Every Sunday, Christians around the world gather to worship and listen to a sermon. However, this does not guarantee that those Christians actually hear what the preacher wanted them to hear or, if they are listening to a faithful preacher, what God wanted them to hear. For all the sermons that we hear, we should probably stop and ask, “Am I listening well?”
How to Listen to a Sermon Well
Good preachers do their best to make every sermon as clear as possible. One pastor that I worked under told me that before each sermon that he preaches, he asks God to give him clarity of thought and clarity of speech. Preachers like him are working hard to make it easy for us to follow along with their message.
The burden of listening, however, cannot be solely placed upon the speaker. As listeners, we must do our best to pay attention to how a pastor is building his message for the purpose of understanding and applying it. We must learn to how to listen to a sermon.
Tip #1: Use the Main Idea
One way that preachers make their sermon clear is by providing a main idea of the message. Usually, this main idea ties together all the points that will frame the outline of the message. As listeners, we can use the main idea as a guide to understanding everything else that is said in the sermon.
If you become distracted at any point or lose track of where the preacher is at, think of the main point and listen to how the preacher is building upon this main point with where he is at in his sermon. The main idea can serve you and others as a one-sentence recap of everything that the preacher wanted you to hear.
Tip #2: Expound Upon the Points
Following the outline of a sermon is extremely helpful. However, if all we do is focus on the three sermon points, we could miss how they connect with Scripture. In other words: taking notes on the points of a sermon is only helpful if you understand how they relate to the Bible.
Instead of only writing the points that the preacher shares, I encourage you to write those points and then add an explanation in your own words on how the preacher is using the point from Scripture. A sermon will only be helpful if you know how it is grounded in truth from God’s Word. This method of listening will also help you see how the points are—or are not—rooted in the truth.
Tip #3: Get Behind the Illustration
Illustrations are some of the most helpful tools for both the preacher and the listeners. At the same time, illustrations can be the most distracting component in a sermon. The preacher’s goal is to use illustrations to either explain a point or drive home an application from one of their points. Illustrations also help draw the attention of the audience.
However, there is a careful balance that each preacher must find. He must keep listeners engaged and faithfully represent the meaning of the text. When done correctly, illustrations can be some of the most memorable words from a sermon.
So, what makes for an effective illustration? And how can you internalize them for the long term? Well, let’s first look at what makes for a good sermon illustration. I believe that the most effective illustrations are ones that the listeners are able to recall later, but also see how the illustration helped explain a point.
Most of the time, we laugh or are pulled into a personal story out of interest but when the illustration ends, we do not hang on to the reason behind why the preacher shared it. Sometimes the best words that preachers say are in the explanation of how their illustration supports their main point. Follow along with the illustration, not just because it is interesting or funny, follow it so that you hear how the illustration portrays truth from Scripture.
Check Your Expectations
Each of us has an idea of what a good sermon is and what a bad sermon is. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own expectations that we can miss what God is trying to communicate to us from his Word. For that reason, we should be careful to not judge sermons (and teachings on God’s Word) by their ability to meet our expectations.
Not every sermon needs three points. Not every sermon needs to be overwhelmingly encouraging. Not every sermon needs to apply to your life perfectly. God’s Word is relevant on its own without someone making it relevant to you. Furthermore, sometimes Scripture will call for more or less than three points; sometimes God’s Word calls for preachers to exhort the church to repentance.
So, instead of listening to a sermon with expectations on what it should and should not include, we should ask the Lord to give us soft hearts to what he has to say to us through his Word and through the preacher. These tips are designed to help you do so!
Finally, there is one question that you can always ask yourself to help guide how you think about a sermon when you walk out of church on Sunday. That is: “what is God wanting to do to me and in me through the words I just heard?”