Preaching & Church Health

See two articles below and eight church health sermon outlines below.


1. Proclaiming The Biblical Vision Of A Healthy Church


2. The Seven Dynamics of Preaching for a Healthier Church.


3. My Church Health Sermon Outlines


This topic is covered in more depth in chapter 7 of my book, Church Health For The Twenty-First Century A Biblical Approach.

proclaiming the biblical vision of a healthy church

John M. Crowe, M.Div., D.Min.

 

Called and Ordained to Proclaim.


The pastor as a church’s spiritual Sabum-Nim (instructor) is called to proclaim the biblical vision of a healthy church through both preaching and teaching. Nothing rekindles the spark of health within a church like catching a biblical vision of what Jesus Christ wants to accomplish in and through a church (Warren, Purpose 81). As Warren says, “Where there is not vision, people leave for another parish!” (Warren, Purpose 87). Also, an unhealthy church will not only lack vision, but also repeatedly finds itself short on cash (202). A biblical vision arises in a church from hearing biblical ecclesiology proclaimed.


My interest in healing and wholeness in Christ had been a major part of my concern as a Christian even before entering the pastorate in 1983. While attending Asbury Theological Seminary during the early eighties, I took a course on “Healing and the Christian Faith” and read Frank Stanger’s book, God’s Healing Community. The book contained a brief testimony about a pastor applying biblical healing steps to a church body through preaching (122). The story of this pastor preaching on the steps of relaxation, purging, clarification, consecration, anticipation, and appropriation to bring healing into the corporate life of the church served as a seminal experience for my doctoral project.


Preaching is one of a pastor’s most valuable opportunities to enhance the wholeness of the congregation. A sermon series can cast a vision of a healthy church in hopes of preaching a church to where it needs to go. Very often, the depth of a congregation’s understanding of the Christian faith largely depends on the quality of the preaching that the people hear. In addition, the quality of volunteer leadership in a local church and their vision of what church is and does reflect the pastor’s preaching ministry (Lindgren 99).


Biblical preaching is an instrument for teaching the Church about being the body of Christ. Therefore, a pastor can serve as a change agent through grace-empowered vision casting. Sermons about healthy persons, church leaders, loving relationships, spiritual gifts, spirituality, and abuse prevention naturally lean toward a narrative style. Such communication not only addresses the heart, mind, and behavior but also relationships and spirituality.


The theology of John Wesley calls for building up the body of Christ through living the faith, proclaiming the pure Word of God, and administering the sacraments. Wesley believed that three things were essential to a living church:


First: Living faith; without which, indeed, there can be no Church at all, neither visible nor invisible. Secondly: Preaching, and consequently hearing the pure word of God, else that faith would languish and die. And, thirdly, a due administration of the sacraments, —the ordinary means whereby God increaseth faith. (“Works, Vol. 8” 38)


One can deduce from Wesley’s view that the Church lives by the pure proclamation of the Bible. John Albert Bengel, Wesley’s contemporary, wrote,


Scripture is the foundation of the Church: the Church is the guardian of Scripture. When the Church is in strong health, the light of the Scripture shines bright; when the Church is sick, Scripture is corroded by neglect; and thus it happens, that the outward form of Scripture and that of the Church, usually seem to exhibit simultaneously either health or else sickness; and as a rule the way in which Scripture is being treated is in exact correspondence with the condition of the Church. (1:7)


For pastors to preach and teach as those who stand under the apostolic authority of the New Testament is crucial in developing healthy churches. Such proclamation of practical ecclesiology reminds congregations that we all stand under the authority of Scripture. Therefore, many denominations ask those coming for ordination if they receive the Christian faith as contained in the Bible.


The United Methodist Church ordains and authorizes its pastors to a ministry of Service, Word, Sacrament, and Order (Book of Discipline 194). Those whom God calls to this ministry have a mandate to order the life of the church in a spiritually healthy fashion. It involves much more than obeying the polity of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. United Methodist pastors are required to “order” the life of the community of faith. Pastors accomplish this by the due administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and leading the community of faith in ministry to others.


Offering Our Best to God In Proclamation.


Churches need preaching with quality and excellence. Such preaching is far more complicated and difficult to do than the deductive preaching of a previous generation. Today’s unique difficulty in performing a sermon with skill for the sake of ministering to people involves communications style. Both churched and unchurched people find themselves bombarded by quality communication all week long. Whenever pastors preach sloppy and careless sermons, they lose both personal integrity and much spiritual influence. God calls those who preach to live a life actively pursuing personal spiritual integrity, doctrinal faithfulness, and effective communication.


Preaching today calls for a relational style. As Calvin Miller writes in his book, Market Place Preaching, “A well planned extemporaneous sermon that has done its homework will serve best” (47). Otherwise, a preacher will lose the relational force that is not available to the manuscript preacher. As Miller proposes, “Extemporaneity welds audience and communicator together” (49). Narrative preaching is a unique but simple form of preaching. Essentially, it uses stories to drive home the message. Its relational style calls for preaching conversationally without either notes or pulpit. Preaching without notes or pulpit strengthens the conversational delivery style of narrative sermons.


