One of the most woeful mistakes a church could make would be to teach the people that preaching is something that happens after worship.  One of the fundamental truths necessary for a healthy church is embedded in this statement, preaching is worship.  Albert Mohler has gone on record as stating, “Preaching is the first mark of the authentic church, the essential mark, the mark without which the other marks do not matter,” he said. “… Where this mark is not found, there is no church.” [1] That sentiment did not originate with Dr. Mohler.  His position is clear, but he and others stand in a long line of men who have taught that very truth.

If preaching is the essential mark that validates an authentic church, much emphasis must be placed on preaching in the life of the church.  With such a priority that rests upon preaching, the way in which a church listens, interacts, and cooperates with the preached Word is likewise extremely important.  Like test-taking, most people have never been taught how to listen to a sermon.  Listening to a sermon is often an assumed giftedness.  You know what they say about assumptions, right?  How should a person listen to a sermon?  Is it merely listening that matters?  Does posture matter?  Should technological gadgets and tools be used during preaching?  Is it proper to pray during a sermon?  Learning to listen to a sermon properly will be a spiritual boost to your Christian life.

Listen with Expositional Ears

The best method of biblical preaching is undoubtedly expositional preaching.  A consistent diet of verse-by-verse preaching is the best way to explain the Bible, teach the Bible, preach the Bible, and it likewise brings about the most consistent spiritual growth in the church.  In order for people to grow while sitting under an expository preacher, they must learn to listen with expositional ears.  That involves a heart that is inclined and willing to be taught through this method of preaching.  J. I. Packer writes, “We complain today that ministers do not know how to preach; but is it not equally true that our congregations do not know how to hear?” [2]

If a church has been accustomed to topical preaching pulled from the latest newspaper headlines, it may take them a good season before they grow to accept and understand the importance of expositional preaching.  In the end, a church can have a great expoistor in the pulpit, but if they’re unable to hear with expositional ears, the church will become stagnant and frustrated.  Put forth good effort to support your pastor as he preaches expositionally and seek to listen accordingly because in doing so you will unify the church and grow in grace.

How can a church cultivate a community of expositional people?  It begins with the pulpit, but the pew matters greatly in this equation.  Are you talking with your friends in the church about the value of sequential expository preaching?  Are you seeking to develop good habits and methods of learning during the expository sermon?  Preaching matters, but if the people don’t have ears to hear, worship is not happening.  Alistair Begg said, “When Ezra preached to the people in Nehemiah 8, the attitude with which the listeners came to hear him was crucial. We need to follow their example by committing ourselves to attend expectantly, listen carefully, and apply the Scriptures properly. Then we can leave the service with joyful hearts.” [3]

Look for the Main Point

Looking for the main point doesn’t involve looking all through the Bible during the sermon.  The main point of the passage being preached should be the main point of the sermon.  Listen carefully to your pastor’s sermon, and take time to carefully follow his movement through the text.  Looking for the main point will keep you focused on the text and will cause your heart and mind to be connected in the midst of the sermon.  Furthermore, it must be stated that looking for the main point of the sermon is not merely for the pastor who is preaching in the pulpit.  The main point of the sermon is for everyone to search out and grasp.  Although we should search through the text like Bereans, that exercise is not merely theological and the outcome should not turn us into Bible brats – ready and wiling to argue at the drop of a hat.

Apply the Sermon Personally

Not every preacher will be the same in the way he approaches application.  Some preachers are immediately practical in their sermon delivery while others are far less practical in their stressing of the application.  This is where is’t essential for every person who is listening to a sermon to apply the sermon to them personally.  Important questions to ask during and after a sermon include:

  1. What is God seeking to communicate to me?
  2. Through this text, did God reveal sin in my life?
  3. Through this text, did God encourage me in some way?
  4. How does this text affect my devotion to God?
  5. How does this text affect my worship of God?
  6. This text is more than a story.  What is God seeking to do in my life through this sermon?
  7. Why am I uncomfortable?  Could it be an indication of sin?
  8. What does this text communicate about our church as a whole?  How can I benefit our church through obedience to Christ?
  9. What does this text reveal about my family?  How can I communicate the truth to my family?
  10. What are the immediate applications that require action today and the long range applications that will require action days, months, or years into the future?

It’s extremely important to approach the personal application of a sermon through prayer rather than a mere checklist of practical considerations.  When praying through the personal application of a sermon, it can allow you to be honest with your anger, disunity, idolatry, materialism, or lack of contentment.  A quick benediction followed by a race to the local buffet will not suffice.  Most people expect the pastor to do all of the preaching and application for them, but when we put in the effort of genuine self-introspection and self-application it will pay high dividends spiritually.

Cautions to Consider

Don’t catch up on your annual Bible reading plan during the sermon.  The preaching of a sermon is not the time nor the place to catch up on your Scripture reading.  Flipping all through the Bible while the preacher is trying to preach the sermon is not the best method for taking in the truth of the sermon.  When considering how to listen to a sermon, we must remember that listening matters.  Trying to search out topics, catch up on Bible study, or researching out a theological point is not the best way to listen to a sermon.  Preaching is a time of worship, not personal research hour.

Use technology carefully during the sermon (and please silence your phone).  Regarding technology, be careful and be wise.  It could likewise be said – be considerate.  Is it ever appropriate to take a picture of the preacher or the entire congregation during the preaching of the sermon?  Yes, there is a time and place for such occasions, but it’s likely not the typical Sunday worship service.  If you would like to document the occasion or capture the scene, it would be best to do that early in the sermon as opposed to right in the middle of the preaching.  It will not disrupt people nearly as much in the beginning as it will in the middle.  However, live blogging and live tweeting sermons should be reserved for very selective occasions.  For the typical Sunday sermon, live quoting and live tweeting your pastor’s sermon on social media is not the best way to take in the content of his preaching.  Be careful when using technology devices during a sermon.

Stop trying to write every possible note down during the sermon.  Trying to take notes on every point and seeking to write down every juicy quote from the pastor’s sermon is not only impossible, but it will impair your ability to listen.  Jotting down a few notes and keeping your attention focused on the sermon is the best method.  You can always go back and listen to a playback of the sermon later in order to get the exact quote or statement from your pastor’s sermon.  This will enable you to remain focused and in a state of worship during the sermon.

Although I’m a preacher and I listen to a good number of sermons each week, I’m still learning how to listen to a sermon in the most efficient and effective way.  Taking notes and examining the text along with the preacher is important, but it’s also not a seminary classroom or hermeneutics class.  The worship of God is key, and we must approach the sermon with a heart of worship each week.  Consider these helpful words by John Piper:

Skillful listening is a non-negotiable skill for everyone who enters a church building on Sunday or plays a sermon through headphones during the week. Scripture calls us not only to consider carefully what sermons we listen to, but also how we listen to those sermons. [4]

  1. David Roach, “Preaching is first mark of a true church, Mohler tells seminarians”, Baptist Press, posted Monday, February 06, 2006.
  2. J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 254.
  3. Alistair Begg, Made For His Pleasure, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 158.
  4. John Piper, Take Care How You Listen: Sermons by John Piper on Receiving the Word(Minneapolis: Desiring God Foundation, 2012) – Website.
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Author How to Listen to a Sermon

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.