Help For New Expositors: Applying the Bible to Your Hearers


In some circles, there is a question whether the preacher needs to apply the Word of God or whether that is strictly the domain of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think there needs to be an either/or question about application. When John the Baptist preached about repentance, those who heard him asked what exactly they were to do to prove they had truly repented (Lk 3:10-14). John gladly gave specifics for each  group of people present. The fact remains that you are to bring the Word of God to bear upon the hearts and lives of your hearers. This is assumed in the preaching act.

  1. Find the universal principle(s) given in the biblical text. Some passages have clear applications while others you will need to find the timeless, universal principle that can be applied to your hearers.
  2. Meditate on how you will respond to the text.
    • Does this text impact your life?
    • What will you now do, believe, be thankful for or repent of?
    • If you can’t answer, neither will your listener know what to do, either.
  3. Think about your listeners.
    • Who are they? (What are their careers, education, marital status, children, etc.?)
    • What are they going through right now? (joys, trials, spiritual life)
    • How will this text impact them when they hear it?
    • Will it help them? How?
  4. Be pointed and specific.
    • Don’t fall into the trap of just telling people to “pray more” or “read your Bible more” or “have more faith.” Tell them how.
    • Be specific enough that they have a few ideas about how they can apply the text—this is helpful for the newer believer.
    • Be generic enough that the more mature believers can see other application in their own life outside of your suggestions.
    • Use “You” in your application. Don’t shy away from being the messenger of God. He is speaking to them through his Word.
  5. Point people to the Cross and the Holy Spirit
    • You don’t want to err into moralism, where your sermon application simply tells the listener to “be better” or “do more.” Unbelievers and believers alike need to know that the imperatives can only be accomplished because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross through the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • Preach the need for Christ to unbelievers who are unable to obey without salvation. If you do not, at best you will frustrate your hearers; at worst you will lull them into a self-righteousness that only condemns.
    • Preach the necessary power of the Holy Spirit for the believer to change.
    • Preach the Gospel! As Spurgeon said, “Make a bee-line to the cross.”


Find help for other sermon preparation skills here:

Sermon Preparation Checklist

Help With Introductions

Help With Illustrations

Help for New Expositors: Improving Your Sermon Illustrations


It has been said that sermon illustrations are like windows that let the light in so that people can better see the truths we are preaching about. There is a danger of making our sermons like a dungeon, with no light for the common man to see the truth. Below is a list of 5 truths that need to be kept in mind regarding the proper use of illustrations in sermon preparation. My posts on sermon prep checklist and 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Sermon Introductions will also be helpful to many newer expositors. As always, ask your questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.

  1. Illustrations should illustrate
    • That powerful story that you found in the magazine or the funny story that you can’t wait to share is not a reason to use an illustration, so don’t force it. Remember that illustrations serve a purpose and shouldn’t be used simply for their own sake.
    • That means they should take your listener from the abstract or theological content to a concrete concept. Begin with what the average man on the street knows and move forward to the concept you are trying to illustrate.
    • The Bible can be effectively used to illustrate itself. But be aware that cross-references are not necessarily illustrations, but are used to clarify the biblical concept of analogia Scriptura, comparing Scripture with Scripture in order to drive home a point to your hearers.
    • A biblical illustration proper most often points to a narrative account of the concept you are making, i.e., Samson’s spiritual weakness, David’s dance of rejoicing, Paul’s fight of faith.
  2. Care should be taken with regard to the length of the illustration
    • Lengthy illustrations are seldom appropriate for a biblical expositor. You are a teacher of the sacred text, not a storyteller or entertainer. More time telling a story leaves less time to explain and apply the text.
    • Word pictures and biblical allusions are handy to shed light on an idea. Spurgeon often used illustrations from nature and life—following in the footsteps of Christ.
    • Details are often unnecessary in re-telling a personal story or other narrative. Get to the point quickly, removing all unnecessary material from the illustration.
  3. Illustrate each major point. Since each point needs to stand on its own and point to the central theme, make sure that you bring clarity to each part as you build your biblical argument.
  4. Make your illustrations work for you. Choose illustrations that can do double duty. Contemporary illustrations often help the listener to see how they can apply the text to their lives immediately. Take advantage of this and smoothly transition into your application if you are able.
  5. Make sure your illustrations fit a broad audience.
    • Be sensitive to your audience. On other words, be aware of how older people are slower to adapt the latest technology. Younger people can be ignorant to your references to old movies, modern history and older TV shows. Some people are not as into sports as you might be. And you might find that many people are no longer as familiar with ancient history, feeling easily overwhelmed with too many dates and details.
    • Be particularly aware of using lengthy quotes from Puritans or other older writers who wrote in English that has become outdate, along with complicated grammar and sentence structures.
    • Make sure you are cautious about references to movies, music, books and media that might be construed as a wholesale endorsement of the whole. You might have forgotten the a particular movie or book had some objectionable language or sexual themes in it, but your audience might not have forgotten.

