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- September 12, 2014
- By MARV KNOX / EDITOR
Does your mind ever wander while your pastor is preaching? (If you’re the pastor, don’t answer that.)
Most people in the pew would acknowledge, yes, they sometimes get distracted as they try to listen to the sermon. Some Christians claim the devil makes them do it. Others admit American attention spans just aren’t what they used to be.
More and more, pastors seem to make a sincere effort to help listeners keep up. The technologically savvy flash Scripture references, sermon points, film clips, charts and illustrations, and/or pictures on video screens. Others print sermon outlines in the worship guide. And a few still practice the age-old preacher tactic—they tell you what they’re going to tell you, they tell you, and then they tell you what they just told you—a process that often produces looooong sermons.
No matter how your pastor tries to keep your attention, chances are, your mind’s eventually going to wander. We’ll leave debate over whether it’s a sin to the theologians. (That said, let me add Jesus seemed awfully fond of parables about sheep, maybe the most wander-prone animal on four legs.)
If you want to stay with your pastor, then ask questions throughout the sermon. Not out loud, of course. But in your mind.
That may sound counter-intuitive. Aren’t we supposed to listen attentively and follow along, point by point? Questions could lead us astray.
Possibly. But if you ask the right questions, you’re actually more likely to synchronize your thinking with the sermon—and maybe even expand beyond what your pastor has time to tell you.
So, the next time you’re sitting in the sermon, ask four “What?” questions:
• So what?
Think about why the preacher chose this specific Scripture for a sermon on this particular day. Ask yourself why this passage matters—not just down through the ages, but in the here and now. Question why these verses could or should be meaningful in the life of your church, for you, for individuals and groups in your congregation, and for your community.
• What’s in-between?
This question requires you to pay attention to the sermon and use your imagination at the same time. Ask yourself about connections: Why did the pastor choose that illustration to go with that verse? Why is the pastor making these three or four points with this passage? What’s the relationship between a story that’s thousands of years old and what’s happening now? How is the preacher connecting the dots of this text and the sermon?
• What else?
This may be the most dangerous question, because it pushes you to the outer limits of the sermon. But it’s OK to ask: What, if anything, is being left out of this sermon? Given the material in the Scripture passage and the sermon, is the preacher leaving anything out? If you were preaching this sermon, what points would you add? Or leave out? Or phrase differently?
• What’s next?
At or near the end of the sermon, ask yourself: What’s next? What do I do with this sermon? Chances are, your pastor made some practical applications. Often, they’re the last point or points. Every sermon ought to call us to action. What do we do with God’s word delivered to us? How will I be different this week than last, just because I heard and heeded this sermon? How will this Scripture text make a difference in my life on Tuesday afternoon, or with my spouse or children or co-workers? What am I compelled to do because now I know what I didn’t know when I walked into this room?
For four centuries, Baptists have claimed we are “people of the book.” We profess to love and follow the Bible. We typically place our pulpits at the center of the front of our worship centers, because the Bible is central to our worship and our practice. So, engage the sermon as intently as the preacher takes it on.
Ask, “What?” And listen—to your preacher and for God’s answer.
Stay In the Light, 1 John 1:7