Sermon: Take My Life | Alex Sicilia

Preacher: Alex Sicilia

Title: Take My Life

Location: College Wesleyan Church

Date: May 19, 2019


Cross-cultural Awareness

Pastor Alex demonstrates incredible facility with cross-cultural preaching in this sermon. English is not his first language, but he uses it to richly describe culturally-specific barriers that affect Christians in Mexico, then pivots to discuss distractions that Christians in Marion, Indiana often face.

The language he uses—paired with his obvious listening to those from Mexico and from Marion—emphasizes his capacity to listen to the longings and losses of the people entrusted to his care. Great preachers do more than spin well-crafted phrases: they faithfully listen to the things that keep their people up at night.

Effective use of shared memory

Every sermon emerges from a context (the preacher’s experiences, physical context, and developmental influences) and is delivered to a context (the listeners’ own lives, the shared memory/needs of the community, other preachers who have formed a congregation before your arrival). Pastor Alex acknowledges this by bringing greetings from his church—Senda De Vida—in Mexico City, and describing their partnership between College Wesleyan. During the first several minutes of the sermon, Sicilia describes the methods of discipleship both churches have collaborated on—recalling and formalizing shared memory between these two congregations. This kind of connection overcomes some of the disengagement that can accompany a guest preacher’s presence in the pulpit, and helps the congregation know their impact on the preacher’s life and formation.

Dynamic use of physical space

The best sermons are incarnated; their delivery works its way through the person of the preacher, including their use of their body in delivery. Throughout this sermon, Pastor Alex uses the platform as a physical representation of the Good News they proclaim. Starting on the left side of the stage (depicting curiosity about Jesus) and moving toward the right side of the stage (as he describes increasingly rich stages of relationship with Christ: involvement, commitment, and devotion). After preaching about devotion as the final developmental stage, Pastor Alex reviews each previous stage (commitment, involvement, curiosity) by gradually walking back toward the left part of the platform as he reviews each stage. The listener, then, learns to associate their location in the discipleship pathway with Alex’s location on the platform. Rather than ambling aimlessly during his delivery, Alex shows us how preachers can use dynamic movement that harmonizes with vibrant content.

Sending toward missional living

Every time the Scriptures are proclaimed, there is another opportunity to hear God’s invitation to wholeness. The sermons that most effectively extend that invitation have implications that are richly described during the service, but fulfilled after the congregation has left the pews. Parishioners should leave the sermon still pondering: “What is God calling me to do right now?” and aligning their life to harmonize with that call.

Alex sends the congregation out with reflection, and with a well-crafted phrase of application which lingers with those in attendance: “Peter’s nets were saved somewhere, and they became safety nets.”

Emotional range

If approached indelicately, Pastor Alex’s message could have oversimplified people’s hesitancy in committing to Christ; instead, he demonstrates empathy toward disciples who encounter tension between good (even holy) things and God’s call. “These are good things,” Alex says, “But they were not meant to be first.”

Instead of leaving listeners in a shame-based spiral, constantly feeling “behind” in the stages of discipleship, Pastor Alex resolves this tension by examining how the call of God (though costly) is actually Good News. Hearers leave pondering the idea that no matter their level of dedication, the invitation of Jesus is the same: “Come, follow me. Do you love me more than these?”

To Practice this Week:

    1. Longings and Losses: Write out some of the longings and losses some of your people have articulated to you recently. (Note: if the longings and losses you recall aren’t things that would keep you up at night, think longer. If you don’t have any that deep, maybe jot down a reflection on that. It may be either because you haven’t been listening often enough or deeply enough, or people don’t trust you with pain enough to disclose hard things).
    2. Exegete Culturally: Whether you’re new to your preaching context or you’ve been there for a while, do some digging on some of the cultural identity around that area. Who has historically been overlooked near your preaching context? What voices have prevailed over others? What would “Good News” look like for those the church has overlooked? What might God–and the original speaker of the text–say to your context?


  • Imagine Your Emotion: As you read, study, write, and practice your sermon delivery, imagine how your emotion might harmonize with the message of the text. Don’t manufacture emotions; just sit with the text during your study and jot down how you feel in reading it. Maybe have another congregant do the same, and compare notes.
  • Thank Someone: Preachers always carry their formative influences into the pulpit with them. As you think of your own context’s “collective memory,” jot down the name of someone in your church who has encouraged you toward living a holier, more just life. Write them a brief thank-you note.


2019, Ethan Linder

Ethan Linder is the Pastor of Hospitality, Collegians, and Young Adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and the Editor of The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development writing staff.

Sermon Review: Leanne Ketcham

Preacher: Leanne Ketcham

Sermon Link:

Leanne Ketcham is a gifted preacher who wields theological expertise with impressive grace and practicality. She is currently finishing her PhD in Homiletics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto, one of the best Homiletics programs in North America. She is on loan from the Wesleyan Church to a local congregation where she preaches regularly. The following are three preaching practices in which she excels and from which we can learn and grow.

Scripture does not belong to her.

When we preach Sunday after Sunday, it’s easy for the congregation to begin to put the preacher on a pedestal; perhaps in their eyes, we begin to hold authority over Scripture in a way that does not belong to us. We can combat this by the way that we present the message; the way that Scripture is presented matters almost as much as the information itself. Leanne’s illustrations aren’t all about her own life experiences (though she does speak some of her own experience). She’s not the one who read the Scripture passage–someone else read before she spoke. Scripture speaks to us as individuals by the grace power of the Holy Spirit, but it does not belong to us as individual preachers. It belongs to the the Living Word and is a gift to the Church. Simply by allowing someone else to read the Scripture and by using illustrations that weren’t her own life experience (the Venn diagram, for example), Leanne reminds us that Scripture (and our authority to speak) is from God.

Facial Expression.

Monotony is not a preacher’s friend. We wouldn’t advise any fellow preacher to speak at one tone or pitch for their entire sermon; our facial expressions should be no different. By allowing for a natural variance in our facial expressions, we engage listeners in a way that is natural and subtle. We’d do the same if we were telling a story to a friend; preaching doesn’t need a separate set of rules here. Leanne’s facial expressions lend themselves perfectly to her quick moments of humor. In the midst of talking about sin, Leanne offers a few quick lighthearted comments. The audience subconsciously thinks, ‘Perhaps I can laugh here?’ and her smile confirms it. We can share a laugh together and move forward.

