While having lunch with a GES friend, Brad, he expressed a widespread problem. How do we get the most out of sermons we hear?
Brad is a solid Free Grace guy. So, when he hears something that is even a little bit unclear or fuzzy, he is bothered, and his worship experience suffers a bit.
The Bible does not directly answer this question, except in the sense that we are to come to church like newborn babies, with a powerful desire for the pure milk of the Word (1 Pet 2:2). And we are to examine ourselves to make sure we recognize that we are here to learn about and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:28).
Here are four ways I have found to come hungry.
First, pray for the pastor and for the listeners.
Second, remember all the good messages you have heard over the years and expect to hear one today.
Third, listen appreciatively. It is possible to listen in such a way that we are looking for mistakes the preacher makes. That is fine if you are teaching a preaching course, as I have done in the past. (Of course, you must also be looking for what they do well. I was taught to give three praises and three points to work on.) But it is bad if you are there to support the ministry of the preacher and the church and to get as much out of it as you can.
A good listener shows with his eyes he is listening, and he shows his appreciation with his expression. If you are taking notes, the pastor notices and is encouraged. If you are nodding your head in agreement, that helps you and the pastor. (On some occasions, I have had people shaking their head and growling at me when I spoke! That certainly makes it harder for the speaker.)
I try to find several positives I can take away from every message I hear. A passing comment the pastor made caught my attention and made me think. One of his illustrations really hit home with me. Some quote might really have blessed me. Some insight he has into a specific verse can be powerful.
If you listen, seeking to find pearls, you are likely to find pearls. If you listen, seeking to find swine, you are likely to miss the pearls.
Of course, if you are a visitor in a church that is not a solid Bible-teaching church, then you must work harder to find things you appreciate. But you can if you try.
Fourth, thank the pastor after the message and point out to him one thing that you found especially helpful (assuming you found something).
I am not suggesting that you turn off critical thinking. If the pastor gets something wrong, take note of that. But realize that no one is an infallible interpreter of the Bible. Cut him some slack, especially if he was talking about a non-essential issue.
After thirty years in a church where several times a month I heard messages by men with no Bible college or seminary training, I learned to appreciate the insights non-professionals can bring to the Scriptures. In Plymouth Brethren circles, most of the speakers are not professionally trained. They learn the Scriptures by personal study and by years of sitting under good teachers. One of the speakers I heard every month is a man who dropped out of high school in ninth grade. Yet he gave many outstanding messages.
If you want to hear a good sermon, find a good church, and become a good listener.