It has been one of those weeks where other pastoral concerns have rightly taken priority over time that would have been spent on writing. Which means I haven't been able to give as much time, thought, and writing energy as I had hoped to something I've been mulling over. Namely, what is a good, helpful, proper response of God's people to the preaching of his Word, the Bible? Let me give an example of my own erroneous ways in this area to help explain.
Often when I go home on Sunday afternoon after the service, as the preacher, I am wondering and praying, "How did it go? How was the sermon? What did they think?" And as I step into our home, and sit down at the table where Susan has prepared a lovely lunch and guests are often joining us, I'll ask, "So, what are your thoughts from the morning? How did you like the service?"
Of course, not always, but to my shame, often, what I really mean is, "How did you like the sermon?"
You see, at that point I am pretty wiped out from a week of pastoral ministry and sermon preparation. I am tired from the morning, where I have done my best to slam my preaching foot down on the head of the snake, for the sake of the souls of our people (and he fights back in the preaching moment), and to proclaim to them the good news of the kingdom of God. And I'm hoping, and looking for affirmation that, I've done well. That I've gotten through. That I've honored the King and fed his people.
But there is great danger here. For it is not I who work, but God. And my sinful heart is wriggling for affirmation, which almost 100% of the time will only feed my vanity.
And all of this, alas, has lead to questions that aren't thoughtful. Aren't thought through enough. Aren't careful. Don't probe well. Don't serve my wife, and children, and any guests we may have who are all sitting around that lunch table (or when we talk about it again each Monday evening).
So, what to offer to this predicament, in my out-of-writing-time week? Enter Tim Challies, who has done us a great service this week in writing an article entitled, "Sermons Are Not For Liking."
Idea? The point of going to the weekly Sunday meeting, which in part is to hear the preaching of the Bible, is not to go with the goal, that at the end, you will click on the little thumbs up logo to "like" what you heard. Often, you won't like what you hear - it's what they call the pain of conviction.
Instead of going with that attitude, and being ready to ask or answer, "Did you like the sermon?", Mr. Challies suggests a different way. Why? He argues:
To ask, "How did you like the sermon?" dishonors preaching.
To ask, "How did you like the sermon?" dishonors the preacher.
And he offers different, better questions, such as:
"What did you learn from the sermon?"
"How did the Holy Spirit speak to you through the sermon?"
I encourage you to read his whole article below, where he unpacks these things further. And may it encourage us all - preacher and listeners alike - to come to and go away from the Sunday meeting, transformed by the preaching of God's word.
See you Sunday!
I did not set out to be a preacher. Ten years ago I would have laughed out loud if someone had told me that a decade hence I would be a regular in the pulpit. As I’ve slowly acclimated to preaching, I have found myself thinking very differently about sermons. I’ve been listening to sermons all of my life, but only now do I see preaching from the other side of the pulpit, so to speak. It has been very good for me.
Today I want to share a lesson I’ve learned that applies primarily to those of us who listen to preaching (as I do, most Sundays, since I am not an every-Sunday kind of preacher). Here’s the lesson: Sermons are not for liking. Sermons are for listening, they are for discerning, they are for applying, but they are not for liking. You don’t get to like or dislike a sermon. We tend to ask questions like, “So how did you enjoy the sermon today?” It is just the wrong question to ask.
I guess that isn’t always true. If a sermon is outright unbiblical—if the preacher butchers his text, misses the point, teaches nonsense or outright error, then I guess you are well within your rights to dislike it because God dislikes it and is dishonored by it. And maybe if it is clear the preacher put little or no thought into his text, if he is delivering a sermon only out of a sense of duty or the overflow of pride, maybe then you can dislike it because, again, it dishonors God. But I suspect few of us find ourselves in that situation on a regular basis.
Back to my point: Sermons are not for liking. There are at least two reasons for this: it dishonors preaching and it dishonors the preacher.
To ask, “How did you like the sermon?” dishonors preaching. It dishonors the very form, the God-given medium. We trust that when the Word is preached, the Spirit works. He is present in the preaching, present in the speaker and in the hearer, shaping words, moulding hearts, applying truth. We preach because God tells us to and we preach trusting that God uses this form of communication instead of another form. We preach even though preaching seems so foolish. When we ask, “How did you like the sermon?” we make the sermon something we consume rather than something that consumes us. We judge it like we judge the custom-crafted latte at Starbucks or the new iDevice we saved up for.
To ask, “How did you like the sermon?” dishonors the preacher. That sermon you hear on Sunday morning may look like it just flows out of the preacher’s mouth. It may seem so easy, so natural, that you think the preacher hardly had to work at it. Yet the more effortless it appears, the more work it represents. When you see Albert Pujols swing a bat or Phil Mickelson drive a ball, you are not seeing people simply taking advantage of innate talent. You are seeing the result of practice and preparation. These are people who have dedicated thousands of hours to honing their craft; they have become so skilled that they make it appear easy. This is true of preachers as well. The sermon that is smooth and easy, that moves seamlessly from one point to the next, that delivers bang-on application—this is the sermon that displays more practice, more skill, more time in preparation. Don’t confuse hard-earned skill with easy preparation. And then there is the delivery, where a man has to stand before a hundred or two hundred or a thousand people and deliver that sermon, hoping he connects with his listeners, trusting his interpretation is sound, longing for the application to fit. It dishonors the man to then ask, “How did you like it?” Don’t like it! Instead, ponder it, meditate upon it, and apply it.
At the end of it all, “How did you enjoy the sermon?” is simply the wrong question to ask. Far better is, “What did you learn from the sermon?” or “How did the Holy Spirit speak to you through the sermon?” These are questions that elevate the form or medium far above our preferences, and call upon us to submit to the Spirit as he is present in preaching.
(Note: If you want to become a better sermon listener, here are some resources you may appreciate.)