Theological Depth.

This is a short sermon, but you certainly don’t leave feeling hungry. Each shared thought is packed with intellectual, emotional, and theological depth. As Leanne speaks, priorities are unveiled– a life immersed in theological study and engagement with the Holy Spirit. She’s done her homework. Not only has she intently studied the passage of Scripture, but she also brings serious theological weight to this party. And while some theologically powerful minds have trouble bringing things back down to the real world, Leanne does so with seemingly effortless poise. If theology is only studied and not lived, this is difficult to do. The depth here is not only found in sharp theological precision, but in her ability to bring it down to the ground and encourage us to live in this Kingdom now.  “I don’t wake up each day wanting the things of God….though sanctification is a work of God, it is still a work that we cooperate with, that we open ourselves to… the question really becomes, then, do we even want this work? Do we want God to change our lives?” We are rarely asked if we want God to change us; most preachers assume this. Asking this question is both highly practical and theologically informed.

How can we emulate the best of Leanne’s preaching practices?


Do you preach every week? Does the Scripture reading responsibility fall to you every week? Do you typically prepare your messages in solitude?  Do you often tell stories about yourself as the means to illustrate a point? This can lead others to the assumption that Scripture belongs to you, that you hold the authority. Simply beginning to change your answer to one of these three questions would be a great start. Hand the Scripture readings off (or even the whole sermon) to other people. Mentor a willing and gifted layperson in how to develop a sermon and ask them to preach next month. Begin to tell more stories about others, rather than about yourself, your family, or your friends. Develop the next series with a team rather than alone.

Facial Expression.

Some preachers have naturally expressive faces, while others appear stoic and unmoving.This is less about ‘doing it right’– everyone is different. However, it’s helpful to know how your face helps others interpret your sermons. You may think you’re conveying passion, but a friend might tell you that actually, you look angry. You may think you’re expressing yourself well, while a friend might tell you that your face doesn’t move much at all. Ask a friend to watch you preach; have them pay attention to how certain facial expressions lend themselves (or not) to moving the sermon forward. Then, take their notes and practice your next sermon in front of a mirror. This may seem like too small a detail to pursue, but it will only sharpen your delivery.

Reflected Desire.

J.K. Rowling, the writer and creator of the Harry Potter universe, introduces us in the first book of the series to an object called the “Mirror of Erised.” Perhaps you’ll notice that Erised is ‘desire’ spelled backwards; this is the mirror’s purpose. The mirror reflects back not the image of the onlooker, but that which he/she desires most in the world. Harry stares longingly into the mirror, gazing upon the image of himself with his parents, who were taken from him at too young an age. Harry’s best friend Ron, one of seven children, looks into the mirror and sees himself distinguished and set apart in glory.

Over time, our preaching will reflect that which we desire most for our congregation. Leanne clearly desires that her people be theologically well-formed, not just so they can ‘know more stuff’ but so that they can know God better. Ask a handful of people in your congregation to answer one question each time you preach for a month. Here’s the question, “Based on this sermon, if I could ask God for one thing for my congregation, what do you think I would ask God for? What would I want them to possess/know above all else?”

You’ll likely get mixed responses, but perhaps some themes and categories will emerge. What is your preaching telling others that you want most for your congregation? And does that align with what you believe God has called you to do/say?

Fullness – Best Summer Ever Vol. 2, Part 1 | Kenneth Wagner

Preacher: Kenneth Wagner
Sermon Title: Best Summer Ever Vol. 2: Part 1
Sermon Link:

Kenneth WagnerWe love when a preacher clearly articulates a simple and clear vision from the pulpit. We live to see those far from God be united with Christ. That is the desire of Kenneth Wagner, senior pastor at United Church a Wesleyan congregation in Dover, Delaware. Here are a few preaching practices he implements that point listeners in a direction consistent with that vision.

Building Tension.

In The Homiletical Plot, Eugene Lowry addresses the importance in preaching of “upsetting the apple cart.” Tension engages. In order to engage the audience with the tension, it is helpful to provide the details that force the apple cart’s fall. Why should they care about whether the apple cart falls at all? In Pastor Kenneth’s storytelling, he provides details. While providing those details, he builds them in slowly. He first informs us that his friend did not want the nephew to have access to the car, forcing us to ask why. Why? Because this is not just any old car. This car… is a Stingray Corvette. He build the tension slowly and with purposeful detail. We grew invested in the story as he withheld details for just the right amount of time before revealing their importance.

Gospel as Fullness.

The Wesleyan Church has a rich heritage of holiness and sanctification. The good news of that is that we, ideally, seek continual growth in Jesus Christ. The other side of that, however, is that throughout our history we have had tendencies to become legalistic. Instead of freedom, the Gospel becomes a list of rules to follow. We make God out to be one who promises love and the one-two-punch that follows is an impossible list of rules. Pastor Kenneth holds no such illusion. The Gospel is not a trick. It is not a bait and switch that promises grace and delivers only rules. The Gospel is a full life lived in Christ who leads us forward into a beautiful eternity. Sanctification, for Wagner, is more than rules. Sanctification means fullness.

If you are new to church…

In Andy Stanley’s book, Deep and Wide, he discusses the importance of speaking to those in your audience who are unchurched. There are people in your pews who aren’t familiar with church jargon, even the most familiar words that no longer seem like jargon to you. Even for those who have been in church for twenty years– sometimes we get so used to hearing the same words repeated over and over again that their start to lose their meaning. Pastor Kenneth does not operate under the assumption that he is preaching to the same crowd of attenders week after week. Even the simple statement, “if you’re new to church,” before explaining a particular concept is one way for a new person to feel like they are in on the action. There is no expectation that you come to church with your Christianese dictionary memorized. What other ways does Pastor Kenneth accomplish this? Terms prevenient grace, even just grace, were defined and placed on a screen where we could grow in understanding through auditory and visual learning.  Wagner also uses images and similes to explain his concepts in more concrete ways. To further explain prevenient grace, Wagner refers to it as steering grace.  He made a joke about using this term for the sake of alliteration, but actually, this is a much clearer picture of what prevenient grace is than ‘prevenient.’ The best preachers continue to develop new ways to help both non-Christians and the saints of the church understand the Gospel better.

