Listen Up! – Help for Listening to SermonsAugust 15, 2009
LISTEN UP! by Christopher Ash (Reviewed by Phil Dunn)
Here’s a question for you. Think back to church last week. What was the sermon about? Have a think. What passage in the Bible was it from? Do you remember the main points from the sermon? Can you remember any of the applications the preacher made? What truth impressed you most? Tricky questions – aren’t they? Well if you’re struggling with your answers, you’re not on your own. In fact my suspicion is that most of us can’t remember very much about last Sundays sermon at all.
Now that’s a pretty big problem. In fact one experienced, now-retired pastor recently commented, “One of the biggest problems in the evangelical church today is that its members simply leave their brains at the church door!” Yet Jesus said “Consider carefully how you listen.” (Luke 8v18)
Of course some of us do have good intentions and try our best to listen, but we never seem to take in very much. Others are content with just getting out to church and staying awake! Whatever category you fall into I think you’ll agree we could all do with some sound advice in how to listen better in church.
So then, let me introduce you to a super little booklet entitled ‘Listen Up’. It’s a practical guide to listening to sermons – and I’ve got to say its absolutely brilliant! It really is! It’s written by Christopher Ash – the director of the Cornhill Training Course in London. Its quite short – just 31 pages, and is attractively designed with lots of colour and little pictures. But the best thing about it is that its really reader friendly. Its written for the man in the pew. So it’s is not a difficult read – but it is definitely a very challenging one!
The booklet begins with ‘seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening.’ Each of the points begin with an interesting little case-study looking at two easily recognisable, contrasting viewpoints. Then after an explanation of each point (around 2 pages each), there is a little bullet-point section called ‘practical steps to take’ helping the reader to know what to do in response to each point. These are the seven ingredients which Ash expands upon:
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
The explanation and advice given in each point is always biblically based and extremely practical. Some things, doubtless, you’ll might know already – but to read them properly fleshed out is actually very enlightening. Other aspects you probably won’t have considered – and these again are sure to help you gain more as you listen to your pastors sermons week by week.
But what about those of us who have to endure ‘bad’ sermons in our churches? Lets face it, many of us do have this experience. Helpfully Ash takes time to address this problem and suggests three types of bad sermons and how we should respond to them as listeners. He offers advice on dull sermons, biblically inadequate sermons and heretical sermons. Even just by categorising bad sermons like this is beneficial as it helps the reader identify what the problems actually are in the sermons he/she hears each week. The advice offered is also very practical and helpful.
The last page of the booklet contains 7 suggestions for encouraging good preaching. These are things we can do as listeners to encourage better preaching in our local church. Particularly helpful (I thought) was the fourth suggestion of thanking the preacher. Here we’re advised against flattering the preacher, or just giving vague comments – instead “try to be specific and focus on the biblical content of the sermon.”
In summary then. I cant speak highly enough of this little booklet. I honestly cant imagine anyone reading it and not finding it immensely helpful (and that includes older Christians too). Are there any drawbacks – well, I really couldn’t think of any! It’s short (only takes about 5-10 minutes to read), it’s clearly laid out, and it’s easy to understand. And if the reader takes the content to heart he/she is bound to benefit and enjoy Gods word much more. My advice – grab a copy for yourself – or even better get one for each member at your church!
(Available from www.thegoodbook.co.uk)
Phil Dunn is a member of Ballymoney Baptist Church.