3 Steps to Make the Message Stick

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

Good Preaching? What about Good Listening?

There has never been a better time in human history for those who love good preaching. Good preaching is not common in our day, but it is more accessible today than ever before. You can listen to good preaching all day every day (if you are so inclined) through multiple internet-based resources (see my recommendations at the bottom).

While good preaching (as opposed to mediocre or bad preaching) is the goal of both good pastors and their respective congregations, the goal of good listening is often forgotten. Since preaching quality is inevitably measured by the listener, I want to argue that preaching cannot be beneficially good without good listeners to receive and respond to it.

I am not saying that the reason your pastor’s preaching is atrocious is because you are a bad listener (at least not necessarily). But I am saying that your pastor’s preaching will benefit you best when you are listening well.

There are at least four things you can do to be a better listener to good preaching.

First, read the Bible for yourself.

Try to familiarize yourself with the passage and context before listening to the message. This assumes that your pastor preaches expositionally (through the Bible, chunks or verses at a time). Even on topical Sundays, you should be able to ask your pastor for the passage from which he will be primarily drawing. For best results, read through the upcoming passage several times throughout the week, and read through the surrounding text at least once.

Second, make notes before the sermon.

You can jot down questions or noteworthy ideas in preparation for listening to the preached message. Bring those notes with you on Sunday, and as your pastor preaches through the text, follow him with your own notes. Listen for him to touch on the same themes or concepts you found, add to your notes and even adjust them, and enjoy your pastor’s thoughtful insights. Also, every pastor must choose what he will leave out and what he will emphasize in a message, so ask him any unanswered questions after the sermon or in an email later on. He will most likely have studied up on the matter, and he will most certainly be glad to know of your own interest in the biblical text.

Third, take notes during the sermon.

Good preachers will not be hard to follow, and they will make a linear path towards a destination in their sermon. Not every preacher will have clear bullet-point headings and subheadings, but good sermons will begin with a goal, take steps towards the goal, and end up where the preacher said we were going. Pay attention to the stated goal, make note of the steps along the way (each statement or point that progresses towards the goal), and consider the overall point of the sermon. Preaching isn’t preaching unless the listener is being called to believe something or do something (and it’s often both).

Fourth, take responsibility for the application.

Many preachers will admit that application is one of the toughest features of sermon preparation. A preacher might say, “I know what I would do with this, but I’m not sure what each person in my congregation might do with it…” Good preachers will be able to demonstrate appropriate and helpful applications for their listeners, but the listener will be able to apply the sermon (and the biblical text) much more specifically and lastingly to himself or herself. After the sermon (preferably soon after), ask yourself these questions:

(1) What is God revealing about Himself here?

(2) What is God showing me about me here?

(3) What is God telling me to believe here?

(4) What is God telling me to do here?

(5) How will I strive to remember what God wants me to believe?

(6) How am I going to do what God wants me to do?

Good preaching is both a gift and a discipline, and good preachers work very hard to be the best preachers they can be. Listeners must also put forth the effort to hear good preaching well, for good listening is necessary for good preaching to be of any benefit.

May God bless local churches with good preachers, and may the listeners who hear them strive towards good listening, enjoying the full benefit of God’s gift of such valiant men.

 


 

If you want some recommendations for good preaching resources, I suggest the following:

I shamelessly endorse my own preaching, and you can listen or subscribe to sermons by clicking the microphone on the bottom of the sermons tool at www.fbcdiana.org

My favorite living Bible teacher and preacher (though his health is fading rapidly these days) is R.C. Sproul. His sermons (and a ton of other resources) can be found at www.ligonier.org

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) is known as the “Prince of Preachers” for good reason. His preaching is unique and powerful. You can listen to someone else read his sermons at www.spurgeongems.org or you can read the transcripts for yourself at www.spurgeongems.org/sermons

One can hardly find a bolder preacher than John MacArthur. His preaching and pastoring ministry of nearly 50 years among a single congregation is a testimony of his love for Christ and his church. His messages (and many other resources) can be accessed at www.gty.org