The Before, During, and After of Listening Well to a Sermon
If you listen to 40 years worth of sermons, you will have heard some 1600 Bible messages. I am assuming you will be attending an average of 40 Sunday mornings a year, and not 52, as few have perfect attendance. However, even if you attend 52 worship services a year, you will have sat through 2,080 sermons in 40 years. As the son of a Baptist preacher, I sat through many sermons as a child and youth. As a pastor, I have preached roughly 300 Sunday morning sermons since I first began my journey preparing and delivering Bible messages. In my time listening and preaching sermons I have learned much and grown in my faith due to the sermons I have heard and those I have prepared.
As we think about sermons and their centrality in the span of our lives, I find it beneficial to slow down to consider how we listen to sermons. After all, if we are going to listen to thousands of sermons and give thousands of hours to hear, perhaps we should consider the art of listening to a sermon. I believe there is excellent value in pondering how to leverage the message to gain and retain continual spiritual growth.
In this blog post, I have tried to compile a list of practical tips from various authors and sources to help you listen well to sermons. I recognized some who read this will be preparers and deliverers of lessons, and others will be listeners and applicants of those messages. However, I do think it is wise for every preacher to be a preparer and listener of sermons, his own included.
I have broken up this post into three sections with additional closing thoughts at the end of each section. Each section will have tips followed by the source. (See Corresponding Articles/Books at the End of the Blog Post!) I hope this is helpful to you.
Before a sermon, do this…
1. Prepare your whole soul (rested body, an alert mind, receptive spirit) for the Sermon ahead. (Ryken)
2. Protect your Saturday evening and Sunday morning routines so that you can be physically rested and mentally alert. (Lifeway Research)
3. Deal with known sin in your life by asking God to reveal sin, listening to the Spirit within, and confessing it to God. (Lawless)
4. Pray for the Preacher (Lawless)
5. Arrive early so that you can prepare yourself for worship and preaching (Lifeway Research)
6. Remove Distractions
-Put away your phone or turn off notifications. (Lawless)
-Ask God to help you hear the Word in the Sermon. (Lawless)
The preparation of the listener is as essential as preparing is for the deliverer of the Sermon. The preparation should not be reduced to the spiritual but also should include the physical. After all, how can you participate in worship if your mind is weary and your eyelids are heavy from a lack of sleep? In addition to physical preparation, the heart's spiritual preparation is essential for the hearer of sermons. Before the worship service, the confession of sin is critical if one is to remove the debris from the ear of their soul. In other words, if we want to hear, we must confess our sins and lay aside every weight and distraction so we can crisply hear the Word proclaimed. You may also want to include a prayer for the preacher delivering the message. He and his family face an onslaught of trials and temptations as he prepares the Word for your soul. On the morning of the worship service, it is important to arrive a bit early to the service. Getting settled in seems trivial, but it is necessary to be focused when the service begins. As the service starts and just before the Sermon, consider offering up a breath prayer to God, "Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus to ask you to help me to hear your Word today."
During the Sermon, do this…
1. Expect God to Speak to you through his Word during the message. (Ash)
2. Pray for the Holy Spirit to Open your eyes and give you a willing heart to respond his call. (Lifeway Research)
3. Hear the Sermon in church week by week (Lawless)
4. Take notes on the message. (Lawless)
5. Copy the Outline and record the key ideas of the text/sermon (Jenkins)
6. Follow along as the Pastor teachers (Acts 17:11/Berean Examples)
7. Listen for at least one nugget of truth and application for your life (Lawless)
8. Think beyond the moment of the Sermon as to what God could do in you and through you if you surrendered wholeheartedly to the truth you are hearing (Lifeway Research)
We should come to worship, anticipating the Word of God proclaimed on Sunday morning. Prayer during the worship service and just before the preaching is essential to secure a proper focus and soft heart to God's Word. Note-taking is also crucial but should not be a distraction from the hearing of the Word. Another way to stay focused is to follow along in the Scriptures throughout the progression of the Sermon.
There may be a temptation to stay home and not attend in-person church. However, Dr. Chuck Lawless stresses the importance of being at church week-by-week to hear the sermon in-person. There may be exceptions to this, such as Covid-19 issues, but overall, this is the best-case scenario for the believer. To listen to a sermon preached in the assembly emphasizes accountability to the same truth. In-person attendance also unites us as we hear the Gospel proclaimed together.
After a Sermon, do this…
1. Do what the Bible says (Ash)
2. Write down one or more action steps to take after hearing the Sermon (Lawless)
3. Review the text and notes before going to bed on Sunday Night. (Lifeway Research)
4. Retell the Sermon in a Sunday journal or over coffee with a friend. (Lifeway Research)
We should be committed to obeying the Word of God before, during, and after the Sermon is proclaimed. The importance of reviewing notes or even listening again to the Sermon is essential. A Sunday evening post-sermon journal may be an excellent idea. A Monday morning or afternoon coffee conversation about the message may also be extremely beneficial to your growth in Christ. It amazes me how two people can hear the same truth proclaimed and, listening to the Holy Spirit, apply it differently to their lives.
Resources for Becoming a Better Sermon Listener