The Will of God – Dr. Elaine Bernius

Sermon: The Will of God

Sermon Link:

elaine.berniusPreacher: Dr. Elaine Bernius is a beloved Professor of Old Testament at Indiana Wesleyan University and an ordained minister. She is one of the most respected leaders of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana Wesleyan, a parent of 3 young children, and an author of biblical commentaries.

Here at, we feature preachers because they demonstrate replication-worthy perspectives. We highlighted this sermon because Dr. Bernius shows us that:

Tragedy and Comedy Work Together: Dr. Bernius begins her sermon by describing the plot line of action-adventure movies, and concludes her sermon by discussing an occurrence at her mother’s funeral. By taking the congregation through this emotional journey, Elaine subtly reminds us (even in her delivery) of emotional highs and lows emerging from faithful living. She makes us laugh about our usual conception of God’s will and cry about the impact of a life well-lived. Great preaching helps us recognize how God’s work inhabits a range of emotions. This emotional ride in some ways reminds us of Frederick Beuchner’s reflection on tragedy and comedy in his much-beloved book Telling the Truth in which the metaphors of comedy, tragedy, and fairy tales are used to understand the gospel better.

Descriptions are Colorful: “He’s gotta figure it out because if he steps on the wrong one, he falls into the bottomless pit, or the poison arrow darts come and kill him, and he never gets to that thing he’s going to. That scene could totally be a picture of God’s plan in our lives. I think we could even go to the Bible and see how that works.”

From her very first sentence, Dr. Bernius beckons us into a landscape of adventure, tension, and difficult decisions. Our minds race as we consider Indiana Jones’ adventure across a grid, or Harry Potter’s perilous steps around Hogwarts. Because Dr. Bernius includes thick descriptions in her message, the congregation not only hears what she’s saying… we feel it. This sermon doesn’t have a video attachment, but Bernius’ descriptions provide a rich enough backdrop to help the sermon “stick” in our minds. Great preaching “sets the stage” by using artful form to augment excellent content.

When I (Dave) was teaching preaching at Princeton, I taught a beginning sermon delivery workshop. My mentors in teaching preaching asked me to challenge the preachers to deliver a sermon with only words: no video, no images, no props. The challenge was to paint a picture with words so well, that it created even more vivid images and emotions in the hearer than an actual picture would do. If a preacher can do that, the image or video or prop is not a crutch. It is an enrichment. Too many preachers use media as a crutch because they have not taken the time to paint with words.

The Familiar is Reexamined: “Esther got where she is out of circumstances completely outside her control. The evil plan of someone else was forced on her, and now she’s living a life she never would have chosen for herself. It’s like if you’re on the grid and all the sudden, a big giant sumo wrestler comes out of nowhere and knocks you off.. and you land on the wrong block; and that’s it—the floor drops out from under you. Decisions get made for me, I hit dead ends, I lose someone, I receive a diagnosis…. game over, end of story; I can’t get to the right place at the right time for that moment. If that’s our picture of God’s plan—that everything has to align—then how did Esther get there?”

Esther is not a straightforward story; but our renditions usually clean it up. Dr. Bernius artfully disentangles Esther from the flannel graph-laden misconceptions, implicating us in the process. What if we viewed Esther as a victim of sex trafficking rather than the winner of a beauty pageant? Dr. Bernius implicitly asks this question—reexamining a story we might have otherwise brushed over; noting Esther reminds us of God’s faithfulness in unchosen circumstances. By doing so, Dr. Bernius invites the congregation comes to grips with their misconceptions of the bible and relearn a better way of interpreting scripture. In the same way, our presentations of Scripture must avoid the cliche and delve into deeper (and unexamined) meanings of the text. Later in the sermon, Dr. Bernius does the same with our life interpretation, saying: “The circumstances of my life do not equal God’s plan for my life; and I think Esther can help us understand that.” Great preaching transcends the cliché and delves into the uncomfortable. Usually to get there, we have to recognize that we have taught this passage less-than-perfectly before, and practice repentance from our past interpretations.

Interpretations are Anticipated: “There’s one more thing I need to tell you about God’s plan: it’s happening right now. Relief and deliverance for this world was signed, sealed, and delivered in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And you can hear this as a ‘Better get on board, because this is happening with or without you,’ or you can hear that God’s plan is an open constant invitation.”

Words are open to interpretation; so are sermons. In our sermon preparation, we must design how we want to be interpreted; Elaine does this well. Before preaching this message, Dr. Bernius anticipated the congregation’s response. Instead of resigning herself to misinterpretation, she invites congregants to follow her in discovering the hope of the open invitation in God’s plan. This slight adjustment changes the congregation’s approach to her message, maintaining the tonal integrity of her message.

Great preaching attends to the hermeneutic of the hearer. How will the listener hear this message? How will they interpret it? What will be the tone they walk away with in their hearts? How can we focus them on the main form of the gospel, the good news in this message?

Sermons Facilitate Partnerships: “Esther lived into God’s plan for her life when she experienced relief and deliverance, but also when she brought it into the world—she became an agent of restoration–a bringer of relief and deliverance. God’s plan is for relief and deliverance… the details are where and how I’ll bring both relief and deliverance in this world. How will you bring deliverance to this world? Will you be bringing deliverance from disease, from oppression, from poverty, or despair, or ignorance, or hatred? When you do this, you are living God’s plan.”

God’s work is not finished.  He invites us to participate with our whole lives. Dr. Bernius mirrors this invitation—reminding the congregation of their responsibility to be carriers of the relief and deliverance they receive. Elaine asks a question: “How will you bring deliverance to this world?” In doing so, she reminds the audience of the dignity in their work as a partnership with God. Great preaching facilitates our work’s partnership with God’s work.

