A passive listener sits in church and hopes that with enough coffee, and if the pastor is really on his game that day, he will go home with a few helpful takeaways for his Christian life. But we must do more than simply sit there and hope a sermon point or two just happen to fall into our metaphorical mitt. If you aren’t listening actively, you are missing out! So how do you actively listen to a sermon? Take notes.
The last couple of decades have seen a resurgence in expository preaching in churches—sermons which truly explain and apply the biblical text. But an expository sermon is hard work to prepare. That’s why Paul writes that faithful elders, and especially those who labor hard at preaching and teaching, are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). With all that effort from faithful preachers, is there more that those of us in the pew can be doing to ensure we are being faithful listeners?
Some pastors spend upwards of 20–30 hours per week preparing the Sunday message. How sad it is, therefore, that so much of his preparation—effort intended to feed our souls—is often lost on inattentive listeners. What’s worse, the Lord has designed the ministry of the preached Word to be a special means of sanctification to His people (Isa. 55:10–11).
Yet, we forego that gracious boon when we allow our minds to wander during the preaching of the Word.
The reason we are inattentive listeners is that while many preachers spend years honing the craft of sermon preparation, even attending years of post-graduate schooling, the average congregant has never been taught how to listen to an expository sermon.
Listening to a sermon, like reading, or like preparing a sermon, is a skill. It can be learned. Listening can be done well or poorly. You may object to this assessment, saying you have listened to many sermons, but any mother of young children can tell you that there is a world of difference between hearing and listening. Listening is more than just hearing the words. Listening involves processing, questioning, and criticizing what is being heard. I fear that many Christians have never truly listened to a sermon in their life.
The Goal of Listening
Perhaps we do not place as high of an importance on listening as we ought because we misunderstand the goal of listening to a sermon. How often have you been asked, post-service, “Wasn’t that a great sermon?” But what makes a sermon great? Is it that the sermon was short? Is it that you learned something new?