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Becoming a Better Listener

As Christians we sit through a lot of sermons. The preaching ministry is one of God’s greatest means of grace to us, the means by which he teaches us truth, by which he calls us to pursue truth and to live out of it. And yet many of us are passive listeners, people who expect great preaching skill from the pastor but demand no listening skill from ourselves.

Lately I have come across a few resources dedicated to helping Christians be better listeners, to help them emphasize active listening. Here are three of them, each with a few words of description and an overview of the contents. If you have never read a book on how to listen to a sermon, I’d encourage you to do that. Take full advantage of the privilege you have of sitting under the ministry of the Word!

Helping Johnny Listen

Helping Johnny ListenHelping Johnny Listen by Thadeus Bergmeier. “The preaching of God’s Word happens tens of thousands of times each week across the world.  As these sermons are given, when the preacher is faithful to the text of the Scripture, it is as if God is speaking to the people of that given congregation. The question is, are people listening? Listening to preaching is more than showing up, sitting still or even nodding one’s head.  It is taking that which is preached and applying it to life.  Helping Johnny Listen is a book designed to help the average person who sits in the average church on the average Sunday take full advantage of the sermons they hear so that they are able to live what they hear.” 

Thad’s book is written from a pastoral perspective and is applicable to any level of listener. I was glad to see that he included a section on the difficulties of being a preacher and a listener in the Internet age—when better sermons by better preachers are available in the millions online. He focuses on the importance of being a faithful listener within the long context of a single local church.

Here is how he structures the book:

  1. The Preaching Intersection
  2. Receive the Preaching of God’s Word
  3. Examine the Preaching of God’s Word
  4. Live the Preaching of God’s Word
  5. Persevere the Preaching of God’s Word

($20 at Amazon)

Expository Listening

Expository ListeningExpository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey. “In many people’s mind, if they don’t get anything out of the sermon, it’s the preacher’s fault. But that’s only half true. The Bible teaches that listeners must partner with the preacher so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming their life. Expository Listening is your handbook on biblical listening. It is designed to equip you not only to understand what true, biblical preaching sounds like, but also how to receive it, and ultimately, what to do about it. You need to know how to look for the Word of God, to love the Word of God, and to live the Word of God. In this way, God and His Word will be honored and glorified through your life.”

Ken’s book is also written at a popular level and, with just 110 pages of text, is quite a manageable read. It comes endorsed by John MacArthur, Joel Beeke, Jay Adams, Lance Quinn, Thabiti Anyabwile and yours truly.

He follows this structure:

  1. Welcoming the Word
  2. A Theology of Listening
  3. Hearing with Your Heart
  4. Harrowing Your Heart to Hear
  5. The Itching Ear Epidemic
  6. The Discerning Listener
  7. Practice What You Hear
  8. Listening Like Your Life Depends on It

($10.19 at Amazon | $10.07 at Westminster Books)

Listen Up

Listen UpListen Up by Christopher Ash. “Why on earth does anyone need a guide on how to listen to sermons? Don’t we simply need to ‘be there’ and stay awake? Yet Jesus said: ‘Consider carefully how you listen.’ The fact is, much more is involved in truly listening to Bible teaching than just sitting and staring at the preacher. Christopher Ash outlines seven ingredients for healthy listening. He then deals with how to respond to bad sermons - ones that are dull, or inadequate, or heretical. And finally, he challenges us with ideas for helping and encouraging our Bible teachers to give sermons that will really help us to grow as Christians.”

Ash’s book is actually just a booklet, weighing in at only 31 pages. The beauty of this one is that very thing—its brevity. This is the kind of booklet you can buy in bulk and distribute widely. Many churches hand it out to all of their members as a reminder of their duty to listen. In those 31 pages, Ash packs in quite a lot of value. The book is an an attractive, fun, easy-to-read format that will make people want to read it.

Here is the way he breaks down the subject:

  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!
  8. How to Listen to Bad Sermons
  9. Suggestions for Encouraging Good Preaching

($2.39 at Westminster Books, discounts for bulk purchasing)