Application Exercises:

  1. Partner with Someone: Before you can preach the value of work, you may need to experience your listener’s context. In the next month, ask one congregation member if they could show you around their workplace. As they do, think of how differently you might preach if everyone in your congregation worked there. Journal about the experience particularly related to how your preaching can address that place, that work, that life. Shift your preaching in that direction one week.
  1. Use the (Emotional) Force: As you preach your next sermon, ask: “Does my sermon speak to those experiencing both joy and tragedy?” If not, adjust your sermon so it gives hope to the hurting and direction to the joyful.
  1. Assess Your Congregational Interpretation: While preparing your next sermon, ask: “How might my congregation misinterpret what I’m saying?” Try to anticipate their interpretation as you build your message. By anticipating it, redirect the misinterpretation to the good news.

By Ethan Linder and Dave Ward

The God of Our Losses – Ron Gormong

Sermon: The God of Our Losses

Sermon audio link:

Preacher: Ron Gormong has been the senior pastor of Spooner Wesleyan Church for over 25 years. Located in Spooner, Wisconsin, SWC is a thriving congregation known for their generosity and missional focus.

Sermon Review:

We feature sermons because they teach us to preach. Through careful listening, we learn both practices and perspectives. In this sermon, Gormong gives us a few of each. As you listen try to pay attention to both. Look for the things Ron does over and over that work, and listen for the perspectives he gives that open new avenues for your preaching.

In This Sermon, Ron Tells Us That:

  1. This Sermon’s For Now: “It’s amazing how quickly life can change. One moment all is fine–the next, the phone vibrates, the doorbell rings–and nothing is ever the same again.” Not every sermon needs immediate application; but when the church experiences loss, they need daily bread today. From introduction to application, Gormong’s sermon addresses the community’s deep pain: he even redirected his sermon series to address the loss in their community. Because Pastor Ron was attentive to his church (and to the Spirit), he adjusted his sermon to fit their circumstances. In doing so, Gormong shows Spooner Wesleyan that he’s listening, he’s attentive, and he feels their wounds. Empathy is an important factor in preaching and one of the central capacities every pastor needs to build.
  1. He’s Not the Hero: “I found myself alone in a new place–wondering if I could cut the mustard in a new career. I’d made that transition for God’s sake, and when I made the transition I thought He’d let me down. I started to wonder if I was a misfit for the ministry.” Congregations don’t need heroes; they need pastors. By only sharing our “wins,” we unwittingly leave our congregations disconnected from the cape-clad clergy. Gormong doesn’t. Rather than trying to be a spiritual Superman, he strives to be real. By sharing his pain, Gormong identifies himself with their wounds. Sometimes, pastors need to remind congregants: “It’s ok to not be ok.” That’s most effectively done by self-revelation of our “losses.” Gormong knows this, and demonstrates it well.
  1. Philosophy is Fair Game: “When you need to hear from heaven most, our God is strangely silent. And when we need Him to do something most, He appears to be sitting on His hands. So the question is this: ‘Is God all-powerful? And is God all-loving, as we claim Him to be?'” Most congregants aren’t taking philosophy classes; but they are (hopefully) listening to our sermons. Philosophy isn’t clad in ivory–it weeds its way into most aspects of our lives. Why not our churches? Gormong leverages the sermon to explore big questions. His inquiries aren’t mere questions of popular psychology; he ventures into the nature, essence, and conduct of God. And almost as importantly, Ron asks questions that regulate our relationship with God.
  1. Story is Important: Because Gormong’s a great storyteller, it’s tough to tell where story ends and sermon begins. Multiple stories weave into a harmonious tapestry; the narratives of Job and Peggy flow together to build a case for God’s presence in our sorrows–even when we don’t see Him there. Because Gormong’s stories are powerful, they help listeners remember the sermon long after it’s been preached. By weaving together Biblical narrative, modern examples, and personal experience, Gormong tells diverse stories that relate to the unified trajectory of His sermon.

Application Points:

  1. Discard the Cape: We don’t need to be heroes; we need to be pastors. Instead of setting ourselves up as sagely experts, our pastoral role requires us to be co-travellers. Our congregations expect to be vulnerable with us; and we should be appropriately vulnerable with them, too. As we prepare next Sunday’s sermon, let’s consider telling a story that illustrates our wrestling with the Gospel’s implications for our own lives.
  1. Clarify Your Stories: As homileticians, we can often begin our sermons with an introductory story that has nothing to do with the point of our message. Here’s why: we forget that the introduction is what some rhetoricians call a “verbal contract” with our listener. If your introductory story makes a promise, the sermon will have to fulfill it. So maybe it’s time to stop making promises we can’t keep. As we prepare next Sunday’s sermon, let’s think back to our last few sermons. Did we tell pointless stories? Are our stories building interest in our sermons, or in something completely unrelated? Before next Sunday, let’s clarify our stories.
  1. Listen Up: Let’s face it: ministry is one of the “blabbing professions.” We make a living by talking, leading, and casting vision. But if we’re going to be godly leaders, we need to quiet our hearts before God and others so we can hear what’s going on in our community. Think back to your last sermon series. Did it address a need in your congregation? Was it relevant to the season of your church? As we plan our next sermon series, let’s listen to the Spirit and the voices of our congregation. Together, they help us preach the Word more fully.

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Ethan Linder is a staff writer for A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is pursuing a Masters’ Degree in Christian Ministries from IWU, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies. 



Matt Leroy at Embrace

Preacher: Matt Leroy is the teaching pastor at Love Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Love Chapel Hill is known for recklessly loving their community—which includes the University of North Carolina right across the street. This sermon was preached at Embrace Church —a missional congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sermon Link:

Sermon Review:

Sermons teach us about a pastor’s presuppositions, paradigms, and practices. To hear them, we just need to listen carefully. During this sermon, Matt drops several principles we think are worth replicating. We’ve listed a few of them below.