Help For New Expositors: 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Sermon Introductions


Yesterday I shared my Sermon Prep Checklist [Find it here]. Since many new expositors struggle with how to begin a sermon properly, I thought that these 10 Do’s and Dont’s of Sermon Introductions might be helpful to some. Please make sure to post any questions you might have in the comments below.


  1. Be clear, and concise. Make an impact that will leave your listener wanting more.
  2. Be creative. Introducing every sermon in the same manner gets as tedious as a bologna sandwich every day for lunch. Mix it up.
  3. Be careful in your use of sensational or shocking introductions. They may distract from the message itself, and if over-done will desensitize your listeners over time.
  4. Be brief. Don’t repeat yourself or use multiple illustrations. Get to the main idea and transition into your proposition as quickly as possible. Your job is to exposit the text—so move on to it!
  5. Be energetic. Nothing invites a wandering mind and a good nap than a boring preacher.

Do not:

  1. Make your introduction disproportionate to the sermon. Your intro is like a porch to your sermon (the house). Make the porch fit the house.
  2. Cram details into the introduction that should more properly be placed into the sermon under a main or sub-point.
  3. Avoid eye contact or read your intro. Eye contact is important to engage your listeners. Know your intro so well that you will not need to read it. With that said, lengthy quotes are seldom appropriate in an introduction.
  4. Introduce your first point, or a sub-point or idea in your sermon. This is confusing. Introduce the main idea of the sermon, which should cover your proposition and outline.
  5. Introduce the book, genre, author or audience. This material is background, but not the main idea of the text.

Help For New Expositors: A Simplified Sermon Preparation Checklist


Over a decade ago, I was frustrated with my lack of methodology in sermon preparation. It seemed that every time I sat down to prepare a message, that I started in a slightly different way or I would do things in a different order. I was taught the exegetical method in seminary, but there are some things that only practice and experience can teach. I knew that I needed some sort of a form or checklist to help me move from one stage of preparation to the next. I don’t use this as much any more, but it served as a great training resource until I was so used to the movements of sermon prep that I didn’t need it any more. Below is what I came up with. If it helps you, great! If you have any questions about how each part functions, let me know in the comments. (By the way, my version has check boxes after each step, so I could get the satisfaction that comes from finishing each step with a “check.”)


Text: ____________________ Date to Preach _____________


1. Read the text in its context.  (Read 25x. Hash marks:)____________

Take notes on observations, questions, and cultural/historical issues that you need addressed later in your study.

2. Read the text 1x in alternative versions:

    • ESV
    • NASB
    • NIV
    • KJV
    • NKJV
    • NLT
    • The Message

3. Translate the text from the original language.

4. Diagram the text (either line or block). Understand the relationship of phrases and words to one another.

5. What is the major theme of the passage? 

6. Read available commentaries on the passage.

    • _____________________
    • _____________________
    • _____________________
    • _____________________
    • _____________________
    • _____________________

7. Outline the passage (Exegetical outline)

8. What is the doctrinal focus here? ________________

9. Form the preaching proposition.

10. Outline the proposition (Homiletical outline)

11. Clothe it with illustrations and applications.

12. Form introduction, conclusion and title.