Somehow—someway—we preachers got the idea that the best and holiest section of the sermon is the “teaching biblical information” part.
How did we come up with that?
We certainly didn’t get that from Jesus.
Go over to the Sermon on the Mount and pull out a piece of paper and create two separate columns. Over one column write, “Taught expository information about the Old Testament,” and over the other column write down, “Told people what TO DO with the information from the Old Testament.”
Read the entire sermon through that lens then tell me what percentage of that sermon was EXPLANATION of the text and what percentage was APPLICATION of the text.
Maybe 10 percent EXPLANATION and 90 percent APPLICATION?
In the Great Commission, Jesus told us “to teach people to obey” (Matthew 28:20).
That’s your job in this section.
You must teach them, in very SPECIFIC and CONCRETE ways, what you want them to DO.
Three Things to Remember With Application
Keep three things in mind when writing the APPLICATION part of your message:
First, over half of your listeners are SJs on the Myers-Briggs. Which means when you give them a proven model that they can benchmark from, they will be much more likely to create their own. Meaning, it won’t “click” for 60 percent of your people unless in this section you share a specific time when YOU got uncomfortable to reach a friend and show them how you did it.
Second, people must be CALLED TO ACTION or they won’t do jack. Your job is to teach them “how to obey” and exhort them to do it the minute they leave the room.
Third, the reticular activating system is still in play here. Especially here. Unless you intersperse your application with ideas, phrases, quotes, stories, stats, etc. that get through the RAS you’ve lost them at the most important part of the message.
I always try to begin this section by sharing the action step I want them to take.
I’ll say something like, “Listen, here’s the thing I want to make sure you leave with: YOU MUST BE WILLING TO GET UNCOMFORTABLE TO REACH YOUR FRIENDS.”
I’ll try to brainstorm 10+ questions I know people will have at this point in the message. Anticipate the most important ones and answer them now.
Sometimes all I have is one point and just keep hammering it home in different ways. Other times I’ll say, “OK, here are four things I believe Jesus would tell us to do if he were standing right here.”
It varies each time.
The key is to picture an actual person sitting across from you. Look them in the eye and give them specific, godly counsel about HOW they can do what Paul did THIS WEEK with their friends.
Two Final Thoughts for Effective Preaching
Here are two things to keep in mind:
1. Simple Structure + Deep Content = Effective Preaching
This is a writing mantra I live by: “Simple Structure. Deep Content.”
Preaching is an annual marathon of creating 3,000-word documents (whether written or not) 42-47 times a year. That’s 141,000 words a year.
For a point of comparison, that’s the equivalent of writing three full-length non-fiction books a year. That is an ENORMOUS amount of content you have to create out of thin air.
That’s like John Grisham level kind of heavy-lifting writing and idea creation.
No one feels the weight of this like you and I do.
Writers who crank out novel after novel after novel have a secret: pre-existing templates into which they insert their best material.
If you want to become a great communicator that God can use to expand his kingdom, you must do the same thing.
INTRODUCTION, EXPLANATION, APPLICATION is the template you’re looking for.
It’s proven. It’s simple. It’s action-oriented. It’s universal. And it works.
2. Create the “Structure” for Your Next 10 Sermons and Begin Dropping Content Into Them Now
Let me suggest something that will dramatically improve the quality of your sermons and decrease preparation time.
Go ahead right now and create a Word doc for your next 10 sermons.
(FYI: those of you who have already “finished” your next 10 sermons, we hate you. Just saying.)
Create these 10 Word documents and in each of them type the words INTRODUCTION, EXPLANATION and APPLICATION. Leave room between each to drop content underneath.
Then copy and paste the text you’re going to use for each message (if you know it).
When you do this, something really cool will happen. You’ll start finding material you can use in each of these messages IN ADVANCE. Like four, seven and 10 weeks in advance.
Ideas will just start dropping from the sky. “Oh, I can use this for my APPLICATION in my sermon on…”
Just yesterday an idea came to me that I’m going to use for my entire introduction for the first sermon in our upcoming series called “Three Easy Ways to Blow Up Your Relationship.”
If I hadn’t already created these documents, that idea would have vanished.
Ideas will come to you because, well, God, of course, but also because your brain will become conditioned to notice useful material.
If you can take it one step further by doing advance work and identifying the central idea and ACTION STEP you’ll want people to take derived from the passage, so much better.
And if you really want to do next level preparation, you can ask volunteers and staff to do sermon research for you and input ideas quotes, stories, YouTube clips, articles, etc. into each of these sections.
Ask them to comb what they’ve read in the last two months for illustrations. Have people survey your people and ask what questions they have about these topics. Have them solicit testimonials. The possibilities are vast.
For those of you with personal assistants—you have no excuse for not doing this. Seriously.
Remember this: Preaching has more impact on the overall growth and health of your people than everything else you do, combined. So, leverage every available resource you have.
Hope this helps.
Cheering you on, friends.
This article on effective preaching originally appeared here.