So I’ve mentioned in the previous post that there are a lot of sermons being preached that suffer greatly in the area of application.
In this post I want to offer some suggestions (and suggestions is all they are) about how to correct the lack of application in our preaching. Most of what I’m going to say here is drawn from the following sources:
- The Relevance of Preaching, by Pierre Ch. Marcel
- The Art of Prophesying, by William Perkins
- Any collection of sermons you can find by the Puritans.
- The Westminster Directory of Worship.
For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to cover the exegetical process, but instead I’m going to look at the process of sermon preparation generally, and then how to apply the sermon, more specifically. I’m also going to presuppose that the entire process of sermon preparation has been done in a spirit of prayer and absolute dependence on the the Holy Spirit. What I’m offering is just nuts and bolts.
At the point that I begin the preparation of the actual sermon, I’ve already translated the text from either Hebrew or Greek into English, and I’ve done the exegetical work to determine the text’s main point and relevant sub-points. That being done, my next step is to spend a couple of hours reading and re-reading the text with a legal pad and pen handy; what I do at this point is start interrogating the text. What are the grammatical links and connections within the text? What are the logical links and connections in the text? Is there anything significant about the vocabulary of the text? As I seek to answer the last question, I will usually look to a good Greek-English lexicon (Bauer, Louw-Nida, etc.) and do some word studies and cross-references.
With that done, my next step is to prayerfully brood over this text. I’ll list the truths or doctrines taught in the text with verse references. The final thing I do at this point is write out a synthesis of the text; this is just me laying out what the text is teaching in my own words.
Next I want to try and discover the purpose of the text. What is the author’s point in writing what he’s written? This step gets overlooked a good bit in discussions of sermon preparation, but it is crucial to my prep. Once I’ve discovered the purpose of the text, I will write out what I think the purpose is, and check that against my exegesis. If everything matches, I move on the writing a proposition/theme statement. For me, this is a combination of the synthesis of the text and the purpose of the text.
My main proposition or theme statement is generally between ten and nineteen words and clearly and comprehensively states the truth of the sermon I intend to preach. This statement is the embodiment of the sermon in one sentence, and it will directly or indirectly encompass the main headings of the sermon. If I’ve done my job correctly, when I’ve created my sermon outline (I use the Harvard outline format), I should be able to read my sub-headings back into the main heading, and my main headings back into my main proposition or thesis statement. This is a good way to check your logic. Once I’ve done all of this, then and only then do I turn to a commentary, and then only to check my interpretation of the text.
Too many pastors turn to commentaries far too early in the prep process, which leads them to preach the thoughts of other men. As far as I’m concerned, they’re guilty of plagarism.
Only once I’ve gotten my outline down do I consider turning to application.