Communication is a two-way street. The speaker sends a message and the listener receives it. The speaker’s job is to speak accurately and clearly, ensuring care with tonality and word choice. The receiver’s job, on the other hand, is to listen by being fully present. The receiver demonstrates an understanding of the message by body language and other non-verbal cues. Both the speaker and listener are communicating. In one-on-one conversations, we readily admit that communication is a two-way thing, but totally ignore this fact in Christian preaching.
The effect of preaching is not the sole responsibility of the preacher, but rather involves both the preacher and the congregant. Both preachers and congregants have a communicative job to fulfill during the act of preaching.
The Preacher’s Job
To state the obvious, the preacher’s job is to preach faithful sermons. Not great sermons. Not spectacular sermons. Not necessarily the kind of awe-inspiring sermons that will gain thousands of views on YouTube. Just competent, biblical, faithful, sermons. Even the best listening skills cannot do much with poor preaching. For the preacher, his job is to work hard to prepare and present faithful sermons.
This means the preacher must work hard throughout the week when no one is looking over his shoulder. He must access the best possible resources for sermon preparation and put in the amount of time needed to present a faithful sermon for his particular ministry context. He must spend regular time with his sheep to know their idols, dreams, and fears. He must live out what he preaches, pursuing holiness on both a public and private scale. He must read and read until he cannot read anymore and pray desperately for God to move as he prepares to speak to his congregation. He must rise on Sunday with a heart full of prayer and God’s Word, and then present his material in an engaging manner, for although the efficacy of a sermon comes from the Holy Spirit, God’s sovereignty does not mitigate human responsibility, and poor sermon delivery is distracting. In short, the preacher’s job is to work hard to prepare and present faithful sermons.
But it doesn’t end here.
The Congregant’s Job
If you are not a preacher, you have a part to play in preaching. And your part is to not only listen well but to prepare your heart to listen well. If you stroll into church 15 minutes late, without having met with God at all throughout the week, only to conveniently check your iPhone ten times after the first hymn, apart from a miraculous work of God, you should not expect even the best preaching to do much for your soul since you are so utterly distracted.
In this way, as an ordinary church member, you can bless your church and serve your pastor well by getting prepared to hear his sermon, and this doesn’t start on Sunday morning.
In addition to practicing the spiritual disciplines throughout the week, also consider the following:
1. Know the Bible passage ahead of time. Usually, it’s best to know what Bible passage your pastor will preach on ahead of time to help with remembrance and context.
2. Physically open your Bible to the passage being preached. When your pastor says, “Please turn with me in your Bibles to . . .” do it. Don’t just settle for the text on the screen. By turning to the passage yourself, you are demonstrating care and taking steps toward full engagement.
3. Read or study the book your pastor is preaching on. If your pastor is preaching through a book of the Bible, verse by verse, spend time studying that book either before or during the preaching series.
4. Guard your Saturday night. Turn off the T.V. Leave the party. Get away from your phone. Although sometimes we are providentially hindered, guard your Saturday nights by paying attention to the content you consume and by getting sufficient sleep.
5. Guard your Sunday morning. For wives with children, I know that sometimes getting ready for church can feel like the valley of the shadow of death. But if possible, rise early to pray and read your Bible.
Preaching is not a one-sided communication event but involves communication from both the preacher and church members. Let’s each do our part. If we do, the preacher will be blessed, the lay member will be edified, and God will receive glory.
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