You have the right to expect that your church’s pulpit be filled by prepared men preaching prepared sermons. You have the right to expect preachers who have prepared themselves spiritually and have also spent many hours preparing their sermon. You have the right to expect preachers to pour themselves out in preaching the Word of God to you. And you have the right to expect those who preach to pray for you after the sermon is over, that God would bless the Word to you. Before, during, and after the sermon, you have the right to expect preachers to exert and expend themselves for your spiritual welfare.
Rights and Responsibility
But what about you? Is all the activity on the preacher’s side and just passivity on yours? You do little or nothing before, during, or after the sermon? You have all the rights but no responsibility? Not at all! You equally need to pour yourself out, to exert and expend yourself before, during, and after the sermon if you are to benefit from it. In fact, Charles Spurgeon said that the hearer needed to prepare even more than the preacher!
We are told men ought not to preach without preparation. Granted. But we add, men ought not to hear without preparation. Which, do you think needs the most preparation, the sower or the ground? I would have the sower come with clean hands, but I would have the ground well-plowed and harrowed, well-turned over, and the clods broken before the seed comes in. It seems to me that there is more preparation needed by the ground than by the sower, more by the hearer than the preacher.
Preacher and Hearer
This kind of pre-sermon preparation is part of what Ken Ramey has called Expository Listening. We are used to talking about Expository Preaching, the kind of preaching that explains or exposits verses of Scripture. But Ken’s point is that Expository Preaching requires a special kind of listening, Expository Listening, which, like Expository Preaching, requires work before, during, and after the sermon. Ramey says:
Preaching is a joint venture in which the listener partners with the pastor so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming your life. Nothing creates a more explosive, electrifying, life-changing atmosphere than when the lightning bolts from a Spirit-empowered preacher hit the lightning rods of a Spirit-illuminated listener.
Christopher Ash put it like this in Listen Up! his booklet on listening to sermons:
Preaching that makes a church Christ-like under grace takes a double miracle: the sinful preacher must be shaped by grace to preach; and sinful listeners must be awakened by grace to listen together week by week in humble expectancy.
Discouragement and Encouragement
Judging by the parable of the soils, this kind of Expository Listening is quite rare (no greater than one in four hearers) – that’s discouraging. However, the same parable also talks of one seed being multiplied to produce thirty fruits, sixty fruits, and even a hundred fruits. That’s the encouraging fruitful power of Expository Listening.
Tomorrow I’ll give you 20 helps to Expository Listening.