I’m really anticipating all of our upcoming sermon series. In addition to our continued sermon series on Sunday mornings, The Power and the Glory: The Gospel of God in the Book of Romans, this summer will see the start of some great series. On Sunday evenings we’re going to be celebrating the gospel’s impact on our lives through a series, entitled Testimony: Speaking the Gospel in Our Stories of Grace.. On Wednesday evenings in the summer we’ll be talking about local church ministry through a topical series entitled Operating Instructions: The Life and Ministry of the Local Church and beginning in the Fall we’ll begin an expositional walk through 1 and 2 Samuel in a series entitled The Shepherd and the Scepter: Seeing the Gospel in the Books of Samuel. On Sunday evenings beginning in September we’ll start a journey through the story of the Bible looking at a different Bible story each week in a series entitled The King and the Crown: The Grand Story of God in the Epic Stories of the Bible.
I think these series are going to be great, and one of the things I want to be doing as both a pastor who will be preaching some of these sermons and as a member of the church who will be sitting under the preaching of some of these sermons is to begin now to prepare my heart and mind to receive these sermons. As a child I grew up singing the song that encourages us to “be careful little ears what you hear,” and one thing we can all learn as church members is how to listen more carefully to sermons. Listening to sermons is not a passive activity. Oftentimes we think that hearing weekly sermons is either a necessary benefit for our lives as believers (at best) or a weekly duty to be overcome (at worst). Certainly the first view is far better, but I think it can be strengthened by seeing our participation in the local church in hearing sermons preached in our local church as an essential discipline of our Christian discipleship. And if it is a discipline of our discipleship then it is something we must take much more seriously than many of us do.
So how can we all begin to cultivate the discipline of intentional and gospel-minded sermon listening? Well, here are six simple suggestions that I want to begin making a part of my own life:
1) Pray daily.Pray for your pastors as they are preparing their weekly sermons. Pray for yourself and your fellow believers that faith will be strengthened and lives will be sanctified. Pray for unbelievers who will be present that God’s Word will work powerfully to shatter hearts of stone. Spend regular and deliberate time with God in prayer each week. To listen to sermons well our hearts must be prepared prior to the preaching.
2) Read the scripture texts for the upcoming week. As pastors one of the many reasons we love preaching through books of the Bible is because each week we all usually know as we approach our worship services what text will be preached. Not only that, due to our connection with social media through Twitter and Facebook, the upcoming sermon verses and sermon title are almost always posted well in advance (Follow us on Twitter at @TtobyJenkins, @DCadeCampbell, and @loganhuff). Prepare yourself to hear these passages preached by reading them in your own times of Bible study and devotions. Meditate on some of the verses coming up. Read them with your spouse or family. Not only must our hearts be prepared through prayer but our Bibles must be opened daily and deliberately.
3) Talk to your pastors about upcoming sermons. Talk to them about the task and beauty of sermon preparation. As pastors our primary calling is to feed God’s people with God’s Word. Because of this, one of the primary tasks each week is to pray through and prepare the sermons for the upcoming worship services. Yet it is rare for anyone to ever ask us about or talk to us about the one thing that we are spending so many hours each week doing. It’s true that the nature of preaching means that much of the work of sermon preparation is spent with the pastor, God, and the Bible being alone in the study. But we aren’t isolated in our relationships within the church, and we would never stay silent about the other things we spend our days doing. Think about your own families. One of the weekly necessities of a household is the planning and preparing of meals, and oftentimes we’ll be talking about these upcoming meals on a daily basis. Amy is an amazing cook (as many of you know), and she is always asking me or talking to me about meals that she is planning to prepare, and I love talking with her about the amazing meals she is getting ready to cook! If we are that interested about the physical food that we eat on a daily basis, how much more should we be interested in the food of God’s word that is fed to us each week through preaching?
4) Jot down sermon notes. I’m not very good at this, and Amy really is. So I know that some people are more inclined to listening to sermons and taking notes than others. As bad as I am about note-taking, I still acknowledge how helpful this one simple activity can be in listening to and engaging with the sermon. And it’s not like you have to take down every word in shorthand. When you take sermon notes, you don’t have to worry about trying to write out a full transcript of what’s said. Just do a few simple things: Write down the sermon title, text, a few points that may be made, observations, summary of the main point of the message in your own words, anything that sticks out in your mind about applying the text to your own life. In all honesty good notes can be taken by just writing down a few sentences about each sermon. Taking notes may not come as naturally to me as to my wife, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t benefit from the regular activity of taking notes!
5) Dig into some really good Christian books. Read some good, solid Christian books for your own personal Bible study/devotionals that are connected to what is being preached during the worship services. Later in the week I’ll be posting some great books that you can be reading that are great complements to the current sermon series and the ones coming up in the future! Our own personal growth in grace need not be isolated from the weekly ministry of preaching through the local church.
6) Talk about and review the sermon. Talk with your wife and/or kids about the sermon when you get home. During Sunday lunch take a few minutes to ask your family about what the sermon said and meant for your own lives. This shouldn’t be a weekly opportunity to “roast the preacher,” but it can be a useful time to let the sermon’s message marinate in your own families. This one simple weekly tradition of talking about the sermon after one of the worship services can have a big impact on your family. It is one of the few simple things that will begin to set an example for your spouse or kids that listening to the sermon is one of the major events of each week. It’s one of the things that takes a small amount of time but pays huge rewards! When we hear the sermon and then act like we’ve forgotten it as soon as we crank our cars in the church parking lot we sometimes unintentionally send the message to ourselves and our families that hearing the sermon is a duty that is best forgotten as soon as possible.
Will you join me in taking these steps to become better listeners? I hope so. If you’d like more information and encouragement for becoming a better listener, I would also recommend these helpful resources (Links Provided):
1) Pick up Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons by Christopher Ash. This little pamphlet can be purchased online for only $2.39!
2) Listen to this sermon by John Piper: Take Care How You Listen!
3) Read these helpful instructions by George Whitefield: How to Listen to a Sermon
4) Read the helpful encouragement from Wheaton College President Philip Ryken:
How to Listen to a Sermon
In His Gospel,