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