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Anatomy of a sermon- From “Amen” to “Applause lines”

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Saying “amen” in Church is a lost and dying art. While still practiced in certain denominations and individual congregations, it is no longer a loud and vibrant tradition in mainline protestant evangelical churches, but rather more often than not is usually relegated to the “weird spiritual guy” in the tenth row.

But still, some Churches do encourage their congregations to shout out “amen” and let their agreement and their communal assent and convictions known. This is often when the pastor is firing on all cylinders and preaching his heart out. When he’s feeling the Holy Spirit heavy on him and he’s preaching the Word and boldly proclaiming the scriptures and the mysteries of the faith. When he’s poignantly hitting on spiritual, Christ-centered truths that resonate deeply with the congregation and drip with the blood of Jesus, then you’ll hear the encouraging “amen!” start to fly.

I’ve heard “amen” when the pastor passionately declares “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!” or “Christ died for  your sins so that in your perfect predestination you might be perfectly justified, perfectly sanctified, and perfectly glorified!” or how about phrases like “Christ bore your shame and sin! He bore the wrath and hot rage of the father. He was murdered and tortured for the sake of love and redemption, but on the third day he rose from the grave and conquered hell, death and the devil!” 

If these sorts of things are not worthy of an “Amen!”, I don’t know what is.

But like I said, the “amen” is dying and it has been replaced with the applause line. This is where the pastor says something and the congregation starts cheering and clapping and whooping it up. This is not necessarily a bad thing- it’s a lateral move at best- but WHAT the Church is “amen-ing” and applauding is where we should be concerned. [Notwithstanding the phenomena when the pastor delivers one of those lines and waits in anticipation for a second for the cheering to start cheering. One-liners in particular have apparently become the homiletical equivalent of “click-bait”.

Because you can tell a lot about a congregation from what they “amen” or applaud. In many ways it is a very accurate barometer of the spiritual maturity of the Church-goers.There is a direct correlation of how worldly and man-centered a congregation is by what one-liners from the pastor they get excited about. I would argue you can gauge what the congregation’s faith is in, and where their treasure is based on what parts of the sermon they cheer and holler and decide to expend the energy to make their opinions known.

To test this, I decided to listen to the June 29th sermonfFrom Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church and transcript all the “applause line” moments. . [As a way of disclaimer however, I only listened to about 22 minutes of a 30 minute sermon. I pretty much gave up after he made the argument that the Story of Boaz and Ruth is about how Ruth’s dreams for her life were too small, and that the purpose of the story is to show us how God promoted her from working in the field, to owning the field]

Still, here are the lines and as you read them ask yourself- who are these about? What passions and desires are they catering to? Why are the applauding?

“God wants you to reign in life, you have seeds of greatness on the inside. You are destined to leave your mark on this generation.”


“God loves you too much to let you stay in mediocrity. God can see what you can’t see. He sees potential. Gifts. Talents. He’s already lined up an incredible life for you.”


“God’s dream for you life is so much bigger than your own. We think “If I could just pay my house off that would be a dream come true.” God says “That’s too small. I want to bless you so that you not only pay your house off, but so you can help others pay their houses off”


“Or we think “if I could just get that promotion at work [and] be able to run my department, God says “that’s too small. I want you to run that whole company”


“God did not create you to life a little life, with little dreams, little goals, little passions, little influence, little house. God thinks big, he thinks abundance, he thinks expansive.”


[Speaking to the women looking for a husband] “You may have settled but God didn’t settle. He’s going to bring somebody into your life greater than you imagined. Somebody that honors him. Somebody that loves him. That loves you. That’s fun. That’s talented. That’s well off. That’s good looking.”


“God created you as the head and not the tail. The victor, not the victim.”


“You have to enlarge your vision. What God has planned for you is not little. To get by. To endure. To take the leftovers. To be second class. God has a big life for you. He’s bringing you into a wide land. A place of abundance. Something that you’ve never seen.  He’s not going to just make you a better slave, he’s going to set you totally free. Free from addictions. Free from sickness,depression. Free from poverty and lack.”


“God has something better, Something bigger. More influence. More creativity. More connections. More resources. He’s going to release a favor that’s going to thrust you into a new level of your destiny. And the reason you feel something igniting on the inside, that stirring in your spirit is God speaking to your destiny. That’s your Spirit bearing witness with the greatness that God’s placed in you.”

“It’s too small a thing for you to just get out of debt. That’s one part. But the next part is to be blessed with such abundance that you can be a blessing to others.”


“Its too small a thing for John Osteen to spend his life working in the theater. I put seeds of greatness in him. I’ve destined him to leave his mark on this generation.”


“You wouldn’t be alive unless God had something amazing for your future.”


“God’s big is much bigger than my big.”


“Our big is to pay our bills. God’s big is to be debt free and have plenty left over.”


“Our big is to get that promotion. God’s big is to own your own company.”


“Our big is to just make it through the illness. God’s big is to come out better than you were before.”


“We had an 8000 seat auditorium. It was a large church even then, but God said “that’s too small. I’ve got a Compact Center in store. I’ve got Yankee stadiums to fill up. I’ve got books to publish. I got world leaders to meet.

Now in a sense picking apart a Joel Osteen is a bit of low-hanging fruit and a little unfair. He doesn’t talk about Jesus and doesn’t give his congregation the opportunity to cheer and clap to that sort of thing, so there’s not much to compare it to and a little to be desired. Still- the snippets and sountbites they are making a scene over leave much to be desired, and are essentially a big collection of awfulness..

But this truism can be applied to other Churches that haven’t fallen quite so low, particularly ones who still actually mention the name “Jesus” and talk about his nature and character and still actually give us nuggets of biblical truth. I would encourage you to listen to sermons from the seeker-sensitive guys and from most mega-Church pastors and try to be aware of this.

These pastors/leaders/vision casters will mention Jesus and what he’s done for us, but the congregation won’t cheer or applaud at that. But they’ll mention how God wants to birth in us impossible dreams, or give us wealth and influence and the American Dream, and then they’ll light the place up.

Some Churches applaud and amen at what Christ has done for us, and for who He is. Other Churches will applaud and cheer at the personal greatness we can achieve and the amount of earthly treasures we can accumulate and consume.

Be in the former, and give your pastor a well-directed and deserved “amen!” next Sunday.

[Contributed by Dustin Germain]