Preaching sermons from the Bible may be more difficult than it has ever been. We live in an age of soundbites where fewer and fewer people are willing to digest biblical truth. A YouTube generation has grown accustomed to messages that are three minutes or less. Added to these prevailing trends is growing distrust for any kind of authority and the overall resentment that many feel towards truth that is confrontational or convicting.
Yet, our modern tendencies neither disprove the truthfulness of Scripture nor diminish its veracity in our lives. To the contrary, the Bible accurately predicted a time when most would not endure sound doctrine but would accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their sinful desires, wanting to have their ears tickled (2 Tim. 4:3). The foolishness of our day is equal to myth, largely because so many have turned their ears away from the truth (2 Tim. 4:4). Yet, in this climate, the apostle Paul’s final admonition to his protégé Timothy is to preach the word in season and out of season, knowing that God watches and hears every message His ministers proclaim (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
The implications for those who proclaim God’s truth are far reaching. Pastors must work hard so as not to be ashamed, but workmen who accurately handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). The sacred accountability of preaching surfaces in James’ warning that not many should desire to be teachers of Scripture, knowing that doing so invites a stricter judgment (James 3:1). Even when the preached message invites criticism or contempt, the most important audience of every sermon is God Himself.
Thus, any pastor worthy of his calling will do the hard work of studying to understand the Bible. He will proclaim what God says unapologetically whether its popular or not. Rather than conform to the culture, he is to confront it with truth. Impressing people or drawing attention to himself is a violation of the sacred privilege bestowed upon him. Teaching book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter, and verse-by-verse, he is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction (2 Tim. 4:2). Every pastor will answer to God for his willingness to proclaim the whole counsel of Scripture (Acts 20:27).
But what about those who hear sermons? Though a good sermon begins in the pastor’s office, it does not become a reality until it hits the pew. Just as preachers will one day answer to God for what they preach, listeners will also give an account for how they hear and respond to the message. Hebrews 13:7 instructs, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” In the context of the local church, the writer of Hebrews also encourages, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
In general, the Bible is saying that Christians can do their part by being joyful rather than contentious, always eager to yield to the Word. Preparing your heart to hear a good sermon is just as important as the pastor’s work to write it. These practical steps will greatly enhance your Sunday morning experience at church:
- Pray for your pastor throughout the week as he studies.
- Get a good night’s rest on Saturday night so that you are alert the next morning.
- Pray that God will open your heart to what He wants to say through the preached word.
- Take notes while you listen. This will help you to stay engaged throughout the message while also enabling you to recall it later. The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory.
- If you hear something in the message you don’t like, refuse to take it personally. Ask, 1) is it biblical? and 2) am I wrong?
- Remember, if you feel challenged, comforted, corrected, or even rebuked, that is a GOOD! These signs are evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in your life.
- Formulate at least one action step to help you respond to every sermon.
- Thank God for the spiritual leaders He puts in your life.
The point behind guidelines like these is that God values the preaching of the Bible and so should we. The Lord’s eyes are upon us all, watching how congregants receive the substance the pastors deliver. You won’t remember every sermon you hear, but just like the many meals you’ve long forgotten, the preached Word will nourish your soul in ways seen and unseen.
Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.