In part 1 of my advice on how to listen to a sermon, I said that listening to a sermon begins on the drive home Sunday afternoon and continues throughout the week. The Sunday sermon is a sacred part of our worship, but it’s not the only part of our worship. Worship is the act of ascribing value to God because He is infinitely worthy to receive it (Psalm 29:2). That happens in whatever we do what is good, righteous, holy and pure (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Phil. 4:8-9). You can worship with your work, play, and your rest. In order to listen to the sermon, you have to have more than two ears. You have to have a life centered on the worship of God. And this happens Monday through Saturday, as well as Sunday, the Lord’s Day.
For this final post, I want to list five things that we should do within the context of a worship gathering to effectively listen to a sermon:
1) Arrive to the building where the church gathers early instead of just ‘on time’. Most jobs require punctuality, why would we give our Lord anything less? Rushing out the door with screaming kids is the norm for many families (hey, it happens sometimes in our house!), but preparing your heart involves more than being on time, it involves calmness and focus. When we are rushed, we are distracted. And when we are distracted, our ears are plugged. Coming early helps settle our hearts, which in turn gives our ears an opportunity to listen with a fully-engaged mind. (Plus, who knows, you could be an encouragement to someone else by arriving early and talking with someone!) Get to bed early Saturday, get up Sunday for a hearty breakfast, and teach your kids the sacredness of the Lord’s Day (a lost thing in the 21st Century).
2) Sing loudly and boldly. Singing is a thoroughly biblical concept, and in singing we are consummating our joy. In other words, as C.S. Lewis once said, (I’m paraphrasing), the appointed consummation of joy is praise. We praise (sing, talk about, delight in, etc.) what we prize. You find a good restaurant with good food, what do you do? You tell people about it. It’s the same thing with God, though admittedly He is far greater than a double bacon cheeseburger. Even if you don’t “feel” like praising God because the joy just isn’t there, do it anyway, and the joy will follow. (Tell yourself how good God is until your heart bends to that truth). Even if you feel like you can’t sing, don’t be shy. No one is bothered by that. Sing to your heart’s content. And do it boldly, knowing that in that moment you’re fighting for joy and giving yourself over to God.
3) Pray that the Holy Spirit would take the sermon and ruin you with it. The sermon isn’t made to tickle your ears; it’s God’s means to display His glory so that the Church is edified and lost and weary souls are found and comforted. Prayer is the key part. Say a prayer before the worship gathering begins. Say a prayer during a song. Pray that God the Holy Spirit would allow your open-yet-discerning heart a chance for the Word to grow deep in your soul. Preaching is not a passive thing–it takes effort both on the preacher’s part, and the listener’s part. Most preachers spend a lot of time in study so as to convey the truth of the passage at hand, but it requires an attentive soul to receive it. There will be points that will afflict you (the Law), but gospel-centered preaching brings comfort (gospel), too. Ruining you means that it affects your soul towards repentance, not despair–a bolster of faith, not pride.
4) Take notes and discern. Be like the Bereans who checked what Paul said with Scripture (Acts 17:11). Have an open Bible (Study Bibles are great!) with notes on your phone or on a pad of paper. Not everyone learns with notes (I hardly took notes in seminary because I learn audibly by storing it in my mind), but if that’s you, don’t be shy. Listen to the points being emphasized. A good preacher will repeat himself and work hard to make sure the main thing is the main thing, emphasizing where emphasis is needed. Discern with your head, heart and hands. Flip quickly to other passages if the occasion calls for it, underline, highlight, and process. This helps you stay engaged instead of allowing your mind trail off.
5) Respond to the Word of God. At our church, we respond with communion and giving. We’ve sang to Jesus, heard about Jesus, and now we respond to Jesus. Not every sermon is going to give you three steps to “apply.” As John MacArthur once said, the preacher’s job is to give you the implications, it’s the Spirit’s job to apply it. If the Law and the gospel are given, and the passage is appropriately taught, the implications become extensive. “Practical Theology” is an oxymoron. All practice is theological, and all theology is practical. The Spirit applies it by either driving you to 1) confess something, leading to repentance, 2) do something, like make disciples, 3) believe something–sometimes our hearts are out of sync with the truth, so we need to respond with faith that Jesus is better, or 4) feel something–sometimes our feelings are out of whack, but with truth proclaimed, our feelings can be properly aligned. Responding takes the monergistic power of the Spirit as He guides you, so be diligent and work it out (Phil. 2:12).
