Difficult to Apply?

In our pastor’s meeting we have been discussing why it is, in spite of our efforts, that we still often get feedback from our congregations that our sermons don’t have ‘enough application’? Add this to the oft-levelled criticism of Sydney evangelical ministers that our sermons are ‘text-heavy’ and ‘practical-light’. So I’ve been doing a little bit of thinking about how to do ‘application’ better.

On one level, some of the criticisms can be unfair and may stem from a misunderstanding of what ‘application’ ought to be. But on another level, there is a good amount of truth in it. Personally speaking, it’s only been in the last couple of years since I’ve been listening to sermons widely that I’ve seen the gaping holes in my sermons when it comes to application. I’ve been especially helped by pastors such as Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller in this regard. I never realised how shallow my sermon application has been at times until I really thought hard about what these men were doing in their preaching and reflected on how they did it so well.

So here’s what I’ve been learning about application and what I’ve been trying to apply. I shared this at our staff meeting yesterday and the feedback was that it was helpful. This will have to be an ongoing series of posts so I’m just going to give the headings for now:

1. Application begins with theology
2. How to apply applying
a. Exegete your world
b. ‘Apply’ throughout
c. Dialogue with the listeners
d. Ask the ‘what if’? questions
e. Go for presuppositions
f. Preach to those who you want to be there
h. Show me the glory of the gospel
i. Aim for worship

About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on June 24, 2010, in Ministry, Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I write about what God is showing me in my life and in the

    world, people seem to be able to relate to that…

    Tim Keller is amazing!

  2. Hey Pete,

    Good question and always something I ask myself as I step down each week – was I specific enough about how that should be lived out in their lives.

    Here’s another perspective from John MacArthur:
    I’ve heard it said that 50 percent of a sermon should be application. Could you comment?

    I think that is arbitrary. I prefer to say that all of a sermon should be applicable. If I preach the Word of God powerfully and accurately, everything I say should apply. Obviously, not all will apply to everyone in the same way, but it is my intent to speak what is life-changing for all.

    I believe the goal of preaching is to compel people to make a decision. I want people who listen to me to understand exactly what God’s Word demands of them when I am through. Then they must say either, “Yes, I will do what God says,” or “No, I won’t do what God says.”

    While I believe in the importance of illustrations, I do not believe that 50 percent of a sermon must be applications. If I preach that we should love our neighbors, I need not devote half of my sermon to telling my people in exhaustive detail how to love this way. It is the Spirit who applies the truths of Scripture to each person. But if we fail to give our hearers some clear principles they can apply, we have failed to present God’s Word properly. Remember, people live out their theology or beliefs, but they forget your exhortations. They will apply what they genuinely believe to be true.

    • pastorpeterko

      Hey Pastor Al,

      Good thoughts raised.

      In answer to your Q, I think it all depends on what you mean by ‘application’. I’ll be posting about that as I explain my points, but I reckon that by what I’ll define later on as ‘application’, probably close to a good half of a sermon (or at least 1/3) will end up being on the application end of the spectrum. But that I’ll have to define and defend a later date. 😉

  3. I have a “sticky note” on my desk with the following 6 points. I read it every time I prep a sermon/talk/study… (it came from Rick Warren originally) Might seem a bit too pragmatic for some, but often the reason people aren’t responding to sermons is because they just don’t know how. The preacher is the teacher – tell ’em.

    1. Be specific in your call to action i.e. aim at nothing and you’ll hit it, everytime 😉
    2. Model it – like Paul, ‘follow me as I follow Christ’
    3. Ask penetrating questions [I personally think this is where Driscoll, Keller et.al. really excel!]
    4. Answer, “Yes. But How?” [tell them how to respond]
    5. Give practical examples. What gets rewarded, gets repeated.
    6. Offer hope. “By God’s Spirit you can do this!”

  4. Good list, Pete. I think I’d add something about ‘theological framework’ or ‘ethical method’ here. For example, at the weekend I gave people a method for putting sin to death by preaching the gospel to themselves — reminding themselves how Jesus is better and how we can please him. I took examples from the floor of things that made people angry, then made the point that they could do the same exercise with the other sins listed (Col 3).

    Two things I think you’ve listed above (but I’ll add, just in case your cryptic headings were pointing elsewhere), both of which Driscoll in particular does well:
    1. Give concrete detail. Even if the concrete detail isn’t applicable to me, it’ll help me understand the principle. When we teach grammar points in ESL, we don’t just teach an abstract rule; we give lots of concrete examples.

    Also, it’s hard to disagree with a Biblical principle. When you hit details, the attitudes of the heart will begin to appear. This is especially so, I think, with controversial topics like headship (or anything to do with gender), parenting, and money.

    2. Understand (and then express) what makes it hard to welcome joyfully what is being said. That is, what are the cultural lies that this truth you’re teaching blows apart? Why might my heart be seduced by the world rather than Jesus at this point?

    (Notice how I haven’t given very concrete examples of either of these? I’m trying to be brief…and self-defeating.)

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