For centuries, Christians have considered the preaching of God’s Word to be one of the primary means of grace. In other words, it is one of the main things God uses not only to save, but to grow and sanctify His people. Does the way we view, prepare for, and listen to preaching reflect this truth? If we really believe that preaching is one of the primary tools God uses to fashion, guide, and grow us, what practices regarding sermon-listening should we develop? I’d like to offer seven.
1. View the sermon as a gift from God.
Do you view Sunday’s sermon as something you have to sit through or something you desperately need? Let me encourage you to view it as something you desperately need. All week long the world preaches to us through news, social media, advertisements, etc. We need to hear from God. If your pastor opens God’s Word, reads it, and explains it to you, that is a gift from God. View it as such.
2. Listen to the sermon in person.
The experience of sitting under preaching in person cannot be matched by digital substitutes. Watching a football game on TV does not compare to being immersed into the atmosphere of the stadium, seeing the players and fans, hearing the noise of the crowd, and high fiving the stranger next to you. Likewise, watching a sermon on a device, though it can be beneficial, does not compare to joining with the body in worship (which also prepares our hearts for the message), seeing and hearing the preacher, and receiving the Word in the midst of God’s people.
3. Read the book/passage before the sermon.
Hopefully you’re a part of a church that regularly preaches through books of the Bible. During those series, spend some time reading the book (or passage) on your own. For example, if your church is going through Ephesians, consider reading the book each week before the sermon. This will give you a much better foundation from which to receive and understand the sermon.
4. Take notes during the sermon.
Studies have shown that note-taking improves active listening, comprehension of material, and retention. Consider taking your journal or creating a notebook specifically for sermon notes. You can write down main points, quotes that stand out to you, or questions for further study. Take some time to review your notes after the service.
5. Discuss the sermon.
Discussion of material also reinforces what was heard and increases retention. Make it a habit to discuss the sermon with a fellow church member after church. This person could be your spouse, children, family member, or friend. It can happen in the car ride home, around the dinner table, over the phone, or at the coffee shop. Ask simple questions, “What did you think was the main point of the sermon? What did it teach us about God, His Word, or our faith? How can we apply the sermon?” Dialogue helps us continue to process and apply the message.
6. Apply the sermon.
James calls us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. Every time we are exposed to God’s Word, we should consider what it calls us to do, whether it is to think a certain way, repent of a specific sin, or to follow a specific command. Being exposed to the Word on Sunday is no different. We should take the time to think through ways we can apply what we’ve heard.
7. Immerse the entire experience in prayer.
Pray before the sermon, that the pastor would preach with boldness and clarity. Pray for the lost to be saved and the church to be edified by the message. Pray for your own heart to receive the Word. Pray simple prayers during the message. Respond to the sermon in prayer, whether in your seat or at the altar. Pray after the service, asking God to help you keep His Word in your heart. Ask the Spirit to help you apply the passage to your own life. Bathe the entire experience in prayer.
These suggestions are simply a few ways we might increase our understanding, application, and retention of the Sunday sermon. By taking the preaching of God’s Word seriously and developing specific habits that help us get more out of it, we are positioning ourselves for deeper understanding of God’s Word and growth in our relationship with Him. I challenge you to begin applying some of these this week!
Are there any other methods that you would add?