How to Get More Out of the Preached Word of God

sermon preaching

Christian believers sitting in church hear a lot of sermons.  Sermons preached from the Old and New Testaments.  Sermons preached through exposition and sermons preached on topics.  Special sermons for holidays, weddings, ordinations, and during revival meetings.

My personal conviction is that growing believers in Christ should also be ingesting the Word through personal Bible study, online videos, podcasts, CDs, books, or from radio broadcasts.  All maturing believers want to grow in the Word of God and the teaching/preaching ministry is one of the primary spiritual disciplines where this growth takes place.

Yet many believers view preaching as an observational act.  They take the posture of politely and respectfully listening, but not doing much of anything else.  They would all agree that they are there to learn and be challenged in the Word, but in actuality, they are very inactive in the learning process, very passive in the spiritual discipline, and very unengaged while the preacher is preaching.

They leave saying, “I really didn’t get much out of that message.”  While it might be true, it could be avoided.

So how can maturing Christ-followers get more out of the preached Word of God?  How can those in the pews become more intentionally involved, feasting upon the spoken Word, engaging the message actively rather than passively?

Here are some ideas on what you can do to get more out of the sermon?  (These are not new or highly innovative, however, I promise they will help.)

1. Read the passage ahead of time.  Your pastor may send out a weekly email or post something on social media with the sermon text, look it up and read it.  Or when you arrive, find sermon text in the bulletin and read it.  If you have to email your pastor and ask for a preaching plan with sermon texts for the whole month.

Do whatever it takes to get that passage in your mind before the service starts.  If you do, you will notice the worship songs point to the key themes of the passage, maybe even the whole direction of the service.  Plus when the pastor reads the text in the sermon, it will be at least your second time going through it.  The flow, the words, the context will make much more sense to you when you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

2.  Pray before the preaching time starts.  Our church has an offertory time before the sermon, which is usually just the piano playing.  I spend this time to specifically ask the Holy Spirit of God to speak to my heart during the message.

Try to carve out a moment of spiritual space where you directly, humbly, ask God Almighty to speak to your heart.  We call that the “prayer of illumination.”  To be certain, God always desires to speak to His people, but we must tune our hearts and spiritual ears toward Him to hear as He speaks.

3. Open your own Bible and study along.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I am seeing less and less people bring their Bibles to church.  Even less open them during the sermon and keep them open the whole time – start to finish.

This has to be the most passive, unengaged Christian in the pew (and probably the most spiritually immature).  If you come to hear the preached Word of God and leave your Bible at home, you are telling God His Word is not valuable enough to carry a few steps to the car and into the building.

You can’t drive your car without the keys.  You don’t go to the grocery without your wallet.  You don’t go to preaching without your Bible. God’s Word is what is inspired and authoritative, not the preacher and his sermon.  Open it.  Use it.  Engage with it.  Underline, circle, mark it up.  It makes all the difference in the world.

4. Take notes during the message.  Taking notes during the sermon has been around for years, but now with all the technology and visual support, I am seeing less and less people actually bring a journal with them to worship.  They are leaning on sermon notes, bulletin inserts, and the Scripture being shown on-screen.  As a preacher, I provide all those support tools, but as a hearer, I take notes in a journal.

I journal during the sermon because in writing my own thoughts, my own understandings, my own questions, I hear the voice of God more clearly.  I hear what God is saying directly to me, which might be very different than what the preacher is saying to others.

Journaling has other benefits as well.  Later, I can go back and reflect on what God was saying to me months, maybe even years ago.  Secondly, I stay far more engaged if I am listening, writing, reflecting, and interacting with the message.  The more active I become, the less passive I am.

5. Finally, make an effort to hear the Spirit of God.  Pray before the sermon.  Pray while the sermon is being preached.  Pray when the sermon is finished.  You do your part as a growing believer in Christ to hear, receive, reflect and act upon the message God has sent to you through His Word.

Preaching may seem like a monologue, where one person is speaking and everyone else is listening, but it is not.  Preaching is a dialogue.  God is speaking through a vessel and we, His people, are listening, questioning, answering, and turning over God’s Word in our mind actively and rigorously.  You might not raise your hand and ask a question right in the middle of the sermon, but trust me, it’s a two-way street.

