Preaching Articles

The past few Sundays, I've found myself saying to my congregation that if they could leave a service and apply what I've just preached, then I've failed them.

Sounds a bit strange, I know. But I was explaining to them why communion is now at the end of our services-- as the climactic moment, not an afterthought-- instead of having it right after the singing portion of our worship, as we had done for the better part of two years. (We made the switch during Lent.) The reason is quite simple:

The proper response to the preaching of the Word should not be, "Oh, that's a great little insight. I think I'll go apply that." I think it ought to be, "O God, what are we going to do now?" The New Testament often records people being "cut to the heart" after one of the Apostles preached. Their goal was not to give people a few tips on their marriage or a few pithy phrases to guide their business transactions. (Though there are "wisdom" books in the Old Testament that do that...there is a place for it.) The overall goal in New Testament preaching was to reveal Christ-- Christ as the full revelation of God the Father, Christ as the only Savior of the world, Christ as the true and rightful King of this world, even now!

When you preach that way, people will inevitably see how far off we are. No theatrical voice inflections or guilt trips required. The Scripture is sufficient. I had a professor in my undergrad who used to say that we read the Bible so that we can "know God and become His people." When the Word is proclaimed, when we enter the story and soak ourselves in the narratives, not only is God revealed, but God's goal for us in becoming the people of God is revealed. (And yes, that includes ways of being better husbands and wives and children and employees, etc.) But the first response is not to take information and apply it. If that's all people are doing with our sermons, then they should stay home and watch daytime TV during the week. As pastors, we are not merely dispensers of good advice; we are proclaimers of the Word of Christ.

And more than that, we are the ones who call people to the Eucharist. For centuries, churches that practiced weekly communion did so after the sermon for precisely this reason. When people hear the Word proclaimed, the proper response is confession, repentance, humbling ourselves before a gracious and mighty God. In that place of humility, we come to the Table of the Lord, empty-handed. There is nothing we bring to this meal. It is not a potluck. We come with empty hands, and Christ gives us His body as our bread and His blood as our drink. Christ becomes our sufficiency and our sustenance. He is our meal that we take in to our lives. The Eucharist is a sacrament, which in one sense simply means an occasion for the grace of God to break through into our lives. But it is the sacrament because it tells the story of the brokenness of the world, the suffering of our Savior, and the wholeness that is now coming into our lives because of Jesus Christ. You can't get the Eucharist on a podcast or a Webstream or a TV channel, as good as all of that may be. You break the bread and take the cup when you gather with other believers. That's why even though we offer podcasts and Webstream for folks in our congregation who travel or are stationed overseas, we know there is no substitute for gathering with the people of God around the Table of the Lord.

I really can't think of a better way to respond to a sermon and end our corporate time of worship together. Plus, I have a hunch that if more of us preachers had to think about our sermons leading into a humble approach to the Lord's Table, we would end not with an empty challenge for people to "do better", but with a call to throw ourselves upon the grace of God and ask for Christ in us to be our hope of glory.

Glenn Packiam is the lead Pastor of New Life downtown in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

He is one of the founding leaders and songwriters for the Desperation Band and the writer of the well-loved worship songs, “Your Name,” “Everyone (Praises)” and “My Savior Lives.” He recently released his first solo album, Rumors and Revelations.

Glenn is also the author of Butterfly in Brazil: How Your Life Can Make a World of Difference and most recently, Secondhand Jesus: Trading Rumors of God for a Firsthand Faith. 

Glenn holds a BA in Theological/Historical Studies, a Masters in Management, and, after doing two years of graduate work at Fuller Theological Seminary, is now a Doctoral student at St. John’s College at Durham University in the UK. Glenn, his wife, Holly, and their four children are enjoying life in the shadow of the mighty Rocky Mountains.


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Andrew Shields

commented on Jul 23, 2012

Powerful Word! I agree people should not be spoon fed what to do each week and to short circuit their own discernment. Sometime people should be leaving the worship service with the question about what should I do, and also the need to pray about it. But I still think some application for the church is necessary on occasion. A healthy mix perhaps. Something to think about is one option for a sermon goal. Inspiration to serve now, and an urgent plea to serve is also a good one. Communion is a great example of Pastor Pakiam's theology in action.

Myron Heckman

commented on Jul 23, 2012

I suppose this depends on how one defines ?application? of a sermon. If a preacher reads the article and stops making applications, then the preacher has applied this post. So it may be near impossible not to have some application of any proclamation. Is ?Repent and be baptized? an application (Acts 2:38)? And after Jesus? sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4) the proper response was to believe, as it was following Paul?s sermon in Acts 17. The emphasis in the Bible?s sermons is not to improve your life with these four steps, but to respond to God. So while ?I hope you can?t apply my preaching? seems overstated, we should beware of ending sermons by loading on our listeners action steps that are more ways for them to fail. More often the ?application? is to believe, and changes will accompany it.

