The aim of every sermon should be to change listeners’ lives, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Hershael York told participants at a recent preaching conference.
The aim of every sermon should be to change
listeners’ lives, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor
Hershael York told participants at a recent preaching conference.
“When we preach the Word, we want them to have more
than merely an experience,” said York, who serves as professor of
Christian preaching at the Louisville, Ky., seminary. “We want them to
have an encounter with the text that does nothing less than change
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 during the conference held on the seminary 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
Gearing sermons toward changed lives also demands
that preachers go beyond simply describing the text to 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?”
The main point of a passage is found in the 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 subpoint in a text rather than the main
point, he noted. But when preaching on a subpoint, the preacher should
ensure that listeners also understand the main point, he added.
“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.”
After determining the main point of the passage,
preachers should make two types of application in every sermon –
long-term and immediate, 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, the
examples will cause persons to think of their own specific application
“If you just merely describe the text and you don’t
take that step of application, all you’ll do is frustrate your people,”
In addition, 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 don’t try to get people to do something
that they don’t want to do,” he said. “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 said preaching that aims at application will
result in Christians imitating Christ more faithfully and non-believers
“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,” the
Southern Seminary professor continued. “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.” (BP)