Yesterday I met with a good friend to talk through a passage he is going to preach soon. I love conversations like that! As usual, within a few minutes I was starting to wish I were also preaching that passage. Just a side comment, but pre-preaching conversations about a passage with another preacher can be so fruitful! Anyway, onto the point of today’s post…
I think application is generally best incorporated throughout a message. So instead of lengthy explanation followed by a block of application at the end, we can demonstrate the relevance of the message from the introduction onwards, and at every transition, within every movement of the message, etc. But with the passage we were looking at yesterday, I felt that this was an opportunity for strategic application saving.
His passage has two foci of potential application. One relates to the kind of people we will encounter as we go out into the world to share the gospel. The second relates to the kind of people we are within the church. My suggestion was to make the whole focus on the former, and save the latter until the very end. Why?
My sense was that if he hinted at, or overtly referred to, the possibility that there might be people with false motives in the church, then subconsciously the listeners would have their guard up. Instead, better to focus the application of the passage on “the big world out there and what we will encounter as we share the gospel” for the bulk of the message, allow the listeners to become engrossed in the narrative from Acts, and then at the end introduce the “but what about us in here” target.
Withholding an aspect of application can be very strategic when listeners drop their guard and are therefore more open to be struck by its relevance. Our tendency as preachers is to give away too much early on in the message. Even a little comment like, “this passage speaks to what we will meet out there, and also what kind of people we are…” – that mini comment early on could change the reception of the entire message.
If part of the relevance of a message might be resisted, pay special attention to when you introduce the thought. One option is to avoid early references to it, get the guard to drop, and then perhaps it will hit home more strategically.