What’s the hardest part of writing a sermon? It’s a tough question because there are so many challenging aspects of preaching—exegesis, outlines, illustrations, delivery, etc. But based on my pastoral experience in four different churches, I have a clear winner for the hardest part of preaching—application. I’m not alone. Preaching professor Bryan Chapell once observed, “Application is what we never stop sweating.” Even after 27 years of preaching, application still makes me sweat.
But we can’t avoid it. Haddon Robinson claimed that all preaching involves a “so what?” In his classic book, Biblical Preaching, Robinson says, “Normal people do not lose sleep over the Jebusites, the Canaanites, or the Perizzites … They lie awake wondering about grocery prices, crop failures, quarrels with a spouse, diagnosis of a malignancy, a frustrating sex life, or the rat race where only the rats seem to win. If the sermon does not make much difference in that world, they wonder if it makes any difference at all.”
This preaching guide explores how to address Haddon’s “so what” question. In the first article, John Koessler likens the preacher to a medical doctor. The sermon involves providing an accurate diagnosis (exposition), but it also includes a helpful and hopeful prognosis (application). Steve Mathewson urges us to use “application images,” or extended pictures of what the biblical text “looks like when fleshed out in a believer’s life.” How would you like to sit in on a panel discussion with three seasoned preaching profs candidly discussing sermon application? That’s the scenario in the article titled Apply Within.
Chris Nye offers one of the most provocative articles in this collection—“Why I Gave Up Sermon Application.” Nye claims, “I’ve decided to forget about ‘application’ in my sermons. It’s making them better.”
In case you’re wondering what that article is doing in this bunch, Nye didn’t actually give it up for good. But he does offer a fresh perspective on how to keep the work and person of Jesus Christ central in our applications. David E. Prince urges us to apply particular biblical truths by viewing them within the entire biblical storyline, and Rob O’Lynn guides us on how to craft transformative applications that “stick.”
As you can see from this brief overview, there is not one way to apply your sermon. But you can count on two things: apply you must, and application is hard but good pastoral work. So if you want a mini-course in why application matters, how to apply effectively, dangers to avoid, and a fresh challenge to point to Jesus in your applications, read all the articles in this preaching guide.