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A Difference-Making Ministry for Any Christian

A Difference Making Ministry for Any Christian

The experience of preaching is very different from the front than from the back, when facing the congregation than when facing the preacher. The congregation faces one man who is doing his utmost to be engaging, to hold their attention, and to apply truths that will impact their hearts and transform their lives.

The pastor, meanwhile, faces many people who are doing many different things. Some are scolding their children, some are checking their email, some are staring into space, some are taking a good nap. A man does not need to preach many sermons before he realizes he can have two tracks playing in his mind at the same time, one of them preaching and the other observing and analyzing what’s going on around him.

But what a preacher loves to see when he looks toward the congregation is listeners who are thoroughly engaged with his preaching. He loves to see people who are doing their utmost to fight through distractions, to set aside imperfections, or even to forgive downright boredom. He loves to see people who mean to glean all they can from his sermon, who mean to wring every little drop of goodness out of his feeble words. He comes to learn that some congregants minister to him even while he ministers to them.

It can seem at times like the communication during a sermon goes in only one direction—that the preacher only gives and the people only receive. But that’s not the case. The congregation also gives and the preacher also receives. He receives the messages they communicate through their posture, through their body language, and even through the words or sounds they verbalize. Many a preacher has been discouraged in his preaching only to be encouraged by a barely audible “amen.” Many a preacher has heard an internal whisper telling him he is preaching the worst sermon anyone has ever heard only to find himself buoyed by a nodding head or a grunted “mmhmm.” Many a preacher has learned that certain listeners are key encouragers.

Not all of us can preach, but all of us can listen. Not all of us can apply ourselves to diligently expositing the Word, but all of us can apply ourselves to diligently receiving it.

And this is a ministry for any Christian—the ministry of engaged listening. It is one way that any Christian can be involved with the preaching and one way any Christian can minister to the preacher. You can listen deliberately and attentively. You can bear down and lean in. You can hold your Bible open in your lap and hold a pen ready in your hand. You can make eye contact and share a smile. You can nod your head in agreement and (if appropriate in your context) utter a subtle or resounding “amen.” In these ways and more, you can take up your part in the preaching.

Not all of us can preach, but all of us can listen. Not all of us can apply ourselves to diligently expositing the Word, but all of us can apply ourselves to diligently receiving it. And preaching is at its very best when the preacher and the listener alike take their role seriously and do their utmost to bless and serve the other.

So why not make it your goal to be an engaged listener? Why not make it your ministry to listen attentively and well? The preacher will thank you for it.

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