This morning, 15 pastors from the West Michigan Lakeshore met (Tuesday, June 21, 2011) for about 90 minutes at Harbor Reformed Baptist Church in Holland to discuss the theme “Applicatory Preaching that Connects with Our Generation in 2011”. Joel Beeke from Puritan Reformed Seminary led the talk and discussion.
Here’s how he began:
“Today, much of what is preached on Sunday morning falls short of biblical preaching. We hear academic lectures, colorful storytelling, or moralistic lessons, but not true, biblical preaching. J.I. Packer once said that preaching consists of two elements: teaching PLUS application. Where those two elements are missing, ‘something less than preaching occurs.'”
“Make up-to-date applications. There is no point in simply taking the applications made by early Puritans and Reformers and repeating them verbatim to people today. Their applications were up-to-date when written, but some of them are now well past due. Others may be used but need to be translated into contemporary language and freshened up. One of the greatest helps in finding applications is to keep informed about the people we preach to and the world in which they live. We must know our people’s troubles, struggles, problems, and needs to preach to them.”
“Another way to improve applications is to go through your congregation, describing each person in a word or two that characterize his or her spiritual condition. You will then have a ready-made checklist of various kinds of listeners in your congregation on which to focus your applications. To get you started, some broad categories of listeners include: Christian/Non-Christian, Old/Young, Rich/Poor, Parents/Children/Singles, Employer/Employee, Government/Citizen, Male/Female, Atheist/Agnostic/Persecutor. More specific categories of people in the broader categories include: sick, dying, afflicted, tempted, backslidden, hypocritical, immoral, discouraged, worried, tired, salvation-seeking, doubting, proud, bereaved, broken-hearted, and convicted.”
He perceptively noted:
“Strive for balance in application. We must vary our applications. Some preachers condemn while preaching a text such as, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.’ Others comfort when preaching, ‘Flee the wrath that is to come.’ Such preachers are unbalanced in their applications. We achieve balance first by preaching from Scripture passages that allow us varied applications, and second, by applying the Word in a varied way. John Stott illustrates this point by saying:
Anthony Trollope in Barchester Towers very evidently despised his character, the Rev. Obadiah Slope, for this very thing. Although “gifted with a certain kind of pulpit eloquence,” yet, Trollope wrote, “in his sermons he deals greatly in denunciations.” Indeed, “His looks and tones are extremely severe . . . As he walks through the streets, his very face denotes his horror of the world’s wickedness; and there is always an anathema lurking in the corner of his eye. . . To him the mercies of our Saviour speak in vain . . . In a neat phrase of Colin Morris, he used the pulpit “to purvey Good Chidings rather than Good Tidings.” (Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 312)
“Following our Master and the apostle Paul, we must call sinners to behold both the goodness and truth of God in our applications. Most preachers have a bias that they should be aware of , lest they become unbalanced. Some are great comforters and some are great disturbers. Stott concludes: Every preacher needs to be both a Boanerges (having the courage to disturb) and a Barnabas (having the charity to console.).” (Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 315)
Dr. Beeke also responded to a comment about our sound bite, high-tech generation and its addiction to visual stimulation through the media. He agreed that we’re ministering to a different congregation in 2011 than back in 1981, and that “more illustrations per hour” is the course of wisdom. The following of sustained, logical, abstract argumentation is less common, and therefore more challenging for this generation. He said that he often tells his pastoral students that they need to employ some kind of illustration, metaphor, or anecdote about every five minutes or else they’ll lose the attention of the average 21st century hearer.
The time was rich for all of the pastors present.