Through This Sermon, Matt Teaches Us That:

  1. Posture Reflects Narrative: Excessive movement (like pacing the stage, roaming in the audience, or raising the arms over the head) invades the congregation’s psychological space. That’s not captivating; it’s intimidating. Matt moves with purpose. His stage presence reflects the sermon’s narrative. While making a point, he channels his energy into upper-body movement rather than pacing. As a result, listeners remain focused, attentive, and undistracted by needless gestures.
  1. Topic Parallels Tone: “You may be saying, ‘I’m covered in filth.’ Jesus is saying ‘I know it all… and this offer’s good for you.’” Matt’s tone reflects Jesus’ demeanor with the woman at the well. If tone and words send disparate messages, the congregation receives mixed signals. Leroy doesn’t leave confusion—he fosters harmony. When talking about the tension between Jews and Samaritans, Matt increases speaking pace. When discussing the brokenness of the woman at the well, Matt’s tone becomes correspondingly gentle. In delineating new hope in Jesus, Matt’s tone was victorious. The congregation isn’t left in a lurch; they’re left with a unified package of message, delivery, and application. Matt harmonized tone, message, and demeanor to deliver a sermon that delivers incarnational grace.
  1. Words are Instruments: “‘For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.’ There is a history of pain packed into that parentheses.’” Like a fine instrument, great phrases are works of craftsmanship. They’re built, honed, and tuned to perfection. Leroy’s sermon is the work of a craftsman. Matt prepared this sermon with “sticky” phrases that remain with the listener long after the sermon’s conclusion. As a result, the audience is enraptured with the content, direction, and application of Leroy’s message. Background context, subtle emotions, and cultural tensions become interesting when we spend time on crafting phrases that shed clarity on those areas. Leroy spends time tuning his sermons; when they’re delivered, they sing beautifully.
  1. Tension is OK: “My prayer is that your reputation as a church gets trashed because of how far you believe the grace of God is willing to go.” God’s plan can sometimes go against the grain of our values, leaving us with splinters. This sermon fights our values, too…and Matt doesn’t clear it up right away. Instead, he allows the congregation to go through the sermon thinking about an effective church with a trashed reputation. Tension is a great homiletical device. We don’t have to create tension; we just have to expose the discrepancy between God’s plan and our values (Gene Lowry, Homiletical Plot). Our application points help the congregation close that gap. Leroy does this masterfully, refraining to this statement: “Love has the courage to cross every line drawn by hate, and to climb every wall built by fear.” Because Leroy is comfortable with tension, the congregation sees the Gospel’s demands and their obstacles to fulfilling it. His application points ensure they can quickly begin surmounting those hurdles.

Application Exercises:

  1. Hone The Instrument: As we prepare this Sunday’s sermon, let’s focus on carefully crafting “sticky” phrases. We can try to think of creative ways to word your points; and don’t settle for alliteration (like Promise, Pursue, Practice). If we can get more creative with our wording, the congregation will lean into the content, background, and application of the sermon.
  2. Make Tension Productive: Sometimes, our sermons create the wrong kind of tension, because we don’t offer hope. Making tension to keep interest but failing to preach the good news is a shirking of our first and final duty, the gospel. This week, let’s build a sermon that analyzes the gap between our lives and the Gospel—then offer application that helps close the gap. And don’t make it simply “try harder.” We are doing what we can. Let’s help Christians live wiser, not keep trying harder.
  3. Move with Purpose: This Sunday, let’s commit to making our movements count. Unless our movement reflects the narrative, we do not need to move around platform. Instead, let’s commit to channeling our movement into upper-body motions that shed light on the biblical narrative. When we need to shift to bring in another part of the congregation, we should move there, plant our feet, and stay rooted for a time.

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Change – Ken Murphy

Preacher: Ken Murphy is the pastor of Cypress Wesleyan Church—a multi-site church near the Columbus, Ohio area. He is a gifted leader and a compelling communicator. One of the things we love most about Ken though, is his humble bearing.

Sermon Link:

Sermons reveal a lot about preachers’ perspectives. Through “Change,” Pastor Ken Murphy provides us with some replication-worthy perspectives. Watch the sermon yourself to see which themes you identify, and take note of themes we’ve provided below.

Through this sermon, Ken shows us:

Contrast is Useful: “Sometimes we just get busy living life, then remember we should pray. So we just say, ‘God, would you just sprinkle your goodness and your grace on this?’ But God asks us in Scripture to live lives soaked and saturated in prayer.”  Great preachers don’t stop at lament; they offer a way forward. Murphy does this masterfully: offering a detailed account of how we shouldn’t be praying, then transitioning into the correct alternative. Preaching drives the church forward by creating new possibilities.

Message Mobilizes Mission: “Although change is difficult, change is the reason God came to us.” Jesus didn’t die for our programs; He died to make us new. Murphy utilizes his sermon as leverage towards his church’s mission. But more importantly, Murphy leverages his sermon to point towards Christ’s mission in the Incarnation. Preaching only drives the church forward when it locates itself within God’s work of redemption and transformation. Murphy reminds us of the mobilizing power of words. Preaching drives the church forward by imploring the congregation to be part of God’s work.

Movement Mirrors Message: Body language changes the congregation’s reception of the message. Although Murphy walked around the stage, his body movement was almost always purposeful. When saying “You have passed from death to life,” Murphy moves his hands (and his body) to indicate this procession. As Murphy says, “It’s not like you’re turning over a new leaf; the Holy Spirit is giving you a whole new life,” he motions his hands as if he was turning over a leaf, then moves to a different position on stage—indicating a larger change. As a result, the congregation has a visual “hook,” reminding them of the Spirit’s transformative power. Any lack of congruence between body and message creates a mixed set of signals that can subconsciously undercut the gospel.

We Journey Together: “Over the past 6-8 months, can you readily identify an area of your life where you clearly know the Holy Spirit has been speaking and convicting you—and as a result of your time together, you’ve changed? If not, maybe we’re stuck.” Exhortation can often feel like a “Me vs. You” proposition. Preachers often stand behind the pulpit decrying societal ills, never realizing their own part in propagating them. But great pastors don’t point fingers; they know they need redemption. Ken humbly delivers an exhortation that resembles a family chat. Rather than using “you” language, Ken uses “we” language. This subtle change enables the sermon to feel less like a lecture and more like a family chat. Because Ken sees the Gospel’s demand on his life, the church family is more likely to respond to the sermonic demands on their lives. Preaching drives the church forward by reflecting humility and togetherness.

