Gabrielle Engle is a pastor at Overflow Church in Benton Harbor, Michigan. She serves in Connections, alongside leading Celebrate Recovery and WyldLife, their middle school ministry with YoungLife. Overflow is a multi-ethnic church nestled between two cities that differ in socio-economics and is devoted to connecting with those who are un-churched and de-churched. Gabrielle’s preaching is accessible and heartfelt and invites all people to consider new avenues in which God’s gift of joy is present amidst complex lives. We can learn from her about God and faithful preaching in any number of ways, but here are a couple.
EMBODY THE MESSAGE
At the start, the sermon title tells the listener that this sermon is going to be about choosing joy, following the example of Mary. Gabrielle, however, does more than tell the listeners about joy, but exudes joy. This joy comes through her smile, her steady eye contact with the congregation, and through her use of stories and examples. Throughout the sermon she helpfully expounds the concept of joy to be more than happiness, disabusing anyone from misinterpreting her smile as trite, and includes pain within joy. This clear definition of joy in Jesus moves the listener past their experiences, to locate their pain and their joy alongside the experience of Mary in God’s incarnation. Gabrielle voiced hard issues like addiction in her sermon directly and invited listeners to turn to Jesus (and the grace God offers through recovery). While this could have been hard to hear, her passionate exposition of the scripture and genuine presentation made this invitation feel like grace instead of shame.
As you prepare to preach this week, what is the tone or experience of your sermon? What might the listener be feeling as you move through the sermon? How could you use your voice, body, and content to invite the listener into a new experience of the gospel?
ASK THEM TO MAKE IT PERSONAL
Far too often sermons are able to remain in the abstract learning zone of knowledge, without entering the heart or affecting decision making. We know, however, that God is continually seeking us like Adam and Eve in the garden and that encountering God’s good news in the sermon can allow the listener to respond to God’s “Where are you?” Throughout the sermon Gabrielle helpfully poses questions to ask the congregation where they are in relation to God. The initial problem she raises with joy is that we are often too busy or too numb to life to notice it. Gabrielle lists real life examples (scrolling endlessly, drinking, eating, working) and follows them with open questions (“Where do you keep looking for joy, but finding that it doesn’t sustain you?”) that give the person in the pew an opportunity to join their story with the story of God in the sermon.
What is your practice of using questions in the sermon? Are they typically only in one section like the introduction? What is the one question that is challenging you in this sermon and how could that be shared with your congregation? Or, if you regularly use questions, take a look at the questions you usually pose and assess their quality. Are they questions that aid the listener in turning towards God or are they going to simply recall their memory towards another topic (“Have you ever had a time when…”)? Let your questions count this week in helping the listener make the sermon a time for them to personally interact with God.