How to Listen to a Sermon

Every week, people sit through a half hour or more of a sermon on Sunday morning and another one on Sunday evening. But some feel that they didn’t get much out of the lesson. It may seem that time could better be spent doing something else like singing or praying. Some congregations have almost no preaching at all and, truthfully, their members reflect a terrible spiritual weakness. Preaching is an integral part of every worship service. John the Baptist came preaching (Matthew 3:1), Jesus came preaching (Mark 1:14), the 12 apostles went preaching (Mark 6:12) and even the members of the Jerusalem church scattered throughout the world while preaching (Acts 8:4). Paul was a powerful preacher who proclaimed the Gospel while rejecting fanciful ideas of philosophy (1 Corinthians 2:3-5). The church of Christ, bought and paid for by the blood of the Savior (Acts 20:28) began with a sermon from the apostles (Acts 2:4ff). A properly preached sermon will proclaim truth to men and lift up Jesus before the eyes of the lost.

With the importance of the sermon in mind, we offer some practical ways to help the listener approach the sermon and use the proclamation of God’s word to change their lives.

Listen for the heart of the sermon. Every preacher has good days and bad. Sometimes he will hit a home run and other days he falls terribly short and strikes out in the first few minutes. But the quality of a sermon is never in the presentation. It has nothing to do with fancy words, cute stories or pretty PowerPoint slides. The heart of the sermon is the one key point, the big idea if you will, that the preacher is trying to convey. As a listener, try and distill the entire sermon down to one sentence. It can be tough but if you listen closely you should be able to identify that central point.

Listen for the feet and legs of the sermon. Every good sermon is composed of three to five main points which support the big idea or overall theme of the sermon. These main points are like the feet and legs which support the entire body. If you listen closely, you should be able to discover those points. Write each one down in your own words and notice how it contributes to the whole of the lesson.

Listen for the bones of the sermon. Bones link everything together and give the body its form. In a sermon, the scripture references are the bones which give the sermon its shape. Without Bible references the sermon becomes just another speech. Bring a pen and paper and write down every Scripture reference; try not to miss a single one. Write each reference along with with its main point. At home, read through every reference carefully and try to reconstruct the sermon. If you will do this quickly the sermon will be better fixed in your mind.

Listen for the fist of the sermon. Every good sermon will have a fist which smashes into the soul and spirit of the hearer. It may not always strike you, but often will. The fist is a challenge, a call to action or a call to change. It is the reason for the sermon. Ask yourself: “What is the preacher asking me to do?” “What change should I make based on this lesson?” These are soul searching questions and can prove painful. They are, however, necessary if you are to make the most of the sermon.

Finally, having heard all aspects of the lesson, the hearer should respond. Not every response is, or should be, public. But most every lesson should bring some resolution to do something differently or something better. It takes great courage to listen to a lesson and respond publically or privately. But courage is what we all must have. A good, Bible-based sermon will bring improvement to a person’s life only if it is applied. Failure to apply represents a terrible loss and a waste of an opportunity.

Apply these ideas and I think the lesson will be better received, better understood and better enacted in the lives of Christians.

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