Want to know which way the wind is blowing? Just look at a weather vane.
Want to know how a church approaches the Bible? Just listen to a sermon.
Now a sermon is not like an IV drip, where you passively receive nourishment. Rather, a sermon is like a hearty meal—the cook labors in the kitchen to measure and mix and simmer. He sets down the food and urges you to eat. But you won’t enjoy or benefit from the meal unless you raise a fork and tuck in.
With a sermon, this happens in three stages.
Before the Sermon
To get the most from a sermon, consider two important activities in the preceding week: prayer and study.
Both the preacher and the hearer need God’s help. Pray for your pastor as he studies the Bible and prepares to proclaim it. And pray for yourself and your fellow listeners, that you would understand and be changed by God’s word.
During the week, there’s another way to plow up your heart to prepare for the Sunday morning planting. Find out the Bible passage for the sermon and study it on your own. (If you aren’t sure how to study the Bible, start here.) Take a stab at the author’s main point, connect that to Jesus, and write down some applications. If Sunday morning is the second time you’ve grappled with the preacher’s text, God’s word is more likely to take root and sprout up in you.
During the Sermon
Honoring God during the sermon is straightforward, if not easy: Focus and listen.
We should give our full attention to the preaching of God’s word. Grab a Bible and locate the relevant passage. Think carefully with the preacher as he talks through the text.
For some, taking notes is essential. Writing helps these people follow the main ideas of the sermon and gives them a record to consult later.
For others, note-taking is a distraction. Trying to listen and write leaves them with scattered scrawlings and murky memories. These folks should consider jotting down their thoughts after the sermon, so those God-given impressions and applications don’t flit away.
We all have difficulty listening to sermons from time to time. This may have nothing to do with the preacher! Late nights, a difficult week, restless children, illness, or a hundred other factors may make it hard to concentrate. We should do our best to pray and prepare and focus. Beyond that, remember that God knows his children. His love for us doesn’t increase or decrease based on our attentiveness during the sermon. It is full and secure because of Jesus.
After the Sermon
When the preacher finishes his post-sermon prayer, your obligations are not over. Like The Carpenters, you’ve only just begun. The best ways to promote a Bible study culture in your church after the sermon are to apply and discuss the Bible.
Assuming your preacher handled the Bible faithfully and connected his applications to Jesus, now it’s your turn. With the help of the Holy Spirit, take your pastor’s suggestions, mix in your own, and apply this passage to your head, heart, and hands.
If you question the preacher’s interpretation, study the passage again. Request a meeting later that week. God brought this passage to your attention and you should pursue understanding and joyful obedience.
In addition to applying the sermon text yourself, talk about it with others in your church. If you do so right after the worship service, you have a ready-made entrance to fruitful conversation.
Encourage others with the truths of the Bible you’ve just heard, especially the good news about Jesus Christ. Brainstorm necessary and creative applications, both for yourself and for your church. Confess the barriers to obedience in your own heart and offer help and support to your friends. We need community to apply the Bible.
Make sure your discussions about the sermon aren’t an excuse to criticize your pastor. Talk about the Bible and how best to understand and apply it, but don’t become an Olympic figure-skating judge.
Imagine the growth you would see if even half your congregation invested time before, during, and after the sermon to give attention to the Bible. It would transform your church.
So, what’s on your menu for this coming Sunday?