How to Listen to Sermons

ear handBooks abound on preaching.  Its art and craft, science and form.  But there is a dearth on how to listen.  Even if sermons have fallen for the old cliche, ‘a monologue by a moron to mutes’, it still begs the question: What of hearing?

Yet Jesus said, “Consider carefully how you listen….” (Luke 8:18).

The preacher has a responsibility to preach faithfully; and the congregation has a collective and personal responsibility to listen faithfully.  Sometimes what we think are ‘bad sermons’ are actually the result of bad listening.  For sure, there are bad sermons out there, no one’s perfect, but how often have we considered our own listening?

 

listen upChristopher Ash has written an excellent little booklet ‘Listen Up!  A practical guide to listening to sermons.’  One reason why preaching is such a vital, even sacramental part of church life, is because without it, Scripture becomes flat, dull, even boring.  Many of us have sat through a service and responded to the read or preached word with, “heard it all before Vicar!”

Well, if the Word of God is ‘living and active’ (which it is), then there is a sense, a vital sense in which you haven’t heard it all before!  God’s Word doesn’t return void, it always bears fruit, and it is used by God because it is God’s own speech to every individual, every community of believers and every generation.  It is fair to say, if we don’t listen attentively, expectantly and hopefully, we are telling God He doesn’t speak today, in the words of our arrogant postmodern mantra, “Whatever!”

All this is important, because for 2000 years the sermon has been the central act of the gathered worship of the church.  It is not an optional extra but an extension of worship, as we stand under the Word of God together, that we may under-stand the Word of God together.  P. T. Forsyth said “with its preaching Christianity stands or falls,” and that preaching is an extension of the Gospel “it is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself!”  A high view and high praise I share completely!

What follows is an outline (a very limited snap-shot) of Ash’s booklet, hopefully to inspire you to get a copy whether you are preacher or hearer.  I am going to make these booklets available at the church I minister at so as to highlight the two-way nature of sermon delivery and reception.

Seven Ingredients for Healthy Sermon Listening

1.  Expect God to speak

“We are to listen to sermons expectantly because Jesus gives us the authority of God Himself to the preacher who teaches the Bible accurately and prayerfully.”

Practical Steps to Take

  • Pray for your minister/preacher during the week.

2.  Admit God knows better than you

“We come to the Bible with all kinds of prejudices.  We don’t come to the sermon as blank sheets, like a new page in a notebook.  On the contrary, we come to the sermon with our lives already scribbled over….believing certain things…others to be incredible…I come to the Bible as a thoroughly messed up person unable to think straight….[and] faithful Bible teaching will always cause offence….[so] listen humbly…God is God and I need to change.”

Practical Steps to Take

  • Pray for the work of God’s Spirit to enable you to submit to what the Bible clearly says, and help you to change.

3.  Check the preacher says what the passage says

“Listening out to be an activity rather than a “passivity”. Unless we want to be brainwashed, we ought never to hear or watch anything without engaging critical faculties.

Practical Steps to Take

  • Why do you think the Bible writer wrote the passage?  What is the passage intended to achieve in its hearers?

4.  Hear the sermon in church

“The normal place for preaching is…the local church.  We are to hear sermons as people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later….When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response….when we listen together, you know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard….When we listen together, we respond together.”

Practical Steps to Take

  • Be aware of others in your local church as you listen to the sermon.  Talk to them afterwards, not only about how we should respond as individuals, but about how the Bible passage should shape the church.

5.  Be there week by week

“There is a “today” urgency about listening to sermons.  We need to listen today, repent today, and believe today….Every good doctor knows that a patient may come with presenting symptoms that mask a deeper illness.  If she just treated the bits where patients feel pain, many patients would die….The Bible is not designed to give me a series of instant fixes.”

Practical Steps to Take

  • Keep count for six months or a year of how many weeks you are in your own local church to hear the sermon.  Make a note of the different reasons you are not there.

6.  Do what the Bible says

“The purpose of sermons is to change us into Christlike people….We mustn’t expect sermons to entertain us.  We live in a culture of entertainment.

Practical Steps to Take

  • After this week’s sermon, write down all the ways you wish that other people would obey that teaching.  Don’t hold back.  When you’ve written it all down, tear it up.  [The next step invites the reader to get down to business and do that for him/herself].

7.  Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

“Every sermon is urgent….Every time the Bible is preached, we ought to repent again and trust in Christ again….Every time we listen to a sermon, the devil will whisper in our ear…If we listen to him, we will never respond…..Yes it will be challenging and often uncomfortable…But it is a wonderful and joyful thing to understand, repent, and walk before God with a clear conscience….it becomes a matter of deep joy.”

Practical Steps to Take

  • Enjoy preaching, not as entertainment but as God’s regular garcious invitation to walk with him, rejoicing in a clear conscience.

 

is-your-preaching-up-to-snuffThe next section of the book, pages 24-20, have a chapter that many would buy the book for on its own, ‘How to listen to bad sermons’. 

 

 

The booklet concludes with ‘7 suggestions for encouraging good preaching’.

Here are three of them:

1.  Pray for the preachers.

2.  Be there.

3.  Be prepared to be constructively and supportively critical.

 

I commend this great little booklet to you.

preach-ie

 

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