings” in their lives. Great preaching leads congregations to see new possibilities for The Spirit’s work in them, through them, and with them. The world is dark; great preaching reveals the light.

Application Exercises:

  1. Include Your Community: As you prepare your next sermon series, include a reference to something all your congregation would be familiar with (a location, event, etc). Try to do something that will build the community up, and help your congregation love it more. Often we only denigrate what everyone knows, and convict them for it. Redeem it, elevate it, and bring Christian perspective to it.
  1. Focus Outward: Include an international reference in your next sermon. Whether it’s a news story, a missionary endeavor, or a church in your denomination somewhere else in the world, think about how your congregation can see (and admire) God’s work in other people groups. Lift their visions beyond your local church to the church universal.
  1. Open Possibilities: Preach towards new possibilities for your congregation. Before preaching your next sermon, ask: “What does this sermon make possible?” If sermons don’t provide value to people’s lives, they only preach against sin—not for newness of life. We want to see the gospel not only convict people sin, but convince people of the value of good works. We want to not only free Christians from guilt, but free Christians for joyful service.

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward