What's the toughest part of preaching? The application. Without making light of the importance of exegesis and hermeneutics and audience analysis and delivery and all the other aspects of preaching, those elements are normally handled pretty well. It's the applications that preachers struggle with.
And when the application is missing or unclear, the preacher has lost an opportunity, and the audience has most likely missed the point.
The problem can actually be solved quite quickly when, early in message preparation, a minister learns to consistently find the answers to four simple questions.
1. What is my subject?
By the time pastors are ready to preach, most know the answer to this question. A few consistently share too many ideas with no integrating basic thrust, but most are good at zeroing in on a recognizable theme. Congregations are generally just as adept at recognizing the basic topic of their pastor's sermon. So far, so good.
2. What response is called for?
Suddenly, there is a dramatic falling off. I estimate that 80 percent of the sermons I hear fail to call for a clear response. That's in spite of the fact that most biblical texts have an obvious response that could be referenced.
The 66 books of the Bible are not primarily informational. They expect people to do something—to live a life worthy of the Lord, for instance—to obey the commandments; to look after the poor and the powerless; to honor the covenant; whatever.
All too frequently, however, sermons fail to make clear the response being called for. Because of this failure, a listener can seldom answer the question, "In what way will I be different as a result of hearing this message?"
3. What "how-to's" can I suggest?
"What did your minister preach on last Sunday?" I asked a woman recently.
"The sermon was about Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost" was the reply from this alert and committed Christian. So I asked the follow-up question:
"And what response was called for?"
"We were challenged to be a bold witness for Christ."
Wonderful—she knew the answers to questions one and two, the sermon subject and response. Then I asked if she knew how to be a bold witness for Christ. After a pause, she said, "I haven't a clue!"
This scenario is not unusual. Sunday after Sunday many people leave church challenged to love more, give more, or serve more. But when pressed, they aren't able to identify a specific way to do that. And without a way to do it, not much is likely to change.
Few ministers have been taught to think in terms of "how-to's," and frankly, these are seldom found in the biblical text.
Yet the truth is, when congregations are challenged to make even as basic a response as spending more time in Scripture, we can't assume listeners know how to go about it.
Most believers have probably tried in the past to be disciplined in regard to Bible study and have failed repeatedly. Now they feel guilty.
So to change, they need specific practical steps to follow. We can't assume that merely being ...