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Jonathan Master (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of theology and dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University. He is also director of Cairn’s Center for University Studies. Dr. Master serves as executive editor of Place for Truth and is co-chair of the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology.

by Grant Van Leuven

What Do You Do with Your Pastor’s Preaching?

April 10, 2015 •

How should you listen to a sermon?

First, realize that you are responsible to actively (and thus, actually) listen.  Like anything, you get personal benefit out of the preaching by what you put of yourself into the listening.

Such self-accountability applies equally to the pastor.  I often say to the congregation, “I first preached this to me.” 

What’s more, whether on vacation at another church or hosting a guest preacher at ours, I govern myself from the pew to not preside over the proclamation of God’s authoritative Word, but to sit under it.  I shun the temptation to compare the minister’s exegetical focus, structural presentation, use of illustrations, and emphases of application with what I might have done.  This is not the seminary classroom; it is worship in God’s throne room!  I had better have an ear to hear what the Spirit has to say to ME!  I don’t examine the sermon by myself; I examine myself by the sermon.

In the same way, you need to approach your pastor’s preaching not as a lecture to consider, but a heavenly summons under which you are to responsibly and responsively submit.  After all, it is King Jesus personally preaching to you! (2 Corinthians 4:7; Hebrews 2:12; 10:5-7 or Psalms 22:22, 25; 40:6-10).

Henry Krabbendum enjoins us, “The hearers are not the jury that must give a mental or oral verdict. They are the accused that need to bow before God and cast themselves upon mercy alone.”[1]

A helpful way to so submit to the Word read and preached is to heed something my Hebrew professor imparted.  Ask yourself two questions.  First, “What does the text teach that I am to believe about God?”  Second, “What does the text teach that God requires of me to do?”  This twofold teach-ability reflects how the Westminster Larger Catechism is divided with a subheading between questions 90 and 91, as set up by question and answer five: “The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

The answer to question 160 of the Westminster Larger Catechism gives more specific instruction.  Question: “What is required of those that hear the word preached?”  Answer: “It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.”

To summarize, what is required?  Your proper attention, preparation, examination, reception, meditation, introspection, and application.  Or, as Dr. Philip Ryken concludes in his Reformation21 article, “How to Listen to a Sermon”, “So what is the right way to listen to a sermon?  With a soul that is prepared, a mind that is alert, a Bible that is open, a heart that is receptive, and a life that is ready to spring into action.”[2]

Christian, seek not only an enlightened mind, but an enlarged heart.  Be further conformed into the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29).  Seek greater transformation (literally, metamorphosis) by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).  Remember that the seed of the Word specifically catches root, springs up, and bears fruit from out of the ground of a good heart cultivated to receive, hold on to, and nurture it after its broad cast -- all while Satan tries to steal it from you even as you are sitting in the pew (Luke 8:1-18).  So William Still warns, “The devil always does a deadlier work through hardened Christians than through the unconverted, and gets far more diabolical pleasure from it, too.”[3]

Perhaps this is a lot to consider. Please do. And please do more than just consider, taking to heart these words by Don Kistler, “How many times have you heard: ‘Well, pastor, you’ve given me a lot to think about.’ Fine, think about it and then do it.”[4]

[1]  Henry Krabbendum, “Worship and Preaching”, in Worship in the Presence of God, ed. David Lachman and Frank J. Smith (Greenville, South Carolina: Greenville Seminary Press, 1992) , 169.

[2] Philip Ryken, “How to Listen to a Sermon”, in reformation21 (February, 2012): see

[3] William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2001) , 96.

[4] Don Kistler, “Preaching with Authority”, in Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2002) , 225.

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Evangelical Church of America since 2010.  He is the adoring husband of Jennifer Van Leuven, and a proud father of their four covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, and Isaac.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.

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