One of the short books (really a booklet) I am reading this year is that by Christopher Ash, titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009).
Yes, this is indeed a book on how to listen to sermons, because in the words of the author “there are books and courses to help people preach sermons… [lots of them, I might add!] but I’ve not read anything written in the last 200 years on how to listen to sermons” (p.2).
We expect good preaching of our pastors. That is as it should be. They are so trained during all the years of their Seminary education. Preaching is the heart and core of their work, as required by the Lord Himself. The King demands the best of His heralds – clear, accurate, powerful proclamation of His message. We know the standards are high – in the minds of elders and congregations too.
But we are often soft on ourselves as hearers of the Word. What we demand strictly of our preachers, we relax for ourselves. But that is not right. If what we believe preaching to be is true, then our standard for hearing ought to be just as high as it for making good sermons.The King demands the best of those who receive His message too.
If I may put it that way, listening to sermons is simply the other half of preaching. Without good listening – that is, without diligent, faith-ful, obedient hearing of the Word of God through the preacher – the best preaching does not profit us. In fact, it does the opposite: it hardens us and renders us inexcusable before the Lord, more ripe for judgment (condemnation). Yes,that’s hard, but it’s true. The Word of God says so.
So, some help in learning how to listen to sermons (better) is in order, no matter how long we have heard them and how experienced we may be in discerning good ones from not so good ones (Yes, I am being charitable. I was once on the other end.). Ash’s little book is a place to start, so we will work our way through it this year.
His first section is headed by the words “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening.” Here they are listed in order:
- Expect God to speak
- Admit God knows better than you
- Check the preacher says what the passage says
- Hear the sermon in church
- Be there week by week
- Do what the Bible says
- Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!
Ash then has a short section on how to listen to bad sermons (Bet you can’t wait to get to that part!). He ends with a page giving seven (7) “suggestions for encouraging good preaching.”
Now you have the “big picture.” In this short introduction, let’s ask ourselves two questions:
- Did you pray for your pastor’s sermon preparation this week and will you pray for him tomorrow as he enters the pulpit?
- Will you pray for yourself (and for your wife, if you are married, and for your children, if you have them) and for your (and their) listening tomorrow?
We may start tonight. Let us do so.