Are you a good listener?
Posted April 04, 2012 by Shaun Walker
How much do you listen?
Have you ever considered the amount of time spent by the average Christian at Highlands Baptist Church listening to biblical instruction? Let’s do a little math together. The average sermon is about forty minutes. Yes, some are shorter and some are longer, but forty minutes is about right for an average. Highlands holds sermonic instructional time Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. In addition to these sermonic times Highlands also has Adult Bible Fellowship Sunday morning which is a teacher led instruction and discussion time. Finally, there is an instructional time on Wednesday evening for adults (who are not serving in another ministry capacity). For sake of clarity, let’s just classify each instructional time at the forty minute length. This means we have four instructional times of forty minutes offered each week. That is 160 minutes of listening (2 hours 40 minutes) each week. If we multiply that by 50 weeks of attendance in a year it is 8,000 minutes of listening to Bible instruction (133 hours 20 minutes). Wow!
To what else do you spend 2 hours and 40 minutes listening in your week? You might consider that a good size chunk of time focused on listening to Bible instruction. Yet, when considering the time we spend listening and working on other things through a week, it’s a pretty short period of time in comparison. Nevertheless, spending around 8,000 minutes through a year listening to biblical instruction sounds like a lot (maybe because it is!). Ok, you get it, we spend time and a lot of time listening to Bible teaching. So what?
My question to you is, “What do you have to show for it?” What affect or change has occurred or is occurring because of your exposure to the taught Word of God? The danger of going through Sunday services week after week is the possibility of letting your eardrums be the only part of you that moves. What I’d like to do is remind you of the need to listen deliberately and intentionally each time the Scriptures are taught. At Highlands, because it is a Word centered ministry, you carry this responsibility frequently. Some of you might remember our past Adult Bible Fellowship course on healthy church membership that investigated what it means to be an expositional listener (taken from the book “What is a Healthy Church Member”). Do you remember what that means? Are you an expositional listener? Let’s review for a moment.
What is an expositional listener?
The idea of being an expositional listener is based on the concept of expositional preaching. Expositional preaching makes the main point of the Scriptural text the main point of the sermon. The preacher must first determine the main point of the passage before he can develop the sermon. If he skips this step (which is sometimes the hardest step!) he should have no confidence he is preaching what God meant. He might say good things in a good way. But the aim of preaching is much higher. The holy Scriptures are not just sermonic Play-Doh the preacher can take and use to his own intent. There is an original authorial intent inspired by the Holy Spirit. Once that original authorial intent is ascertained the preacher must be true to the meaning of the text to deliver the message of God with authority. The preacher is a custodian of authority, not the originator of it. This results in a sermon driven in purpose and content by the purpose and content of what the text says.
Being an expositional listener means you pay attention for the main meaning of the passage and apply that meaning to your Christian experience. What may happen instead is listening to a sermon looking for practical how-to advice for daily living. This increases the danger of reducing the Bible to a how-to manual instead of receiving it as revelation from God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). If God must serve your needs each time the Word is preached your needs become authoritative instead of the Bible. Yes, the Bible is practical but it is primarily theological. Check yourself. Do you listen only for character lessons from narrative stories, or do you ask yourself, “Why did God put this story in the Bible and what does he intend on teaching me about himself through this story?” Does this difference really matter? Yes, and there are some additional considerations for listening effects church health. How an assembly listens to God’s Word has a cumulative effect on the assembly’s spiritual health. Just like how an athlete exercises effects his athleticism, so how a church member listens affects the church’s spiritual athleticism. The church, like any team is the sum of its parts. Your listening habits have a cumulative effect with the entire assembly. Lazy listening leads to a spiritually apathetic and lazy church. In “What is a Healthy Church Member” some other benefits of expositional listening were listed including: “expositional listening benefits us, first, by cultivating a hunger for God’s Word; expositional listening helps us to focus on God’s will and to follow him; expositional listening protects the gospel and our lives from corruption.”
What can I do to be a better listener?
Now that we have revisited what it means to be an expositional listener, what are some ways you can encourage this behavior at Highlands Baptist Church? Here are a few suggestions.
- One way you can exercise expositional listening is come prepared to truly listen. This deliberate approach to listening will influence some practical choices such as what you do leading up to the service. Evaluate your own listening ability the past few Lord’s Days. If you make it a pattern to be out late Saturday so you cannot receive adequate rest you will find it increasingly difficult to be an expositional listener.
- Try to remove distractions. Is your tablet device (or other electronic device) tempting you to do other things during the sermon? If so, choose an alternative. For some, your tablet device might be a great tool where you can interact with the message and biblical text by writing sermon notes on it. This brings up another suggestion. Take notes. The reason to take notes during the sermon is to help you better engage your mind (Romans 12:2). You might only occasionally (if ever!) consult the notes after the sermon but you will most likely find your level of mental engagement during the sermon increased. You can take notes on the back of the worship guide, on your tablet device, or even in your Bible (buy a wide margin Bible to make it easier.).
- If you want to be an expositional listener you must bring (or at least use) a Bible. If you are listening with an intent of discovering the main point of the text how can you accomplish that without ever looking at the text? There are a thousand other things to look at (and think about!) around you during a sermon. If one of them isn’t the open Bible in your hands it’s a fair assumption you will be preoccupied with distractions and not the Scriptural text.
- Another important factor to listening is prayer. Have you ever prayed before you arrive on Sunday that God through his Spirit and with his Word would mature you? The Bible is a book and at the same time more than a book—it is a supernatural book. The truths of God’s Word require the ministry of the Holy Spirit to be rightly understood and lived (1 Corinthians 2).
- Be careful! There is a danger in only receiving knowledge. Knowledge alone puffs up but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). You must listen with the intent of increasing your love for God and your fellow man. Listen with your mind and heart engaged. God’s Word always starts with the mind accomplishing its renewing effect (Romans 12:2) but it must go beyond a mere intellectual reception.
- This brings us to our final practical consideration, listen with obedient faith. Every sermon may not require you to “do” something. Sometimes the text wants us to “think” different. Sometimes the sermon results in the increase of your praise and adoration to your King. Regardless, you are responsible to listen with the intent of expressing your faith through obedience. The book of James has much to say about the necessity of having your faith expressed through actions.
Now what? Let me encourage you to first evaluate your own listening. Expositional listening takes work and doesn’t happen by accident. You must deliberately choose to listen expositionally. Listening this way also takes reminders so encourage each other towards this end. Talk about the sermon with your fellow members. Share with your Christian counterparts how you were encouraged, equipped, or even rebuked in your spiritual maturity through the ministry of the instructed Word. All of us could fall into the trap of simply attending church with little spiritual maturity or fruit. This is not what God intends. God intends that “Christ be formed in you (Galatians 4:19).” Let’s help each other. Pray for the spiritual growth of yourself and your fellow member that the seed of the Word would take root and grow in the soil of our hearts to the praise of God and increased fame of Jesus.
[This article was originally published at:]