Churches by and large do a pretty good job of teaching new believers “the basics” of the Christian life. If you peek beneath the surface you’ll find that most of them establish new believers in a few basic spiritual disciplines.

  • Assurance
  • Baptism
  • Prayer
  • Bible reading
  • Walking in the Spirit
  • Witnessing

After all, pastors and churches want new members of God’s family to thrive spiritually, enjoy God’s blessing and to take part in their mission to bring others to faith in Jesus.


Then why don’t we do a better job of teaching folks how to capitalize on one of the most important spiritual inputs of all – the sermon? You know how to preach, right? So why teach them to listen to your preaching?


People are not by nature skilled at listening and understanding. Ask any marriage counselor or divorce lawyer! Someone needs to teach them how to listen.

So teach them!

First, teach them to come prepared! That includes getting a decent night’s sleep. Maybe there was some wisdom in having the Jewish Sabbath start at sundown? People ceased from their daily chores and rested. When they gathered at synagogue they were rested. When folks come to the Sunday morning church services tell them you expect them to be rested.

Second, teach them to read along in their Bibles. I know, I know. Yes, it’s okay if they read from their smart phone or other electronic device. Turning pages or scrolling through screens engages kinesthetic channels along with auditory and visual channels, increasing the likelihood they’ll retain something. I think it’s a bad idea to project the words on the screen; this makes it too easy to disengage important neural pathways.

Third, remind them just how useful a pencil is! See #2 above, that business about kinesthetic learning…

Fourth, tell them to read next week’s preaching text. Whether by note in the bulletin, mention in the sermon or by notice on the web page, give them a heads up on next week’s text. Draw it to their attention and ask them to read it in context.

Fifth, encourage them to hear the voice of Christ in the message. Of course, they need to understand that those words filter through you. But in spite of that – if you are in fact teaching the Word of God and instead of as a springboard into your own ideas – the Holy Spirit will speak in and through your words. Who hasn’t had the experience of a church member telling you, “When you were speaking, here’s the message I got” and you wonder, “You sure didn’t get that from me, did you?” Unless that “voice” they heard has told them something that’s clearly false, urge them to go with that.


Okay, Pastor, here are a few ideas you can carry out without heavy lifting. If you make regular use of these practices, people will listen more attentively. They’ll understand the main points of your argument. They’re more likely to move toward applying truth to daily life.

  • Tell them how you do it. Explain your approach to sermon prep to the new members class.
  • Leave breadcrumbs on the trail! Make certain your sermons are easy to follow. One surefire evidence that the preacher didn’t have (or take) adequate prep time is a hard-to-follow sermon. When we’re pressed for time we scrimp on the overview, transitions and review. If you want them to follow you, make it hard for them to get lost!
  • Be worth listening to! The Bible’s payoff isn’t notes on a page or ideas in a head. It exists to transform lives. Bible knowledge is (warning: over generalization ahead) a means to that end. Be sure your sermon touches on at least one of these: teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness ( as per 2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Treat them like Santa Claus. Most folks these days won’t draw personal applications from your sermon. You’ve got to do it for them. That’s why your homiletics prof told you to put the cookies in reach. Make applications so specific they see themselves. E.g., “When you get home this afternoon, go to junk the drawer where you keep the scotch tape. Then head to the bathroom and tape this sermon outline to the mirror. Look at it when you brush your teeth and pray, ‘Lord, how can I be a good neighbor today?'”
  • Preach about preaching. Nehemiah 8:1–8 is a great place to start, with special attention to “they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” If catchy series titles is your thing you could call these sermons Hearing From God.
  • Telegraph your punches. Give them a teaser about next week’s sermon; explain how it fits with the rhetorical chain you’ve been linking together over the past weeks. If you don’t know what text you’re preaching the following Sunday you should consider becoming a Youth pastor or worship leader. You shouldn’t be the preaching pastor.
  • Get feedback. Work with a regular preaching team or ask people at random, “What do you remember from last week’s sermon?” (see item #4 here).


What’s your wisdom on how to listen to a sermon and how to teach others to do the same? Click here to leave your comments below.