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?