Keith B

commented on Jul 23, 2012

Good article. I think you're right--we don't want to preach simple sermonettes for better parenting...we want people to be confronted with the need for a savior.

Michael Dissmore

commented on Jul 23, 2012

Preaching the Word and leaving the result on the shoulders of the hearers (in conjunction with the Holy Spirit) is risky business. That's especially so for preachers who are control freaks and have a predetermined expectation for their messages. We need to recognize that we aren't nannies who dictate our hearers' every move. We are, however, shepherds who lead our sheep to good pasture. It's the choice of the sheep whether they'll partake or not. We also need to remember that the Word is powerful and effective. Even a poorly crafted and/or delivered message will move people to action if it contains the word (not an excuse for improper or careless handling of the Word).

Rick Mccall

commented on Jul 23, 2012

May be semantics involved in this discussion. The purpose of the Word is transformation. Transformation is applying the Word to our lives. Hearing isn't enough, right? Believing the truth of scripture isn't enough, right? It is by our fruit that we'll show the impact of the Word. I appreciate what the writer is saying and the point he is trying to make. But to say that application isn't the goal is an overreaction. Or maybe semantics. But it seems to me that the application is the very point of the Word. Otherwise, we're just studying a history book. And if application is the point, there would seem to be an obligation on the part of the minister to call the church to it on consistent occasions. Just my opinion.

John Modgling

commented on Jul 23, 2012

If he doesn't want people to apply his sermon, maybe he doesn't think his sermons are worth applying.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jul 23, 2012

James 1:22 "But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." Isn't doing what the preached Word says applying it to our lives?

Argyl Dickson

commented on Jul 23, 2012

Hey Glenn, You are right on. I have contended for a long time that we as pastors are often part of the problem. What I see here in some of the responses confirms my suspicion. When we consistently teach the people that it is all about application. We teach them that God is a means to an end the end is us. When you fell in love with your wife you did not ask how to apply her likes and dislikes to your life. You pursued her and because you loved her you changed. You did not think about applying anything. If we taught people what it means to fall in love with Jesus Christ their lives would change. I have written a book on this topic called, The God Focused Life. It is available on Amazon if anyone is interested. If you search for Argyl Dickson you will find it. I hope this article spurs more of you to take your people to Jesus feet so that they might learn of Him. He is magnificent and totally worth our complete devotion. One of the posters said that if we are not applying the word we are just studying a history book. That misses the entire point of God's word. It is the revelation of God. It is not simply history. It is where we meet God and get to know Him. If you can claim to meet God and not be changed then I contend you have not truly met God. Just ask yourself do you want your people to be Mary or Martha? Jesus said that Mary had chosen what is best. I pray that we do too.

Mh Constantine

commented on Jul 23, 2012

As always, the purpose of preaching is connection, revelation, and transformation. I appreciate the emphasis on the work of Christ "for" us, but equally appreciate the work of God "in" us and "through" us. But thanks for reminding us that we are servants of Christ, and the goal of our preaching and service is to continually bring people to Him.

Scott Peterson

commented on Jul 24, 2012

Jesus said, "everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man" (Matthew 7:24) and "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46). Paul wrote, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice." (Philippians 4:9). James 1:22 has already been quoted and finally, "If anyone loves me, they will obey my teaching" (Jesus in John 14:23).

John Yancey

commented on Jul 24, 2012

In our desire to follow Biblical models, we often miss the most obvious... I can reading preaching articles talk about the error of preaching application or focusing on behavior, but ddidn't half of Paul's letter to the Ephesians include instruction in how to live the Christian life? Didn't James stress instruction in how to live? If we only teach "How to" we are missing the message of Christ. But even the early preachers spent a great deal of time on "How to live a life worthy of our calling." It's not either or - it's both!

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Jul 24, 2012

It is interesting: this is a sermon -- to preachers -- and he does make application for us. And he's rather inconsistent: Scripture is enough, no vocal inflection needed, but we're to proclaim the Word. Well, is Scripture enough or not? So why do more than read it, then go to communion? To proclaim means literally to "cry out" and is defined as "to declare something one considers important with due emphasis." Finally, we cannot bring people to an "O God, what are we going to do now" moment and think having communion is all they'll need. If they actually do come to that point, we better be there to walk through it with them and help them answer their questions.

Pollie Marabe

commented on Jul 29, 2012

Preaching and teaching should move people to do what God wants them to do in every detail! Blessings of God should be first hand to you!Fresh truths to take and its effect in your life!

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