There are two sides to preaching: professional and personal. Bible college equips us for the professional side. It trains us to interpret the Bible and dig deep to draw out its meaning. It trains us to speak in public and present our material in a way that makes sense. It trains us to structure our ideas and illustrations around a dominant thought. But there's also a personal side to preaching that Bible college doesn't equip us for. This involves taking our biblical research and making it meaningful and relevant to the lives of our people. The personal side goes beyond what the Bible says to what it means for our people in their daily lives.
The personal side is the most difficult. While interpretation can be hard, application is even harder. The Bible says the same thing to all people in all places at all times. But the Holy Spirit applies it differently to the life of each and every Christian. Whereas one interpretation of a passage will hold true for all people, one application will not. As preachers we must know our people well enough to not just explain what the Bible says but to show them what it means for the situations and relationships they face on a daily basis. In order to be a good preacher, you can't just be a good student of the Bible. You also have to be a good student of your people.
A Harmful Trend
Many preachers avoid the hard task of discerning what the Bible means for their peoples’ lives. Instead of trying to help their people integrate biblical teaching into their daily lifestyle, they offer an “invitation.” This is an opportunity to respond to the sermon. Rather than give concrete, specific examples of what the Bible means, a vague appeal is given to come forward and make a public decision. This usually means believing in Jesus for the first time, but could also mean repenting of sin or receiving prayer. It’s basically a blank check for people to react to the sermon however they please.
How To Not Preach In a Way That Changes Lives
This method of application is as ineffective as it is impersonal. It simply does not prompt life-changing decisions. It fails for three reasons: First, it is biblically deficient. There is no biblical basis or precedent for offering an invitation to saved people. Whenever invitations seem to be offered in the New Testament, either lost people are being addressed (Matt. 13:9, 43) or the church is being called to obey specific commands (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Second, it is theologically dangerous. Inviting saved people to be saved cultivates a backward mindset that causes them to think of themselves as lost. Rather than assuring them of their salvation, it makes them doubt their salvation. Third, it is practically dumb. Most of the people who attend church weekly are saved. So how much sense does it make to direct the most passionate and practical part of the sermon toward the unsaved?
How To Preach In a Way That Changes Lives
Sermon invitations produce false results. They give us a false security in our preaching and give our people a false security in their obedience. The fruit of our preaching is change in who our people are and how they act on a daily basis, not their willingness to come forward at the end of a sermon. We must stop pressuring them to respond to an invitation. Instead, we must equip them to see what the Bible means for their lives – how it affects their entertainment, relationships, possessions, appearance, future, and how they handle temptation. We must familiarize ourselves with the details of our peoples’ daily lives and lead them to actual obedience.