An ordinary pastor will spend anywhere from twenty to thirty hours preparing a single sermon that will last approximately fifteen minutes to an hour.
If our pastors are spending at least that much time making sure Sunday morning speaks to the most important matters in this life, then the least we can do is try to get the most out of each sermon.
Here are seven productive ways to listen to a sermon.
1. Listen prayerfully.
Pray for your pastor as he prepares and preaches his sermon. Pray that he would be faithful to the text and preach Jesus Christ from every portion of Scripture.
Pray for yourself, the rest of the congregation, and for visitors—that all those present would be affected by the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pray that all gathered would believe, hope, trust, and rest in Jesus.
2. Listen to understand.
Listening to a sermon requires much more effort than “liking” a photo on Instagram or a Facebook status. According to the apostle James,
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:23–24)
When we listen to each sermon, we should ask ourselves if we understand what was said.
- Do I understand the main points of the passage?
- Do I notice how the passage points to Christ first and foremost, and then how the text applies to me personally?
- Will I remember anything significant about this sermon in two weeks—or three years?
Try to have some of these goals in mind as you prepare your heart for church each Sunday.
3. Listen critically but without being critical.
We should be able to think critically about every sermon we hear. Test an interpretation with the rest of Scripture, like the Bereans did when they heard Paul preach. This means that we should trust that our pastor is going to do his due diligence as a minister, while at the same time double-checking his work to make sure he (and we) didn’t miss anything important or essential in the passage.
As a word of caution, though, we must be very careful that we don’t become overly critical of our pastor’s sermons. Each pastor will have deficiencies and not every pastor is as gifted as the next. We should be aware of how we come across to others in the congregation when we make critical comments about a sermon, and be aware of how what we say might be perceived by our own children or other youth in the church.
4. Listen for you and not “for a friend.”
As sinners, we like to compare our lives to others in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Sometimes when we are listening to a sermon, we might think immediately, “Susan should be here right now to listen to this sermon! It would be so great for her to hear this!”
On the one hand, let me be the first to encourage your friends to attend church. Please do that often! On the other hand, if you’re always thinking about what someone else should hear and are never allowing yourself the chance to be confronted by God’s law and comforted by God’s gospel, that’s very dangerous living!
We should fight this inner tendency to think that it is others who would benefit from a certain sermon when we’re the ones who actually need to hear what the pastor is saying on Sunday morning.
5. Listen to encourage others.
When we hear something great from the sermon, we should seek to lift up our pastor with encouraging words. Also, when there is something said that is worth sharing—be sure to share it with others.
- Tell your friends when your pastor hits a home run of a sermon on Sunday morning.
- Share the sermon with your family and friends through email or on social media.
- Take a quote from the sermon that stood out to you and thank your pastor publicly for preaching God’s Word faithfully.
You never know who might read it, and it may open up new opportunities for you to encourage others or invite them to church. Always think of how a sermon might speak to someone else in need or might comfort you in a difficult situation in the future.
6. Listen in a local church.
In an age of digital media overload, it’s easy to find other pastors or preachers who can preach much better than your local pastor. We can easily fall into the temptation of listening to well-known preachers and neglect the ordinary “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) by a regular pastor in a local church.
Fight the urge. Live locally. Join a local church body and attend regularly. Although they may be gifted preachers, the people you listen to online will likely never know your name, your personal needs, and they won’t be there when you really need them. Yet, your local pastor will be there—for both you and your loved ones.
7. Listen to hear Jesus Christ speaking to you.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and as he said, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). Something is happening on Sunday. It looks ordinary, but it’s truly extraordinary. God is speaking to you through your sometimes dull, not that funny, very ordinary, and human pastor. It has been the conviction of Christians throughout church history that God himself addresses us through the proclaimed Word.
When your pastor is telling you what the Bible says, Jesus Christ himself is being offered to you with all of his benefits. Embrace him by faith alone and seek him in the primary place where he is to be found! The gospel is the only news on this earth that is worth hearing.
The Word proclaimed by that “earthen vessel” and “jar of clay” that you call your pastor is a message that is eternal. It’s a message that proclaims to you the broken body and shed blood of Christ, all for the forgiveness of your sins. Now go, enjoy the feast!