At present, people are seeking to improve their communication skills. When God sent the ultimate communication of his love and grace, he sent his Son in the flesh. When God inspired the writing of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit moved people to write in everyday koine instead of academic Greek. God desires to communicate his truth, grace, and love to every generation. Those called of God to preach carry a like passion for communication. Those who seek to communicate the truth trust the Holy Spirit to use communication aids in the act of proclamation.


The Inner Dynamic of Proclamation.


Today’s postmodern culture calls for a return to the spiritual foundation of pastoral ministry through preaching and worship. Our modern culture led many to ignore and others to forget that pastoral ministry is a spiritual business. With the post-modern media impact of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”, people are more open to the ideas of spirituality and spiritual warfare.


Before Jesus ascended back into heaven following his resurrection, he told his disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit empowered them to be his witnesses throughout the world. Those who preach and lead worship in today’s culture need the Holy Spirit’s empowering, indwelling, inspiration, and instruction for effective ministry.


Jesus also told his disciples that as the Father had sent him, so sent he them into the world. The Bible tells us that the Father sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it. It is crucial in this postmodern age that our preaching and worship leadership shares this same compassionate focus on salvation and not the judgmental focus on condemnation.


One day in a synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-3. The same Spirit of the Lord who anointed Jesus for his earthly ministry also anoints us who preach and lead worship. We need to ask the question, “What can we expect God to do through our preaching and leadership of worship in these postmodern times?” We can expect the Holy Spirit to provide our motivation to proclaim God’s Word in evangelism, worship, in teaching opportunities, in pastoral counseling, in visitation, and in church business meetings. The poor, captive, blind and bruised of our postmodern world is our market both within and outside of the church. We can expect Jesus to minister through us to bring release, sight and liberation to others.


So for the joy of fulfilling our heavenly calling in the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the positive impact our ministries will oftentimes have by his grace, let us endure the hardships, pains and sacrifices of ministry in a postmodern world. Otherwise, position, salary, prestige, or power will become our focus. When that becomes our focus, then us pastors and worship leaders will become embittered by the impossibility of the task of ministry, by the loneliness of leadership, by the lack of commitment among church members, by the resistance to creative leadership, by the lack of Christian love within some churches, by postmodern opposition to the gospel, and by the pain of empathizing with broken, bruised and hurting people. Such bitterness will lead preachers and worship leaders to become religious functionaries. As the late Dr. Frank Stanger said once in class at Asbury Theological Seminary, “One’s personal spiritual life will determine one’s effectiveness for that which is in our hearts will be in our ministry.”


Preachers and worship leaders with a vital spirituality perform ministry as a stewardship from Jesus Christ and not as an earned possession. Thus, spiritually healthy people who preach and lead worship live with a joyfulness and peacefulness within themselves that is not tied to worldly security. Such a healthy spirituality empowers them to be wholesome spiritual guides who separate their ego identity from their ministry roles.


Nurturing the pastor’s and worship leaders’ spiritual life is foundational to a theology of preaching and worship in our postmodern world. Given the rise of a team approach to worship and preaching within the emerging culture, the healthy spiritual development of the entire worship/preacher team is crucial. With the current emphasis on spirituality and the increase of broken people in society today, postmodern people hunger for authentic spirituality in those who preach, play music, or lead worship. Such a postmodern theology of preaching and worship calls not only for pastors to be spiritual guides of their own souls, but also of those on the entire worship team (Liesch).


Calvin Miller, in his book, Marketplace Preaching, correctly states that few modern books on preaching say much about the spiritual life of the pastor. This focus is also missing from books about worship that I have read in the past and even for this course with the exception of Dawn’s book. As this is true in preaching, it is also true in worship. The pastor’s and the worship leaders’ spiritual life supersedes ministry techniques.


However, holding together personal spiritual integrity, the faith once delivered, and effective communication techniques is the narrow road that God calls us preachers to walk. Biblical performance means preaching using the techniques of speaking without rest one's trust solely in them. For pastors to powerfully perform sermons with skill that meets people’s needs, we must draw deeply from both our spiritual calling and culture of our society.


Proclamation Applied and Tested.


My view of Scripture as the Word of God and preaching as the proclamation of God’s Word was the foundation for my expectation that a sermon series on church health would facilitate change in the subjects as whole persons. This affirmation is expressed in the worship services of the of many United Methodist churches. Before the Scripture reading and the sermon, congregations join in the Prayer of Illumination. In this prayer, we ask God to open our hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Spirit so that, as the Scriptures are read and God’s Word proclaimed, people might hear and apply in their daily living what God says to them.


This prayer means that the Holy Spirit, through whom God inspired the written Word, speaks through the proclaimed Word. Through the instrument of preaching, God speaks to the hearts and minds of those who hear the Word proclaimed. The goal is not only to hear it, but also to apply it in daily life. The Word of God read and proclaimed seeks our transformation more than giving us information or inspiration alone; therefore, an increased exposure to the church health sermons translates into an increased opportunity for the Spirit of God to work within the heart, mind, and will of the worshipers in developing a healthy church.