We know that no preacher is an island. How can we learn from Pastor Kenneth as we seek to become better preachers together?

Carefully unveil tension.

Do you take the time and effort to build tension in your stories? When you share about a biblical character, do you present the story as two-dimensional? Or do you take the time to consider the tension that exists within the story? Sometimes it is not directly stated. This will require extra research and time, and you may wonder if it is worth it. You may wonder if it is just a gimmick. But consider this: when you experience tension in real life, it engages you in a way that an easy road does not. It grabs your attention, demands it. The people in biblical stories were real flesh-and-blood people, too. They experienced emotion, felt tension, dealt with conflict. Even though these conflicts aren’t always directly stated in Scripture, they are there. Take time to unearth them, or at least try to imagine what life might have been like in their shoes. Perhaps the reason we engage best when there is tension in our stories is because we know that real life is full of tension. And if there is no tension, it is not real. Taking the time to unveil tension is honest preaching.

Study your own language.

When you talk about holiness, how do you talk about it? What language do you use? What metaphors? Perhaps the best way to begin to assess this is to ask those who regularly listen to you preach. Ask members of your congregation to speak back to you on what they have earned about holiness from you in the last year as a result of your preaching. Some things you will be pleased to hear. Others not so much. It is not too late to grow and change in the way that you live holiness yourself and in the ways that you talk about it with other people.

View your church from the eyes of a visitor

Let someone else preach this Sunday. Let someone else give announcements. Let someone else lead worship. Let someone else give the benediction. Instead, sit as a participant. Try to put yourself in the place of a new person. A person who does not go to church regularly. Begin this process before the sermon even starts. From the moment you drive into the parking lot, ask yourself some questions,

  • What about this experience would make a newcomer uncomfortable?
  • Where might they feel lost, either literally or figuratively?
  • Do they know what to do when others seem to know what to do?
  • Are there words in the service or sermon they could not understand?
  • What jargon does your worship team need to translate?
  • What jargon do your pastors need to lose in their platform moments?
  • Where is the tension lost for an outsider? When is it most gripping?
  • Does your preaching present a clear and simple vision?

We also love that this sermon comes to you at a time we hope you may be planning out your Summer sermon series. A twice-a-year sermon planning retreat in July/August and January/February is an often cited strategy for preaching longevity and sustainability.

Review by Elyse Garverick with David Ward


Preacher: Stacy Shaw
Sermon Title: The Part We Play
Sermon Link: (audio)

Stacy ShawPart of what we have done over the last year at Wesleyan Sermons is to include sermons from preachers you may not think of immediately. Often the senior pastors of the largest congregations get the most footprint. There is reason for this, many times they are consistently very good preachers. There are other good preachers however with different callings from whom we can learn. Stacy Shaw is the Student Ministries Pastor at Victory Highway Wesleyan Church in Painted Post, NY. Her student ministry is vibrant, growing, evangelistic, and one of the reasons is her focus on preaching.  Here are a few things we think preachers can learn from her:

Don’t be the hero.

Step into the pulpit, and many in the room will automatically view you as the authority. The weight that a preacher carries into her pulpit is powerful and must be stewarded with boldness, confidence, and humility. Pastor Stacy does exactly this. She was not the hero of her story. Her message wasn’t, “Look at how I’ve done this right.”  When the story you tell makes you the hero, you do not allow room for people to see how God has moved on your behalf and you appear cocky. You risk losing your audience, or making people believe that you have it all together. Stacy’s first story was about a time when she had taken marker to a wall in her childhood basement. This was a lighthearted story, to be sure, but it did not make her the hero. She continued this trend throughout her sermon; while she speaks with authority, she does not pretend that she has this all figure out. She’s confident, but not arrogant. She’s humble, but not insecure.

Encourage proper reading.

Preaching is not only a presentation of the Word. Good preaching also teaches your congregation how to better read and study Scripture for themselves. Pastor Stacy implicitly encouraged us to read stories in context, peek at the original language of the text, and give due attention to detail by doing so herself. One example of this is her attention to where the story of the bleeding woman lies. This woman’s story is not told as a solitary story, but right in the middle of another.  “And her story is so beautiful, but it should never be read alone. It happens in the middle of a man named Jairus’ story — this wealthy, influential, religious leader.” These stories aren’t accidentally thrown together. The fact that they are told together changes the way we interpret these two stories. It is examples like this that indirectly inform our congregation how to read Scripture not just while they sit in the pews, but when they read Scripture on their own.

Educate yourself on prayer.

Pastor Stacy Shaw is not content to spoon-feed her congregation a list of prayers to pray. Instead she encourages her congregation to educate themselves on prayer. I believe this is one of the best gifts a preacher can give her congregation. She does give some helpful instruction on how to pray; she has not left us in the dark. But towards the end of her sermon she confesses and pleads, “I have thirty minutes with you. It’s a tip of the iceberg type of sermon. There is so much more for you to learn about prayer.” She knows that a thirty-minute sermon is not enough to inform her people about prayer. Instead, they should go and educate themselves on prayer as well; they must continue the work that God has started in these thirty minutes.

Avoid self stories.

Telling stories about ourselves from the pulpit can be good and helpful, especially when we don’t make ourselves out to be the hero. However, when we perpetually tell stories about ourselves from the pulpit, even if we aren’t the hero, our sermons begin to sound a little self-centered and makes the Gospel look small. On the other hand, when we tell the stories of others, we invite people to imagine and experience God in contexts and circumstances that are not our own. We begin to understand that God’s work is wider and more wonderful than we could have imagined than if we insist on merely telling our own stories.

How do you talk about interpretation of Scripture?

You have spent time studying the Word. You believe you understand the message of the passage and what God might have to say about it for your context this week. Your work is far from finished. You must now begin to think about how you will talk about the process. How did you work your way through this passage? Obviously, you cannot adequately explain the entire process. So much of this happens in our minds over the long haul of sermon preparation and is difficult to parse. Yet small demonstrations and explanations of how to read, how to study, and how to interpret over time add up.

Encourage education.

