In many churches, the sermon is the central part of the worship service. On a weekly basis, ministers are judged by how well they communicate God’s Word. For visitors and seekers, the sermon plays a critical role in whether or not they return for another Sunday. Thom Rainer reported in Surprising Insights from the Unchurched (2008), that 90% of unchurched people choose a church based on the pastor and the preaching. Although this survey is a bit outdated, I think it is still true that the quality of the preaching is important to both those inside and outside the church.
In spite of these high expectations, or perhaps because of them, many sermons miss their mark. At least mine have!
Preaching is a high calling, one that most ministers take very seriously. Good preaching requires study, reflection, and insight into God’s Word, as well as an understanding of the days we live in and an awareness of the needs of the congregation. If preaching is so important in our churches, why is all the pressure put on one person to ensure that it is done well? I want to suggest that it shouldn’t be left to the efforts of one person.
Hearing the Word
I would like to suggest 7 ways you can help your minister preach better sermons.
- Show up. It is discouraging for pastors to preach to empty pews. It takes as much preparation time to preach to 15 people as it does to 150 people. Your minister may tell you that the small number sitting in the pews is not important and to some degree that is likely true, but if a sermon is going to impact a congregation, the congregation needs to be there! Personally, I find that facing empty pews very distracting, particularly if the empty pews are between me and the congregation.
- Come rested. The church would be quite upset if the minister stood up on Sunday morning and explained that he or she did not use their time well during the week and stayed up too late, leaving them too tired to prepare a sermon. Yet, many in the congregation plan their Saturdays in such a way that they arrive on Sunday morning with little energy to take in a message that took all week to prepare.
- Arrive early. Many distractions on Sunday morning hinder our preparation for worship. Arriving early can provide a few minutes to be quiet and to prepare one’s heart for worship.
- Expect to hear God speak in your worship experience and from the Word. Evangelist George Whitefield (d. 1770) in his sermon on how to listen to a sermon reminds us to listen with the right attitude.
Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.
Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?”
5. Look like you are happy to be there! Congregations have no idea how glum most of them appear on Sunday mornings! Smile. Take notes. Say an occasional “Praise the Lord!” I love preaching in churches where people talk back to me. A “Preach it, sister!” from the congregation stirs up my spirit and energizes me!
6. Give thoughtful and timely feedback. I often told my congregation that if they liked my message they could let me know that morning on their way out. If they didn’t like it, then they should wait until at least Wednesday to tell me! General feedback like, “Good message this morning” is not very helpful. Explaining which part of the message was meaningful or how it applied to your life will encourage the preacher. Notes or emails from members of my congregation sharing how a sermon encouraged, inspired or challenged them are precious reminders of how God speaks through frail and imperfect preachers with His perfect and powerful Word.
7. Pray. Pray during the week. Those who do not preach regularly have no idea of the work and discipline that goes into sermon preparation. Good preachers seek to be biblically accurate and relevant to the various ages and levels of spiritual maturity of their congregants. They seek to be deep enough to challenge believers but not so deep as to leave in the dust the seeker who just walked into the service. Pray during the sermon for clarity and courage of the preacher. Pray for yourself to hear God speak to you and to respond in obedience.
Preaching – A two-way street
Effective communication requires both a speaker and a listener. A preacher is influenced not just by the Spirit of God, not just by the preparation that has been done in solitude and in prayer, but also by those who listen to the message. By being a better listener on Sunday mornings you just might find that your minister is a better preacher than you had realized!
I am taking a short break from blogging. I have two projects on the go – one to finish and one to begin. I want to finish my first ebook and I plan to start a podcast. I have been blogging for several years now and want to explore podcasting. My podcast, “Looking For More” will focus on connecting Christians who feel disconnected from the church. I will let you know when it is ready to launch!