Sermons should aim for changed lives, York says
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The aim of every sermon should be to change listeners' lives, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Hershael York told the annual Power in the Pulpit conference.
"When we preach the Word, we want them to have more than merely an experience," said York, who serves as Southern's Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching. "We want them to have an encounter with the text that does nothing less than change their life."
To preach life-changing sermons, preachers must begin their preparation by determining how the scriptural text under consideration reveals man's fallen condition and need for the grace of Christ, York said in addressing the March 14-15 conference at the Louisville, Ky., campus.
"The text always shows us that there is something in us that is deficient that is in need of the grace of God to be applied," he said. "... We have to repent. We have to allow the grace of God to be applied to our lives in such a way that we grow in Christ's likeness."
Gearing sermons toward changed lives also demands that preachers go beyond simply describing the text, by making application to listeners' lives, York said.
In order to apply biblical texts faithfully, York said preachers must ask two questions: "What is the main point of the passage?" and "How does it apply?" These two questions can help pastors teach their congregations to study the Bible more effectively, York added.
"If you locate for [listeners] the main point of the passage and then you show them how it applies ... as they begin reading the Bible, they start looking for two things. Every time they read a chapter in the Bible they start saying, 'Now what's the main point here? And how does this apply to me?'" he said.
The main point of a passage is found in the original author's intended meaning, and preachers must look constantly for innovative ways to explain that intent, York said.
At times it may be appropriate to preach a sermon based on a sub-point in a biblical text rather than the main point, York acknowledged. But when preaching on a sub-point, the preacher should ensure that listeners understand the main point, he said.
"If you're going to be an expositor, it begins with a willingness to be confined to the intent of the author," York said. "And frankly, that's the line that separates the would-be expositors from the true expositors. You have to say, 'What is it that the author is after?'"
After determining the main point of the passage, preachers should make two types of application in every sermon: long-term application and immediate application, York said.
Long-term application helps listeners understand how their lives will be different if they implement the truths of a biblical text, he said.
One of the best ways to make long-term application is to give specific examples of how a person might adjust his life in order to conform to the truth of the passage, York said. Even though specific examples do not apply to every listener, he said, the examples will cause listeners to think of their own specific application steps.
"If you just merely describe the text and you don't take that step of application, all you'll do is frustrate your people," York noted.
In addition to long-term application, preachers must call for immediate application -- a way in which listeners can express their commitment to action and be held accountable, York said.
"I want to confront everybody that sits under my preaching with that immediate response," he said. "Are you going to make that decision or not? I show them long-term: Here's what it's going to look like. Then I ask them for a commitment."
Calling for a response must never involve manipulation, York added.
"I'm just always honest," he said. "I don't do anything to manipulate people. I don't try to get people to do something that they don't want to do. I do quite the contrary. I show them: Here's the stark commitment that I'm calling for, and if that is what you want to do ... then you can seal that decision right now."
York concluded that preaching which aims at application will result in Christians imitating Christ more faithfully and non-believers experiencing salvation.
"Every week they come to our church [and] they need their lives changed," he said. "They've been walking in the filth all week. They've been out there in the workforce. And they come. They need correction. They need instruction. They need reproof. They need to know how to live for the Lord.
"They need encouragement. But they need to be conformed more to the image of Jesus Christ. And you can't do that through any human book. You can only do that through the Word of God."