For many sermons across the United States and around the world, the application section of a sermon consists of something close to the following words, “May the Lord apply to your lives what we have learned today. Let’s pray.”
Such “Application” is completely inadequate.
I understand that application is difficult to come up with, but if it is difficult for the pastor, it is doubly difficult for the person who has not been preparing the sermon all week. In a monologue message, the pastor must diligently strive to provide concrete and clear examples of how a message can be applied to the people who listen.
Thankfully, more and more pastors understand this, so that it has almost gotten to the point that some sermons are nearly 100% specific and concrete application. I am not sure this is any better, since application without specific truth from Scripture, is like skin on a body without bones. Application needs Scriptural truth for structure, balance, and validity.
So what can the pastor do?
Well, again, to some degree, this problem we face is due in part to the monologue nature of our messages. If the pastor is the one who does all the studying, preparing, and talking, then he is also the one who has to come up with all the application. But if there is dialogue and interaction, then to some degree, the one leading the discussion can lean and depend on others in the community to come up with specific and concrete application of the truths that are learned.
Lead into Application
But beyond even this, pastors need to start leading their churches into the community to put into practice the truths that were taught. If we really follow the example of Jesus, the teaching that is provided is not separated from the ministry that is performed. The application of a sermon often involves inviting the people to an additional function later that week.
I wrote about this back in the chapter on cancelling the church service, but what if the teaching time took place in the busses and vans while a church was driving to a place of ministry, and then continued afterwards, when returning? Talk about tangible teaching!
Let’s say a church was going to serve at a local woman’s shelter that was twenty minutes away. On the way to the shelter, the pastor could lay the biblical groundwork for why we take care of orphans and widows, and provide some special tips for dealing with battered women. Then the church could serve for an hour or two, and on the way home, the pastor could address any issues or questions that had arisen.
And this church service would not be an additional time during the week, but would be the actual church service on Sunday morning. Midweek meetings usually only have 5-10% of the total congregation show up. If this were the Sunday morning service, the involvement would be much higher. Altogether, the church service would last about three hours, just like the usual time spent “in church” on Sunday morning.
If hundreds or thousands of people are involved, and they cannot all fit into a bus, the pastor can brief “bus teachers” in advance, or use some other similar method of discipleship. In general, the goal is to immediately put into practice what is learned, and then immediately address any needs or issues that arose as a result of what was done.
Even missional-organic churches can incorporate more community services into their main meetings and teaching times of the week. Again, if 10 or 20 people are meeting in a living room two or three times a week for prayer and discussion, they can easily take those discussions on the road, and find a place in the community to serve as part of their weekly community activity.
Ultimately, teaching and preaching must no longer be simply a time where one person gets up and delivers a lecture about some topic of Bible passage, and then the people go home, and do it all again next week. This accomplishes nothing for the Kingdom of God, and nothing for the world we are to serve. We must get out of the pews, and step down from the pulpit, and learn Scripture together by discussing what it says with one another, and putting it into practice in our communities.
It is only in this way that the Word of God ignites like fire within our hearts and minds, and creates change in our community.