How to listen when the preacher doesn’t have anything to say…December 18, 2020
I always like to be fair, and as my last post was on how to preach when you don’t have anything to say, I thought it only proper to look at the other side of the coin – how to listen when the preacher doesn’t have anything to say.
Now don’t misunderstand the motivation behind these posts. I am not anti-preaching, albeit I am not in the camp that believes the world might end if a church service doesn’t include a sermon. I think that preaching can accomplish an enormous amount of good and that the sermon remains the means through which the majority of Christian people receive instruction about the faith and inspiration to follow its teaching. Preaching often convicts people – sometimes of their need to come to faith, or of their need to trust God more fully or of…well, a thousand options could be added. God has used preaching through the history of the Church, and there is no indication that this is going to stop anytime soon, though sermons no doubt will adapt and change and be delivered in fresh new ways – as they already have so often in the past.
This being understood, what do you do when you are in a service where it is becoming increasingly clear that the sermon is going nowhere, and that the preacher has no intention of stopping anytime soon? Here are a few options – and feel free to add others. Incidentally, on one of my first Sundays after arriving in Western Australia I noticed that the person in front of me was reading from Sims and Pegoda’s book 101 Things to do during a Dull Sermon, so clearly the problem is not new, and there are more than a fair few options available.
But here are some of my suggestions:
1) Remember, the sermon might be dull, but God isn’t, and God is present. Listen for the voice of God even when it is being hidden by a deluge of words that don’t seem to be going anywhere.
2) Imagine you are the preacher and are speaking on the topic or from the relevant Bible passage. What would you say about it? What is the preacher missing? What do you think God wants you to take away from this passage? In other words, preach to yourself.
3) Pray for the preacher. Preaching is actually hard work – harder than those who don’t preach might realize. Many preachers say they are both physically and emotionally exhausted after preaching – so why not rise above your own boredom and offer a prayer for the preacher? If the message is missing the mark for you, it might be doing so for others, and that can be really disheartening for everyone – no one more than the preacher. Prayer might change that.
4) Challenge your attitude – without being unrealistic. By this I am not saying it is your fault if you find the sermon dull. Some sermons just are. It could also be that even though the sermon is not really for you, perhaps it is for a lot of other people. Be helpfully present for them. In other words, don’t be loudly disinterested in a way that distracts others. What God is not doing for you, God might be doing for someone else. Have a good attitude about this. It might be your turn next week.
5) Provide kind but constructive feedback – though let a few days pass before you do so. Say what was helpful about the sermon, but be honest about why you struggled to pay attention. Sometimes preachers need a gentle reminder that they are going on about their own hobby horse a little too often, of that they are getting too intense, or too out of touch, or too humorless or too whatever. Proverbs 15:23 reminds us, a word in season – how good it is… Note, it is a word in season – the season might well be a few days after the sermon, but is unlikely to be a few minutes after the sermon (unless it is a pure word of encouragement).
6) Intentionally engage with the sermon. Take notes, check the Bible verses being referred to. Be curious about the message. Why is the preacher saying what they are? What aren’t they saying? Why? Remember the G.K.Chesterton adage: There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people. Likewise, there are no uninteresting sermons, only uninterested listeners.
7) Don’t succumb to consumer Christianity (and you can hear me talk more on this on a Riverview podcast) – mentally going through a list of churches where the preaching might be more interesting, and inwardly asking how many more minutes of this sermon it will take to see you moving churches next week . Remember why God called you to this community of faith – and remain faithful to your call.
Well that’s it for now. I am preaching this Sunday, and need to make sure the congregation aren’t reading this post too diligently while I am…
As always, nice chatting…