As a part of your charge to your congregation, encourage them to continue seeking some of their own learning. There are a hundred ways to do this. Give them a list of books they can read. Encourage them to seek out helpful exploratory tools, like an emotional IQ (EQ) test. Suggest that they seek out a counselor or spiritual director. Celebrate the ongoing process of learning and personal and spiritual growth.

Sermon Review: Amanda Drury, An Other Greatness

Preacher: Dr. Amanda Drury

Sermon Title: An Other Greatness

Sermon Link:

Amanda Drury is a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and widely received as a highly gifted preacher. Her teaching and preaching ministry crosses cultural, geographical, and denominational boundaries. From time to time, though, she preaches at her home church, College Wesleyan. Her preaching is fresh and calls us to new levels of obedience as we consider the dignity and value that Christ places on our children. We can learn from her in any number of ways, but here are a few.

The Gospel she preaches is counter-cultural.

Sometimes God’s Word is exactly what we want and need to hear. We are loved. God is faithful. God is our shield. God hears us when we pray. All of this is true and of course important to redeeming the image of God in us. Yet sometimes Jesus says things like “blessed are the meek,” or “you should forgive not seven, but seventy-seven times.” Sometimes Jesus steps on our toes. He embraces the sinner we despise. He validates the worshiper we would like to keep out. He ignores the rule we hold most dear. The Gospel is not always easy to hear. Yet it is always good news for those who have ears to hear.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

“Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Dr. Drury knocks on the door of our private board meeting and asks the room if we will allow a child to enter and speak at the table. While this Gospel is counter-cultural, it’s still good news. God loves and values children as whole persons, whereas we often patronize their thoughts and desires. This God is gracious and kind to those whom the world would push aside. We do sometimes need to preach things the practically minded adults will say seem ridiculous.

The Gospel calls for engagement (and sometimes it is even fun).

Dr. Drury engaged the congregation with a fun exercise. The Mosquito Tone is a series of sounds, Amanda tells us, that only the young can hear. The second tone could only be heard by those 49 and under. The next can only be heard by those 30 and under. The last can only be heard by those 18 and under. And, of course, we all wanted to know if this was really going to work; this is fascinating stuff. “Can you hear that?” Amanda asked. . Dr. Drury engaged the congregation with an exercise that asked for (but did not demand) participation. That exercise was critical in helping us understand this portion of the Gospel. You have to watch the sermon video to experience it. There are things that children can hear from God that perhaps, as we grow old, we cannot hear. The engagement of the congregation was clear, and it was fun!

The Gospel is fresh.

Often the texts and concepts we preach are familiar. They should be, we have studied long and hard to become biblically literate and theologically well rounded. At other times the topic or the text or the doctrine is relatively new to the preacher. Either way, the challenge is to keep the gospel fresh for the listener so that the gospel is news not just good. This passage before might be one we avoid because it is difficult to hear, and difficult to understand. But preaching a fresh message does not only mean talking from a less common passage. Giving a fresh Word means the preacher has leaned in to listen to what the Holy Spirit says. God has given the preacher a Word for this season, this day, this congregation.

How can we follow Amanda in faithfully communicating the Word in a way that makes sense to our hearers today?

  1. Embrace the counter-cultural nature of the Gospel.

You don’t need to look long or far to find aspects of Scripture that are counter-cultural. What aspect of your passage for next week makes little sense in the eyes of the world? What part of the passage honestly does not make sense to you at first? Are you asking your people to have faith in that which is unseen? To give generously when the world’s tendency is to hoard and protect wealth? We embrace the counter-cultural nature of the Gospel because we first belong to God; the nature of our fallen world means that God’s way often is different than what seems natural in our world. We belong to a higher kingdom. When you land on which aspect of your message is counter-cultural, then ask: why is this good news? The Gospel is always good news. It may be counter-cultural; it may be difficult to hear and live. But the Gospel is always good news. If it remains shaming, condescending, judging or pressure-filled the gospel has not yet been re-released. How does your sermon run cross grain to the cultural tendencies you have? How can God’s alternative way be good for you and those you serve?

  1. Ask them to participate.

The more we study the Word of God (and preach it), the more we find that it is even more captivating than we first thought. God continually surprises us, why shouldn’t the scriptures do the same? How can you engage your congregation in an active, participatory way this Sunday? This should not be complicated or gimmicky. Beware the forced participation that causes many to groan. Dr. Drury’s example is audio. Silence can be engaging as well however. A break in the sermon for reflective thought, journaling in the bulletin, or simple prayer can engage the listener making them more than mere listener.

  1. Face a new passage head-on.

As you read Scripture personally, do you ever come across a passage that intimidates you? One that follows you around, rubs you the wrong way, or one you just cannot figure out? Take time this week to begin to engage a text like that. Ask questions. Make observations. Begin your process of studying that passage. Don’t preach on it right away. Take time to learn from it yourself. In a few months, preach that passage. This is a great way to begin to incorporate lesser-known (but still important) passages of Scripture. Allow the time. Don’t be afraid. And keep a lookout for the Holy Spirit’s subtle ways of communicating. Remember a fresh Word isn’t just about coming up with something to say—a fresh Word comes from the Holy Spirit alone.

Sermon Review: Amy Biegel, This Is Me

Preacher: Amy Biegel

Sermon Link:

Sermon Title: This Is Me

Amy Biegel is the children’s pastor at The River Church in Marion, IN. In a recent series, The River communicated truths of the Gospel that can be found in the movie The Greatest Showman. Though at times, movie series such as this can feel like a little bit of a stretch to remain faithful to Scripture, Amy communicated the truth she found in The Greatest Showman in a way that was faithful to God’s character and faithful to the message of the text (John 4). She also communicates the truth of the Gospel with a peaceful conviction that we can all aspire to.

A movie series done well.

We didn’t listen to every sermon in this series. Still the message of God showing up in the middle of the Samaritan woman’s less-than-perfect life correlated well with the story being told in The Greatest Showman. A series on movies’ has its greatest danger in the nature of the series. it is a series based on cultural reference points. Those cultural reference points can become so dominant that the counter-cultural nature of the gospel is submerged. Worse, the message of the movie can become the primary message and the scriptures the assisting voice. Certain movies lend themselves to the message of the Gospel in more direct and concrete ways. The classic example might be Les Miserables. Others provide more temptation to the preacher to submerge scriptures and theological concerns to cultural connection. If we’re going to do a movie series, it ought to feel unforced and correlate well with the text being used. We never want to force a text to match a movie. Amy did a great job of bringing these two together— the story of Leti helped us understand the Samaritan woman in a new and fresh way. The Greatest Showman and the story of the woman at the well together lead us to the intersection where we ask what God might be saying to us on this day.

