Luke 8:18: Therefore consider carefully how you listen.
In my lifetime, I’ve had a chance to listen to thousands of sermons. Growing up going to church almost every Sunday and now working in the church myself for over ten years, countless sermons have been preached for me. I’m sure they did good for me. But I wonder if I really got everything out of them that I could?
In the last couple years and especially the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the other side of the sermon. I’ve helped collaborate and study to prepare messages and had the chance to deliver them as well. And let me tell you, there’s nothing more disheartening than being in the middle of a message that you think is going to change lives – that you’ve prepared with your congregation specifically in mind – and to see people missing out on what God’s Word has for them! And now, having been on both sides of the fence, it seems odd to me that there are volumes and volumes of books and articles on how to preach and deliver a message, but thousands more people will hear a sermon this week than will deliver one.
So, how do you listen to a sermon?
It Starts Before You Get to Church
Most people think listening to a sermon begins when the pastor starts speaking. But listening to get the most from a message takes preparation and that preparation begins well before the pastor takes to the platform.
Begin preparing your heart to hear and respond to God’s Word. Say a prayer on your way to church or even the night before that God would use the message to speak to you. Ask Him to prepare your heart and ready you respond to His teaching.
Open Your Bible
Whether it’s a printed Bible or a digital version on your phone or tablet (I recommend YouVersion), get it out and ready to dive in. For too long in modern American church culture, the sermon has been a passive thing. We sit in the chair or pew and the pastor preaches at us. We sit there, hands folded in our lap and stare blankly at the speaker. It doesn’t take long until we’re thinking about lunch, counting the panes of glass in the stained glass windows or just trying desperately not to fall asleep.
Take notes throughout the message – and that doesn’t just mean filling in the blanks of the sermon outline! Jot down information about the context of the scripture references, interesting tidbits that catch your attention, or any important points that you need to remember. Writing (or typing) notes keeps you engaged, listening and more likely to apply what you’re hearing.
Take it Personally
I’ve been there when people have come up to the pastor after the message and said,
“Great message, pastor! I’m glad you said what you did because those people needed to hear it!”
Seriously?! That message was just as much for YOU as it was for everyone else! By expecting the message to have something that you need to hear, you’ll listen more actively and try to apply it to your life instead of sitting there hoping that everyone else is paying attention.
Take a Step
The final part of how to listen to a sermon is that we need to ask what we should do now. What do I need to do now after hearing that message? Then – and here’s the tricky part – DO IT! The sermon isn’t there to just fill time in the service. It’s not there so the pastor can justify his big library of books. It’s there to communicate and apply the Word of God to our lives so that we can learn and grow closer in our relationship with Jesus. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God’s Word will accomplish its purpose. Even if the sermon isn’t great (and let’s be honest, all pastor’s are going to have a dud once in a while) God’s Word will still accomplish its purpose. Talk about the message after church with your family or friends who were there and take it beyond just “it was a good message” to “so what would God have us do now having heard it?”