I'm afraid that there is a dearth of true expository preaching, the kind of preaching that takes that written Word as it is and explains it to the people. The victims of that silent crime are the people in the pews. The suspects are those preachers who do anything but preach the Word in a way that helps the hearer understand God’s message. However, today I want to turn the tables and look at the auditor’s role in the preaching process.
Going to church is an easy thing. You get up. You get dressed. You get down the road. You get out of the car. You get into the sanctuary (or whatever less offensive name you want to call it). Then, for too many folks, you get bored.
Too few people come to church prepared to worship. They don’t come prepared to hear a word from God. They see a man standing before a group of people who doesn’t have a lot to say about what they think is important to them. They see a roomful of people who look as bored as they feel, people who are probably thinking about lunch, or the boat, or any one of a hundred other things that have nothing to do with that irrelevant sermon. They’re thinking, “Twenty minutes to go.”
Out of the corner of their eyes, they see one of their pewmates sitting, just down the way, writing feverishly. What are they writing, they wonder. What could be so important? Then it dawns on them. “I think he’s writing down what the pastor is saying.” Notes? In church? Is this school? “Oh, they must be one of those OCD types.” With nary another thought, the notetaker is dismissed as irrelevant as well.
What’s the difference between the two? One came to see a preacher, to be entertained. The other came to hear a sermon. The former doesn’t expect to hear from God and the latter can’t wait to hear from God. The first might get something out of the sermon. The second can’t believe how much she gets out of the sermon. The bored individual doesn’t know how to listen; the other listens with purpose.
So, how does one listen with purpose? It’s a matter of attitude and expectation. More than that, however, it’s a matter of commitment.
A commitment to trusting God’s Word. A good sermon, the kind I’ve been advocating, is not a masterful display of oratory, though that never hurts. It’s a clear and cogent explanation of the Bible as the Word of God. As the Word of God, the Bible reflects the character of God. If God is truthful and trustworthy, His Word will be truthful and trustworthy. Believing that to be true, the sermon auditor whose confidence rests in the Bible can rest assured that the expository sermon contains a valuable message for them.
A commitment to hearing God’s Word. Listening to a sermon is more than hearing the speaker. It’s listening to God, if the preacher is preaching from the Bible. He’s not there to amuse you with his wit. He’s not there to wow you with his intellect. He’s not there to impress you with his rhetorical skills. He’s there to let you know what God has said so that it can make a difference in your life. When he preaches from the Bible, God speaks. So, the next time you sit down to listen to a sermon, set aside your thoughts on the preacher’s wardrobe or voice and focus on the words.
A commitment to obeying God’s Word. Trusting the Word and listening to the sermon is not enough. Those who listen to sermons simply to gain information are missing out. It’s little wonder so many find sermons irrelevant. The fault is theirs, however, not the preacher’s. The sermon is never applied to their lives. You must come expecting to have your life changed and your ways challenged. James warned that we are to be doers of the Word not hearers only. The reason there are so many people in our pews but so few evangelists in our churches is because too many are hearers and too few are doers. Before listening to a sermon, you need to decide that you're going to do what the Word of God tells you.The next time you go to church, commit yourself to hearing the sermon in a mighty way, as a Word of God for you.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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