Several years ago I had the privilege of listening to a really bad sermon. As the sermon started I realized that I wanted to leave. I’ve had people walk out on my sermons, and I didn’t want to be that guy. So, I went over my objections with intentional empathy. Have you ever had similar responses?
- The pastor seemed unprepared. Maybe he had a rough week in ministry or couldn’t sleep the night before.
- His speaking style that irritated me. This could just be a personality conflict; we aren’t going to connect with everyone. This was my problem not his.
- I didn’t agree with the theology of this sermon. But this was a Bible-believing church that was solid on the essentials of the faith.
I decided to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to me in spite of my objections. About two-thirds of the way through the sermon the pastor said, “Things aren’t turning out the way you want. You’ve prayed and prayed about it. Maybe you’re pulling against God.” This was exactly what I needed to hear to help me overcome some frustrations I’d been fighting for months.
God used a bad, boring sermon to speak to my soul. Here are some ways that you can grow through almost any sermon (provided it isn’t heretical):
Be rested and ready.
You cannot listen well if you’re tired – it’s physically impossible. Your brain needs the recovery from rest to be prepared to process new information. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will hurt every part of your spiritual life. Is it possible that your frustration with your pastor is really a chronic sleep deficit?
Prepare your soul.
Nothing makes a sermon more powerful than a consistent life of prayer and meditation on God’s Word. This is just as true for the listeners as it is for the pastor. If you aren’t spending time with God every day, how can you expect to hear his voice on Sunday morning?
Enter into God’s presence.
Recognize that you are always in God’s presence (see Psalm 139). As you enter into worship, take a few moments to focus your heart and mind on this reality – you are in the throne room of God.
It’s been said, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” This is wrong. Humility is thinking of yourself rightly. Know yourself as you truly are before God and in Christ Jesus. He is the Creator, we are his creation. We would be wise to remember this in worship.
Receive the word with joy.
Are you excited that God is about to speak to you by his Holy Spirit through his Word and by means of his servant (your pastor)? Every sermon we listen to is an opportunity to become more like Jesus. This should fill us with joy and anticipation.
Listen for what’s good.
Sometimes we approach a sermon like it’s a political speech to see if we disagree with what the pastor says. Then we talk about what was wrong with the sermon over lunch. When we do this we put ourselves in God’s place as judge, we disrespect our pastor’s calling, and our pride keeps us from hearing the truth. Instead, we need to heed 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 which tells us to esteem our pastor and listen with discernment so we can hold on to what is good (not what was bad).
Listen to the Holy Spirit.
Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the message. Listen to him first and your pastor second. Make sure you have understood both thoroughly. If you are raising objections in your mind, you aren’t really listening to anyone but yourself. There will be plenty of time to explore your own thoughts later.
Listen to the text.
If you aren’t connecting with the pastor, read through the text again. Read slowly and listen for how the Spirit speaks to you through his Word. I’ve had to do this from time to time in order to focus my mind and heart. It’s amazing how much better the preacher sounds afterward!
Listen for heart transformation.
When we listen to a sermon our goal should always be to have our heart transformed into the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit. What does your heart need to hear in this message to make you more like Jesus?
Allow yourself to be loved.
Most pastors preach the Word out of love for God and love for the church. Listen to your pastor’s message as an expression of his love for you. Listen for how he is communicating God’s love for you. Even if the message is a harsh one (which is sometimes necessary), there will be an element of God’s love and grace. God rebukes those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). Sometimes he does it through the pastor.
Find Jesus in the sermon.
Listen for what this sermon can tell you about Jesus. What is Jesus like? Who does he love? How does he act? What are his priorities? It can feel like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” but it’s much more fun when you see Jesus.
Teach someone else what you’ve heard.
One of the most powerful tools for getting the most out of a sermon is to teach what you learned to someone else. Even if it’s just going around the dinner table after church and having each person tell the others what they learned, it will help everyone focus and listen with intention. Teaching will always drive you to a deeper understanding.
What helps you listen to a sermon?
Please, leave a comment below. I personally read all the comments and I try to respond within a day. Or we can interact on Twitter (@PastorsSoul) or on our Facebook page.
© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.