Intersection— three stories.

One word Amy used to describe where we were going over the course of this sermon was an ‘intersection’ of three stories— our story, the story of the woman at the well, and the story of The Greatest Showman. By the end of the sermon I clearly understood where these three stories intersected. She didn’t leave me a mile up the road from reality, there was no need to hitchhike or translate her words into the present day. She brought us directly into the intersection and  then asked us how God might have us to respond. This image of the intersection is not only one that’s helpful for understanding this sermon, but one that’s helpful for us as preachers to consider for future messages.

She stayed at the intersection for several minutes.

The end to this sermon was much more than a half-baked prayer— she spent several minutes at the end interceding for those who might respond to this Word. “Lord, you are speaking and may these people be faithful to what you have been saying to them.” Amy took the time to convey the importance of the moment— the importance of taking time to respond to the Word of God. Because what is the Word of God if it’s not meant to be lived?

How might we implement some of Amy’s helpful practices?

  1. Consider a series based on story.

Film is one of our world’s favorite ways to tell stories. Many people in your congregation connect deeply with the characters and stories they see told on the screen. If you have never tried a movie series, perhaps now is a good time to start brainstorming! As with any other sermon, this is not something that can be whipped up quickly— this takes considerable time, planning, and thought. Not just any movie should be used, and not just any text will fit any movie. What movies have you seen that are congregation-appropriate and tell a compelling story (or have a particularly compelling character)? Or perhaps if you’re not a movie buff, you could do the same with a book series. Once you have a few movies in mind, consider starting a vision board for a movie series. Ask yourself if this story lends itself to one sermon or several.  Ask yourself what section of Scripture might resonate well with the themes of the movie. Then re-interpret the movies according to scripture rather than the other way around. To ensure a better theological priority – find passages or Christian themes first, then look for the movies that resonate.

  1. Ask where the intersection lies.

When we preach, we spend a considerable amount of time digging around in the text, asking good questions, observing what the text says and how it communicates that. We study, ask more questions, consult commentaries and wise friends. As we study, we also attempt to ask how this very old Scripture reaches out of its own context to talk to our present reality.  Most preachers are better at one than the other. Some speak eloquently about present realities, while others seem to have more finesse in storytelling from biblical reality.  As you consider your next sermon, ask yourself where the intersection lies. Where does the text meet today’s reality? And how can you help your people get there?

  1. Stay at the intersection.

One age-old practice of preaching, a pause for pastoral prayer inspired by the sermon, has diminished in use over the last fifty years. Consider allowing time and space to pray over your people during the sermon? Spend several minutes prayerfully petitioning God to move on behalf of your people. Because as much as this proclaimed word matters, the One who has been speaking to them long before we ever showed up matters more.

SERMON: The Next Wrong Thing | Ethan Linder


(Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Ethan Linder College Wesleyan ChurchEthan Linder is the College/Young Adults and Connections Pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, IN– a church that desires to send more and better disciples of Jesus Christ into the world. Pastor Ethan delivers weighty truth with playful precision. This is a difficult balance that we are excited to explore with you. Here are a few of the categories of the mix we enjoyed in Ethan’s sermon:



“The rich can’t buy it with their riches any more than the poor can buy it with their poverty….”

Any of us can improve the way we craft phrases as we write our sermons.  There are many standard suggestions to help preachers do this: examine the works of more seasoned authors, pore over our favorite narratives to discover how the story is told, practice regular writing even in journal form. The truth is some are more naturally gifted at this work. We all know good craftsmanship when we hear it. But word smithing is not as simple as writing phrases that sound smooth in our ears. Good word smithing cleans our glasses to increase our vision.

As you listen to the sermon, look for this quote and hear how it hits the ear, the mind, and the mind’s eye: “[I] wonder if the message of this text is that the kingdom of God is God’s gift to give to whom he chooses. The rich can’t buy it with their riches any more than the poor can buy it with their poverty. All that’s necessary is that you have hands that are free to receive it.” These few sentences employ imagery and action verbs to work against the gravity of our wealth and earthly concerns. It also works against a works righteousness created by glorifying poverty. In this moment, we are directed to lift our eyes to this sovereign Teacher who calls us to receive a gift infinitely superior to the bondage of hoarded wealth.

Pastor Ethan also believes that it is good to glean from other gifted wordsmiths. Barbara Brown Taylor’s quote, “Sometimes the opposite of rich isn’t ‘poor,’ it’s ‘free,’ is a well-crafted, one-two-punch. It instantaneously takes our preconceived notions about riches and our plans for them and replaces those notions with true wisdom about who God is and what God offers beyond this surrendered act. He could not say it much better, so he quoted someone who said it best.


“It wasn’t obedience that was [the rich young ruler’s] problem. It was values.”  

There are four core virtues to preaching celebrated across Christian history: humility, empathy, wisdom, and justice. These make up the way we love our neighbor through preaching. This particular sermon is a good example of the importance of empathy. It impacts not only how we say what we say, but it impacts our interpretation of Scripture, ourselves, and our world. Pastor Ethan lets empathy inform his knowledge of the rich young ruler and of his congregation. Instead of oversimplifying, Ethan takes us beyond the ‘buck up, buttercup’ gospel that we often tell. These sermons often sound something like, “The rich young ruler just needed to obey.” Instead, he offers, “Perhaps obedience isn’t his problem; perhaps the rich young ruler’s values are the problem.” Instead of remaining in the abstract, Pastor Ethan offers a parable that is well-suited for his context– the story of Robert, a young man born into a Midwestern farming family. In both of these things, Pastor Ethan moves from surface-level judgment to cause us to ask deeper, more personal questions. What motivates the rich young ruler and, consequently, Robert? What are their desires, hopes, fears?


 The Parable of the Rich Young… Farmer.  

