The continued interest and momentum behind expository preaching is encouraging and exciting. The resources available to assist preachers in sermon preparation are abundant. However, there is one element of the sermon that is all too often neglected: sermon application.
Charles Jefferson, in his book “The Minister as Shepherd,” so wonderfully stated, “no part of a minister’s work is more strictly, genuinely pastoral than the work of preaching… The curse of the pulpit is the superstition that a sermon is a work of art and not a piece of bread and meat.”
Unfortunately, we can fall into that trap as expository preachers. If we are not careful, our sermons can end up being a running commentary of the text, instead of a sermon that speaks to the heart of the sheep. This leaves the audience asking, “So what?” Every preaching professor I have sat under has reminded me something akin to, “If you cannot answer the ‘so what’ of the sermon, then you are not ready to preach.”
The best reminder a preacher can have when he is preparing his sermon is to remember that God has called him not as a lecturer, motivational speaker or running commentator; He has called him to be a shepherd. Shepherds must know their sheep, and they must know what their sheep need. The shepherd, then, should not be content to simply give information to their sheep but should rather desire to give their sheep the nutrients they need.
The preacher does not have to look far to see that the preachers throughout Scripture made it a practice to apply God’s Word to their sheep. Daniel Overdorf, in his book “Applying the Sermon,” writes “effective preachers” will consider their audiences’ needs on their level.
What then can the preacher do to enhance his sermon application?
1. Remember that expository preaching should be pastoral preaching. As I mentioned, preachers are called to be shepherds. Therefore, our preaching should be distinctly pastoral. Your local flock is not a general audience that watches you on television. They are the sheep God has called you to shepherd.
2. Approach pastoral preaching with application in mind. The entire sermon preparation process should have application in mind. God’s Word was meant to be applied to our lives. Therefore, the preacher must not only study the sermon text, but he must also study his audience. This means that while the pastor studies and exposits his sermon text, he keeps his congregation on his mind for the purposes of biblical application.
Overdorf provides helpful questions to ask in his sermon application model:
- Comparison of audiences: How do my listeners compare with the original audience?
- Listener need: What listener need does this text address?
- Sermon purpose: What should my listeners think, feel or do differently after hearing a sermon from this text?
- Sermon application: If the sermon accomplishes its purpose in specific listeners dealing with specific life situations, how might it look?
3. Care for the sheep that God has entrusted to you. As Shepherds, we must know our sheep. When you know them, you will know how to better apply God’s Word to their hearts. Pastoral care is not only an important element of pastoral ministry, but also a necessary component of sermon preparation. This means part of your sermon preparation involves time outside of your study.
Whether that be beside a hospital bed, sharing a meal, home visits or attending the local football game, time with your flock is a vital part of sermon preparation. When we spend time with the sheep, we show them that we genuinely care for them and love them.
Sheep will listen, follow and trust the shepherd that is faithful to feed and care for them. Balance is key. The preacher must protect his schedule by scheduling time for studying the text and time to be with the people.