Recap is Interwoven: “We’ve talked about this before.” This message is part of a series called “Come. Connect. Change.” On this final Sunday of the series, Ken gives an initial “recap” of the previous two weeks’ messages. But later on in the sermon, Murphy continues building upon the series’ previous sermons—describing how change often occurs by coming and connecting. This is the benefit of a series: rather than being standalone messages, each week’s sermon serves as a launching board for the next. In this final message, new visitors feel like they’ve been attending for the whole series; and regular attenders feel they have context for the day’s message. Both demographics win; neither has to “miss out” on Murphy’s sermon. Preaching drives the church forward when it’s inclusive, not confusing.

Action Steps:

  1. Construct A Series: As you build your next series, approach it like a construction project, not a lineup. “Lineup” series are comprised of standalone sermons next to one another. “Construction Project” series are comprised of distinct parts that build upon one another to reach a specific goal. You might think of them as successive floors in a building, each with it’s own reason to exist…but connected and foundational to the next.
  1. Evaluate Your Paradigm: Listen to your last sermon. Did you set up a “Me vs. You” paradigm, or did you use “We” language—reminding the congregation of your shared ownership of the Gospel’s implications? As you build your sermon this week, think of how your sermons can be more a family chat than a lecture.
  1. Mobilize Your Mission: As you prepare your next sermon, see how you can connect your message to your local church’s vision, your denomination’s core mantra, and God’s ongoing work on His universal church. Leadership from the pulpit is a key pastoral task that we all need to engage whether in youth ministry, young adult ministry, whole-church leadership, or even children’s ministry. Preaching is a powerful leadership tool that we can and should use wisely.

By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Spiritual Leadership – Dwight Nash

Preacher: Dwight Nash is the pastor of Sent Church—a congregation seeking to be ambassadors of God’s love.

Sermon Link:

Sometimes we feature sermons because they demonstrate values we can exhibit in our own preaching. Through this sermon, Pastor Dwight demonstrates several principles for great preaching. Each of these values are overarching values for good preaching that we long to see embodied in preachers throughout the larger Wesleyan movement.

Here are a few we noticed:

  1. Redefine Something Common: “Who are these twelve people Moses chose to go into the camp? It’s not too much of a stretch to say they were spiritual men. But somewhere along the way, it went wrong. I don’t think the ten ever intended to lead Israel into disobedience.”

With one simple statement, Nash humanizes the other ten spies in the Joshua narrative. If Nash is correct, these spies weren’t villains; they were like us: well-intentioned (even effective) leaders whose close-to-the-vest approach led to forty years of wandering. By reframing these characters, Nash provides fresh insight for new Christians and seasoned saints alike. In re-imagining the text, Dwight provokes the congregation to lean into uncertainty—helping them recognize where their hermeneutical process needs rupturing and rebuilding.  By redefining the narrative, Nash reminds his congregation to have an interpretive curiosity. Great preaching invites us to a closer examination of Good News.

  1. Use Emotional and Intellectual Appeal: “There came a time when people gave up on claiming the land. The land was promised to them, but they were just tired—and they didn’t take it up. They became satisfied and settled down.”

Nash appeals to the intellect during this sermon—reminding the audience of adversity and loneliness in leadership—but he also appeals to the heart. Dwight makes a point about the importance of self-leadership (intellectual point), then compassionately discusses Israelite fatigue in the desert (emotional point). This double-barreled appeal provides a “hook” for the whole person, rather than just the heart or just the head. Great preaching engages the head, heart, soul, and will.

  1. Employ Kinetic and Static Energy:

Kinetic energy is the energy of motion; static energy is the energy of being still. Subtle shifts build listeners’ interests. Nash’s inflection, speed, and intensity shift subtly during segments of the message, creating gravitas by quickening pace during intense parts of the story and slowing speech/lowering tone during application points. As a result, Nash leaves the congregation anticipant during each part of the sermon. Kinetic and static energy are important for physical movement, too. Purposeful whole-body movement (kinetic) underscores movements of the narrative, but Dwight keeps his feet rooted (static) during much of the sermon. Dwight uses the stage to “outline” his sermon, and remains still to stabilize his message. Content and delivery harmonize; the sermon sings as a result. Great preaching harmonizes stillness and movement.

  1. Make the Dog Swallow Its Tail:

“Happy Birthday, Church!… As Good as it’s been, God has something better—and we’re pursuing it.”

Sermon introductions are often used as hit-and-run attention-grabbers. But what if our introductions could launch the sermon and provide resolution? Nash demonstrates that possibility. His introduction celebrates the church’s thirtieth birthday, and later uses the occasion to propel the church’s missional calling. In encouraging the church to achieve their corporate mandate, he also invites their inhabitance of the spirit of the calling. “Don’t lose your love as you lead,” says Nash. By tying leadership principles with Sent Church’s birthday, Nash weaves the introductory celebration into the fabric of the sermon’s content.

Application Exercises:

  1. Read with Fresh Eyes: As you prepare your sermon this week, write down your presuppositions about the text. What do you think it’s saying? How have you heard this text preached in the past? After you’ve written down your presuppositions, try to escape your previous interpretations; find something fresh within the text. By doing so, you’ll provide your congregation with new perspective and build your own passion for engaging the text. The two most important questions I have asked in preaching preparation for the last twenty years (Dave) are these: What new thing does God want to show me in this text I have never seen before? How is this passage leading me to change my life this week?
  1. Gauge Your Appeal: Listen to your last 2 sermons. Did they primarily appeal to the intellect or emotions? After analyzing the sermon, write four actionable goals (and deadlines) to help you maximize your strengths and cover your weaknesses to engage the heart and mind of your congregation.
  1. Move It, Move It! (Or Don’t): Get a video of your preaching; watch it. As you watch, see how your movement corresponds with the sermon’s flow. As you do, note how you could make your body movement more rooted (move only the upper body), and purposeful (physically representing your words). This will become even more important as you learn to preach for video—whether for online distribution or campus-site planting. If you move your feet a lot, you’re going to drive every camera operator crazy.


By Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

Talented or Spiritually Gifted | Santes Beatty

Sermon Title: Talented or Spiritually Gifted

Preacher: At the time of recording, Rev. Santes Beatty was the High School Pastor at Kentwood Community Church. Now, Santes works at Wesleyan Church Headquarters in Church Multiplication and Discipleship. As director of multi-ethnic ministry, Santes is helping the Wesleyan Church grow in unity and diversity.

Here at, we think preaching reveals a lot about a pastor’s perspectives. Sermons often reveal a pastor’s views on life, Scripture, culture, and Christ. Through this sermon, Santes reveals some of his paradigms.

Santes Shows Us That:

  1. Direction is Clear: “We want you to discover, develop, and use your spiritual gifts.” Before coming to the platform, Pastor Santes knew what his sermon should accomplish. After deciding his direction, every element reinforced that trajectory. Each word, illustration, and explanation helps us understand how to discover, develop, and use spiritual gifts. Because of that clarity, we walk away from the sermon with clear steps toward life change. If the preacher doesn’t fully work out where the sermon is heading until standing on the platform, it can feel a little like watching birth take place. It’s painful for the preacher, and uncomfortable for everyone else.
  1. Uses the Sermon to Shape Culture: Listen to the way Pastor Santes uses the sermon content to shape the culture of KCC. “Consumers ask: ‘How can I maximize what I get, without giving that much?’ Christians think: ‘The leaders of the church exist to equip me so I can serve others. So how can I maximize my time, talents, and treasure to bring unity to the community I’ve been planted in?’” When you come to Kentwood, you don’t just sit in a pew; you stand up to serve.” Though this phrase may sound a little commonplace, it’s memorable and contrasts the culture of most churches. Preaching is a leadership activity and leaders speak to the same sort of culture-shaping values time and time again in memorable ways. If you haven’t found a new way to say something in the pulpit related to one of your church’s values the last two months, it probably isn’t truly a deeply held value.
  1. Turns a Negative into a Constructive: “When you come to church next time, think about what stuff in the church drives you crazy? That innate ability maybe isn’t to criticize; maybe it’s there to help you come alongside that area to make it grow stronger.” Santes affirms church critics, knowing that their areas of criticism may be their areas of giftedness. Rather than becoming defensive, Santes invites critics’ help. Without them, Santes reminds us, we’d never escape our ruts. In other areas of preaching we can do the same. Doctrinal differences become opportunities to display kingdom unity. Economic downturns are tests of faith. The preacher sees negatives that are destructive in the community and finds ways to jujitsu them toward constructive energy for the community.
  1. Stories are Integrated with Purpose: Through stories, Santes provides humorous examples of spiritual principles. Santes’ stories build toward his main points: helping us discover, develop, and use our spiritual gifts. A sermonic story done well doesn’t just give a mental break. It provides a mental leap. It helps people cross over a canyon of content effortlessly at the “aha” moment. Jesus says “The father put his ring upon him and his robe, can said “kill the fattened calf for my son who was lost has been found.” At that moment in the story, our minds leap across canyons of content it would have taken paragraphs to explain related to the character of our Father God and the nature of mercy and grace. Stories do that, but only when the intentionally are crafted and directed toward the focused purpose of the sermon.

Application Exercises:

  1. Plan a Flow: Planning a sermon flow is a little like planning a church vision. As you plan next Sunday’s sermon, create a “main mission.” What should the congregation do as a result of your preaching? Once you determine that, you’re able to harmonize every other quote, story, and word of your sermon towards that trajectory.
  1. Tell Stories: This coming week, let’s start becoming better storytellers. One of the ways stories are told well, is to tell them before you tell them. One of our mantras in preaching classes is “Never preach in front of people for the first time.” If you need an audience to give a story a practice run, then tell them over lunch or breakfast tables. Call a friend and share it over the phone. As you tell it, make every word count toward the purpose you are building.
  1. Sprinkle Application: This week, plan a sermon that doesn’t save the application for the end. If all our sermons place application points at the end, the formula becomes predictable. It’s an old Puritan form of preaching that has worked for centuries. But it doesn’t have to be our preaching straight jacket. Mix it up a little; put application points throughout your sermon points, so the congregation can hold onto what God calls them to do after leaving service. Rick Warren often suggests making each point an application point. At the end of the sermon, recap the application, reminding the congregation of their opportunity to respond to God’s prompting.

Sermon review by Dave Ward and Ethan Linder


Friending | LeAnne Ketcham

Sermon Title: “Friending”

Preacher: LeAnne Ketcham. LeAnne is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University where she won the annual preaching award as an undergraduate. This sermon was preached during her tenure on pastoral staff at Grove Church in Fort Collins, CO. LeAnne and her husband, Andrew, now reside in Princeton, NJ—where LeAnne is attending Princeton Theological Seminary on a full tuition scholarship.

Here at, we love featuring preachers whose paradigms are replication-worthy. Through “Friending,” LeAnne Ketcham provides us with some replication-worthy perspectives. Watch the sermon directly to pick out your own themes, or listen to it over our shoulders with the themes below. Sometimes the best way to sharpen preaching is to listen to preachers you don’t normally hear.