My church health sermon series followed the overall flow of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians (see chart below). In the first division of Ephesians (chapters 1-3), Paul desires for Christians to know their high calling in Christ. The primary theme of knowing their high calling involves the formation of the new community in Christ—the Church (1:22-23). While the focus of the first division is on Christ as God’s instrument of reconciliation, division two’s focus is on the Church as Christ’s instrument of reconciliation. In Christ, this new community reconciles people separated from God and one another (2:19-22; 3:6). Throughout Ephesians, Paul is concerned that the readers not separate Christology from ecclesiology. While these themes are found elsewhere in the New Testament, Ephesians contains the early church’s most complete statement of ecclesiology.


Drawing from the flow of the epistle to the Ephesians, each sermon focused on applying ecclesiology to one or more of the congregation’s subsystems mentioned in my first article. The goal is to prepare sermons that communicate the message of the given biblical passage in a manner designed to invite the response of each person’s behavior, emotions, mind, relationships, and spirit. My own pastoral experience in preaching a series of church health sermons demonstrated their impact as a wake up call for the congregation.


I preached a series of eight sermons designed to raise the awareness of the congregations I serve to the issues surrounding the emotional, behavioral, cognitive, relational, and spiritual health of those congregations. The survey and interview data together from my limited-time preaching project reflected a base change in the developmental process of becoming a healthier church. In light of both the survey and interview data, the sermons may have led respondents to a more informed and honest appraisal of themselves and their respective congregation. The survey data reflected the three areas where the subjects probably gained the greatest reality check were the three statistically significant areas of affect, behavior, and spirituality. I believe the survey data of Gibson Memorial UMC also reflect development in terms of that congregation catching a vision or passion to get on with the journey of church health.


A greater response on the church health scale with the increase in number of sermons heard demonstrated that individuals mature in faith over time. As the personal wholeness of each person is integral to church health, it also strengthens in maturity over time. In this study, the preached Word invites the subject to a more mature life of healthy attitudes, behavior, relationships, and spirituality within the context of his or her relationship with God built upon the cognitive knowledge of ecclesiological teaching found in the Word.


I was not surprised that Positive Emotional Appeal registered the most significant change of the four sermon elements. This scale could also be called the “Gospel-Driven Emotional Process!” My commitment to present church health in a positive light grew out of an important recognition. The Gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ is central to church health. In addition, the Gospel is God’s good news in a bad news world. This choice also reflects the commitment to a whole person approach. A negative or bad news approach easily leads into work righteousness, escalated conflict, shame and condemnation and sometimes increases the very pathology in need of healing.


Conclusion.


The approach to preaching previously discussed serves to strengthen the church health sermon as well as weekly preaching. An important issue in preaching on church health encompasses the integrity of both the preacher and the proclamation. One can ruin the preaching of church health principles by offering them as a quick fix rather than as tools for the healing process. Also, legalistic motives inflict much damaging shame and blame upon a congregation. Selfish motives that seek something other than the glory of God and the building up of his Church spread spiritual cancer. To have such selfish motives would be the greatest of shams. Pastors can avoid such a sham by first hearing any sermon on church health themselves before preaching it to others.


Approaching church health in this manner communicates that growing a healthy church involves an ongoing process. Such a series of sermons could lead people through the whole panorama related to each dimension of church health within a biblical/systems church health model.


A biblically based, systemic, and organic approach to church health through preaching addresses the whole church body. Such preaching seeks the response of each member’s behavior, feelings, relationships, spirituality, and, as well as thoughts. How one is able to inculcate the various aspects of church health within the context of their Christian discipleship is arguably more important than outward behavior. Focusing on any one of these elements (behavior, feeling, relationships, spirituality, or understanding) to the exclusion of the other four, disciples people in something far less than a healthy response of loving God with one’s whole person.


Guilt or shame often governs preaching in the context of worship; consequently, unhealthiness increases as relationships are sacrificed and frustrations elevated. This is the inherent danger in the old approach to building healthy churches, for it ends up separating the healthy intimate relationship process dynamic from producing the characteristics of a healthy church. Growing healthy churches calls for a holistic approach.


Leading a church toward better health through narrative preaching divides into two parts: the sermons themselves and the impact upon the lives of those who hear them.


My dissertation project stretches one’s view of narrative preaching as more than just an effective communication technique to address the whole person. Biblically speaking, stories, more than lectures, are effective means of gracefully proclaiming biblical truth for a whole-person response in developing a healthy church. Thomas Oden goes so far in his book, The Transforming Power of Grace, to say that the truth of God’s grace is best communicated through stories (22). This study indicates that sermons on church health have a positive impact when they focus on God’s grace in addressing the whole person through stories.


