We should always look for ways to be better communicators. We should always want to improve as preachers so that the message we bring from God’s Word is presented in as understandable a way as possible. However, I believe that we need to broaden our focus.

I recall teaching a class on communication in marriage where the process was broken down something like this. Communication involves:

  • What you said.
  • What you meant by what you said.
  • What you think you said.
  • What the other person hears.
  • What the other person thinks you meant by what you said.

I may not have gotten all these elements right or in the right order, but the point is that when two or more people talk, there’s a lot going on. Reading this makes me think it’s a miracle that any of us understands anything!

At the most basic level, communication involves speaking (or writing) and listening (or reading). When pastors focus on better communicators, we tend to look at how we can be more effective speakers. And we should do that! But let me suggest that we should also think about how to help our people become more effective listeners. In other words, our people can and should be taught how to listen to a sermon.

If that sounds strange, it may be because we have an expectation that people automatically know how to listen to sermons. We talk. They listen. Voilà!

But not so fast!

How do we know that they are listening well? How can we tell if they are tracking with us? How can we be sure they don’t misunderstand what we’re saying? Certainly the burden of responsibility for listening falls on the hearer. But if we can help them a bit, nudge them toward a more intentional listening, we’re doing them a great service.

A few years ago I came across a booklet by Christopher Ash entitled Listen Up. It’s about $3.50 from Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, which is less than I saw it for on Amazon. But if you want to buy a bunch of them, you can get a pretty good discount from The Good Book Company. After reading the booklet myself, I made a bulk purchase and gave them away over the course of a few Sunday mornings. I may even have developed a small group discussion around it. If I didn’t, why didn’t I think of that then? HA HA

It would be a benefit both to you and to your people if you provided copies of this booklet for them. Maybe they can kick in a buck or two if they can to offset the cost. However you handle the accounting, it’s something that would be helpful.

There are other practical ways you can help your people be better listeners. You may already be doing the first two, but we can always do them better:

Put A Note Sheet in the Bulletin. Most churches that I’ve been in either do this or provide some space in the bulletin to take notes. But make sure your note sheet guides them as they listen.

By the way, you may come across the occasional article or argument against having people take notes. The reasoning is that the sermon is a special means whereby God speaks through the messenger to his people. It is therefore not to be regarded as a lecture, but is to be heard with the mind and heart. I appreciate the point, but I don’t think it precludes note-taking. Granted, if people are trying to write a long sentence they thought was significant, they could miss a couple of others that might even be more important by the time they’re done. But a having brief main points and a fill-in-the-blank note sheet, coupled with a judicious use of visuals, can help them write and still keep pace. Which brings me to the second point.

Use Visuals Judiciously. PowerPoint-type presentations have become so prevalent in our churches that you may wonder why I even bother suggesting that you do something you’re already doing. But notice that I also use the word “judicious.”

Avoid cute stuff. Stay away from visual for the sake of visual. Vow not to use visuals to entertain. You don’t want to distract from or negate the seriousness of the moment. But a PowerPoint presentation that lists your major points (underline the words that go in the blanks!) can be very helpful. I’d also project quotes if I felt they would help, and occasionally a map or a picture if it would help people understand.

Again, you may use these tools already, but if not, I’d recommend both.

Finally, Talk to Your People About Listening. Is it possible to preach an expository sermon on how to listen to a sermon? I would answer with a qualified “yes.” I don’t know that we have to devote an entire sermon to the subject, but just think – how often do the Scriptures themselves encourage us to pay attention, to hear, to listen, to Scripture? How many times do the biblical writers remind us of the unique character of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God and tie that to an admonition to pay attention?

When we come across those times, wouldn’t it be appropriate to take a few minutes and remind people to be good listeners? You might illustrate with something from Christopher Ash’s booklet or a quote from one or more of the articles I’ll list at the bottom of this post.

Do people need to be taught to pray? Do they need to be taught how to read the Bible? Do they need to be taught how to apply the Bible to their lives? We would answer these in the affirmative. Don’t leave out the need to teach them how to listen. It’s one of those Christian “skills” that is too important to their spiritual health to assume that they’ll pick up good habits by accident.

Here are several articles that you might want to read and reference. Thanks once again for stopping by! I’d be glad to hear ideas from my readers.

Here are three articles all with the same title, but of course written by three different authors:

Here’s one by Scott Slayton on Patheos

Dr. Phil Ryken writes on Reformation21’s website

Finally here’s one by Daryl Crouch that was in LifeWay’s “Facts and Trends”

God bless you as you minister this weekend!

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