Jelly Sermon

22 Aug


Moving people to engagement is a challenge for all leaders, from parents to presidents.

In one instance, the manager of a company that specializes in helping individuals secure a better future through innovative talent, retirement and health solutions was having a tough time finding a solution to her own problem.

Her problem was a seeming lack of motivation in her work team.  In fact, their team’s lack of participation on a weekly call was not only an annoyance, but was also a symptom of a more serious problem – maybe.

In an attempt to gain buy in, she requested feedback from the team.  Her note asked what she needed to start, stop, and/or continue in order to get people to participate in the important meeting.  Her assumption may have been that if she changed her behavior then it would result in a change of behavior in others.  One response she received was from a woman who was not only part of her team but also a member of my congregation.

What follows is her response to her manager’s dilemma.  In her response she references a sermon I preached, probably the shortest one ever. 


Assuming there are no big surprises in the “start, stop, continue exercise”, I would expect participation will pick up, but suspect that might be temporary.  If it drops off again, I think we need to call the thing a thing and address it more head-on.  You might even need a “jelly sermon.”

The jelly sermon refers to an infamous sermon my pastor once gave. Our church was collecting food for a local food pantry. The one item our church was responsible to donate was jelly (other congregations were collecting other types of food). After several weeks of collecting, there was very little jelly.

Compared to the resources and number of members we had, our participation was pathetic.  So that Sunday, my pastor stood up, put his notes away and said he wasn’t going to give the message he planned.  Instead he said (paraphrasing here) if that was the best we could muster for the food pantry, we needed to go home and think about what the heck we were doing.

It took about 3 minutes to deliver that sermon and then HE DISMISSED CHURCH. People were shocked. And we all fled to the store to buy Jelly.  (I bought every jar of grape jelly on the shelf!)  Going forward, he never had to prompt us to give generously and if there was even a hint that we were below the mark on something, all anyone had to say was, “Don’t make him give the jelly sermon again!”


More to the story: I normally would not have said anything about the amount of food contributed.  I never had paid much attention to that sort of detail.  However, in this case a large trashcan had been brought to the front of the auditorium and we were going to give thanks to God and ask that he bless those in need.  We had agreed to bring jelly (another church was collecting peanut butter), but when I looked into the trashcan I had to look a long way down before finding anything.  It unsettled me so much that when it came time to preach, well, I couldn’t cover up my disappointment.  I just knew we could do and wanted to do better then that.

So here’s the deal: Sometimes it’s not that you don’t know the right thing to do, it’s just that you aren’t doing the right thing. In many instances,  discussion really is not needed.  While asking for feedback is a common method used for gaining buy in from team members you may already have all the feedback you need to move forward.

There is nothing wrong with getting feedback since all healthy systems must have feedback to maintain healthy productivity.  But when feedback takes the place of decisive leadership then it is unnecessary. Remember that leading by consensus leads to mediocrity – every time.

The moment you receive the feedback that you aren’t doing what you set out to do is the moment you have all the feedback you need.  I suggest that in order for you to be an inspirational leader may only require that you acknowledge the problem and then moving decisively to action!  Or as my friend said it: “We may need to call the thing a thing and address it more head-on.  You might even need a jelly sermon.”


Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Leadership


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2 responses to “Jelly Sermon

  1. Richard Nesbitt

    August 23, 2013 at 2:44 am

    Heard a few jelly sermons in my time.

    • danholland2819

      August 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      Hey Nesbitt – The jelly sermons tend to be the most memorable.


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