For LeAnne,

  1. Media is Relevant to the focus of the sermon: LeAnne uses media for the sake of driving the sermon forward. As soon as the video clip stops rolling, LeAnne ties it into her sermon’s trajectory. Instead of using media as a mere attention-grabber, Ketcham uses a video to make the sermon be even more memorable to the congregation. Most of us focus on sermons as relevance-to-culture tools. But sermons need to be relevance-to-scripture tools more than the other way around. If it doesn’t fit hand-in-glove with your sermonic aim, skip it.
  1. Digging is Important: “Just 20 years ago, the average American had five close friends. Now, the average American has only two close friends. Research provides us with three reasons why.” Throughout the sermon, Ketcham provides ample research to help us identify our culture’s friendship weakness. In preparing the sermon, LeAnne has done both ancient and modern sermonic archaeology: digging up ancient exegetical artifacts (like the details of Rehoboam’s life) and modern artifacts (like cultural studies on friendships). LeAnne’s cultural awareness demonstrates awareness of the way God’s purposes intersect with our lives. It also helps establish her authority and credibility as a preacher.
  1. Phrases are Sticky: “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” As we walk away from this message, it’s hard not to remember LeAnne’s words. Throughout the sermon, she uses artfully crafted phrases that make the message unforgettable. During sermon preparation, she’s taken time to wordsmith her message, weaving together statements that “stick” in the minds of the congregation. This is perhaps her greatest strength. She’s an artisan with nouns, verbs, and gerunds.
  1. Application is Interwoven: “In a world where you can be anywhere else, you need to be present. Unplug the phone and leave it in the car.” LeAnne’s application points are her sermon points—and they’re easily memorable. Congregants walk away knowing exactly what to do, because that’s what the sermon’s about. Because LeAnne intertwines exegesis and application, the audience knows the Gospel’s implications before the end of the message. Many listeners can only hold on for 5-7 minutes without clear, relevant, moving connection with their every day lives. When I teach preaching students I often call this the “seven minute itch.” Some people’s attention will start to itch as early as four or five minutes into a section of sermon content. Everyone’s will itch by minute seven. Don’t wait twenty minutes to bring homiletical ideas down to the formational ground.
  1. Stillness is Powerful: LeAnne stays put. Rather than frenetically pacing around the stage, LeAnne’s lower body remains rooted and listeners remain focused. Her upper-body movements correspond with the content of her message; her lower-body stillness allows listeners to connect with her. Ketcham’s posture (in sync with her purposeful upper-body movement) allows listeners to feel the sermon without being distracted by unnecessary gestures. The pacing of a lion in the cage. The frantic sprinkler like torso turn. The wildly waving arms. All of these are distractions from the point, not ways to emphasize the point. For pacing, waving preachers rooting the feet for one point is often a spiritual discipline in itself.
  1. The News is Good: “If we get our friendships right, we’ll set ourselves up for a lifetime of success…we want you to have friends that will be in your life to stay—friends who go through the decades with you, not just months.” LeAnne’s tone, posture, and message communicate God’s capacity for creating beautiful new possibilities. As listeners, we walk away from LeAnne’s message knowing God cares about our friendships: and we can have the right ones if we surround ourselves with the right people. You might have noticed this theme in sermons we’ve been highlighting lately. Wesleyans get a bad rap for being “legalistic” or “moralistic” or “self righteous.” It’s not that this doesn’t happen, it just isn’t the style of the best Wesleyan preachers. The best Wesleyan preachers gospel people rather than merely guilting people.


  1. Next Sunday, commit to keeping gestures purposeful: removing unnecessary “stage-laps,” and including purposeful hand gestures that communicate alongside our message.
  1. As we write our next sermons, let’s commit to remember that the Gospel’s both “Good” and “News”: it really does open up new possibilities, and those possibilities really do enrich the lives of the hearers. May we never forget either; and may we always communicate that message in our words and tone—just as LeAnne did.
  1. As we select sermon resources, let’s keep our media relevant. If we’re just including a video to get attention, let’s pick something different. If we think something won’t fit into the direction of our sermon, let’s choose the harder road: selecting relevant media that communicates alongside our sermons.

Sermon review by Dave Ward and Ethan Linder

You Can Begin Again | Kevin Fetterhoff

Sermon Title: “You Can Begin Again”

Preacher: Kevin Fetterhoff. Pastor Kevin is the lead pastor at Bethany Wesleyan Church in Cherryville, Pennsylvania. BWC is a thriving congregation, intimately invested in the life of their members and the surrounding community. Churches often thrive when preaching thrives. We feature sermons at because we think featured preachers get something “right” in their preaching. A preacher’s communication habits reflect their life perspective: so in this article, we’ll feature some of Kevin’s replication-worthy paradigms.

Kevin Shows Us That:

  1. Biblical Context is Relatable: Kevin introduces the sermon by talking about Peter’s cultural context. Obviously, Pastor Kevin’s done his homework; just as importantly, he thinks these ancient Near Eastern events have something to do with us. Throughout the message, Pastor Kevin uses exegesis to serve application. The sermon reflects that Peter is like us; he faces pressures and temptations like we do—he’s in need of grace like we are. If you think of the context then and the context now like two prongs of steel, pastor Kevin has crafted them to be a tuning fork. He oscillates back and forth between the then and the relevant now creating resonance in our spirits with the application made. If it was applicable then, and it still rings directly true now, we know we have tapped into something with staying power worth listening to.
  1. New Beginnings are Everywhere: God’s world is full of grace-laden new starts. Pastor Kevin gives vignettes about Biblical characters that exemplify the grace of new beginnings: David, Moses, and Peter, to name a few. New beginnings in God’s Word help us see new beginnings in God’s world—we need only look for them. God’s transformational power can bring about dramatic change: Fetterhoff encourages us to see Him in His re-creative work.  God didn’t stop working on day six. “My father is always working, and so am I” Jesus said. If we aren’t careful our preaching makes it sound like God did something in creation, let us go our own way until Christ’s redemption, and is now waiting again until resurrection. Preaching has to, even in its subtle commitments, keep God’s work first and primary, our response second and secondary.
  1. Holiness is Practical: “Mentors and support groups bring reformation; Jesus brings transformation.” Pastor Kevin points to the necessity of both elements without disparaging either of them. Kevin’s view of holiness is not “pie in the sky, by and by.” It’s a real thing: God’s grace affects how we work, how we live, and even how we pay our taxes. Yet God’s grace usually does this through every day relationships and structural support for our pursuit of holiness. And when holiness is realistic, it is a chance to live out God’s redemptive work through even our most mundane tasks.
  1. The Gospel is Good News: “I hope today can be the day when you see—with God’s help—new horizons.” Kevin explicitly states what his tone and demeanor implicitly express. Throughout the sermon, Fetterhoff makes it clear that the Gospel opens new possibilities for our lives. Faith is an opportunity to see the world with Christ-colored lenses: not glancing over harsh realities, but seeing hope through the dim circumstances of this world. God has invited us into an adventure; and the journey is exciting. When preaching leaves us with downcast eyes and slumped shoulders we eventually start to dread church for good reason. Only unhealthy people enjoy a good dose of that every week. Gospel-ing people through preaching lifts the head, lightens the shoulders, and does so without making everything okay. Conviction isn’t absent, it simply isn’t the last word. The idea of “new possibilities” implies some less than idea past or present. Good news always assumes bad news, there’s no need to overemphasize the bad.
  1. The Audience is Responsible: “The only way we get help is to acknowledge we’ve had a problem. We have to own the fact: ‘I did that. That’s me.’” Kevin helps us realize that the Gospel has implications. While sin derails our life, God offers opportunities for restoration. As we navigate the world, we know we’ll encounter failure; but Kevin reminds us of the need to allow God to restore our failure rather than believing we are our failure: “You don’t slash the other three tires because you blew one out.” Altogether, Kevin helps us (as listeners) to recognize our responsibility to partner with God in His restorative work. Kevin anticipates the different life circumstances the congregation is in: some of them are in literal prison—watching by video. Others are seemingly free, but inhabit a prison of their own making. Regardless of outer circumstance, Fetterhoff reminds us of Christ’s offer of truest freedom.

Follow-Up Exercise:

  1. If you were to pick one of these paradigms that your congregation is likely to recognize in you, which would it be? If you were to pick one that they might smile, even laugh at, saying “that’s not our pastor” which would it be?
  2. It may be worthwhile to listen to one of your most recent sermons and scale yourself from 1-10 on these paradigms.

Sermon review by David Ward and Ethan Linder.


By Faith—Moses | Steve DeNeff

Sermon Title: By Faith—Moses

Preacher: Steve DeNeff is the senior pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. Located adjacent to Indiana Wesleyan University, CWC is a thriving congregation, and is passionate about leadership development, outreach, and discipleship.

Sermon Video:

Sermon Audio:


Sermon Review: Sermons reveal preachers’ presuppositions. Here at, we feature preachers because they have replication-worthy perspectives and practices. In this article, we’ll feature four of DeNeff’s perspectives and practices that we perceive from the perspective of an engaged listener. Often a preacher’s best gifts aren’t even realized by the preacher. If you interview them, and follow what they would suggest, it may do you as much harm as good. Expert preachers do things automatically, and forget they do them, that other preachers have yet to consider. Whether these concepts are new or familiar to you, think through how they might help drive your preaching forward.

In this sermon, Steve Shows Us That:

  1. Sermons Are Staircases: You may love them, but you won’t be able to keep them, because they’re Canadians. Canadians always go home. They hear the motherland, and they always respond.” Steve’s sermon makes us climb. The first stair step—that Canadians love their homeland—is an easy step to reach. The second—that Moses had an identity crisis—is a harder step. The third step—that we need to determine our own ultimate loyalty—is a cumbersome step. Each stair (easy, harder, hardest) builds on the previous steps. At the end of the sermon, we’ve followed DeNeff up the staircase; our perspective elevates as the sermon progresses. This old model builds on rhetorical principles that have been examined as long ago as Aristotle’s Intuitive preachers recognize the need for going from easy to hard even without reading rhetorical treatises.
  1. Tension is Opportunity: Listen to the tension in Deneff’s words: “Is this a Christian nation or not? No. You’re in Egypt. It’s not bad. You can thrive here, you can raise children here, but there comes a time—there always does—when you have to decide: who are my people?” Sermons are built on productive tension: they analyze discrepancy between where we are and where God is leading us. The best sermons help close the gap between the two. Even when Steve doesn’t mention the audience, we know our part in the story. We’re in between what is and what will be.[1]
  1. Anticipation is Good: Listen to the mental time capsule pastor Steve puts in the mind of the listener: “Some of you are here right now; others of you don’t know what I’m talking about. There will come a time when you find yourself here. When that time comes, remember: we had this conversation.” Sermons are time-sensitive; on certain Sundays, our messages might not resonate with part of the congregation. Steve knows this, and he’s made peace with it. Even though the sermon won’t be immediately applicable for everyone, Steve reminds us to hold onto it: it may prove useful in the future. As we craft our sermons, DeNeff helps us refine our anticipation for the Gospel’s consequences. Rightly preached, the Word never returns void; it might not bring immediate fruit, but seeds are planted. Pods are buried.
  1. Perspective Brings Hope: “It’s better to suffer now in what will ultimately succeed than if I succeed now in something that will ultimately fail. Now is where we need the capacity to see things everyone else will know in 100 years.” If we’re focusing only on now, our situation is discouraging; we need perspective that transcends our time. God’s constant presence (even in times of loss) reminds us of the Church’s ultimate victory. The Spirit provides perspective, reminding us that we’re “Not the experts. We may feel objective with rational minds, but we’ve been raised on Pharaoh’s lap.” We’re far more like Moses than the Israelites. By faith, we can see where we are…and we can also see where we’re going.