Listening to the sermon requires more than just two ears. It requires a heart full of prayer, praise, faith, a mind free from distraction and renewed by truth, and hands diligently laboring for the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). While not exhaustive, I hope these couple of posts are an encouragement to you as you work hard at hearing the word of God.
Romans 10:13-15, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”
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Yesterday I wrote about four things to look for when listening to a sermon. My aim was to get at the heart of what we should want from a sermon. This is difficult because some (it would seem) don’t even know why there should be a sermon let alone the what of one. From a personal perspective, I shared a few things (though not exhaustive) about what I’m looking for because it would seem that this is what Scripture wants to achieve with the proclamation of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:2).
Having established the what part (Preaching is God’s means to display His worth, announce His news, save His sheep, and edify His people), I want to talk about the how of listening to a sermon. (I once quipped to my congregation that I was going to doing a sermon on how to listen to a sermon, but to this very day I have yet to do so. Maybe another time. For now, this will have to suffice!)
For part 1 here, I will start with this:
Listening to a sermon begins on the drive home Sunday afternoon and continues through the week.
I know what you’re thinking. Listening to a sermon begins after the sermon is already over? Yes. Well, sort of. Here’s what I mean.
After leaving the Sunday gathering, you’re heading home (or to lunch as it were), and your friend/spouse/child wants to talk to you about the morning. Instead of asking, “How was church?” (A man-centered, self-focused, consumeristic question), ask instead, “What do we do with the Word that was taught today?”* (e.g., James 1:22). How do we make disciples of all nations with this? How do I repent from my breaking of God’s Law, and believe the truth of the gospel? How do I take this and apply it so as to love God more and love my neighbor as myself?
In doing this, you’re preparing your heart for the Word to take root. And truthfully that ought to be the case from Sunday afternoon to Saturday evening. When we go to work Monday through Friday with soccer, dance, and little league during the week, as well as a missional community gathering, we are starting the process all over again by listening to the Spirit through the Word. Discipleship cannot happen in a 30-60 minute sermon. Important as the sermon is (I can’t stress this enough!), discipleship encompasses all of life as we live as a family of missionary servants by the power of the gospel and the ministry of the Spirit.
So what can you do before the sermon? First, read and meditate on God’s Word each day, perhaps even the passage/book being studied. Second, pray fervently each day; pray for your pastor(s), pray that the Spirit would make your heart believe, and pray for others. Finally, go to bed on time Saturday night(!), being diligent to keep your body rested (Why would you expect to have clarity of thought and be fully awake to listen to a sermon when you didn’t go to bed until 1am Sunday morning?).
A lot of this is preparation for the head, heart and hands. Cultivating the soil takes effort (Mark 4:1-20)–what are you doing this week to begin listening to the sermon.
Next Post: 5 Ways to Listen to the preaching of God’s Word
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Disclaimer: I don’t mean for the title of this blog post to sound so self-serving. “I want this, I want that, me, me and more me.” I’m not coming at it from that angle. I’m coming (hopefully) from the angle of Scripture and what we ought to want from the preaching of God’s Word. My goal in this post is to share four ways to approach listening to sermons.I should also mention that this is my approach to delivering sermons, as well as listening to sermons.
Though not exhaustive, here are four things to look for when listening to a sermon.
1) I want to hear from a man who has been set on fire by the text. Don’t get me wrong, I want information. I want to see the context and the text ,which means that I will have a Bible in my lap, ready to follow along and flip to another passage if need be. I want to not only see the text, but feel the text, too. I know that sounds silly, but I’m serious. I want the text to come alive. I want to know that the preacher has wrestled with it, and that the text has sunk deep-down into his soul. I don’t need stories, I need text. I don’t need jokes, I need gospel proclamation. I’m not looking around to see who this applies to, I’m looking at myself. I want to know that the text has infiltrated the preacher’s head, heart, and hands so that the same can happen for me.
2) I want to be confronted. I am expecting this. I want to be told how sinful I am because I’m in denial the rest of the week. I don’t mind being confronted with my sin, because I’m the chief of sinners anyway, and have nothing to hide (1 Tim. 1:15). I want the text to confront me. I need God’s Law to be a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105). I need to see how I fall short of God’s glory by seeing how holy and just God is, and how His Law is the perfect standard of righteousness. Don’t be shy in confronting sin, preacher, I need it. Let the Scripture cut me deep (Hebrews 4:12).
