Sunday, July 12, 2009

How to Listen to a Sermon, OR What to Demand of Preachers (Part 1)

Part of healthy church life is faithful expository preaching. In fact, one could say that expository preaching is foundational to the life and health of any local congregation. (see Mark Dever’s 9Marks of a Healthy Church analysis here.)

Much is written for preachers to help them prepare biblical, expository sermons. One would think that listening to them doesn’t require much instruction. After all, everyone should already know how to do that.

Years ago, Mortimer Adler wrote How to Read a Book. Material abounded to help authors write books, but Adler demonstrated that just because someone possesses the mechanical skill to read it doesn’t necessarily give him the ability to comprehend a book. In the same way, just because someone possesses the mechanical ability to hear doesn’t necessarily mean that he is able to listen to a sermon.

What I hope to do in this series is explore the issues related not to the producing of sermons, but to the reception of them, both to increase the congregation’s expectations of what should occur when a preacher preaches, and to edify the body of Christ to the glory of God.

What Is a Sermon?

The concept of sermons and preaching has entered the vernacular of our conversation in many ways. When someone is trying to tell us what to do, we might tell him “Quit preaching at me!” Or we might describe his attempt at persuasion as “sermonizing.”

For now, we might define preaching as “proclaiming, explaining and applying the Bible” and a sermon as “a particular event of preaching.” Given those definitions, it is still quite possible that someone might tell the one delivering a sermon “Quit preaching at me!” and it is still quite possible for him to be guilty of “sermonizing.” It is also quite possible that those who think they are delivering sermons are actually more soporific than watching paint dry.

What might be helpful in this discussion (because I wish someone had told me these things long ago) will be such things as How to Tell Good from Bad Sermons, How to Listen to a Bad Sermon, and How to Wake from Dozing During a Bad Sermon and Make Others Believe You Were Listening. For now, it might be appropriate to talk about what sermons are not.

That, however, will be the topic of Part 2.

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