I spent the first 35 years of my life listening to other people’s sermons every single week and what a privilege it has been to listen to and learn from people I have a deep admiration and respect for. It wasn’t until the last two years that I flipped the pulpit around to be on the other side of it. There are all sorts of things you see preaching on a weekly basis that you just don’t have a clue about when you look from the back to the front. There are also lessons that you bring with you after 35 years of experience of being a listener.
So here are a few things I learned as a practiced listener of sermons that I have brought into the last few years of preaching:
- Help me feel like this is “going somewhere.” There are times sermons just feel like they weren’t crafted to really take you anywhere. Maybe the same worn out trails are being walked for the umpteenth week. Or maybe it is the same couple of verses that get hammered on week after week. Then there are the sermons that feel like a plane circling the runway that just never get clearance to land. They go around and around and can’t seem make the landing gear touch the pavement and get the plane to a full stop. Instead, help me discover what you discovered. Don’t just hand me the answers, allow me to have the same “aha” as you had! This presupposes the preacher is learning and growing along the way too. That is something I can remember. This is typically done best through inductive approaches to preaching. I don’t think that is the only approach to use but I do think these need to be done from time to time. Don’t had me the answer and then tell me why that is the answer. Hand me the information and then let us walk to the conclusion together. That is exciting!
- Help me understand the relevance. Why are we talking about this? How does this impact my life? Why exactly was this important enough to be brought up? Relevance requires intention. If you don’t know why you are preaching something neither will the audience. If you don’t know how to land the plane, people will get sick of circling the runway. Make the direct connection between the word and my life. That doesn’t mean you have to turn over every stone. Let me turn over a few myself. But give me enough to help me start to see the connection.
- Be direct and be simple. It is harder to be direct and simple than it is to be indirect and complex. Complexity usually needs to be boiled down to the main thing and that takes A LOT of work! If I have to scratch my head each week wondering about things that are brought up but are either confused or never answered I will eventually give up trying which becomes an obstacle to being a good listener.
- You don’t need a million illustrations but please have a couple. Illustrations are like a coat rack when you walk in the door. It gives you something to take the meaning that is being communicated and hang it on something so you can remember where you put it when you need it later.
- Let me know you love me and respect me. I can put up far longer with preaching that I have a hard time with that is coming from someone who I know loves me rather than amazing preaching from someone who I know is dishonest, mean spirited, etc. Love goes a long way. This is developed outside the pulpit but carries weight inside the pulpit.
For those of you who don’t preach, what are some things you have learned about preaching from being a listener? What are some things you would want the preacher to know as they prepare their lesson?