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Good preaching requires good listeners: Advice from the pew


“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” With those words of Jesus from John 4:24, I began a reflection on public worship a few weeks ago.

Insight | Bailey McBride

Insight | Bailey McBride

What most people think of when they consider worship is preaching. In Churches of Christ preaching has always been the central shared experience in congregations’ worship. Although I am fond of preaching, it is the most difficult aspect of the church experience.

I have been blessed to hear great preaching for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, I heard Delmar Owen week after week. He was a godly man who took seriously his responsibility of teaching and admonishing. During the first couple of years that I listened to him, I learned much about what we often call “the plan of salvation.” Then it was as if a light went on in his thinking and he realized that the church needed a greater understanding of God and his nature.

It became very clear that he was studying and personally seeking to know God better. He continued to study the Bible, and it was reflected in his preaching. He also began studying the sermons of great historical preachers. His preaching became a regular call for me to study and work to understand.

Delmar taught me that preaching is not a passive experience for the listener. It is more like a tennis game where the listener not only hears but has to respond to the ideas.

When I begin to feel weary about preaching, I realize that I have become lazy and only want the speaker to fill my plate because I am just a sponge to soak up what is poured over me. Some preachers require more effort from us than others. Preachers who do not think, pray and dig into the subject will only give us the skeleton and we have to do the thinking and understanding.

As serious worshipers, we need to do whatever it takes so that the preaching we hear becomes increasingly effective in strengthening our knowledge and love of God.

As technology has become a part of worship experiences, preachers are naturally tempted to simply grab our attention and give us an entertaining experience that may or may not quicken our relationship with God.

As serious worshipers, we need to do whatever it takes so that the preaching we hear becomes increasingly effective in strengthening our knowledge and love of God. These ideas may help:

• Pray before you go to church that you will fully commune with God. Ask for wisdom to understand and apply the lessons you hear. Pray for the preacher that he will have thoughtfully developed a lesson to touch lives.

• If you take notes on sermons, you are forced to be more attentive. If you are not good at taking notes, you can find many sources on the web to help you. When you get home, schedule a time when you can review your notes, test the ideas, see which ones are new to you and see if there are questions you want to ask the preacher to help you understand.

• Always listen to sermons with your Bible open. Today many preachers will put all the scriptures they are using on the screen — and that is great. But if you look at the passage in your own Bible, you can see the context and perhaps even mark the passage for future study to see if other relevant information will help you.

• As you listen to preaching, make notes to yourself about how you will use the ideas you are hearing. Great preaching will touch the important issues of life — morality, spirituality, devotion and service to others, honoring God, growing as a Christian, changing yourself and others and developing faith. All those issues should be important to each of us, and clearly we want to keep those as priorities for our lives.

• If you are at the stage of life where you are caring for young children as you try to worship, get the CD or listen online to preaching when you can concentrate and learn from the preaching.

I confess that, even though I have been going to church regularly since I was 12 years old, I still struggle to make worship the greatest time of my week. I find it really easy and inspiring when we are singing (almost any kind of song). Communion is moving as I remember Christ’s offering. Preaching requires the greatest effort.

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Filed under: Insight listening preaching

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