Thursday, October 3, 2013

How to listen to a sermon.

Last week my wife joined me for a beer at Krug Park, my favorite watering hole.  We got to talking about sermons and how I might get better at preaching.  It is a hard craft to develop because critical feedback is hard to get.  Someone telling you they enjoyed the sermon as they walk out the door doesn't tell you how it affected their life or faith, if at all.  As my wife savored the Weyerbacher Imperial Ale pictured below and written about here, we began to realize that folks might not know how to critically listen to a sermon.  

For example, I was in a used book store the other day and I picked up a listening guide to Charles Ives' Unanswered Question.  This is a piece of music that is as mysterious and complex as it is simple and direct.  The listening guide not only pointed out features of the music to listen for but encouraged a particular attitude or state of mind to approach the work.  When I went home and listened to the piece I could hold the structure of the whole piece in mind even as I heard the details of each note.  I could "hear the forrest and the trees" if you will.  Therefore, a listening guide for sermons in general might be helpful in a similar way.

Try this one on for size:  when listening to a sermon think of the following acronym: P.R.A.Y

  • Participate -- be an active listener and don't be afraid to agree and disagree, or encourage and motivate, the preacher vocally.  
  • Response -- what is your immediate gut level response to the word preached.  Is it conviction or motivation, inspiration or gratitude, boredom, joy, anger or something else.  
  • Action -- What action, if any, are you motivated to take? What is God calling you to do through the sermon?  
  • Yearning -- What are you still yearning for after the sermon?  Is it more clarity or less conviction, more hope or less direction? What questions are you inspired to ask?
Now if this acronym is helpful for you, then I have an invitation for you: Come hear me preach, then join me for a beer (my treat) and critique my preaching on this outline.  It will help you listen and help me become a better preacher, both of which will strengthen God's Kingdom.


  1. Great idea, Jason. I have done similar things in the past, and they have borne good fruit. Your raising this up provokes me to bring that practice back into my ministry and preaching. Good luck, God bless and I pray folks take you up on that offer of a beer and a conversational response to the sermons you preach!

  2. Interesting. Thank you. As a lay person, sometime convener of field education lay committees and father of a VTS senior (you know him as John and you and I did meet, briefly, several years ago), I am used to trying to get something out of sermons. I look forward to trying this out.

  3. Love this, Jason! You've inspired me to give this a shot, too, and perhaps even bring back sermon prep groups with parishioners where we meet to discuss upcoming lectionary and think though what message the parish might need to hear. Hope you don't get wiped out buying all that beer, though!