The narrative sermons over eight weeks demonstrated what I wished to demonstrate, i.e., preaching matters, and it has impact in the lives of the people and the system of a congregation. Thus, a healthy church for this project is one shaped by Christian teaching concerning being and behaving as a biblical church in every subsystem as a living organism or system in Christ.


While God works through preaching as a wake-up call concerning church health and even create a positive desire for it, more intimate pastoral ministry is called for. Such maturity in grace comes better in small group and one-on-one discipleship than through mass discipleship. As Wayne Oates’ book, Behind the Masks: Personality Disorder in Religious Behavior, states pointedly:


The mass approaches to religion, as well as the mass approaches to the rest of the education of the individual, lacked the power of personal confrontation, the concern with transformation, or the wisdom needed to discern that anything was really out of the ordinary. (108)


Therefore, before looking at equipping harmonious group life, forming a healthy leadership team, shaping people for their ministry, and the necessary fire of the Holy Spirit, we will focus on a pivotal call of Christ’s Holy Church. Many brothers and sisters in Christ are Extra Grace Needed persons to a greater or lesser degree. Their Christian discipleship in both holiness and wholeness through Jesus Christ is the focus of my next article.


Works Cited


Bengel, John A. Gnomon of the New Testament. Ed. Andrew R. Fausset. Edinburgh: Clark, 1857-1858. 5 vols.


Crowe, John M. “Preaching for a Whole-Person Response in Developing a Healthy Church.” Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.


Liesch, Barry. The New Worship. Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1996.


Lindgren, Alvin, J. Foundations for Purposeful Church Administration. Nashville: Abingdon, 1979.


Miller, Calvin. Marketplace Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995.


Oates, Wayne E. Behind the Masks: Personality Disorders in Religious Behavior. Louisville:  Westminster, 1987.


Oden, Thomas C. The Transforming Power of Grace. Nashville:  Abingdon, 1993.


Stanger, Frank. God’s Healing Community. 1978. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House, 2000.


The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2000. Ed. Harriett Jane Olson. Nashville:  The UM Publishing House, 2000.


The Holy Bible: The New International Version. Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1978.


Wesley, John. “Works, Vol. 8.” The Master Christian Library Version 5. CD-ROM, Ages Software, 1997



Based on chapter 7 of my book, Church Health For The Twenty-First Century A Biblical Approach.

7 dynamics of preaching for a healthier church

 John M. Crowe, M.Div. D.Min.



During Advent we remember John the Baptist proclaiming the baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord. At Christmas, we celebrate the angels proclaiming the birth of Christ to shepherds in the field. After the Epiphany, we often focus on Jesus going forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God.


Does your church lack vision of what Christ desires to and can accomplish through your church? Does your church excuse itself from intentionally reaching new people for Christ because members say ‘we have enough people and we are paying our bills’? Has your church left its passionate ‘first love’ for Jesus Christ? Or is your church’s sole motivation for outreach so that your church can keep paying the bills?


If the above questions fit your church, then the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany provide an opportunity to preach Jesus Christ afresh.


First, Remember, You’re Called to Proclaim.


Your God given call to the ministry of preaching was affirmed through either ordination or license. With such authorization comes the mandate to order the life of the church in a spiritually healthy fashion. As pastors, we accomplish this by the due administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and leading the community of faith in ministry to others.

Preaching is one of our most valuable opportunities to enhance the wholeness of the congregation. Sermons that relate the coming of Christ and Jesus’ earthly ministry to the life and ministry of a local church naturally lean toward a narrative style. Such communication not only addresses the heart, mind, and behavior but also relationships and spirituality.


Second, Proclaim the Word.


John Wesley called for building up the body of Christ through living the faith, proclaiming the pure Word of God, and administering the sacraments. Wesley believed that three things were essential to a living church:


First: Living faith; without which, indeed, there can be no Church at all, neither visible nor invisible. Secondly: Preaching, and consequently hearing the pure word of God, else that faith would languish and die. And, thirdly, a due administration of the sacraments, —the ordinary means whereby God increaseth faith. (“Works, Vol. 8” 38)


One can deduce from Wesley’s view that the Church lives by the pure proclamation of the Bible. John Albert Bengel, Wesley’s contemporary, wrote,


Scripture is the foundation of the Church: the Church is the guardian of Scripture. When the Church is in strong health, the light of the Scripture shines bright; when the Church is sick, Scripture is corroded by neglect; and thus it happens, that the outward form of Scripture and that of the Church, usually seem to exhibit simultaneously either health or else sickness; and as a rule the way in which Scripture is being treated is in exact correspondence with the condition of the Church. (1:7)


Third, Preach Christ.


Preaching can rekindle the spark of health within a church. It can help people regain a biblical vision of the gracious coming of Jesus and Christ’s mission in the world. A renewed vision of the nature and mission of the church biblically begins with a renewed focus on God’s free gift of Jesus at Christmas and his earthly ministry in the season following the Epiphany.


