Listen Up, How to Hear Sermons
The apostle Paul wrote Timothy concerning the problems he would face in the first century church (2Tim.3:1-9). He gave him a simple approach to those people and their problems, "preach the Word," (2Tim.4:2). This did not mean that he should not shepherd the people as a pastor, or counsel them, or do the works of ministry necessary as a pastor, or evangelize them. However his primary responsibility was preaching. This forms a pastors priority for preaching, and the congregations priority for hearing the preached Word.
Priorities require practice. In this article I want to review a booklet available on the Christ Church kiosk, Listen Up!, A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons, by Christopher Ash. I believe your investment in this booklet ($2) will enable you to practice the art of listening to sermons in your participatory worship. When a person comes to worship it is not Christ who is on trial. Neither is it the pastor who preaches the Word of Christ. It is the hearer of the Word of Christ who is on trial. Therefore the hearer must "consider carefully how you listen." (Lk.8:18).
Mr. Ash directs the readers attention to seven keys that open the door for a listener to hear a sermon well. The seven keys are:
- Expect God to Speak: "When the Bible is faithfully opened up, we are to listen to the preacher's voice as the voice of God himself." (p.4)
- Admit God Knows Better Than You: "We must come humbly to the preaching of God's Word...to admit the Bible is right and I am wrong, and that God is God and I need to change." (p.6, 8).
- Check the Preacher Says What the Passage Says: "We need to check that the preacher is actually using the only available authority, which is a borrowed authority that only comes from teaching what the Bible passage teaches....It's a good question: where did he get that from?" (p.9, 10)
- Hear the Sermon in Church: "We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together;...God's purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals to be each like Christ, but to form a Christlike people." (p.12)
- Be There Week by Week: "We need not a random series of sermon fixes, but to sit together regularly, week by week, under the systematically preached word of God...As we are taken through the teaching of the Bible by patient exposition, gradually Christlikeness is worked in our characters, our affections, our desires, our decisions and our lives." (p.15,16).
- Do What the Bible Says: "When Paul encourages Timothy to persevere with preaching (2Tim.4:1-5), he reminds him that the purpose and profit of Scripture is 'for teaching' (what we ought to believe), for 'rebuking' (what we ought not believe), for 'correcting' (how we ought not to behave) and for 'training in righteousness' (how we ought to behave). Preaching has a comprehensive brief for belief and behavior (2Tim.3:16)." (p.17)
- Do What the Bible Says Today, and Rejoice: "Every time the Bible is preached, we ought to repent again and trust in Christ again...Every time we hear the word of God preached, we must respond today by a turning of the heart away from sin (repentance) and towards God and Jesus Christ (faith)" (p.20, 21)
At the end of each of these seven keys he gives some "Practical Steps To Take". These steps form the practiced life and worship of a hearer of the preached word of God. However, these steps are correctly prefaced by his assurance that, "On our own we cannot obey." He continually turns the reader and hearer to the Spirit of God who is given us that we might be good hearers in our union with Christ. These steps are helpful as they lead the hearer through God's grace to change. This is a good reason to pick up this booklet and read. We need change, and one of the primary places God does that work is through hearing his word preached.
Mr. Ash goes on in pages 24-29 to assist the reader in how to listen to bad sermons. He gives help for listening to dull sermons, biblically inadequate sermons, and heretical sermons. While we don't want to subject ourselves to these types of sermons there will be the times that we will experience one of these and we should be prepared. He concludes by addressing how to get better sermons and how to encourage good preaching in the church where God has placed you. Every listener in the church has a responsibility to how every sermon is preached in the church.
As a father of six children I made it a priority to teach my children to tune their ears to listen to my voice. There were times when listening to my voice meant the difference between protection and exposure, wisdom and foolishness, or right and wrong. But there were times when listening to my voice meant hurt, difficulty, sin and shame. My words could not give them life. Therefore it was a higher priority that I teach them to tune their hearts to hear God speak through his word, especially preached. Hearing the word of God preached is the difference between life and death in the church.
I recommend the purchase of this 30 page booklet, Listen Up!, A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons, for your life in the church. Listening to God's word preached in worship is a priority for a changed life in trembling, affectionate spirit and truth worship.