3) I want to be given good news. No matter the text, I want the gospel. After all, the gospel isn’t a footnote, it’s the font. I want desperately to not only know my sin (see point #2), but to see my Savior Tell me again and again how good the gospel is! Demonstrate for me how Jesus perfectly submitted himself to the Law, how He died a substitutionary death, how He stabbed death in the heart by rising from the dead, and how He rules as King of the universe right now. Tell me good news! I want to return to it, revel in it, marinate in it and find hope in it. I need to be reminded (1 Cor. 15:1), because I’m not looking for 5-steps to nowhere…I’m looking to be comforted. I long to hear the Story. Tell it again!
4) I want to leave impressed not at the preacher, but at the Savior. Don’t try and be funny when you’re not; don’t try and loosen the blow–just state the truth with boldness. I don’t need it to be sugar coated, nor do I care to have my best life now. I do not need entertainment; I need Jesus. Desperately. Help me process my desperation and show me that the gospel can bring comfort to my weary soul. I trust that the Spirit is at work during the sermon because preaching is, after all, God’s means for edifying the saints (Ephesians 4:12).
You should know something, preacher. During the singing, I’m praying for you. I’m asking God the Holy Spirit to assist you in magnifying Christ. Oh, and one last thing I want…
I want to know that the Father loves me, the Son was condemned for me, and that the Spirit in this very moment is challenging me so that I can walk away moved into holiness.
Keep preaching; when it’s popular, and when it’s not (2 Tim. 4:2). And be encouraged. We may not shout, “Amen!” but know that we’re out there, listening intently, holding on to your words knowing that preaching is God’s ordained means to reach His God-glorifying ends.
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Everyone makes disciples, and everyone shares good news about it. Just think about all the disciples that are made each and every Fall as college football and the NFL kicks off (pun intended) with a brand new season full of thrills and excitement. It’s not new. It’s the same game played each and every year. But there’s much to be excited about. Why? Because we love it. We throw on our favorite jersey, eat our favorite nachos, and party while grown men war for a trophy. It’s great.
Disciples love the object that is teaching them something. The very definition of a disciple is ‘learner,’ though it is not simply a cognitive thing. It’s a life thing. We invest our emotions, desires, affections, money, time, energy–our lives–in it. We’re ‘followers’. And we’re all passionate about something.
Being a disciple means were are learning from Jesus, walking in his ways, not our ways. To be a disciple of Jesus means that we take our cues from Him not an organization that distracts us from His mission.
What happens when the church makes disciples of the church instead of disciples of Jesus? What might that look like?
Here are 5 signs that you might be making disciples of your church and not of Jesus.
1) You get upset when people are gone.
For some reason, the prominent view of “church” and success is rooted in attendance on a Sunday morning. This is only part of what it means to be the church. Yes we gather, but we also scatter. If you put too much emphasis on the Sunday gathering and see this as “church,” then you’ll get frustrated when people aren’t there. Many pastors build their identity around numbers. This is dangerous and is most certainly a sign that you aren’t making disciples of Jesus, but instead, disciples of the church. Disciples of Jesus build their identity around the gospel. Disciples of the church build their identity around attendance.
2) You criticize every other church.
We all think that we’re the pure, true, and most correct church. What we mean is that we’re right (doctrinally) and they are all wrong. This may in fact be true, but when we demonize others and divide on secondary matters, we are trying to defend Jesus when He needs no defense. When you criticize “those people,” you are making disciples of your church because you want to keep people near to you, (so they won’t go “there”) and because of it you’re more concerned about them staying with you instead of sending them out on mission. Suddenly your criticism serves as a ploy to justify “your church” and all of its perfection. Disciples of Jesus are known for their love (John 13:35). Disciples of the church are known for what they’re against.
3) You only allow people to ‘come’ instead of challenging them to ‘go’.
This is a classic example of making disciples of your church instead of Jesus. When success is defined by an individual’s attendance instead of obedience, you make disciples of the church instead of Jesus. When we over-emphasize “church” activities (Men’s Bible studies, Women’s Bible studies, Sunday night services, Wednesday night services, College Age services, Men’s Groups Ages 29-33, Men’s Groups ages 34-38, Young Married, Young Singles, Single Women Studies, Mother’s who have been married 5 years or less groups, Senior Citizen groups, etc.) it is no wonder a person views church as merely a “coming” thing. We “come” to embrace the goods and services, pay our money and leave. The church is no different than a country club. The issue is our calendars. We are so busy seeing church as ‘coming’ and filling our days with churchy activities, we aren’t sent out on mission in the real world in our neighborhoods and places of work and play. Disciples of Jesus are sent on mission and challenged to do so. Disciples of the church just come and sit.
4) You would much rather provide goods and services instead of training for the mission.
