Application is the key difference between teaching and preaching. Expositional preaching is often dismissed as irrelevant—as being little more than a running Scripture commentary from the pulpit. Sadly that criticism is often true. I’ve heard sermons that sound as though the preacher were simply regurgitating a commentary. Again, application is what makes the difference. All the knowledge in the world of the Greek vocabulary and grammar and of the historical context behind a passage has little value if it doesn’t prompt people to take some action or make some change in their lives, if it doesn’t convict of sin or point to the Saviour. Some preachers are great at applying a sermon text and making it look easy, but most preachers struggle with application.
Two weeks ago I was privileged to attend a 9Marks conference in Washington, D.C. The theme, as always with 9Marks, was “Building healthy churches”. One of the conference sessions, hosted by Dr. Mark Dever, covered sermon preparation. Dever is himself a spectacular preacher and is particularly good at application. He shared one of his tools with us and has given permission to share it here. He calls it the “Application Grid“. (You will likely want to click the link and download the PDF for reference before continuing.)
The Grid itself is pretty self-explanatory and the blank page includes a key that explains each of the columns. The purpose is to list your main points (or you might simply break your sermon text into key points or ideas) and then, working through the columns to the right, think through the application of that text for each category. Not every category will apply to every text of Scripture, but as you can see from the sample (page 2 of the PDF—you will probably want to zoom in on it), this is a great way to get yourself thinking about application. The grid is obviously going to look different for every text. In fact, I’ve been working with this for the last two weeks and find it easier to work with these ideas in a sort of mind map format.
Not every idea you jot down on the grid is going to make it into your sermon—at least I certainly hope not! But this is an excellent way to get the mind moving from “exegesis mode” into “application mode”. Everyone works differently; I tend to think out applications as I’m doing my exegesis, but I’ve found this to be a very helpful tool to get me looking at aspects of the text I might have missed. I’m also finding it quite helpful in determining how to break up a text as I’m preaching on it. Give it a try this week. I hope you find it helpful.