Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Making the most of the Sunday message

Seven top tips:

(1) Be expectant. To the extent that the preacher explains and applies the Bible correctly, you are actually hearing God’s word. Reflecting on this before sermons should certainly cause us to sit up. And we should therefore come expecting to be encouraged, stretched, challenged, strengthened or even rebuked, just as the disciples were by Jesus.

(2) Open the Bible and follow what is said. This is most important and keeps your mind interacting. It also enables you to remember what you’ve heard when you later re-read the passage. In Acts 17v11 we read: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Their eagerness and studiousness is clearly intended as a “noble” model for the reader. And note the assumption that the Bible was the determiner of whether what was said was actually true.

(3) Pray through what you hear as you hear it.
Arrow prayers such as: “Lord help me remember that” or “help us do that” or “I praise you for that,” acknowledge that listening to a sermon is a spiritual activity, but also apply the sermon on the spot and aid attentiveness.

(4) Memorise the main points.
I do want to be clear that I do not expect everyone to understand everything in every sermon. The preacher hopes that the most knowledgeable and mature will grasp everything, but assumes others will just get the main gist and be left with questions to think about further, and others may just take the primary point away. This is the inevitable consequence of teaching a mixed group. And it is surely unwise to pitch the sermon at the level of the newest in faith, because it then leaves the more mature bereft. At the very least, repeating the main points to yourself as the sermon progresses helps to ensure you grasp and apply the general gist. And those who study memory tell us that when recalling those main points, much of the content that went with them will come to mind too.

(5) Take notes.
This is an obvious point and is the norm in some churches. I was deeply encouraged a few months ago when an 11 year old girl had stayed in the main service and took notes on a twenty minute sermon on Psalm 55. Her Mum gave them to me, and the girl had got the sense of every major point made.

(6) Re-read and pray through the passage.
This is a good discipline to get into, and could be done just before bed on Sunday night. As you do it, you will normally find points from the sermon coming to mind again and becoming more a part of your general understanding. It is also a great way of ensuring we are “not just hearers of the word, but doers also” (James 1v22).

(7) Ask the preacher your questions.
We have noted this was often part of first century teaching. The preacher expects people to be left with uncertainties as not everything can be covered, and no preacher is every crystal clear! So please please do ask your questions over coffee, or by way of a phone call or email. The onus is certainly on the preacher to try to be make things understandable, but it is also on the hearer to ensure they have rightly understood.