God’s love for the whole world was demonstrated in the Word made flesh in Bethlehem. Jesus’ earthly ministry not only demonstrated God’s love. It also illustrated the continuation of Jesus’ ministry through his body—the church. To state this truth theologically, at the heart of a renewed ecclesiology is revived Christology. [Although not part of this article, I've provided a chart below that relates ecclesiology and the various subsystems of the church.]


Fourth, Offer Your Best to God.


Churches need preaching with quality and excellence. Such preaching is far more complicated and difficult to do than the deductive preaching of a previous generation. Today’s unique difficulty in performing a sermon with skill for the sake of ministering to people involves communications style.


Both churched and unchurched people find themselves bombarded by quality communication all week long. Whenever pastors preach sloppy and careless sermons, we lose both personal integrity and much spiritual influence. God calls us who preach to live a life actively pursuing personal spiritual integrity, doctrinal faithfulness, and effective communication.


Preaching today calls for a relational style. As Calvin Miller writes in his book, Market Place Preaching, “A well planned extemporaneous sermon that has done its homework will serve best” (47). Otherwise, a preacher will lose the relational force that is not available to the manuscript preacher. As Miller proposes, “Extemporaneity welds audience and communicator together” (49).


Such a relational style calls for preaching conversationally without either notes or pulpit. Preaching without notes or pulpit strengthens the conversational delivery style of sermons.


When God sent the ultimate communication of his love and grace, he sent his Son in the flesh at Christmas. When God inspired the writing of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit moved people to write in everyday koine instead of academic Greek.


God desires to communicate his truth, grace, and love to every generation in ways they can understand. Those called of God to preach carry a like passion for communication. Those who seek to communicate the truth trust the Holy Spirit to use communication aids in the act of proclamation.


Fifth, Return to The Spiritual Dynamic.


Today’s postmodern culture calls for a return to the spiritual foundation of pastoral ministry through preaching and worship. Our modern culture led many to ignore and others to forget that preaching is a spiritual business. With the post-modern media impact of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”, people are more open to the ideas of spirituality and spiritual warfare.


Before Jesus ascended back into heaven following his resurrection, he told his disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit empowered them to be his witnesses throughout the world. Those who preach and lead worship in today’s culture need the Holy Spirit’s empowering, indwelling, inspiration, and instruction for effective ministry.


Jesus also told his disciples that as the Father had sent him, so sent he them into the world. The Bible tells us that the Father sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it. It is crucial in this postmodern age that our preaching and worship leadership shares this same compassionate focus on salvation and not the judgmental focus on condemnation.


One day in a synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-3. The same Spirit of the Lord who anointed Jesus for his earthly ministry also anoints us who preach and lead worship.


We need to ask the question, “What can we expect God to do through our preaching and leadership of worship in these postmodern times?” We can expect the Holy Spirit to provide our motivation to proclaim God’s Word in evangelism, worship, in teaching opportunities, in pastoral counseling, in visitation, and in church business meetings.


The poor, captive, blind and bruised of our postmodern world is our market both within and outside of the church. We can expect Jesus to minister through us to bring release, sight and liberation to others.


Postmodern people hunger for authentic spirituality in those who preach, play music, or lead worship. Such a postmodern theology of preaching and worship calls not only for pastors to be spiritual guides of their own souls, but also of those on the entire worship team (Liesch).


Holding together personal spiritual integrity, the faith once delivered, and effective communication techniques is the narrow road that God calls us preachers to walk. Biblical performance means preaching using the techniques of speaking without resting one's trust solely in them. For pastors to powerfully perform sermons with skill that meets people’s needs, we must draw deeply from both our spiritual calling and culture of our society.


Sixth, Well Planned Extemporaneous Narrative Preaching


My own pastoral experience in preaching a series of church health sermons and testing for their impact demonstrated their impact as a wake up call for the congregation. [Although not part of this article, I've provided a chart below of my church health sermons. The chart includes the Scripture, Title and Theme of each sermon)


A greater response on the church health scale with the increase in number of sermons heard demonstrated that individuals mature in faith over time. As the personal wholeness of each person is integral to church health, it also strengthens in maturity over time.


I was not surprised that Positive Emotional Appeal registered the most significant change of the four sermon elements. This scale could also be called the “Gospel-Driven Emotional Process!”


My commitment to present church health in a positive light grew out of an important recognition. The Gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ is central to church health. In addition, the Gospel is God’s good news in a bad news world.


This choice also reflects the commitment to a whole person approach. A negative or bad news approach easily leads into work righteousness, escalated conflict, shame and condemnation and sometimes increases the very pathology in need of healing.


Leading a church toward better health through well planned extemporaneous narrative preaching divides into two parts: the sermons themselves and the impact upon the lives of those who hear them.


My dissertation project stretches one’s view of narrative preaching as more than just an effective communication technique to address the whole person. Biblically speaking, stories, more than lectures, are effective means of gracefully proclaiming biblical truth for a whole-person response in developing a healthy church.


Thomas Oden goes so far in his book, The Transforming Power of Grace, to say that the truth of God’s grace is best communicated through stories (22). My study indicates that sermons on church health have a positive impact when they focus on God’s grace in addressing the whole person through stories.