When we ignore the mission (make disciples of Jesus) we fill our time with goods and services. Suddenly the bulk of our teaching becomes a gimmick to “get people to church” instead of a passionate plea for mission through the power and purpose of the gospel. We set up our Sunday mornings in such a way as to “make it comfortable” for people. This is related to point #3 because instead of freeing up the church calendar for mission, we fill it with stuff so as to please people, entertain people, and ultimately distract people from the real task at hand. Instead of training people for war, we entertain them with pithy paraphernalia. I get it. It’s easier. Living our lives on full display for a watching world is hard. But Jesus told us to take up our cross, not our fancy new Bible cover. Disciples of Jesus long for the gospel, long to see not-yet believers come to Christ, and situate their lives to accomplish this. Disciples of the church long for the newest and best gimmick at church.
5) The gospel is only something we talk about once in a while.
In a typical model of church in America, the goal is to get people in the doors so that the gospel invitation can be given by the ‘professional,’ and hopefully the person will come to faith. So we try so hard to make the church ‘cool,’ and in doing so we rarely get around to talking about the good news of King Jesus. We spend more time getting people to acclimate to our church culture instead of familiarizing them with the good news and the grand mission. The gospel then becomes something only “those” people need, and not something I need every day. The gospel goes from the very power of God, to only those facts that need to be believed in order to join our church. Disciples of Jesus long for the gospel every moment. Disciples of the church see the gospel as irrelevant in day-to-day life.
What do you think? Are we making disciples of Jesus and centering our churches around him and his mission? Or are we too busy making our own survival as an organization (budgets, buildings, etc.) the most important thing?
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“Why become a member of a church, I attend the service isn’t that enough?” This is an actual question that I have heard. I want to explain how, as a Pastor, I respond to such a claim. Let me break this down into four apparent areas of confusion. I should also mention that this thinking is based mostly from the American/Western culture and without backing that up with firm data, it may be more conjecture and observation; however, it is a mindset in churches that I have been involved with and comments heard among other pastors. One should also know that this article is not intended to be exhaustive, but to address some elementary thoughts pertaining to church membership. And so, what is the importance; I mean, why join?
It’s Not All About Me
The letters which Paul wrote to the Christian churches all had an underlying thought—unity in Christ. Basically, the people were to be unified together as a whole and think less of themselves than others. It was also evident that these churches, some more than others, had dysfunction to some degree or questions regarding either doctrine or theology. Some churches even had dissension among the members. It seems today that we’re in the same boat—meaning, things haven’t changed much. However, instead of looking at the Body of Christ as an imperfect bunch of hypocrites, we need to view it as a growing, breathing, living body of individuals that also are growing. What does that mean? It means that while the body grows, so does the spiritual walk of the individual—they are simultaneously developing. To think that infants remain infants is absurd thinking; of course they will grow—they will grow in stages: first the infant, then the toddler, the adolescent, and on and on until adulthood and even until the golden years of maturity.
So, to think that the Church does not need members of spiritual wisdom—assuming you are not showing up because you are wiser than the others, is assuming incorrectly. The church needs all stages of believers to continue thriving. Think about it, if the Church were filled with all mature believers, would they have the zeal and passion of the new believer? Probably not. However, if the Church were filled with all new believers, would it have the wisdom and maturity to shield from false doctrines and theology? No, it would not. Therefore, all are required not only attend, but become “koinonia” with the Church. The abiding presence of Christ is recognized in the Greek term, koinonia, to be intimately a part of Christ’s fellowship. Fellowship is membership; otherwise we’re talking about being an acquaintance, and abiding.
It’s a Living Body
All of the body parts equal the whole. Each person is uniquely gifted. Paul expresses this thought to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor 12), that each believer plays an important role within the body. The Body of Christ is not some institution or organization, but a living breathing organism, glued together by the Holy Spirit of God (Eph 1:13). Besides the command to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25), is the understanding that if the hand decided not to become part of the body, we would say that’s absurd too. Well, it is. What we do not find in Scripture are people from the Antioch Church saying, “I’m going to worship with the Church at Stephen’s house today and next week the Church at Priscilla and Aquilla’s?” We don’t see the Church in Jerusalem having people go to Antioch to worship either, and while that may seem like an argument from silence, we do have many writings regarding the early church and their fervor to worship with one another and die for one another. I’m not saying that we don’t have more choices today, we do, but my point is that each person became a member of their local church and served it, as serving Christ.
