A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons

Greg Strand – January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday we looked back to a previous day to learn from Charles Simeon about how to hear a sermon. Today we look at a contemporary work that serves as a guide for how to hear and heed sermons: Christopher Ash, Listen Up! A practical guide to listening to sermons (The Good Book Company, 2009).

Ash has served in local church ministry and in a church planting ministry. He now serves as the Director of the Cornhill Training Course, London, England. He has written a number of books including a helpful one on preaching, The Priority of Preaching (Christian Focus/PT Media 2009). Cornhill is a ministry of The Proclamation Trust, a ministry that exists “to encourage ministry that seeks above all to teach the Bible as God’s Word relevant for today.” More specifically, Cornhill is “a training course with a primary aim of training preachers. Alongside this we train men and women to teach the Bible in other contexts, such as youth/children’s work and women’s ministry.”

This is an extremely helpful booklet consisting of 30 pages and filled with nuggets of practical counsel regarding listening to sermons. I would encourage those of you who regularly preach the Word of God to read it. Though intended to aid the listener of the sermon preached, it would also be invaluable for you as you prepare, ponder and pray over the sermon to remember sermons are preached to people. I would then encourage you to have the elders read it so that they will be more effectively equipped to grow through the preached Word and also help you as the preacher to grow in the preaching of the Word. Finally, you may want to make copies available to the congregation.

I also used this in my own family devotions, reading through one of the “seven ingredients” as we gathered each night. It was good for my wife and me to be reminded of these important ingredients, and to learn a few additional insights, and it was also good to teach and talk about the significance of learning how to listen and learn well from the preached Word, since it holds the preeminent place in the corporately gathered people of God known as the church. What a gift to receive and give to my daughter – guidance about how to listen to sermons at this stage of her life that should serve her, the pastor and the church, well the rest of her life.

Below I have outlined this major section of the booklet.

Seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening

1.       Expect God to speak

Practical Steps to Take

  1. Look up next Sunday’s Bible passage and read it at home during the week.
  2. Pray for next Sunday’s preacher in the middle of the week.
  3. Pray often for yourself, that, by His Spirit, God will grow in you a heartfelt expectation that God Himself will speak to you as His word is preached.
  4. If you can, try not to come to the sermon exhausted, but to come rested and ready to pay close attention.
  5. Deliberately quieten your mind and heart before the sermon and say to yourself: ‘This is when God speaks to me.’ Pray again: ‘Lord, speak to me. I am listening’.

2.       Admit God knows better than you.

Practical Steps to Take

  1. Which parts of this week’s preached Bible passage challenge your beliefs or lifestyles?
  2. Does the passage clearly teach these things?
  3. Pray for the work of God’s Spirit to enable you to submit to what the Bible clearly says, and to help you to change.

3.       Check the preacher says what the passage says

Practical Steps to Take

  1. Read the passage or listen carefully when it is read.
  2. What do you think is the main point of the passage? This may be signaled by repetition of something important, or by being in the punchline (for example, of a parable), or by being the theme that runs through the passage: Is the main thrust of the sermon the same as the main point of the passage?
  3. Are there any surprises in the passage, ie [sic]: things the Bible says that we wouldn’t expect it to say, or that it says in ways we wouldn’t expect it to say them?
  4. Who was the passage originally written or spoken to? Are we in the same situation as them? In particular, if they were before Christ, we need to be careful what parallels we draw; we can’t simply apply it straight to ourselves. After all, it wasn’t written to us. It was written for us (for our benefit) but not directly to us.
  5. Why do you think the Bible writer wrote this passage? What is the passage intended to achieve in its hearers?
  6. Pray as Martin Luther used to pray: ‘Lord, teach me, teach me, teach me’.

4.       Hear the sermon in church

Practical steps to take: These have been combined with the suggestions in the next section.

5.       Be there week by week

Practical Steps to Take

  1. Keep count for six months or a year of how many weeks you are in your own local church to hear the sermon. Make a note of the different reasons why you’re not there.
  2. If you find you’re away more than you realized, and more than you ought to be, take some practical diary action to make sure you’re there more regularly. Come back from a holiday on a Saturday. Get back from a visit to friends in time for the Sunday evening meeting. And so on.
  3. Be aware of the others in your local church as you listen to the sermon. Talk to them afterwards, not only about how we should respond as individuals, but about how the Bible passage should shape the church.
  4. Pray often for the work of God’s Spirit to shape both you as an individual and your church as a body of Christians together.

6.       Do what the Bible says

Practical Steps to Take

  1. After this week’s sermon, write down all the ways you wish that other people would obey that teaching. Don’t hold back. When you’ve written it all down, tear it up.
  2. Now let’s get to business. Write down as definitely and precisely as you can some action you need to take to obey this Bible passage. It may be a change of attitude, or an alteration in the way you speak, or some action you need to stop doing, or start doing. Whatever it is, write it down.
  3. In a week’s time, and then a month’s time, look at what you’ve written and ask yourself whether that Bible passage made any difference to you.
  4. Pray, pray and pray again for God to work obedience in you to His word.

7.       Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Practical Steps To Take

  1. Ask yourself how the preached passage shows you an attitude, or words, or actions that need to change.
  2. Then change, urgently, praying for grace to enable you to repent.
  3. Ask yourself in what way the passage encouraged you to trust in God and in Christ afresh. Then resolve, urgently, to put that fresh trust into your life as God helps you.
  4. Enjoy preaching, not as entertainment but as God’s regular gracious invitation to walk with Him, rejoicing in a clear conscience. 

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>