The narrative sermons over eight weeks demonstrated what I wished to demonstrate, i.e., preaching matters, and it has impact in the lives of the people and the system of a congregation.


Seven, More Than Preaching Alone.


While God works through preaching as a wake up call concerning church health, a more intimate pastoral ministry is called for. Such maturity in grace comes better in small group and one-on-one discipleship than through mass discipleship.


As Wayne Oates’ book, Behind the Masks: Personality Disorder in Religious Behavior, states pointedly:


The mass approaches to religion, as well as the mass approaches to the rest of the education of the individual, lacked the power of personal confrontation, the concern with transformation, or the wisdom needed to discern that anything was really out of the ordinary. (108)



Works Cited


Bengel, John A. Gnomon of the New Testament. Ed. Andrew R. Fausset. Edinburgh: Clark, 1857-1858. 5 vols.


Crowe, John M. “Preaching for a Whole-Person Response in Developing a Healthy Church.” Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.


Liesch, Barry. The New Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.


Lindgren, Alvin, J. Foundations for Purposeful Church Administration. Nashville: Abingdon, 1979.


Miller, Calvin. Marketplace Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995.


Oates, Wayne E. Behind the Masks: Personality Disorders in Religious Behavior. Louisville: Westminster, 1987.


Oden, Thomas C. The Transforming Power of Grace. Nashville: Abingdon, 1993.


Stanger, Frank. God’s Healing Community. 1978. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House, 2000.


The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2000. Ed. Harriett Jane Olson. Nashville:  The UM Publishing House, 2000.


 

The Holy Bible: The New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.


Wesley, John. “Works, Vol. 8.” The Master Christian Library Version 5. CD-ROM, Ages Software, 1997.



 

This is based on my article “Waking Up the Body” that appeared in the Fall 2002 publication of Sharing the Practice: The International Quarterly Journal for Parish Clergy. pg. 3-9

and

my book, Church Health For The Twenty-First Century A Biblical Approach.

My Church Health Sermon Outlines

Spiritual Body Building

 

1 Cor. 15: 1-5, 12-19, 32b 


 I. Opening story about Bill and his attempts at bodybuilding.


   A. First, he tried the wrong way based on unsound teaching.


   B. Then, he finds the right way based on sound teaching.


II. Continuing story about Bill and his church Bible study group.


   A. Bill came to see that Paul wrote about spiritual body building in 1 Corinthians.


   B. As the group studied 1 Cor. 15, it became clear to them that the Corinthian church lacked so much health because it lacked a real healthy gasp of the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection.


   C. With this insight, the Bible study group began to discuss how sound teaching could contribute to the spiritual bodybuilding of their particular congregation.


III. Concluding story about Bill, the Bible study group and pastor Fisher.


   A. Pastor Fisher was very excited to hear what they were learning for he was tired of various canned church vitality fads.


   B. Pastor Fisher perceived God leading him to preach biblically sound spiritual body building principles for a healthier church.


   C. He prayed these sermons would provide a new vision for his congregation much like Christ’s transfiguration upon the mountaintop did for Peter, James and John.


   D. He concluded his opening sermon by inviting the congregation to join him in this sermon series journey for the sake of the church’s sound spiritual bodybuilding by Jesus’ free and transforming grace and his resurrection power.


                   This sermon was the first one in my church health sermon series for my dissertation.



      "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.    

A Headless Body?

 

1 Cor. 15: 1-5, 12-19, 32b 


 I. Opening story about a West Coast church.


    A. Dale Galloway and his wife obeyed the call that God had given them.


    B. They trusted God for the resources to build New Hope Church in a part of the country that is a very, very difficult area in which to start a church.


    C. The Lord Jesus Christ led them to focus on creating small group ministries for hurting people who had lost hope.


II. Continuing story about an East Coast church.


    A. Jim Cymbala obeyed God’s call to pastor a downtown, struggling, urban church in the middle of New York City on Atlantic Avenue.


   B. He realized that without God, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church was doomed.


   C. The Lord Jesus Christ led them to focus mainly on the Tuesday night prayer meeting.


III. Continuing story about a church down south.


   A. John Ed Mathison obeyed God’s call to lead Frazer Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama into a new day.


   B. He and his Joel Committee from the church trusted God to lead people in making commitments about their praying, attending, giving, serving, and outreach for the upcoming year.


  C. Under the Lordship of Christ that church probably has the highest percentage of members involved in some ministry.


IV. Continuing story about a church in northern Middle America.


   A. Bill Hybles obeyed God’s call to creatively reach out with a young church to seek the unchurched in Palatine, Illinois.


   B. His passion was to lead a church that answered the questions of the spiritual seekers, addressed their needs, and introduced them to Jesus.


   C. That church continues to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in seeking ways to reach people who think church is irrelevant, but need it so desperately.


V. Concluding story about a church in Middle America.


   A. Young Mike Slaughter obeyed God’s call to preach on the Lordship of Christ to a struggling, declining Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio.


