Many great sermons turn out to be good sermons. Sermons looking set to be good often end up average. How is it that the last few minutes of a sermon can change it from powerful to pleasant? One key element is the final descent of the preacher down the ladder of abstraction.
The text must be understood in its original setting for the detail to make sense. Then the process of theological abstraction moves the preacher toward relevance for the contemporary listeners. But this is not enough. It is easy to stop at this stage of the process, and a natural place to let off the preparation pressure (after all, surely listeners can take the abstract and apply it specifically in their own situation?) Actually no, listeners do not generally apply abstracts to their own lives. Don’t stop with “trust God!” or “love God more!” or “love one another!” or “be faithful in your relationships!” These are all abstracts.
To really cement the message as a great, not for the sake of your reputation, but for the sake of lives changed to the glory of God, push through for specific application. This means re-contextualizing the application for the sake of your listeners. What will it look like to trust God for some of them this week? How would greater love for God show up in their daily lives? What specifically might one do to demonstrate genuine love for another believer in the church this week? Where is faithfulness tested and proven day by day?
Don’t finish a great message in mid-air and thereby transform the great into the good. Be sure to earth the message through specifics, stepping down the ladder of abstraction so that the rubber can meet the road of real life. Listeners generally struggle to take hold of an abstract and apply it specifically, but they are very adept at hearing a specific that fits the life of another in the same pew, and translating that specific into a specific that relates to their version of real life. The Bible is relevant, just be sure to demonstrate that reality for some of your listeners. The rest will gladly translate for themselves!