A recent publication by The Good Book Company is a little gem by Christopher Ash, Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, entitled Listen Up. It’s a very practical guide to listening to sermons.
This Sunday I’m back in my own pulpit after being away for 14 months. I am looking forward to being with my own congregation and to the task of ministering to them, in the pulpit and out of the pulpit. I am back to the discipline of preparing at least two sermons a week, and thankfully there are lots of resources to help preachers to preach good sermons. But there is virtually nothing in the last 200 years on helping people in the pews to listen to sermons. That’s why this wee book (available in our favourite local Faith Mission Bookshop in Portadown) is so helpful.
So here are Ash’s seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening:
1. Expect God to speak
2. Admit God knows better than you
3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
4. Hear the sermon in church
5. Be there week by week
6. Do what the Bible says
7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!
He also has an interesting chapter on how to listen to bad sermons. How do you listen to a dull sermon? How do you listen to a biblically inadequate sermon? How do you listen to a heretical sermon? (The short answer to the last question is: Don’t!) How can we get better sermons? All great questions, with good answers provided.
I like this short book because it describes the relationship between the preacher and his congregation and encourages a relationship of “active listening” and feedback. That is essential if a pastor and his people are going to grow spiritually together. I need to improve as a preacher and as a person, and I know that will only happen as my congregation talks to me and responds to what I say in the pulpit. The days of being in the pulpit “six feet above contradiction” are long gone.
So I’m getting ready to preach on Sunday. I hope my people are ready to listen. And I hope I will have ears to hear what they are saying to me.