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(Note: The following is part one of an interview with Rick Warren conducted by "Preaching Magazine.")

Preaching: Where does preaching fit into the purpose-driven matrix?

Warren: The bigger the church gets, the more important the pulpit becomes because it is the rudder of the ship. Where else do you get an hour of undivided attention with all these people on a weekly basis?

Most pastors do not understand the power of preaching. But even more important than that is they don't understand the purpose of preaching.

I probably have the largest library of books on preaching in America. I've read over 500 books on preaching. Maybe some seminary might come close to that, but I am sure that no pastor comes close to 500 books on preaching.

And as I've read them, the vast majority do not really understand that preaching is about transformation, not information.

So to understand the purpose of preaching, first you have to go back and look at a few things.

First, what is the purpose of God for man, and second what is the purpose of God for the Bible? Because once you understand those two things, your purpose for preaching becomes very clear.

What is the purpose of God for man? Well, the Bible tells us in Romans 8:29, "For those He foreknew He predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son."

God's purpose from the very beginning of time has been to make us like Jesus. It has been from the very beginning.

In fact, in Genesis He says to let us make man in our image. That has always been God's purpose—to make man in His image. Not to make gods but to make us godly. To have the character of His son, to be conformed into the image of Christ. So He wanted to make us like Himself.

In Genesis there was the fall—Jesus came to restore what was there before. So the goal of all preaching has to be to produce Christ-likeness in an individual. Is that person becoming more and more like Jesus?

Now, what is the purpose of the Bible? Well, it says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work."

People misread that verse most of the time. The purpose of the Bible is not for doctrine, not for reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness.

Those are all "for this" in the Greek. For this, for this, for this, in order that. The purpose is in order that.

So doctrine in itself is not the purpose of the Bible. Reproof in itself is not the purpose; correction and training are not the purposes. The bottom line is to change lives. "That the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work." So every message must be preaching for life change.

"I hear people talk about life application preaching as if it were a genre or type of preaching. But I think if you don't offer life application in your sermon, then you're not preaching. It may be a lecture, it may be a study, it may be a commentary but it is not preaching."

I hear people talk about life application preaching as if it were a genre or type of preaching. But I think if you don't offer life application in your sermon, then you're not preaching. It may be a lecture, it may be a study, it may be a commentary but it is not preaching.

To me, preaching is for life change, and I'm not the master of this. Your model shouldn't be John the Baptist. It shouldn't be John MacArthur, or Rick Warren, or Spurgeon, or Calvin or anybody. Make Jesus your model.

In my seminar on preaching, I keep coming back to, "Now let's see how Jesus did it. Now, look how Jesus did it."

You take the greatest sermon in the world—which is the Sermon on the Mount—and He starts off, "Let me tell you eight ways to be happy. Happy are you if you do this. You are happy if you do this."

Then He talks about anger: "don't get angry." He talks about divorce: "don't divorce." He talks about worry—let me give you reasons why not to worry: "it's unreasonable, it's unnatural."

He talks about all of these practical things and then He goes, "Now, if you put this into practice, you are a wise man. If you don't, you are a fool."

The Bible says the Pharisees were amazed because He preached as one having authority. He preaches 100 percent application. My model is Jesus.

So, my goal is not to inform, but to transform. Unless you understand that, your messages tend to be based on the traditional style of teaching.

Preaching: How do you think through this whole issue of application as you are dealing with the text or the biblical theme? Walk me through that process as you think through how this applies to the lives of people.

Warren: The big thing is building a bridge between then and now. You have interpretation on one side, you have personalization on the other side, and in the middle you have the implication. The key is always finding the implication of the text.

The interpretation—commentators tend to live in that world.

Personalization—communicators tend to live in this world.

It's a fine line and you can fall off on either side. It is easy to be biblical without being contemporary or relevant. It is easy to be relevant without being biblical. The test is right there in the middle, walking that fine line.

We don't have to make the Bible relevant—it is—but we have to show its relevance.

What is irrelevant, in my opinion, is our style of communicating it. We tend to still use the style from 50 years back that doesn't match who we are trying to reach today.

I start with personal application.

Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote a book on Bible study methods, on how to apply the Bible. It sold a couple hundred thousand copies. In fact, Billy Graham picked it up and gave it to every evangelist in Amsterdam. In it I talk about a dozen different ways to apply scripture, so you start with your own life and you make applications there.

A lot of it is just simple stuff like: Is there a sin to confess, a promise to claim, an attitude to change, a command to obey, an example to follow, a prayer to pray, an error to avoid, a truth to believe. Is there something to praise God for?

So, I start looking at it like that.

I also go back to the paradigm of 2 Timothy 3:16. Doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness are basically these four things:
  1. What do I need to believe as a result of this text?
  2. What do I not need to believe as a result of this text?
  3. What do I need to do as a result of this text?
  4. What do I need to not do as a result of this text?
That is doctrine for reproof, for correction, and instruction of righteousness. So, I use that format. Start with personal application, then you go for the implication—what people need in their lives.

I believe every pastor eventually gets to application. I'm just saying he needs to start with it, not end with it.

A lot of guys need to start where they end their sermon. They will do about 80 to 90 percent explanation and interpretation in background study, and then at the end there is a little 10-minute application.

Now, that is OK if you have a highly motivated group of people who just love Bible knowledge. But the Bible says there are a couple of problems with Bible knowledge.

In the first place, it says that knowledge puffs up but love builds up, and the Bible says that increased knowledge without application leads to pride.

Some of the most cantankerous Christians that I know are veritable storehouses of Bible knowledge, but they have not applied it. They can give you facts and quotes, and they can argue doctrine. But they're angry; they're very ugly people.

The Bible says that knowledge without application increases judgment. To him who knows to do good and does not, he sins. So, really, to give people knowledge and not get the application is very dangerous.

"If you go and look at the Bible and you start taking the books of the New Testament and find out how much of the Bible is application—it will really change the way that you preach."

For instance, I once preached through the book of Romans for two-and-a-half years, verse-by-verse. I do both verse-with-verse exposition—which I call topical exposition—and I do verse-by-verse exposition, which is book by book.

That is two kinds of teaching for two different targets and two different purposes, and they are both needed for a healthy church. To say you only need one, I think is ridiculous. One is far more effective for evangelism and one is far more effective for edification.

Romans is the most doctrinal book in the New Testament. Yet, how much of Romans is really application?

Chapter one, doctrine.
Chapter two, doctrine.
Three, doctrine.
Four, doctrine.
Five, doctrine.
Six, application.
Seven, application.
Eight, application.
Nine, doctrine.
Ten, doctrine.
Eleven, doctrine.
Twelve, application.
Thirteen, application.
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen—application.

So you have a book of 16 chapters and 50 percent is application. So even the most doctrinal book of the Bible is half-life application.

Then you go to Ephesians. Half of the book is doctrine, half is application.

Colossians, first half of the book is doctrine; the second half is application, 50 percent.

You get to a book like James—100 percent application.

Proverbs, 100 percent application.

Sermon on the Mount, 100 percent application.

So my cry is: pastors just do more of it. You already know that you have to encourage your people to apply scripture to their life; you just need to do more of it.

If that means cutting back...well, I think sometimes in our preaching we are far more interested in a lot of the details and backgrounds than people are.

A guy who spends three weeks on one verse is missing the point of the verse. Truthfully, it's like looking at the Mona Lisa with a microscope. Every single word—God didn't mean for it to be read that way. The preacher is missing the point of it.

Pastors say, "I don't do topical preaching," but when they take two weeks for two verses, what are they doing? They're doing topical preaching. They're just using those verses as a jumping off point.

Preaching: How much of the sermon should be application versus explanation of the text.

Warren: I personally believe 50 percent. Bruce Wilkinson once did a study of great preachers. He went back and studied Spurgeon and Moody, Calvin and Finney, a variety of Calvinists and Armenians.

Then he studied contemporaries like Charles Stanley and Chuck Swindoll. He discovered that those guys used 50 to 60 and sometimes 70 percent application in their sermons.

What we normally do in the structure of a message is that we do interpretation and then application of a point, then the next interpretation and the next application, the next interpretation and the next application.

