Summary: Making our sermons relevant and practical
The purpose of this lesson is to help us always make our sermons relevant for daily use and our congregations doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).
There is nothing worse than hearing a pie in the sky, unrealistic sermon from a young preacher who has no idea what real life is all about, or a wizened old preacher who has never lived a life away from his theology books and seems to have never had any real trials or heartaches. Don't give me some namby-pamby book worm who has no idea what it means to have a family member die, lose a house, or a job, or have a teenager go off the rails.
I say give me a preacher with some scars on his chest, who has really been through the wars and has been bruised by the battles that average men and women go through out there in the real world. Give me a sermon from a man who has prayed his way through many a spiritual battle and come out the other end, weather-beaten and wounded, but alive and full of faith. That's who I want to listen to.
When that kind of preacher speaks we all tend to listen, because we know that he will not just offer up airy fairy theories, but the life of someone who has lived what Jesus commands and can tell us a thousand real stories about how to survive this life and endure to the very end. Real life examples are what make the Scriptures live.
This lesson will teach you the importance of application, how to find good applications, one major danger to avoid and an example.
Application teaches the listener to respond to the Bible, not just be a hearer only. It also reaches the whole person, their lives, not just their minds. Application also encourages listeners to be like Christ. It also allows people to know that the Bible is relevant and contemporary, rather than some dusty out of date book.
The best preparation is life. The second best preparation is getting to know real people, especially the coolest people on the planet, old people. They have stories to tell about wars, farm life, business failures, adventures, and marriage successes and failures, children, and life's battles. They are a living treasure trove and any preacher is worth his salt who spends time with the elderly and gets them to tell their tales. Another source is to read widely. A preacher who does not like to read, either needs to learn to like to read, or get another job.
Qualities of a Good Application
How many times have you heard a person read a text of Scripture and then give an application that has absolutely no support in the text? It happens so often, it's scary. I've even heard many people blame the Holy Spirit for their wacky applications. Not good! A good application is one which follows some simple guidelines adapted from an article by Hershael W. York and Scott A. Blue:
It matches the biblical truths
It matches the biblical author’s intended purpose
It clarifies the relevance of biblical truths
It is a practical example of the biblical truths today
It persuades people that obedience to Christ works and disobedience doesn't
This means that application cannot come until after proper exegesis. The hermeneutical process means that we must first understand what the text meant 2,000 years ago or more before we can explain what it means today. The preacher's job is to take the message of God to peoples who rode donkeys and drank from a wineskin, analyze it, interpret it and then bring it home to people who drive cars and drink from a screw top bottle, encouraging them not to be just hearers only, but to live it today. The sermon is empty theory until it is delivered to the street through relevant examples that the congregation can put into effect today.
Observations on Application
James Durham's Commentary on the Book of Revelation was published some time after his death in 1659. The following adapts and summarizes many excellent comments he made on application in preaching. Use applications that:
the congregation is familiar with
threaten the stubborn and comfort the weak
prick the conscience
vary widely, not always football or fishing
don't damage people or dig up old dirt
are plain and obvious
lead people to Christ
show the error of heresies
press the message home
Danger, Danger, Danger!
Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter was famous for saying, "Dainjah! Dainjah! Dainjah!" Yet that did not stop the expert herpetologist from handling deadly reptiles. So too, you the preacher are handling dangerous material. Abusing illustrations can ruin lives and turn churches into Pharisaic institutions imprisoned by the traditions of men and poisoned by heresy.