Pastoring the Flock
As an under-shepherd, Christ is the true Shepherd, how can a pastor pray and watch over a sheep, which has no intention of resting with the flock? He cannot. Of course, the inevitable phone call will come in, “Miss Sheep’s sister’s friend’s cousin was just admitted into the hospital, are you going to make a visit?” To which the Pastor scratches his head and thinks, “Who is Miss Sheep?” Forget about the actual person in the hospital for a second, the pastor doesn’t even know Miss Sheep because she has not taken the time to enter the fellowship as a member, but visits from time to time. This takes advantage of the pastor, making him no more than a sheep and a goat herder; not that visitation isn’t a gift, and edifying to all, it is. But don’t miss the point, a pastor cannot possibly know who is in the flock if they are not a member and more than likely, no one in leadership is praying for them. They’re merely a drifter, a church shopper, or a Lone Ranger, and do not understand the importance of having Biblical leadership watch over their very souls for protection. As disciples of Christ, believers are expected to be under the leadership and mentoring of a pastor/elder. The pastor’s position is one, which is to be taken seriously, if he acknowledges God’s call in his life. But a pastor is not a watchman of a sheep that is not of his fold, nor wants to be corralled.
While I placed covenant last, it should be first. The underpinning of our relationship with Christ is based upon covenant. It should not surprise you then that our relationship, to love and be one with another and in Christ, is about covenant. The fact that we are baptized into one body and also partake of communion with one another, leads us to understand that the Church is in covenant with one another and with Christ. A covenant is an oath, a bond. When a believer becomes a member, he or she pledges to have the same bond into the mystical union with God and one another—we become one as a living body. To stand outside of this covenant is merely to be an observer, which people can do prior to joining. For this reason, the early church had membership services on Easter, to welcome in the newly baptized and those who went through teaching about the church—this is why some churches have membership classes. But why is this important or necessary you may ask? If a person never becomes a covenant member of the family of God it does not jeopardize their salvation; true, but it does jeopardize their well-being, spiritual growth, development, and ability to intrinsically unite with Christ, through Christian brotherhood (i.e. bonding).
May the God of all peace give you understanding and wisdom and bring you into the fellowship of believers, where you are. God’s blessings!
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The young man was absolutely smitten by her. But I knew, and I think deep down he knew, that he was stuck in the friend zone. She considered him a dear friend but nothing more.
But she never had the painful conversation with him. She never told him that their chances of being together were about as likely as being struck by lightning and winning the lottery on the same day.
And so he stayed in limbo. She knew his intentions but she didn’t do anything with them. She left him always wondering about her intentions. As a result he was never sure if he was totally free to pursue others.
Why did she keep the door open? Why didn’t she just crush him with the truth of her intentions—or lack thereof? Truth be told she liked having him in her pocket. If they had the conversation it would change things forever. He’d move on. And she wouldn’t have him as a fall back option. So she kept him on the hook just in case her other options fell through.
Churches, sadly, do the same thing to prospective pastors.
Back in July, Thom Rainer wrote an article on five pleas from pastors to search committees. One of them got particular attention in the comments:
“Please stay in touch with me.”
In other words don’t be like the girl who keeps a good friend in her pocket just in case the other options fall through. As soon as a person is no longer considered they should be contacted via email. It’d take about 15 minutes for someone to compile all the emails of the candidates. And about 3 minutes to send a mass email to let them know they are no longer being considered.
A Personal Anecdote
About five years ago when we were moving from Missouri to Louisville a particular church was in contact with us about coming on board. They requested an audio sermon. We weren’t set up very well for recording sermons but we figured out a way to get a couple sermons recorded.
I sent the audio to the church and heard NOTHING. Of course they may not have received the sermon. But I wouldn’t know that either because they never responded to my email where I inquired as to whether or not they had received the sermon.
So my only assumption was that they must have hated the sermon, thought I was terrible and that I was a heretic. I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was incredibly discouraging.
About six months later they contacted me and I learned the truth. The search committee was smitten by another prospective pastor. They liked his sermon better and so began the process of calling him to be the pastor. They went through the whole process only to be rejected by this prospective pastor.
So, naturally, they called up their option #2. Me. They had been keeping me in their pocket just in case the other fella didn’t work out. But much to their disappointment their #2 guy had also already moved on.
I don’t believe that pastor search committees are intentionally doing this to prospective pastors. Many of them are probably new to the process of calling a pastor. And it is likely that none of them have never been a prospective pastor and so they don’t know what it is like on the other end.
We need to educate our people on how to call a prospective pastor even while we are still there. These things need to be taught because this entire process is broken and needs to be fixed. Being faithful to communicate with prospective pastors is a huge step in the right direction.
So really this is a plea to pastors. Educate your people on the process. Prepare them for your departure.
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