Application Points:

  1. Make it Portable: Rather than only measuring success by numbers at the altar or point of decision, we should make our sermons portable. Help people carry the message out of the church’s walls, into their businesses, homes, and social circles. A successful sermon doesn’t always pack the altar (though it’s not bad if they do) but it does bring about life change. As we prepare our next sermons, let’s ask: Is this sermon a gift that keeps giving? If it doesn’t touch people today, does this sermon still offer a valuable perspective for the future?
  2. Use (Productive) Tension: In thinking back to last Sunday’s sermon, ask: Did we display the discrepancy between where we are and where God is taking us? The Gospel always has trajectory; if it doesn’t move us forward, then it’s not Good This week, don’t just preach against sin; preach toward holiness. Otherwise, tension isn’t productive.
  1. Build a Staircase: Some of us have never preached a “staircase sermon” As you plan your next series, think about planning at least one “staircase” sermon model—that starts with an easily-acceptable first “step,” then leads the congregation to a higher perspective. Three point sermons work well with a staircase framework since it helps the point move somewhere, and move together. They also help you design a persuasive framework around the points you want to make (whether it is three or five). One yes leads to another, leads to a greater likelihood of the final, most important yes to God’s ultimate claim on our lives.

Ethan Linder is a staff writer and content curator for A fresh graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, Ethan and his wife Sarah currently live in Marion, Indiana–where Ethan is pursuing a Masters’ Degree in Christian Ministries from IWU, and Sarah is a teacher. When he’s not writing, Ethan enjoys reading, listening to music, studying cultures, running, and following the Philadelphia Phillies.

[1] For more on productive tension in preaching read The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry.

The Value of One | Benji Kelley

Sermon Title: “The Value of One”

Preacher: Dr. Benji Kelley, Senior Pastor at Newhope Wesleyan Church in Durham, NC.

Review: At, we feature preachers whose sermons demonstrate perspectives and techniques worth replicating. Dr. Benji Kelley, Senior Founding Pastor at Newhope Wesleyan Church in Durham, NC, is one such pastor. Below, we’ll examine what we believe are some of Benji Kelley’s core perspectives, at least from the perspective of the listener.[1]

For Kelley:

  • Sermons Teach People to Read: “Would you go after the one and leave the ninety-nine? The shepherds say, ‘Absolutely!’ but we say ‘No way!’” The best sermons teach congregants how to read and interpret Scripture. In helping the congregation see the gap between the original context and our context, Benji points listeners to the bridge between Scripture and application, leading them across it masterfully. Because of Benji’s sermons, Newhope congregants learn how to navigate this bridge, too. It would be difficult to overemphasize the need for pastors to model the pathway from scripture through interpretation to life application. Congregations need this more than we think, more often than we realize, and soak up more than they consciously remember.
  • Phrases Are Sticky: “When we become like Jesus, we are willing to go after the one.” Words matter. If we want sermons to stick to lives, we need phrases that stick to minds. Benji’s statements are beautifully memorable; thanks to his thoughtful preparation, we walk away with faithful exegesis wrapped in memorable, applicable principles. So many preachers I coach (Dave) have all the basic content they need once they are done with their typical exegesis. They have dug up enough “bones” from the layers of biblical history and biblical interpretation. The bones simply do not have flesh on them. They are not alive. They need to be inbreathed with the artistry of God-inspired wordsmithing. I like to think of the best preachers as Bezalel-like figures. Remember Bezalel? He was the anointed and ordained artisan for the ark of the covenant. The materials were there for anyone, as was the basic design and structure. But only someone who was willing to sweat for form and beauty was allowed to bring it to action. Preachers need to sweat over creativity in order to bring form and beauty to the content they have found. Sticky phrases are one way pastor Benji accomplishes this. Another way is sticky questions. Listen to Benjis sermon and notice how many times a carefully turned, directly phrased question draws the listener to think and reflect. Tweetable quotes and repeatable questions are powerful preaching tools that give the message shelf-life even after the sermon is forgotten.
  • Transitions Flow Smoothly: “People see something of great value and do what it takes to go and get it… and that’s exactly what I want to talk to you about today.” Kelley’s transitions gain attention rather than losing it. Benji seamlessly moves from Good Friday to the Gospel, and the congregation doesn’t feel mental whiplash. Because the illustration relates to our experiences and pastor Benji relates to us personally, we’re more likely to respond attentively to the Gospel. Check out the illustration in pastor Benji’s sermon. Pay close attention to how the illustration gets you from point a to point b. Most preachers listen to sermons as if they were in the congregation. That’s fine and it helps us hear the Word of God for us. But we need to shift to hearing sermons the way painters view paintings. They not only stand back and admire the whole, they get up close and study the brush strokes. Study the how of the illustration-as-transition and your preaching will benefit.
  • Delivery Matches Message:When Benji says, “You are not going to want to miss next week!” we know that Benji doesn’t want to miss next week. He’s excited! Some preachers pound the pulpit with an angry fist while shouting “God loves you!” The mixed messages are confusing. Others say the same words “You are not going to want to miss next week” with a flat face and flatter voice. Pastor Benji’s posture, pitch, and tone reflect excitement, energy, and engagement.  When Benji hits key sermon points, his demeanor reflects his words: he slows down for serious points, crescendos into high-energy points, and radiates joy in delivering the Good News. Consequently, we feel emotional resonance with Kelley’s words.

 Application Points:

  • Preach to Teach:As we prepare our next sermons, let’s consider how the sermon teaches congregants to read Scripture for themselves. Do our sermons give congregants insight into the process of exegesis and application, or do our sermons give “pre-packaged” exegesis and meaning? Let’s teach others to read through our sermons.
  • Iron the Seams: Think of the last sermon you preached: did your transitions build interest or lose it? As we prepare our next sermons, let’s brainstorm ways to smoothly move from one point to the next: garnering people’s attention, rather than having them slip through the divide.
  • Make the Ask: Great sermons don’t just make good statements; they ask the right questions. As we go through the sermon preparation process (and every pastoral meeting we have) let’s make a goal: ask more, talk less.

Sermon review by David Ward and Ethan Linder

[1] For a brief introduction into the “turn to the listener” in the field of homiletics, aka the art and science of preaching, see “Listening to the Listener” by Ron Allen and Mary Alice Mulligan at