Sermons are not meant to be listened to on your own. The very nature of preaching is that it is a corporate exercise, something that the whole church family shares in together. So how do we stop our response from being individualistic?
Pray together before listening
What about getting together with a few people before the service to pray for the preacher and the congregation? Pray that God will speak to the whole church as a body and to each of you as individuals.
Listen out for the corporate message
We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. The first application of a sermon is often to the whole church. So listen out for this. Don’t be rushing to find out what is in it personally for you. Listen out for what is being said to the whole church family and then think about how you can help the whole church obey God’s Word.
Talk about what you have heard and learnt together
Why not discuss what you have learnt with others. Get together with the same people you prayed with beforehand. This will give you chance to clarify your understanding of the message and to pray for one another. Families can do this together as well during their Sunday mealtime.
It’s important that these discussion times are not abused. The purpose is not to critique the sermon and criticise the preacher. There’s a place for sermon critique but this is not it. The aim here is to help each other learn. If someone feels that they didn’t get anything out of the sermon then encourage them and help them to hear what God is saying.
Give constructive feedback to the preacher
You may not realise it but preachers want to hear genuine feedback. Often, it is the silence after preaching that is the worst thing. Useful feedback should be specific. This enables the preacher to do two things. First of all, it helps them to improve. Secondly it helps them to help you. It becomes part of a conversation. Sometimes I realise that I’ve not given attention to something important in the message and so 1-1 I can follow up on this or I can give time to it in a future sermon. Sometimes I realise that someone has misheard what I was saying and so feedback gives me the opportunity to talk things through with them and clarify the matter.
Follow up and encourage each other
Don’t leave things at the instant response. When God has spoken and challenged us, there can be an initial rush of zeal but that soon dies down after a few weeks. What about taking time to challenge or encourage each other a few weeks later. Remind someone of the encouragement you heard in the sermon, ask your friend how they are doing with that specific response that they shared with you.
Good preaching should lead to the church being built up into unity and each member being equipped for works of service.