In What is Expository Listening, we looked at why the way we listen to sermons is at least as important as preparing and preaching them. Today, we’ll consider 20 ways to become a better sermon-hearer. Some of these points are taken from three helpful resources:
- Expository Listening by Ken Ramey
- Listen up! by Christopher Ash
- Take Care How You Listen (free eBook) by John Piper
Before the Sermon
1. Read and mediate on God’s Word every day: Daily Bible reading whets our appetite for the main course on the Lord’s Day. We can’t expect to be ready to digest spiritual food if we’ve not been eating through the week. And don’t spoil your appetite by feasting on sin.
2. Limit media consumption: Most Americans consume 9-11 hours of media a day (James 1:21). In Preaching to Programmed People: Effective Communication in a Media-Saturated Society, Timothy Turner explains how “TV watching and preaching are diametrically opposed to one another-one is visual, the other is rational; one involves the eyes, the other involves the ears; one creates passive watchers, the other requires active hearers.”
After watching TV and going to the movies and surfing the Internet all week long, you come to church and have to sit and listen to a lengthy sermon that requires a great deal of concentration and exertion you aren’t used to. You’re expected to go from being a passive viewer to an aggressive listener literally overnight. Listening demands a great deal of concentration and self-discipline. (Expository Listening, 42)
3. Use Saturday evening well: Tidy up the previous week, prepare for next week, get to bed early, discourage children out late on Saturday night.
4. Pray for yourself and the pastor: Do this daily but especially on Sunday. In many ways, “you will get what you pray for.”
5. Train yourself to listen: There are multiple resources on how to preach but, apart from the few mentioned above, very few on how to listen.
Preachers have many resources to train and equip them to become better preachers, but listeners have hardly any resources to train and equip them to become better listeners. This is astounding when you consider that the number of listeners far exceeds the number of preachers and even more so when you realize that the Bible says more about the listener’s responsibility to hear and obey the Word of God than it does about the preacher’s responsibility to explain and apply the Word of God. From cover to cover, the Bible is jam-packed with verses and passages that talk about the vital necessity of hearing and obeying God’s Word. God is very concerned about how preachers preach. But based on the sheer amount of biblical references to hearing and listening, it is unmistakable that God is just as, if not more, concerned about how listeners listen. (Expository Listening, 3)
1. Come to church in good time to get calm, settled, and focused.
2. Respect the silence of the sanctuary: This includes training your children not to distract others
3. Engage your body and soul in worship and prayer: Stir up your whole body, mind, and soul in the worship before the sermon.
4. Tell yourself that God is about to speak: Keep praying that He will speak to you through His Word.
5. Recognize that this is a team effort and take personal responsibility.
It is a joint venture between the preacher and the listener. Successful sermons result from the listener teaming up with the preacher much like a catcher works in unison with a pitcher. Both the pitcher and the catcher have an important role to play in the pitching process. The responsibility doesn’t all rest on the pitcher’s shoulders. (Expository Listening, 4)
6. Take brief notes: Enough to help you concentrate but not so many that it turns into a lecture that only engages the head.
7. Check that the preacher is preaching God’s Word: Not a critical Pharisaical spirit (Luke 11:54), but with a discerning Berean spirit (Acts 17:11).
8. Accept there will be times when the Word hurts you: Don’t react against this and shut down, but receive it and try to profit from it.
9. Build up good-will towards the preacher: Ill-will or malice towards the preacher is a hardener of the heart. It blocks the Word.
10. Try to find one thing to benefit from: You can usually find a crumb or two in even the poorest preacher’s poorest sermon.
After the Sermon
1. Talk about it with others: Share what helped you with friends and family.
2. Put it into practice: Obey and do the Word.
3. Be patient in looking for results: Sowing and fruit-bearing presuppose a gradual and time-consuming process of development.
4. Work on your soil: Soil can change from bad to good to very good. We are responsible for preparing the soil of our hearts (Mark 4:1-20).
5. Give feedback: Encourage preachers from time to time with specifics about how particular sermons helped you and in which way. And what happens when you’ve done all 20 things on this checklist and you decide that you have to give negative feedback? Well, tomorrow we’ll look at how to criticize your pastor.