In an effort to apply scriptural text to our congregation, pastors will occasionally attempt command application to the congregant in a sermon, such as “You need to X,” or “You need to stop X.” Before reading any further, let’s be clear: there is a time when application is to be directly commanded and it is even at times when it is commanded in Scripture. When counseling with someone or dealing with specific confrontation, it is sometimes necessary to read the Scripture and say: “look at what it says! Now stop doing what you are doing.” Direct command application is appropriate in one on one and in small group settings. However it often falls flat when we attempt to utilize command application from the pulpit. It is with the best of intentions that we labor to establish proper and helpful application in our sermons and devotions. We identify problems and specific errors and sins and try to address them with the congregation. It often follows a pattern like this:
Pastor identifies a direct and relatively obvious application
Pastor states specific sin
Pastor says “you need to stop this sin”
Congregation leaves and goes on about daily life.
Pastor is confused why this does not work.
Why is it often ineffective to proclaim direct command application from the pulpit? Why do people reject these efforts at moral instruction? I believe there are many reasons that our preaching may prove ineffective in the area of application. The sermons may be detached and distant from the congregation. They may lack “unction” as Leonard Ravenhill explains in Why Revival Terries. They may be poorly presented and poorly worked. In truth, we may just be bad preachers. However, in an effort to improve our ability to communicate truth, I believe we should begin to think of sermons less as a presentation and more of a journey. The preacher is not standing behind the pulpit to engage in simple instruction. The preacher stands behind a pulpit to lead people through the Word of God to the life of God.
If we are taking our congregations on a journey we should strive to go with them. Our language must reflect a journey. Think for a moment if you were hiking with a guide and the guide began to say things like, “First, you’re going to climb up this hill. Then you’re going to have to be extremely careful as you navigate narrow rock path on the side of the cliff. Finally, you need to keep alert for signs to know where to go!” The guide may be a great guide, but his language and instructions lead one to believe he is not actually walking with the group. He is instructing the group how to walk as if he is on one end of a walky-talky.
Now consider the same guide saying, “first we are going to climb this hill. Let’s be careful and watch out for each other as we navigate this narrow rock path. Now, come this way! See the sign? We need to follow it!” Now the guide is leading people on a journey. It is the same when we attempt to lead people to God in Scripture. Our language must reflect the journey.
So, I propose we change our application language from, “you” to, “we.”
I believe there will be a few benefits to moving our language to “we.”
- Identifying ourselves as part of the congregation provides a naturally disarming comfort for those who may be struggling. It is always easier to admit error and press forward towards righteousness when we feel like others are doing it together.
- Spreading out application into a more general form allows the congregation the benefit of self-introspection. When someone is speaking directly to us, we are naturally defensive.
- Changing application to we, forces us to be vulnerable and relatable.