Sermon application is most effective interwoven throughout a sermon. The efficient expositor stirs his listeners back to the subject at hand with pointed questions, eye to eye contact, and first-person singular pronouns. Why wait? Why wait until after an illustration, or after an explanation? Effective and meaningful application does not come easy. Look for reliable sources of application to help you keep your listeners engaged.
My assignment is to write on the matter of Sources of Application. I hope to encourage the readers of this article to utilize four sources that have proven helpful to me over the years.
The Bible. Loaded with literary genre, the Bible begs us to open it and see the many ways God makes it plain! The epistles provide deep wells from which to draw out life application. Letters to churches who searched for how to do Christianity are dripping with application. Read Ephesians 4-6 for example, to see how Paul exhorts the readers there to “walk.” Paul knew the Ephesian Christians did not have examples of Christian living in their neighborhoods as we do. So, he announces in 5:1, “Be imitators of God!” Think through your pews and make specific application to the sins with which your people struggle to overcome. Wisdom literature features a father applying the wisdom he learned in life to his sons and daughters. The Psalms show us through poetry the other David. Although king of Israel, David was “lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25). David tells us he “waited for God” and prayed, and God delivered him from his fears. Gospel is yet another genre that the Bible features which piles up life application. Careful reading in Mark will reward the reader who sees the disciples slow to understand and the most unsuspecting characters, responding in great faith. Read how they did it in the Gospels. The Bible must not be set aside during sermon application but be the very source for human transformation.
Technical sources. By that, I mean books that feature plans for interpreting and applying the Bible. Consider these: Getting the Message, The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application, or Putting the Truth to Work, both by Daniel M. Doriani. Doriani highlights four questions people ought to be asking of a text: “What should I do? That is, what is my duty? Who should I be? That is, how can I become the person or obtain the character that lets me do what is right? Where should I go? That is, what goals should I pursue, to what causes should I devote my energy? How can I distinguish truth from error? That is, how can we gain discernment?” Use all four of those questions as you think through your application and you will avoid many headaches. Think about purchasing, Preaching for a Verdict, by J. Josh Smith. Dr. Smith has helped me immensely in his 2019 paperback. Smith is wonderful distinguishing between two terms often confused by the expositor, exhortation, and application. He writes, “Exhortation puts the urgency in exposition. Exhortation is persuading the listener to respond to the call of the text through proclaiming the point of the text” (p 19). Unlike exhortation, application explains how we do it.
Podcasts. Pastor, you know the demands on our in-office time. My car provides the respite I need during the lunch hour to beef up my learning. Have you considered podcasts? Try Expositor podcast with Dr. Steven J. Lawson, or Best of Preaching and Preachers, a weekly podcast devoted to those who preach. The weekly host is Dr. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Theological Baptist Seminary. Truth for Life is another top-shelf podcast featuring the excellent preaching of Alistair Begg. Begg is a master at weaving application in and out of each point he makes. Preaching Points is a bi-weekly podcast of the Haddon Robinson Center for Preaching in Gordon Conwell Seminary. Turn on your Bluetooth and spend your lunch hour learning sermon application from the best!
Counseling Books. Pastor, hopefully, you are spending precious time during your week counseling your flock. What are we doing when we counsel? Yes! We are applying the Bible’s answers to the hurting people in our congregation. In short, we are helping people change. Think of your application moment as one on many, instead of one on one. You must urge your listeners to find their kinship with the people in your preaching text! Anger transcends the boundaries of the first century. Married couples in your church can discover through your application that their marriage can mirror, for good or for ill, the marriage of those in the Bible. Help them to see God’s purpose for marriage, and how to make a good marriage great! Consider buying June Hunt’s Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Hunt delights in acrostics to make her application. Here are three other counseling texts you might consider as sources for your sermon application: How to Help People Change, and The Christian Counselor’s Manual, both by Jay E. Adams. Finally, make sure this source is in your library, Christian Counseling, A Comprehensive Guide, by Gary R. Collins.
The Bible, technical works specific to application, podcasts, and counseling books all lend themselves as valuable sources for how to help your people change. With your Bible open first ask yourself, “What changes do I need to make before I preach this to my listeners? Who is God calling me to be because of reading this text? What is the duty that God has assigned me this week? To what causes am I to devote my energies after reading this?” Let your text marinate in your soul and draw out every nutrient the Spirit is yielding to you. Then you will be ready to look at these other helpful sources and help others change.
Kelly Burton is the Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Alba, Texas.