Let’s shift our focus in this last article from those doing the preaching to those of us who hear it. My prayer all along has been that the Lord would increase confidence and competence in preaching. The preacher to the Hebrews has been helping us. Listening to him preach alerts us to what a great thing preaching is (raising our confidence in it) and how to get better at doing it (competence).
Of course, the greatest responsibility for improving the quality of the preaching in the local church lies with the elders and with the brothers giving the preaching. But we who listen have a role to play as well. A recurring theme in this series has been how dynamic preaching is. The listeners are not passive, but participants, and their participation has a significant effect on the quality of preaching an assembly receives. Christopher Ash is not exaggerating when he says: “The hearers contribute to the sermon almost as much as the preachers. We who listen to sermons have a vital part to play.”
Perhaps you bemoan the state of preaching in your local church. The grass looks green in every patch but your own. Let me be gentle and insistent: take heart. There is something we can do to help, just by being listeners. Listening isn’t only a strategy for improving the preaching we give but also the preaching we get.
It’s like eating: you can profoundly influence the quality of the meal even when you’re not the one preparing it. I make my dinner doubly delicious just by avoiding snacks thirty minutes before it. Similarly, here are some listening strategies by which you can improve the quality of preaching in your local church.
First, listen expectantly. “No,” someone says. “This is my problem – I come with too high expectations and inevitably I’m disappointed.” But could it be that your expectations are not high enough? If you knew that the Lord Jesus Christ was going to call you Sunday morning, you’d never let the phone out of your sight. This is our expectation, not that we will hear a clever sermon with moving illustrations by a polished presenter, but that the Lord will speak. He’s been known to use donkeys. Arrive on time if you can, and as you take your seat, say to yourself, “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people” (Psa 85:8).
Second, be easy to feed. Some people are easy to offend. I’m privileged to be friends with a brother who is easy to edify. To build him up, the simplest gospel truth will do. Children range from fussy eaters to those who eat anything. Let’s aspire to be the child the Lord looks upon and says, “That one is easy to edify. I can send him the lowliest speaker with the simplest of messages and he’ll hear my voice.”
To summarize these first two listening strategies, we come to hear preaching with the high expectation that the Lord will speak and with low demands for whom He uses to do it. “Lord, I want you to speak to me, and I’m happy for you to use the local brothers in my meeting.” On the one hand, this is a beautiful expression of love to Christ. Attending our church’s normal gatherings to hear its normal speakers is a special opportunity to show that our devotion is truly to the Lord. On the other hand, it’s also a way of getting more out of the preaching. Try it and see! With such a heart, you will be easy to feed. But not only will you improve what you get out of the message, you’ll also begin to improve the quality of the preaching itself. Like providing meals, sermon preparation is a lot easier to do when the Lord’s children joyfully anticipate every occasion to gather around His table and be fed by Him.
Third, listen prayerfully. My children never got the memo that they were just passive consumers in our household. Their advocacy for mealtimes is nothing short of boisterous as they hop up and down, pleading for pizza. More often than not, their advocacy turns out to be effective. In the same way, by listening prayerfully we get to be effective advocates for mealtimes in our assemblies. We can come clamoring to our Father before, during, and after the weekly gatherings, asking Him to feed us. If we ask Him for bread, will He give us a stone (Luk 11:11)?
The opportunity we have to improve the quality of preaching in our assembly through prayer is impossible to exaggerate. Do you want more Christ-centered ministry? Regular exposition? Practical teaching? A word of encouragement? Then ask for it! As soon as one “meal” is done, start praying for the brother who will speak at the next one. Evangelistic meetings are not the only meetings in need of prayer.
We can even pray during the preaching. Just as we can improve the volume with a subtle gesture to the sound booth, so we can immediately influence the preaching itself, if we remember to listen prayerfully.
Finally, listen attentively. Imagine a meal where every guest is expressionless and silent. They don’t so much as nod, not even when the host offers seconds. If they leave the table hungry, they have no one to blame but themselves. In the same way, “not all poor preaching is entirely the fault of the preacher; the congregation has a vital part to play.” Our part is to listen attentively. A little eye contact and a smiling (not sleepy) nod might not sound like much, but it can do wonders for the preaching.
The speaker is not the only one communicating during preaching. We are all saying something through our posture and facial expressions. If we want the preacher to encourage us, let’s encourage him by presenting an attentive face. And if you really want to fire up the preacher, you might even cough out an “Amen!”
 Christopher Ash, Listen Up!: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons (Good Book Company, 2010), 29.
 Ash, 4.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.
 Justin Taylor, “Easily Edified,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed June 2, 2021, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/easily-edified/.
 Ash, 30.