Holy Land Pilgrimage 2018: A talk with Adam Hamilton

The Rev. Dr. Adam Hamilton speaks with the 2018 Holy Land pilgrims about the importance of a good sermon among other topics.

April 30, 2018

The pilgrims from New England were certainly not the only United Methodists in the Holy Land this past February. The Rev. Dr. Adam Hamilton was also there, and he took some time to talk with the pilgrims – particularly the clergy – about leadership; specifically, the importance of a good sermon.
Dr. Hamilton is senior pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS – the largest United Methodist congregation in the U.S. (Click the links above to learn more.)
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar said he was “filled with joy” to welcome Dr. Hamilton, who, he said, “deeply cares for the church, deeply cares for the denomination, and is an acknowledged leader of The United Methodist Church.”
The bishop called Dr. Hamilton “one of the persons whose preaching I follow faithfully.”
And preaching should be a priority, Dr. Hamilton told clergy. “One of the most important things you do for the overall health of your congregations is preach good sermons.”
Good sermons, he said, should do three things: teach people something, connect them to the text, and call them to action.
“[At Church of the Resurrection] we’ve said there’s at least three dimensions to loving God and loving our neighbor: There’s engaging our intellect, and our heart, and our hands,” Dr. Hamilton said.  
When it comes to engaging the congregation’s intellect, Dr. Hamilton said he is committed to “doing excellent research on my sermons.”
To demonstrate, he used Bishop LaTrelle Easterling and a chair to teach pilgrims something they likely didn’t know about
Adam Hamilton demonstrates Roman crucifixion with Bishop LaTrelle Easterling (click to enlarge the image)
crucifixion: Namely, that those being crucified were not more than a chair’s height off the ground.
“Usually we have this picture of Jesus being way up there … Mary could have touched his chest from there; he looks Mary in the eyes,” Dr. Hamilton said.
He described how his church reacted to the same demonstration: “The entire congregation was like ‘whoa, I didn’t know that.’ How many of those people do you think went and told a friend that week what they had just learned?”
“I learned that,” he said, “by spending eight hours studying Roman crucifixion, reading every ancient account I could find.”
And they can do the same, he told clergy: “You have access to the internet and more information than any generation of preachers has ever had before, which means that your sermons should be better informed than any generation that’s ever lived up to this point.”
But engaging the “head” is not enough, he said, “somewhere in the sermon, I want to touch their heart.” That, Dr. Hamilton told clergy, means using his and other people’s stories and real-life experiences to illustrate the principle that you’re teaching.
And finally, he said, “I’m going to find, every week, one way in my sermon that I’m going to call them to action.”
And one of the best places to find that call to action, Dr. Hamilton said, is in the church’s announcements.
Instead of simply making an announcement about an upcoming blood drive at his church, he used it as a call to action in a sermon on Matthew 14:22-33, where Jesus calls Peter to step out of the boat.
In considering this text we often focus on Peter taking his eyes off Jesus, Dr. Hamilton said, but this is also a story about being the one who is willing to get out of the boat.
“Jesus is always in the boat of our life with us, if we invite him, but sometimes he steps out of the boat and says, ‘Come and join me.’”
And that is the message Dr. Hamilton used to encourage people – despite their apprehensions about needles or losing blood – to participate in the drive, asking:
“Would you step out of your comfort zone? Would you get out of the boat and give a pint of blood? And it’s so simple, but in that you’ve identified with Jesus who shed his blood for us and you’re saving another human being – why don’t you come and join me?”
During what turned out to be a record blood drive, Dr. Hamilton said people again and again told him: “Pastor, I got out of my boat today.”
And Dr. Hamilton was out of the boat with them. “Don’t ask people to do what you will not,” he told pastors.
“Sometimes I preach sermons and I have not been living that sermon until I get in the pulpit,” he said, “but I will never preach a sermon that I will not commit to live after I get out of the pulpit.”