   B. At first several people left the church, but later they began to grow as they kept focused on their first love, Jesus Christ, not only as Lord of their lives individually but also as Head of their church as a body.


   C. While each of these pastors and churches is different in the ways God leads each of them to be church, they all are the same in their common devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord. These churches are not headless bodies.


VI. Application


   A. Church health improves as “the fullness of Christ fills everything (speaking of the church) in every way” (Eph. 1:23).


   B. A church that abandons its first love, Jesus Christ, will become unhealthy and fall apart like a headless body.


  C. Without the foundation of a current devotion to Jesus Christ as Head of the church based upon the doctrinal truth of Jesus’ resurrection, the other principles of healthy spiritual body building will contribute little.


  D. So, during this season of Lent and following, let us as a congregation draw nearer to our first love through spiritual disciplines of self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial, as well as reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word that we might be the body fully connected to our living resurrected head, Jesus Christ, that his resurrection fullness might fill us as a church in all the glorious ways that he can fill us.


            This sermon was the second one in my church health sermon series for my dissertation.



      "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.   
 

All In The Family

 

Ephesians 4:1-3


 I. Opening story about a visit to McDonald’s whose hostile atmosphere reminded me of the TV show “All in the Family.”


   A. Described the TV show characters in detail.


   B. In that verbally abusive home, surely no one including Archie himself felt loved.


II. Continuing story about Pastor Fisher visiting his aged grandmother to talk about her experiences in churches.


   A. She had noted that people tend to relate with others at church like they did at home.


   B. She told her grandson about one man who was very angry.


III. Concluding story about two churches in a winter crisis.


   A. Pleasant View Church became engulfed in a conflict much like the TV show.


   B. Fourth Church faced a similar crisis but worked together in Christ like love.


IV. Application


   A. Today’s Scripture passage calls us to have healthier and more loving relationships in the church than we see on the TV show “All in the Family.”


   B. One of the strongest evidence of love in a church is the joyful humor and laughter that is in a church body.


   C. Christian love is the virtue which binds everything together in perfect unity.


   D. Closing story about a little orphan boy, Ralph, who walked four miles to church where he had found true Christian love.


                 This sermon was the third one in my church health sermon series for my dissertation.



      "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.   
 

Coaches & Players

 Ephesians 4:7-13 



 I. Opening story.


   A. The continuing saga of pastors Fisher and his spiritual body building sermons for the season of Lent.


   B. As he prepared his sermon for the third Sunday in Lent, pastor Fisher reflected on the three different coaches he noticed in various basketball games on TV.


   C. As he thought about those coaches, he reflected upon the role of the pastor to coach the body of Christ.


II. Continuing story.


   A. First of all, he thought about the coach at Indiana, Bobby Knight.


   B. When pastor Fisher thought of “Duke’s coach K” he thought of his own first high school football coach.


   C. He also recalled another high school coach as he thought of another coaches he had seen on TV. UNC’s Bill Gutheridge’s high relationship, grandfatherly style had not inspired a lot of confidence in the team.


   D. He pondered how much similarity there is between coaching and pastoring.


   E. He also pondered how he had often heard today’s Scripture in terms of “Onward Christian Soldiers” programs, emphasized numerical growth only.


III. Concluding application and story.


   A. When a church is equipped with healthy relationships as well as skills for accomplishing tasks, both the church and its leadership team can resist being blown around by any person or any teaching that would come to us like a Trojan Horse.


   B. A healthy well coached team is evidenced by a clear and confident identity; people working together in love; unity among the spiritual leaders; focus on ministry in church meetings; a relationship of trust between the pastor and the church’s board; lay involvement in ministry; a good attitude toward change; and a vital prayer life.


   C. The formation of such a healthy team can occur only when the relationship between a pastor and the church’s leadership conforms to the biblical description of ministry as we read in today’s text.


   D. Pastor Fisher concluded his sermon with a humorous story from Bishop William B. Oden about how pastors loose their teeth for the wrong reasons.


              This sermon was the fourth one in my church health sermon series for my dissertation.

 


      "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.   

No Star Player

I Corinthians 12:1-11


 I. Opening story about a basketball team without a single star player but went to the championship.


   A. While no one player was outstanding, they did have great teamwork.


   B. Together Every One Achieves More.   (T.E.A.M.)


II. Continuing story about the Corinthian church.


   A. They thought that they were star players but they lacked teamwork.


   B. They boasted in themselves instead of in the Lord Jesus.


   C. Paul’s body analogy illustrates for us how spiritual gifts contribute to the healthiness of a church.


   D. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 turns upside down the cultural view of the body.


III. Application


   A. While each person’s spiritual gifts and service are different, each person also makes his or her own special contribution to the  teamwork of the congregation.


   B. Some churches help people discover their SHAPE.


        1. S stands for spiritual gifts.


        2. H stands for head and heart.


        3. A stands for abilities.


        4. P stands for personality.


        5. E stands for experiences.


   C. We seem in this day to be in a time of a second reformation that is calling all Christians to be active in ministry.


   D. Story of a church whose teamwork improved when people were given a chance to volunteer instead of being put on a guilt trip.