God always speaks.  The real question is: will you be ready to hear what He says?

 

Bethany Beyond the Jordan


I bet you never envisioned the Jordan River to look like a KY backwoods creek.  Well here it is in living color.  Plus a reading from John 1 about a voice crying out in the wilderness.  This is wilderness my friends.

Fall 2013 Ministry Preview

fall leavesThe fall school year has officially started.  My classes are packed.  I am really excited about this semester and how God is going to work in and through my students.

Along with school, the Lord has been so faithful and kind to opened several opportunities to encourage folks here in KY and around the nation.

Here is a snapshot of the fall ministry plans.

  • Through September – Preaching each Sunday morning at the Hodgenville Christian Church.  Helping out my new friend and pastor Bro. Carlton Puryear as he takes a few weeks off.
  • Sunday, Sept 15 – Leading “The Calling of Every Christian Parent” workshop at Ormsby Heights Baptist Church in Louisville.  Joining my long-time friends Pastor Steve and Michelle McKelvey, who serve on the staff there.
  • Sunday, Sept 22-25 – Preaching the fall revival for Stanford Baptist Church.  I will be joined by some great worship leader friends: Caleb Phelps, Kristina Critcher, CU Sound, and my old friend from Lancaster BC, the one and only Nehemiah Wilkinson.
  • Oct. 8-9 – Jennifer and I will be leading 3 breakout sessions for the LifeWay Christian Resources Kids Ministry Conference in Nashville, TN.  We will be teaching: 1) Teaching Children Contemplatively, 2) The Full Spectrum of Family Ministry Models, and 3) Memory Makers.  This will be our first time to lead together as a couple.
  • Oct. 13, 20 and Nov. 3, 10, 17 – Preaching Sunday mornings at Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
  • Oct. 27 – Preaching for Campbellsville University Day at Lancaster Baptist Church in Garrard Co.  I can’t wait to visit my dear friends at LBC.  I have missed them greatly over the past year.

And I am getting ready for another huge January, February and March, 2014.

In January and February, I will be joining the LifeWay VBSi Team again at Ridgecrest, Nashville, Fort Worth, and Kissimmee, FL as we train over 6000 VBS leaders from across North America.  I will be preaching during the main worship service and leading a breakout session.

And then in March, I get the great privilege of traveling back to Israel and Jordan for the second time in 5 years as part of the Campbellsville Univ. School of Theology Holy Land Tour.  This time I will be joined by my dad and brother in Christ, Danny Garrison, along with many CU faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends.  Space is available, if you are interested in joining us.

I would really covet your prayers for me, Jennifer, the boys, and these opportunities to preach and teach about our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Biography Biography Biography (and Star Wars) – Summer Reading List 2013

Here is my 2013 summer reading list.  It was mostly biographies this summer.  I love reading real stories of real people.  Some are relatively recent biographies, others are from times long ago.  We took an extended vacation so I had a bit more reading time on my hands.  Plus I now use Kentucky Libraries Unlimited which allows for downloads straight to my Kindle.  I highly recommend it.

The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods by Hank Haney – Very interesting read about the professional game of golf, which I love to watch but don’t really know much about technically-speaking.  I learned more about the golf swing that I will never ever have.  It was also interesting to learn about the corporate machine that is Tiger Woods.

Polar Crusader: A Life of Sir James Wordie by Michael Smith – A great polar tale of adventure and adversity.  I read this book while sitting at the pool.  I prefer warm climates over freezing cold.

The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich – I saw the movie a while back but the book really dives more into the nature of corporate life and how a single idea can change the world.

Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus by Ruth Rosen – Fascinating story of transformation through Christ and a willingness to do Gospel ministry in very difficult places.  Encouraging to my soul.

C. S. Lewis – A Life by Alister McGrath – I have been a Lewis fan for years.  This bio really helped me put his life into context with this writing and scholarship.  Great book about a hero of mine.

