Many pastors would say the purpose of preaching is "to interpret the text" or "to help people understand God's Word." Those aren't bad reasons, but they are incomplete.
The Bible says, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Eph. 4:11-12, NIV).
The aim of preaching is to change the character and the conduct of the listener so we can lead them to maturity, ministry and missions. Ultimately, the purpose of preaching is the same as God's purpose for human beings—for God's people to become like Jesus.
That's why I believe the number one problem in today's church is "application-less" preaching. How can you put more application in your preaching?
Look for ways to include these 11 practices in your preaching:
1. Aim for a specific action. The more you know what you're aiming for, the easier it is to get a response. A purpose-driven sermon is like a bullet. Your message has a target, and you're aiming for that outcome. You should focus your entire message on getting that bullet in the bull's eye. You prepare everything in your message with the end in sight.
2. Model it from your own life. In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul shows how he applied the truth to himself and modeled it for others. You don't need to be perfect to be a model. If you did, no one could do the job of a pastor. Nobody is perfect—not even pastors. You simply need to be one step ahead of those you're leading and actively demonstrate how you're trying to apply Scripture.
3. Ask penetrating questions. One way you can do this is to provide an outline with thought-provoking questions on it. Sometimes at Saddleback we'll use little self-evaluation quizzes to help people apply what they're hearing.
4. Give specific action steps. Provide your listeners with a step-by-step process. Describe to them exactly what they need to do to put God's truth into action.
5. Give practical examples of others applying the Bible to their lives. This is the exceptional power of testimony. Whatever you want others to do in your church, just make a hero out of somebody who's doing it. For example, if you want your people to witness, tell stories about people who've witnessed in your church.
6. Offer people hope. People need encouragement to change. If they believe it's hopeless, they won't even try. Thankfully, the Bible is a book of hope. Romans 15:4 says, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope." God put everything in the Bible—even the negative parts—so we might have hope.
7. Make your applications your points. This is the secret weapon for changed lives. People will remember your points. If you want your listeners to remember the applications, then those should be your points.
8. Put a verb in every point. The easiest way to help people become doers of the Word is to put a verb in every point. It turns the truth into action steps.
9. Put Jesus or God in the point. You're not just giving some moralistic pep talk. That's why I think it's helpful to put Jesus' name or God's name in the point whenever you can, because the power to change comes from God.
10. Personalize the points by using personal pronouns. I rarely use the word "we" in an application or an outline because it weakens the application. Instead of saying, "Jesus died for us," I say, "Jesus died for me." It personalizes the statement.
11. Provide practical suggestions. At Saddleback, we will often assign some homework. Jesus did this. He would tell his listeners, "Go, and do likewise." Think in terms of S.M.A.R.T. assignments, which are:
Specific—Pick a specific period of time for your listeners to complete the assignment (such as the current week).
Motivational—Ensure your listeners have a convincing reason to complete the assignment.
Attainable—Don't make the assignment unrealistic.
Relevant—Base the assignment on your message.
Trackable—Give your listeners a way to track whether they've completed your assignment.
You can do this! Incorporate a few of these methods into your preaching, and watch your congregation start applying God's Word to their lives.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, one of America's largest and most influential churches. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. Pastor Rick started The PEACE Plan to show the local church how God works through ordinary people to address the five global giants of spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership, poverty, disease and illiteracy. You can listen to Daily Hope, Pastor Rick's daily 25-minute audio teaching, or sign up for his free daily devotionals at PastorRick.com. He is also the founder of Pastors.com, a global online community created to encourage pastors.
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