During my seminary days attending Covenant Fellowship Church in Pittsburgh, I was blessed to sit under the preaching of Pastor Ken Smith. We witnessed people being converted, growing disciples, and joyful singing filling the sanctuary. One of the means the Lord used to produce this spiritual vitality was, with much prayer assistance, Ken’s Biblically-sound, Spirit-filled, covenant-revealing preaching. At times he would become so animated that a powerful point, followed by a dramatic pause, would echo in the sanctuary as well as reverberate in our hearts. I remember that conversations about the messages would follow after the service and throughout the week.
The other evening I had the privilege of attending the retirement dinner of Dr. Denny Prutow as he finishes his service at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Denny, a former military chaplain with a barrel chest, also is a strong preacher who demands your attention. All of those honoring him with their tributes mentioned the impact of his preaching or even imitated his animation in getting his one point across.
Not all of God’s messengers have booming voices, eloquent phraseology, or __________’s (fill-in-your-favorite-Sermon-Audio-preacher’s-name) insights. Yet where there is faithfulness behind the pulpit where you attend church, the message deserves not only your attention while it is being preached, but your discussion of it afterwards. One of the renderings of Psalm 16:3 says, “In your holy messengers I take delight” (The Book of Psalms for Worship, selection 16D). One key way that we fulfill that verse is listening attentively to the ambassador of God proclaim His Word and then talking about it with others. Sermons need to be echoing throughout the life of a congregation. If not, the message is not truly being heard and applied. When the Lord informed Joshua that his success would be dependent upon him meditating on His Word day and night, He told Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:8). Meditation on God’s Word involves conversation about God’s Word
What are some practical means God’s people can engage in so as to encourage “proper acoustics” in the congregation, i.e., ways to promote the message of the Word of God being spoken of richly by the people of God? Here are at least four.
Spend time praying for the message the night before and/or the morning of the Lord’s Day. One of the enjoyable patterns of life our family has sought to honor is having a Saturday evening time of praise and prayer. Though it is not always possible, I have sought to keep our Saturday evening schedule clear for the most part so our family and sometimes other guests can have a time of singing God’s praises then praying for missionaries as well as our own congregation’s ministry. We often pray for the message being delivered the next morning to have an impact on the life of the church and beyond. In addition, a small number in our congregation meet before our class time to ask the same. As any saint can join with a few others and pray, this should be a practice God’s people are eager to do for the sake of seeing His word promoted. Talking in prayer about the sermon even before it is preached will lead to talking about it after it is delivered.
Talk about the sermon immediately after the service when you are greeting one another. Clearly the time after the service allows us to see people we may not have seen since last week and catch up with them. It also is an important time for meeting visitors. We have to ask certain questions about other’s welfare or informational items to engage them on a personal level. Yet why not be more intentional in order to encourage sermon application? Why not share an insight about the service and particularly the message that encouraged you, and then ask, “What did you hear in the message that was helpful or challenging to you?” Would it not be wonderful to hear around the sanctuary conversations about God’s Word instead of much of the trivial that often gets discussed?
Also, here is a tip in speaking to the pastor after the service. Do not just simply say to him “That was a good message” or a remark along those lines. Commendations are usually well-meant and are nice to receive, but awkward for us preachers. It feels like applause which we are not supposed to be seeking. Instead, if you want to talk to your minister about the message, take a moment to share a particular way the Lord ministered to you through the message. My heart always warms when I hear people talking about a sermon’s application into their lives.
Form formal or informal sermon discussion groups. Churches that deliberately have a class afterward to discuss a message are taking seriously the call to meditate and apply the Word of God. However, the ones leading these times should be careful not to make it a time of mere recitation, critique of the message, or, perhaps worst of all, “re-preaching” the message like the discussion leader thinks it should have been done. Instead, recount the main theme and some of the underlying support and illustrations the pastor gave, then lead the class into applications they can make in personal, family, and the church’s corporate life.
If your church does not have such a class, create an informal one by discussing it in this manner with those with whom you are eating after the service. Parents, be especially sure to engage the children. Even children at young ages can share what they heard. Fathers, remember that your respect or lack thereof for your spiritual leaders will be sown into your children’s lives. If you have “roast pastor” every Sunday dinner, expect that your children will have “roast dad” for their later meals. I have been a pastor long enough now to have sadly witnessed how those who do not honor the leaders the Lord has placed over them find their own children struggling to obey the fifth commandment.
Use technology to enhance discussion about the message. Now, this has limits. Those churches who are projecting a running stream of tweets from Twitter in the sanctuary, while the message is being delivered, are not practicing a meditation on God’s Word but an interruption of it. However, after the service is over a tweeted quote, a wall post on Facebook, a link to Sermon Audio, an email to a friend, etc., can be encouraging and enhancing to other’s sanctification. Indeed, incredibly there is potential for the echo to be heard around the world! Yet in doing this be sure to include a short personal testimony as to why you want others to read the quote or even listen to the entire message. This practice will make sure the message is not bypassing your own heart in your eagerness to share it with others.
One final caveat to preachers. We must ever guard against self-exaltation. Let others like Facebook quotes, spread sermon links, or tweet comments about your message. You had your say behind the pulpit. Trust the Spirit to echo it as He will after you step away from it.