I am suggesting that if you want to reach pagans, you just reverse that procedure. You still get both—it's just the way you do it.

So instead of getting up and going through a long explanation on the Sermon on the Mount passage about worry, I instead stand up and say, "Isn't it a fact of life that we all deal with worry?

"Well, today we're going to look at six reasons why Jesus said that we shouldn't worry." Then you make your application the points of your message.

People don't remember much. If you're motivated, you remember about seven bits of information; if you're not motivated you remember about two. So if they are only going to remember a small amount, what do I want them to remember?

Well, I want them to remember the application, the lessons. Not a cute outline of the text.

The alliterated outline is not going to change their lives. So I say make your applications your points because the points are all that they are going to remember.

It is more important to be clear than it is to be cute. So I'll say, "Here are the three things that you have learned."

Here is the contemporary application and then you go back and cover the background. It is the exact same thing—it is just the order—and it increases retention and interest.

Now understand that I am pastoring a church in California, a church where maybe 77 percent of the people were saved and baptized at Saddleback. Without question, Saddleback is the most evangelistic church in America. We baptize more than 1,000 people every year.

How does that happen? It happens when your focus is preaching for transformation, for changed lives.

Preaching: How do you prepare your sermons?

Warren: When I'm preparing a sermon, I do a little thing called, CRAFT, which is a methodology that I developed.

C stands for collect and categorize;

R is research and reflect;

A is apply and arrange;

F is fashion and flavor, and;

T is to trim and tie it all together.

As I go through these things, first I sit down, and I start praying. I say, "Who is going to be there?" I start to think of one person. When a church gets as large as Saddleback, numbers really are irrelevant. There is no statistical difference between 15,000 on a weekend and 16,000 on a weekend—it's just a big crowd!

So what motivates me is not the number; what motivates me is changed lives. I start thinking about people that I know who are going to be there. People that I have invited, like my doctor, an atheist Jew who came for Easter.

I start thinking: "Now what is going to help this guy know about Christ?" and I will go through that little formula and think about the points, which were actually quite simple.

I remember one Easter message I preached a couple of years ago in particular. Point one was open your mind to God's power. I talked about the fact that if your life is going to be changed, it has to start with a change in your mind—which, by the way, is the purpose of preaching. Open your mind to the power of God.

The second point was open your heart to the grace of God.

The third point was open your life to the love of God.

Now that is extremely simple. But I expand upon that by using metaphors and scripture. I use an average of 16 verses per message.

We write the verses out; we put them on an outline. I do that for several reasons.

First, non-believers don't bring their Bibles to church.

Second, even if they did, they wouldn't know how to find it.

Third, it saves time. I once timed a guy, and he took about 8 or 9 minutes just saying, "Now turn to this and turn to this." I don't have that time. I want all of the time for preaching. I preach an average of 50 to 55 minutes.

I use about 14 to 16 different verses. I will use different translations, which is another reason I will use an outline. Sometimes the New American Standard says it better. Sometimes The New Living Translation says it better. Sometimes the NIV says it better. So I use that.

It also allows me to help my congregation retain what they are hearing because you can have the people read it aloud together.

We probably read more scripture aloud than the average church does because I have it on an outline. I can say, "Now, let's all read this together."

I'll say, "Circle that word, underline that, and star that." Then they can take it home with them and put it up on the refrigerator, pass it on to friends or teach a Bible study on it.

I'm a firm believer in actually writing out the message, outlined with scriptures written out. If you are in it for life change, it just makes it a whole lot easier for people to use.

I actually started that particular message on Easter by saying "You know, if you are not a particularly religious person, if you don't feel particularly close to God, if you feel pretty disconnected, if you rarely attend church, congratulations! This is your holiday!"

Rather than making people feel bad, I will say, "I am glad you are here. If you are going to go to church at all, I am glad you came here. And guess what—you don't know what you're in for!"

And then I said, "What is Easter all about? It is an invitation to a changed life. Would you like a changed life? What does it take?"

Right at the start you roll it out—we are here for establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ.

This article is used by permission from
Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox by Rick Warren.
More information available at

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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