1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart – This was a very intriguing look at the political and societal happenings leading up to the American Civil War.  I was particularly interested in how you market social change through media, publications and civil protest.  I was surprised to learn I really didn’t know much of what was happening before Abraham Lincoln was president or how our country plunged into bloody war.

Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda – I love the Middle East and love to read stories of how the Middle East became the Middle East during the British colonial period.  Sir T. E. Lawrence is a legend since his movie, but his real life is just as fascinating.  He was a scholar, a military hero, an adventurer, and an archeologist all wrapped up into one.  Like Indiana Jones.

Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady – Just like golf, I know how to play chess, but after reading this book, I now know I have no idea how to really play chess.  This book is really about compulsive obsession and complete devotion to a single thing.  It made me feel lazy and distracted.

Decision Points by George W. Bush – I have always admired G. Dub.  Reading his memoir is like listening to him give a speech.  Informed, natural, and completely likeable.

And to scratch my fiction itch.

Heir to the Empire: Star Wars (The Thrawn Trilogy): Star Wars, Volume I by Timothy Zahn – This was my beach read.  I am trying to get prepared for the new movies coming in 2015.  They probably won’t use this story line, but it was nice to get back into the universe that is Star Wars.

Life of Christ Q and A

I am really excited about a new project I am working on called CU 100 Chapel Online.  Basically at Campbellsville Univ. we needed a method to help our fully online students with chapel.  All of our undergraduate students are required to get 48 chapel credits during their 4 years with us.  But as our fully online undergraduate programs have grow, we recognized this group was missing this very important part of their Christian college experience.

So a group of us were tasked with figuring out a possible solution for them.  We are building a website that will have multiple functions, including video of all our on-campus chapel services, plus virtual Bible studies, video curriculum, and a prayer room.

One of the parts I am most excited about is the Life of Christ Q and A section.  I will be creating and posting 20 small (3-4 minute) videos of me teaching through the person and work of Jesus.  Here is the listing of videos.

1.  The Preexisting Christ – In him and through him all things were made.
2.  God the Son – Three in one.
3.  Messiah Foretold – Over 200 Old Testament prophecies pointed to him alone.
4.  Born of a Virgin – Born of woman, but not of man.
5.  Lineage of David – A king whose kingdom shall never end.
6.  A Man from Nazareth – A carpenter living in a small, out of the way town.
7.  Introduced by John – Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
8.  Tempted in the Wilderness – Tempted by Satan himself, yet was without sin.
9.  Preacher & Teacher with Authority – He speaks as one with authority, not like the teachers and scribes of the Law.
10. Miracle Worker – Power over creation.
11. Forgiver of Sins – Power over sin and evil.
12. Disciples Maker – From now on, you will be fishers of men.
13. Cross Bearer I – Why a cross?
14. Cross Bearer II – Why in Jerusalem?
15. Cross Bearer III – Why a criminal’s death?
16. The Suffering Servant – He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our sins; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.
17. The Atonement for Sin – The veil is lifted; the scape goat has been killed.
18. The Resurrected One – He is not here, He is alive just as he said he would be.
19. Commissioner of Disciples – The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.
20. Promise Keeper – We shall see him face to face.

If you think there is something I should exchange or reconsider, I would love to hear from you.  Imagine the audience as a person with little or no information about Jesus, hearing for the first time who Jesus was and what he came to accomplish.  We want to be thorough, but clear and concise.

I would love any feedback if you have a suggestion.  Once the videos are completed, I will post the links for anyone to watch on this site as well as the CU 100 Chapel Online.

Decision Making and the SBC Related School

Denominationally affiliated colleges and universities are slightly different than secular, state-owned colleges and universities when it comes to the distribution of campus power and the process of decision making.

The following graphics are from my Ed.D. dissertation entitled Models of Academic Governance in Southern Baptist Related Colleges and Universities (2009) which shows in rank order who holds the most and least power within SBC-related versus secular, state-owned institutions.

For SBC-related schools…

power holders

For state-owned institutions…

power 2

Three key observations:

1.  SBC-related schools have denominational leaders, which are obviously not present in secular, state-owned institutions.  Denominational leaders are in the middle of the pack in institutional power and decision making.