   E. Closing story of the Ford Church in Ohio. Over a period of several years, they moved from “doing church” to being a healthy body—a “church doing ministry.”


                 This sermon was the fifth one in my church health sermon series for my dissertation.

 


      "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.   

Messy Morality

Ephesians 4:17-24


 I. Opening stories about four different churches that are experiencing four different messy moral situations


A. The treasurer of a small group within a church committed line crime by illegally using an authorized name to transfer money from one account to another.


B. A gifted youth worker stops being their leader and starts being their "buddy" when her husband goes on a very long business trip.


C. A man is confronted by the church’s elders about his misbehavior with some women in the church’s singles ministry and young girls in the church.


D. It is a quiet moment during a church’s spiritual freedom workshop and a man is crying over past hurts in dealing with gifted but domineering people.


II. Continuing stories about these four different churches.


A. In each case, the person was confronted about their life being out of order.


B. In each case, the person was offered the opportunity and support to get help.


C. In one case, the church had to contact the police and have the person restrained from their property.


D. In that case, the feedback from visitors was positive for they had never felt so safe at a church.


III. Application


A. Although each story was different, God led each church to deal with the moral boundaries that were broken.


B. The breaking of these moral boundaries hurt the life and ministry of each of these churches.


C. Ephesians 4:17-24 calls for churches to live above the “Messy Morality” problems.


D. The healthy unity of the church is hurt not only by unholy relationships but also by unholy behavior.


E. Story of the Korean Elder who confessed to being like “Achan.”


F. To the degree that any church ignores the Bible’s call to holy living, a church’s health is hindered.


G. Concluding story of a church where people rebelled when ongoing sin was pointed out.


This sermon was the sixth one in my church health sermon series for my dissertation.



      "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.    

Overcoming The Dark Side

 2 Timothy 3:1-7

John 12:12-19 


 I. Opening Story


    A. Sidney Poitier keeps his integrity at a cost.


    B. He overcame the dark side of playing parts that he considered out of character.


II. Continuing Story


    A. Unlike Sidney, the crowd in Jerusalem did not maintain their integrity.


    B. By Palm Sunday, those who earlier shouted “Hosanna” now shouted “Crucify him.”


    C. A dark and unholy triangle of fear developed between the chief priests, the people and Pilate


    D. This story demonstrates how much darkness there is in the human condition.


III. Concluding Story and Application


    A. Recently Episode I has started fans of Star Wars on a journey to understand how cute little Anikin became Darth Vader.


    B. Whatever Episode II and III tell us about Anikin, we do know that he failed to overcome his dark side—his fear.


   C. The good news of the biblical story about Holy Week is that Jesus Christ went to the cross to destroy the ruler of the spiritual domain of darkness. He went to the cross to set us free, to give us the power to overcome the dark side of life for us who have been held in slavery by our fear of death.


   D. Scripture about the dark side of life, i.e. 2 Timothy 3:1-5.


   E. Jesus encouraged us to watch our hearts.


   F. Asked some questions about what is in our hearts.


   G. Closed with the affirmation that greater is he who is in us, Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, than all the darkness that surrounds us in the world.


      This sermon was the seventh one in my church health sermon series for my dissertation.



      "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.   
 

The Spiritual Empire Strikes Back

 Matthew 28:1-7

Revelation 12: 1-5, 7-9, 12b, 17​ 


 I. Opening story about a Christian puppet show at the North Carolina State Fair.


     A. It’s Easter morning and devil is all worried about Jesus staying in the grave.


     B. The stone rolls away and an angel announces Jesus is risen.


II. Continuing story


    A. Tied in Revelation 12 to the Easter story.


    B. The devil lost his immediate attack upon God’s plan so he strikes back.


    C. He struck back at God’s plan by the lie told in Matthew 28 about the disciples stealing Jesus’ body.


    D. Tied in Revelation 12 to the Easter story and the Star Wars movie “The Empire Strikes Back.”


III. Application and Conclusion


     A. Ephesians 6 informs us that our struggle to be and function as a healthy church is not a matter of flesh and blood. It is a matter of a spiritual war that is going on.


     B. Whenever a church makes any progress in what Christ calls us to, we can always expect the empire of evil to strike back.


     C. Churches need biblical teaching about who we are in Christ and walking in victory over the evil empire.


     D. Churches need a stronger prayer life for one another.


     E. Churches can often benefit from participating in a spiritual freedom workshop.


     F. Closed with a story about a church that benefited from going through a spiritual freedom workshop and one that only went through the motions but did not benefit from the experience.


     G. We can go forth this Easter rejoicing not only in Christ’s resurrection but also that his resurrection power offers the Church his power to overcome when the empire of evil strikes back. As Jesus said, even the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church.


    This sermon was the eighth and final sermon in my church health sermon series for my dissertation


                "PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A HEALTHY CHURCH." Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001.