Human pathos is propelled to action not by platitudes and principles but by characters and narrative. I think most of us would agree that our illustrations serve (hopefully) as so much more than a time-filler. They expand on principles and Scriptural truth in ways that our words might otherwise fail. Pictures are worth more than a thousand words. Character identification is one of the most powerful functions of the parable. Ethan matches parable with parable, ancient and contemporary, and helps us identify with the story in new ways.

Once you’ve found a story worth telling, how will you tell it? Sometimes, the creation of a parable can be a great way to work out the kinks in our own understanding of a text. And if it’s helpful for you, the preacher, then perhaps it could be helpful for your congregation as well. Pastor Ethan’s parable about Robert hits close to home for all of us as he uncovers Robert’s hopes, fears, desires. Robert wanted to do the right things. Robert wanted a good life. As we hear Robert’s story, we slowly ease into to the idea that we are very much like Robert. We empathize with him. We understand him. From there, it’s not a far cry to realize that though we wouldn’t have admitted it at first, we are also very much like this rich young ruler.

This playful precision that Pastor Ethan speaks with is a difficult balance to find, but there are always steps we can take to grow in this discipline.

  1. Sharpen your focus statement.

How can you deliver your focus statement so that, like a well-tended sword, it cuts to the very heart of that one truth you want people to hear? Take your focus statement (the one thing  you want people to leave your sermon remembering) and spend no less than thirty minutes on just your focus statement.

Turn it over and over in your mind. Chew on it. Knead it. Bounce it off the walls or off your nearest friend. Employ action verbs. Try your hand at metaphors. Eliminate filler words. And be sure to keep it short. Less is usually more. This takes practice, but it pays off in clarity. Clear sermons create more life change.

  1. Engage with empathy.

Just as you cannot love God without obedience, you cannot increase your capacity for empathy without spending time with people. When you find yourself frustrated with a person, consider why she/he might act that way. Find motivations you can appreciate and understand even if the action is frustrating or unhealthy.  We do not want to project or assume, but think about what’s happening in their life Has work been frustrating this week? Does home feel out of control? Is he/she simply having an off day? Or is it possible that I’m projecting my own insecurities onto this person in front of me. Empathy also requires that we do not trip over our own emotions on our way to understanding others? Sometimes you should keep the question to yourself, but always ask why.

  1. Learn from the best.

“I am no storyteller,” may be the words on your mind right now.  Sure, you might not be C.S. Lewis or Madeleine L’Engle. Still the first words they ever penned were not the final drafts. Like any discipline, good storytelling takes practice. Do not count yourself out before you start.

Here is more fun way to grow in this avenue of preaching. Choose a movie or book that you have wanted to read/watch for a long time. That neglected story can be this week’s growth work. Watch your movie. Read your book. Enjoy it simply for what it is. When you are done, think back. What made this story compelling (or not)? Were the characters three-dimensional? What moved the plot forward? Humor? A relationship triangle? A villainous plan that needed stopped no matter the cost? Which details were helpful and why? What made the story really sing.

When you’ve studied your text for your next sermon, ask yourself: What story might I tell (whether it’s one you’ve created or someone else’s that you’ll cite) that will BEST illustrate this text? And based on my new storytelling knowledge ideas, how can I tell that story in such a way that it is both faithful to the text and compelling?


~ Dave Ward with Elyse Garverick

SERMON: Different, Week 3 | Jon Bell


(Can’t view the video? Click here.)

Jon Bell Impact Wesleyan ChurchJon Bell is the Community Life Pastor at Impact Church in Lowell, MI. Impact Church wants their people take that one “next step in their relationship with Jesus,” and Pastor Jon’s preaching is a mirror reflection of this shepherding mentality. The following are three aspects we noted about Jon’s preaching that are worth emulating.


  1. Unveil dissonance.

Stop doing all of the work of creating dissonance– we all experience dissonance in our attempts to live the Gospel (through our failures) and in our relationships with others (through our flaws and fights). Preachers don’t need to create dissonance. We do, however, need to name it and explore it. The problem is not always knowing what Scripture says. Though at times, in our increasingly secular society that is a challenge for preachers. Christians’ problem more often is knowing how to know what scriptures meant in context, correctly discern God’s character through them, and as faithfully as we can in our own context. Dissonance is already present– the question is where.

It is twice as important to unveil dissonance when your text centers on a conflict. An outsider listener might not understand why Jon took the time to lead the congregation in his ‘This or That’ game. As you listen you might wonder where it is going as well. Chocolate or vanilla? Film or book? Coke or Pepsi? It all seemed pretty frivolous. Then the weight of the conflict hit us with significant force. It was a strong contrast with the lighthearted beginning as pastor John asks:

“Democrat or Republican?”

  1. Zoom out. — “When I look at this text and I read, ‘sometime later Paul said to Barnabas,’ I immediately ask myself the question: Who is Paul and who is Barnabas? What’s their story?”

In week-to-week preparation of messages, preachers can run the risk of a smudged nose. We have put our faces so close to the immediate biblical passage that we have lost what is happening in the larger narrative. We can parse Hebrew or Greek verbs, talk about the movement of action within those few verses, draw word pictures about the characters—all of these are helpful study tools. Still, if we focus on exegetical details to the detriment of the big picture, then the listener is missing out on something the preacher assumes. Doing so also increases the risk of moralistic preaching— boiling down Scripture to concentrated shoulds and ought tos. Scripture can and does teach us about how to be moral people. Yet the Word also demands we pay attention to the larger God story happening in the surrounding chapters and in the rest of the book. The primary aim of scripture is always theological. The anthropological emerges from the theological. What we discern about the larger picture of God’s character, God’s actions, God’s intentions, and God’s motivations is necessary for us to talk about our own motivation, intention, action, and character.

Jon zooms out by telling us the story of Barnabas and Paul. In the process he tells us where their relationship started, how it progressed, and the circumstances from which their conflict stemmed (their disagreement about Mark). A message that could have ended with a simple ‘how-to’ list of principles regarding conflict instead grew into a message that captivated our intellect, emotions, and will into the result. While Jon did offer practical advice on dealing with conflict, we were far better placed to understand and engage conflict based on the context he provided.

