Preaching can sometimes seem like a futile exercise. You can pour your heart and soul into a message that you believe is from God, deliver it with all the passion you can matter – people can really enjoy it… but then a week later nothing has changed. It’s either been forgotten or put to one side the second the meeting ended.
Now I’m not saying that it’s always like this, there are results that are seen. But considering most Christians are at church at least once a week – that amount of change that we see in people’s lives from that is proportionately low.
Why is this? People can listen to a message and have every intention of doing something about it, but then go away and perhaps the desire fades a little, other concerns creep in. And perhaps there is difficulty sometimes in actually following through.
The trouble is application. You can hear the greatest sermons ever, but if it’s not applied to your life then it makes no difference. We don’t just listen to messages for the sake of it, we do it so we can grow, so we can become more like Christ. We need to take what we hear and do something with it or it’s worthless to us.
And where it falls down most of the time is in application. We preach, we teach but once people leave the meeting we don’t really have a system of follow through. This to many means the message drifts away or perhaps they have trouble understanding how to apply it… this is especially easy to do when it’s something in your life you are not really keen to change.
What can the church do here? Cleary contact with a message needs to happen more than just the once on a Sunday – there needs to be a follow up. A chance to explore that which was brought, look at ways to apply it to our lives and re-enforce the main points. A chance to interact and find ways to take things further.
Clearly online has to be seen to be a great way to do this, as the online culture is becoming more and more important. Perhaps as a forum or a blog with feedback… there’s certainly potential in this. It allows interaction and a certain degree of anonymity. However this was something that was tried at our church, albeit in a VERY low key way, but I’m not sure one person looked at the “Sermon Blog”. I ended up removing it from the site after a short amount of time. That’s not to say this idea has no potential, I think it would change on a church to church basis, but I need to accept for now that my church has not yet embraced the online world as individuals, so the effectiveness of this is currently limited to me, however that’s not to say it can be a very effective was of allowing application in other, more tech friendly churches.
Another option is through small groups. There is a real potential here, certainly in my church. We run some small groups labelled “action teams”. One of the requirements of their weekly meetings is that it includes a time of teaching. This has been perhaps a little bit of a struggle for some of the leaders to keep up.
Perhaps a solution to this is to use these groups to help with the process of applying what has previously been taught. Now of course people can’t be forced to apply it, but they can certainly be helped as much as possible to apply it. A message with no application in reality has very little long term worth. A sermon that just tickles the ears but illicits no change is, frankly, pointless. I know that sounds a little harsh, but it’s true. The whole point in a sermon is to build people up – bring them closer to becoming Christ-like. Application of principles and ideas is vital to the growth of a Christian.
Now this of course requires addition work on the preacher – a follow up sheet with exploration of how to apply the message would be needed. Perhaps a few helpful hints or discussion topics.
But this has to be worth while, nobody can really be happy with a message that brings no chance – so anything that can help the application of it must be considered profitable.
It would also mean that every message brought on a Sunday has to have some form of practicality about it, but again this is a good thing – we should always be thinking about what change we’d like o see come from a sermon, otherwise why are we even preaching it?