Preachers (if they are faithful) intend to communicate a message from God (from God’s word) to His people. This is a profound and weighty task to be sure, and preachers are often quite aware of the mountain they climb each week. In this post, however, I’d like to emphasize the responsibility of the listener. The preacher must take his responsibility seriously, but he is not the only one responsible to God for what happens after the service dismisses.
You may or may not know that preachers often enjoy hearing good preaching. Like a joy-filled “greese monkey” might watch a skilled mechanic meticulously deconstruct and reconstruct a classic engine, so too preachers are likely to relish the sights and sounds of good preaching. I enjoy the skillfull way a preacher connects his passage with the grand narrative of Scripture, the methodical way a preacher walks through the passage, and the thoughtful way a preacher keeps himself within the melodic line of the context.
Those who listen to good preaching (or even mediocre preaching) know that some messages stick better than others. Some of this is due to the delivery of the preacher, some is due to the effort and discipline of the listener, and all is dependent upon God’s supernatural work by His Spirit. The wise and deliberate listener can make the message have a more meaningful and lasting affect on them if they will do (at least) these three things:
- Prepare to listen. Preperation is not just for the preacher, it is a task for the listener too. You should read the primary passage a few times before hearing the preacher explain it. You should also collect some initial thoughts and questions of your own. What is the passage all about? What is the author getting at throughout the book? Is there anything here that is completely new to me? Have I stumbled upon something that excites me, worries me, or pains me? What would I ask the preacher about this passage if I had the opportunity? Preparing thoughts and questions like this before listening to the preacher will stimulate you to hear the preacher better, since you will be anticipating and hoping for readily applicable content.
- Intentionally listen. Once you have prepared to listen, bring your thoughts and questions with you. Your preparation will be much more beneficial if you follow through by collaborating with the preacher. Listen for the preacher to answer questions you have. Celebrate when the preacher adds more detail and background to your initial thoughts. Humbly thank God when the preacher lovingly corrects some of your errors. When you play the part of an active listener, you will likely be surprised to find just how much you hear when you listen to good preaching.
- Revisit what you heard. Once the preacher finishes his message, and the last song is sung, you are likely to eventually find yourself sitting at the lunch table with family and/or friends. There is great value in catching up on the week’s events and keeping informed about shared life-experiences, but don’t leave the preacher’s message at the church house. You prepared to listen, you listened with intentionality, and now you can discuss how all of that went with others who are hopefully practicing the same “good listening” techniques you are. Did something in the message surprise you? If so, tell your spouse how surprised you were. Did something pain you? If so, share your pain. Did something convict you? If so, your friends and/or family will likely jump at the chance to help you align yourself with God’s instructions.
There is nothing magical about these three steps, but you will most assuredly notice a big difference in how much you get out of your preacher if you will embrace and apply them. Whether your preacher is incredible or simply a faithful expositor of God’s word, good listening will make the message stick over time.
Let us all, preachers and listeners alike, faithfully trust and obey God’s word. May God help us to be faithful hearers and faithful doers of His word (James 1:22).