  1. Healthy Vulnerability. “What we were fighting for with harmony really landed us in … artificial harmony.”

Vulnerability is difficult to balance as a life discipline, and even more difficult to master as a preaching practice. Pastor Jon volunteers a healthy amount of vulnerability. He provides concrete examples of his own struggles with conflict (even within his marriage) without stepping over the line into over-sharing. Congregations need to know that their preachers are people, too. Vulnerability is a useful tool for kicking off a positive cycle of healthy sharing and receiving. It needs to have proper boundaries and healthy balance. If people know that you, the preacher, have shortcomings, perhaps they will be more freely share their own struggles and vices. If the preacher seems to have too many failings, or share too many personal details, the listener feels the pastor needs cared for, tended to, or at times ‘fixed.’

Shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. … The level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.” We should not offer the same amount of vulnerability in a public preaching setting as we can with our closest friends and confidantes. That would be unwise and would promote unhealthy levels of vulnerability in all parties involved. However, to avoid vulnerability in the pulpit is a price we cannot afford to pay. It distances the preacher, alienates the listener, and cuts down powerful avenues for the spirit to make power perfect in weakness.

How can we put into practice what we learn from Pastor Jon?

  1. Ask yourself: where does the dissonance already exist? You don’t need to create it— it is already there. Sometimes the dissonance is right there in the text and sometimes it occurs later in our attempts to practice and live the truth. When you discover where the dissonance (that may take some time), ask yourself how you can unveil it in such a way so that the room can feel that weight. What is difficult to understand? What is difficult to believe? Why if we understand and believe, is it difficult to live? How can the gospel in this biblical passage free us to live faithfully?
  2. Read the whole book all at once, out loud, no stops. This is not something a pastor can do every week, even perhaps every month. It is something many seminaries and bible colleges suggest to their students for very good reason. Reading the entire book anchors your text verbally in your mind. Scriptures were meant to be read aloud. It also gives you a much greater sense of the book’s themes, overall movement, tone, and context. You’ll see things you have not before with piecemeal readings of a chapter at a time. There is nothing wrong with reading books this way, but to achieve a sense of the whole book, to be able to zoom our from your text and grasp what the author is getting at through the whole book is an opportunity you won’t be able to turn down once you’ve done it. Especially when you do a preaching series on a biblical book, read the entire book out loud if you can. If it’s Isaiah or other such long books, break it down into as large a portion as you feel you can handle.
  3. Practice outside the pulpit. The ability to have healthy vulnerability in the pulpit starts first in our interpersonal relationships. Your capacity for healthy vulnerability can only increase as you are willing to experience openness in your relationships with spouse, friends, family, mentors, etc. Be willing to share your struggles, questions, and sins with those you trust. Have good boundaries, of course, but by all means do share your self. Who is the safest person in your life? What face comes to mind? Open a text message or email right now and ask them for coffee or breakfast. Determine to take one small step forward in vulnerability with them this week.

~ Dave Ward with Elyse Garverick

SERMON: Who Owns It by Gina Coburn

Preacher: Gina Colburn

Sermon Title: Who Owns It?

Sermon Link:

Gina ColburnGina Colburn is the lead pastor of Trinity Wesleyan Church in Wescosville, PA. She preaches with optimism and authority.  This particular sermon addresses every preacher’s favorite topic– money. Every pastor knows learning to navigate such a touchy topic with grace and finesse is both skill and art.

Admit corporate guilt.

We do not always like to admit how often preachers have spoken in ways more harmful than helpful on tough topics such as money. Some preachers believe admitting this in the pulpit is to jackhammer any foundational credibility we enter the pulpit with. Who will listen if we admit defeat from the start? There are times preachers have to confess others preachers’ sins in order to gain a hearing. Everyone has heard stories of how money was mismanaged and minds were manipulated in individual churches. Some of the men and women in our pews have been wounded as a direct result of someone else’s preaching on money. Pastor Gina acknowledges previous bias against the church as a way of helping the listener feel heard, understood, and disarmed by honesty. It signals to the listener, “You may have been misused before, this sermon will not repeat that.”

Keep it light.

We take ourselves seriously, we take our Bible seriously, we take Jesus seriously. Some of that seriousness is good and necessary, but it can make the sermon moment (and life in general) feel like a weight to carry instead of a key that looses. The presence of humor does not mean the absence of gravity. Usually the best humor comes unforced, almost as a surprise to both the preacher and the congregation. Do not force it, but let humor come. Homiletician Fred Craddock writes in As One Without Authority that, “only the true and meaningful can provide the leverage necessary for laughter” (74). Secular comedian David Spade once said he does not try to “say something funny.” Instead he tries to “say something true” in a new way. Then as people laugh they will say to themselves, “you know that is so true.” It seems that serious topics (like money) not only demand humor for a sense of relief, but they often lend themselves to laughter.

Responsibility and Receiving.

“I want this for you, not from you.”

It’s easy in sermon moments for the preacher to ask much from their people. After all, the gospel does require sacrifice. Relentlessly asking for great sacrifice week after week makes for quick easy climaxes to our sermons and doing so even seems to lift the religious egos of some more fragile preachers. However, in asking our people to rise up and live the Gospel, we must remember that God has things in store for us; God doesn’t merely want things from us. I know no better news than this. Pastor Gina doesn’t leave us wondering if it’s time to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. She tells us very clearly that yes, we must act, we must live as responsible stewards. She also adds that God wants this for us. She asks two questions throughout her sermon and both determine how we answer the call to be good stewards.

She doesn’t only ask, “Can God trust me?”, leaving us to wonder alone what we’re going to give to God. She also asks, “Can I trust God?”, leaving us to ask, “do I believe that this God has good in store for me?”

What might you put into practice here the next time you preach?

  1. No, OneRepublic, it’s not too late to apologize.

Some sermons are easier to preach than others, aren’t they? I love sharing with people about how God changes my heart and my life, I love conveying the hope of transformation in Jesus Christ. Other sermons induce a little more anxiety in preparation and delivery. When talking about money, I’m conscious of all the ways in the past I’ve heard this done badly. I’m hyper-aware of the ways in which this conversation can quickly become manipulative and weird, and, frankly, of what people will say in the foyer aftewards — even if God starts speaking and/or this conversation is done well. While we don’t need to lean into those fears, I do think we’re wise to be aware of the reality that some of our congregation has been wounded by conversations like this in the past. Perhaps both the businesswoman on your left and the poor woman on your right have both been hurt by money sermons gone badly in the past. You’ll help them hang in there for the journey if you acknowledge that this topic doesn’t always get discussed well. Next time you bridge a difficult topic with your congregation (trust me, you’ll know it in preparation when you’re having one of those sermons), perhaps you’ll feel the need to acknowledge sermons gone badly– whether they were your own or those in the Church at large.

