Christopher Ash’s Listen Up: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons is a helpful pamphlet aimed at giving Christians some lessons in listening. This book is only thirty pages long and written at a popular level, so any Christian could benefit from it. In it, Ash gives seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening and he even talks about listening to poor sermons. I won’t list every point out here, but I do want to mention #4 and give some edited excerpts from it.
“Hear the sermon in church. The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church. We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later. There is nothing such as ‘virtual church.’ [The people of God] are gathered by the word of God (God takes the initiative to summon…us) and gathered to sit together under the word of God (‘to hear my words’ [Deut. 4:10]), to be shaped together by his word.
“When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching that happened in the past. Listening on my own to a recording can never be more than a poor second-best to actually being there with the people of God in a local church. It is better to listen to the pastor you know, and who knows you, than to hear a recording of the well-known preaching you don’t know, and who doesn’t know you.”
“When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response. …You know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says.”
This is a great point. Hearing God’s word together as an assembled people is profoundly biblical and covenantal; it is one of the primary ways God builds his people up, as is evident in Acts. It is a good thing to be able to listen to recorded sermons in the car or on a jog, but if this practice lowers a person’s view of hearing the word preached “live” and corporately, it should be done infrequently. Furthermore, sometimes Christians listen to famous popular preachers so much it makes them discontent with their own preacher and church, which opens the door for many spiritual illnesses.
Ironically, some people who listen to tons of sermons online are in fact guilty of disobeying the call in Scripture to regularly attend the Christian assembly (Heb. 10:25). I suppose this comes back to the discussion of using technology in a biblically wise way. Just because technology makes something easier and more convenient doesn’t mean it is right, proper, and good. At the risk of being called “unspiritual,” I’d say that some Christians need to stop listening to recorded sermons during the week and stick to hearing them in a solid local church on Sunday. Finally, as food for thought, does this topic relate to another topic we’ve blogged on here, namely rampant American individualism? If so, how?
Get the book: Listen Up! by Christopher Ash.