2.  Legislators and federal/state governments are at the bottom of SBC-related schools, but are obviously much more involved in the secular, state-owned institutions.  This makes perfect since state funding and accountability are directly routed to state-owned universities.

3.  The president and trustees/governors/regents are always at the top in both categories.  The non-administrative faculty are in the middle for both categories.

Conclusions:

The conclusion of my dissertation is that with a slight exception here and there, SBC-related colleges and universities follow very similar decision making paths as secular, state-owned institutions.  There is not much deviation between the two rank orders.   I contend that this makes perfect, tangible sense because of regional accreditation issues, federal regulations for all degree conferring institutions, and the need to be competitive in the higher education market, which is full of all sorts of players – public, private, for-profit, non-profit, online, international.

However, I do believe and can confirm from personal experience, that SBC-related institutions are unique in wanting to balance the influence and partnership with denominational leaders.  The connection between churches and SBC-related schools is a needed relationship.

As there is diversity within SBC churches and their individual relationships with the state and national denomination groups with some closer, some further away, so goes the SBC-related college and university, some closer, some further away.  The reason for the variance is the same as with the churches – leadership, history, future vision, priorities, and frankly investment dollars.

Summer 2012 Recap

Riding a hot air balloon on the 4th of July.

When the blog went down in July, I frantically tried to get it back up and running.  And when I finally got the thing going again, I just didn’t have anything interesting to say or post.  So I haven’t.  But now the summer is nearly over, so I thought I would fire some one-liners about life, ministry, parenting, and the culture.

  • The Olympics – Team USA is awesome, but the Chinese are machines. 
  • Living Grace Church – I am 1 month in and am having a very good time.  The health of the church is tremendously better than compared to 3 years ago when I was here before.  That goes in a very large part to the leadership of Pastor Jason Fox.  His steady hand and commitment to biblical health for the church paid off.  I tip my hat to you my friend.  Well done. 
  • Jennifer’s father – Earl – was in the hospital nearly all of July with a serious infection through out his body.  He is home now and we are very thankful.  God spared his life.
  • CentriKid Camp - Getting to be camp pastor of CentriKid camp was way too much fun.  3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders are so sweet and gracious.  They actually paid great attention to the messages each morning and evening, which I didn’t expect.  Organized Mass Chaos (OMC) was pure craziness.
  • Both boys in school - Isaac started 1st grade, Ethan started pre-K.  For 3 hours each morning, not one kid is in our house.  Very strange phenomenon.  I think Jennifer likes the quiet mornings.
  • Chick-Fil-A - Americans can’t spell the name of the store, but they sure do love themselves some Jesus chicken.  The original and the spicy are my favs.
  • Summer movies - Didn’t see anything at all.  Not Batman, not Spiderman, not Brave.  Nothing.  Nada.
  • Books – Great reads this summer mostly from the secular world.  Into Thin Air by Jon Krakaur, Moneyball by Michael Lewis, Theodore Rooseveltan Autobiography, and The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist by E. Belfort Bax.
  • Downtown Abbey Season 1 - Extraordinary.  Season 2 needs to get on NetFlix asap.
  • Jennifer’s book – The Leaders Guide to “Christian History Made Easy” – was released in July and we got a copy.  I am so happy she beat me to the publishing punch.
  • Greece/Turkey Trip – The May study tour has really helped in preaching and teaching.  I will start my series on the 7 churches of Revelation in September and have tons of video to show.  The dates for Israel/Jordan 2014 are available if you’re interested in traveling with the School of Theology.
  • My sister Crystal got married.  Small, sweet ceremony in a quaint Methodist chapel.  Congrats Sis.
  • Finally Turning 35 – With July came my birthday and officially rolling into the middle-age demographic.  All demographic studies have 21-34 and 35-54 as categories determining young adults and middle adults.  10 years of marriage, 2 kids, a mortgage, a Buick sedan.  Yup, we are middle adults.

Cheers to Summer 2012.  You’ve been a wild one.

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