  1. Let them laugh.

Straining for humor is no fun for the speaker or the listener. Humor rising naturally from your content helps lift the room a little. Pastors are not required to be comedians. It is helpful if we can let our congregation laugh. We’re not looking for a laugh for a laugh’s sake, but we certainly want to allow people a breath in the midst of the sermon. Humor is a natural part of our everyday conversations we have with friends. To refuse to allow it into the sermon moment leaves the message feeling forced, like we’re asking people to hold their breath until the end when ordinary life can resume. Not only does that make for a boring sermon, but it sets the sermon apart in way that divorces it from ordinary life. Let a laugh in. Your people will thank you for it.

  1. Balance respond and receive.

In any sermon we preach, it’s helpful and faithful to try to help your congregation find a middle ground between receiving and responsibility— the knowledge that while we must act and cooperate with God’s work in our lives, that we also receive more from the Lord than we can begin to imagine. We have responsibility, yes, but we must also be people who know how to receive from the Lord. The next time you preach, ask yourself this question: Where am I asking my people to act? And am I balancing that with reminder after reminder that God extends His hands in abundant grace to help us do that which He has called us to do?

Dave Ward and Elyse Garverick






SERMON: Simplify Your Mind by Phill Tague

Preacher: Phill Tague

Sermon Title: Simplify Your Mind

Sermon Link:

Phil Tague RansomPhill Tague is the lead pastor at The Ransom Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He’s a preacher who seems to see clearly both the reality of Scripture and how that impacts the realities of our time. This is one such sermon.

  1. Leave it unfinished.

There’s nothing worse than the feeling that your sermon is unfinished. Preachers often find themselves on Saturday wishing they had another hour to develop that last point a little more, or to craft an power packed conclusion instead of the average close they have in mind. This isn’t the kind of “unfinished” we mean. Sometimes a preacher can wrap a sermon so well the preacher has done most of the work. The congregation is left feeling like there isn’t much for them to do. It is satisfying just as it is. “That was a good sermon wasn’t it?”

Phill Tague doesn’t do that here. We hope you will feel as we did after listening to his sermon, simultaneously unsettled and grateful. Pastor Tague depicts a clear gap between the prayerful simple lives we can have and the uncomfortable actuality of our frantic minds. He does not pat us on the back at the end and resolve the tension. A good preacher knows to leave some of the work for the congregation to do; the hard work does not both begin and end in the pulpit. Here Craddock writes specifically about imagery, but the concept applies to the creation of the whole sermon. “Effective words are set in silence, during which time the hearers speak. The real sermon is the product of all that is contributed by both speaker and listeners during their time together.” Tague chooses to the sermon with a challenge to look for God wholeheartedly, a spurring on to continued perseverance, rather than setting us in for a Sunday afternoon nap.

  1. Interpret Scripture, Interpret Our Times.

We have all heard a number of preachers mention smartphones as a distraction to our spirituality. Sermons nearly entirely devoted to this specific device and it’s distractions are much more rare. Pastor Tague gives careful social critique while making it visually clear. The difference between a family at dinner with devices and a family without devices is striking for the average North American listener. The listener has no trouble seeing the sermon and it’s affect in their ordinary lives. It is important for a preacher to talk about Scripture in a way that makes sense for our time. If the word you’re giving does not make sense for right now then all the eloquence in the world will not be able to bring the sermon home.

  1. Get specific.

“The preacher was inside my head this morning.” Have you ever heard someone say something like that? Details serve many purposes. One of those is to help people relate on a much more personal level to scripture, examples, metaphors, and the general aim of the sermon.  “The coworker left,” is grammatically fine. But it does not paint a picture. We can not imagine the scene without having to fill in a lot of blanks. Instead, “The frustrated coworker sulked across the office away from my office door.” Instead of imagining a generic coworker moving in an aimless direction away from an unknown location, we can see the coworker’s attitude and pouting expression. How will you help people see what you’re speaking? “The minister says, ‘all people are mortal’ and meets drowsy agreement; he announces that ‘Mr. Brown’s son is dying,’ and the church becomes the church.” (Craddock, 51).

Pastor Tague is an effective and passionate communicator, presenting Scriptural truth clearly and in a way that’s very relevant for our time. What are a few things we can practice this week to continue in growing as preachers of the good news of Jesus Christ?

Entrust listeners with the end.

Where have you created tension that they must resolve with God? The tension will hopefully be created throughout the sermon; at the end, are you tempted to resolve the tension? We want to leave people hopeful, of course. But we wouldn’t be good pastors if we did the work for them. If you are tempted to tie up your sermon with a tidy bow to soften the blow, try leaving it unwrapped a little. How will they continue the work you have begun from the pulpit?

Look at our times.

You don’t have to look far to begin to understand what might be keeping some of your people up at night. In fact, you could just open another tab right now and go to your Facebook page. Their posts and likes are not their true selves and inner wrestlings, but they are clues pointing the way. What is worrying your people? What is giving them hope? Take some time this week to deepen your understanding of your listener’s concerns and questions. Listen intently in pastoral counseling sessions, pastoral care, discipleship conversations, and mentoring moments. What are the patterns that emerge?

Be specific.

We may speak intelligently without anyone hearing what we say. We may speak truth, but that doesn’t mean it will stick. If we are too vague with where God meets us or to whom God wants to speak, we can become an obstacle for people to overcome in hearing God. Being specific and providing details serve the great purpose of allowing people to be able to relate on a personal level to what you’re saying and what the Holy Spirit wants to say to them. How are you using details to make concrete that which is abstract?

Skim through your sermon and find a few sentences that sound highly theological. What follows that sentence that helps people to understand that on the ground level?

Our people do not live in the clouds of abstract thought (and neither do we). We live on the ground, where theology must be practical and truth must be spoken in a way to which ordinary people can easily connect. Make it concrete. Make it specific.