Preacher: Kenneth Wagner
Sermon Title: Best Summer Ever Vol. 2: Part 1
Sermon Link: https://www.unitedchurchde.com/best-summer-ever-vol-2
We 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.
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