When to Hear a Sermon (Or: When Not to Hear a Sermon)

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.

shane lems

5 thoughts on “When to Hear a Sermon (Or: When Not to Hear a Sermon)”

  1. Irony: At Westminster Bookstore listing for this book (bit.ly/MZdtB8), scroll down and find this link:
    Listen to a sermon by Rev. Chistopher Ash from 1 Timothy 3:8-16 entitled How to Behave in Church.

    I don’t know that all listening-to-echoes-of-sermons is bad; I think the point was to not let it replace the assembly of the saints and sitting UNDER the Preaching of the Word (God’s Means of Grace, in real time), and to guard against discontentment with the preaching in your own church — so long as that is sound and Biblical, otherwise seek to graciously but definitively change the preaching you are under, by moving or other.


    1. That is hilarious. I didn’t even see that.

      You’re right, Ash’s point – and mine as well – was not that it is bad to listen to a recorded sermon during the week. The point is that it can become detrimental if it causes a person to skip worship, become discontent with their own church, or become a solo un-churched Christian.

      Thanks for the comment!


  2. The cover of this book caught my eye, because I think I’ve seen it in the “New Additions” section of our church library. Now I’m thinking maybe I should listen up and give it a read!

    Great point, with the additional clarification you mentioned. I regularly listen to sermons during workouts, for example, but I certainly wouldn’t use that as an excuse for skipping church–“I already listened to three sermons this week.” On the other hand, when I’m not paying full attention to a particular sermon at church, it’s immensely helpful to be able to review the recording later on.

    Michael Kearney
    West Sayville URC
    Long Island, New York


  3. I personally have always preferred listening to a sermon live and in person over using an MP3. Sounds like a good book with sound counsel. I recently re-read a book which covers this subject. The book is “Life in the Body of Christ – Privileges and Responsibilities in the Local Church,” by Curtis C. Thomas. In section 4 of the book, there is a sub-section entitled, “How to listen to a sermon,” starting on page 141. Thomas lists 6 ingredients in listening to a sermon: 1) Get ready to listen; 2) From the beginning, determine the structured format; 3) Do not let the style of the speaker stop you from listening; 4) Be an active listener – work at listening; 5) Evaluate (make a judgement on what is said); and, 6) Respond. The entire volume is very much worth readin ( and re-reading, which I have done), and I would recommend it to layman and minister alike. It is paperback, and is published bt Founders Press in Cape Coral, Florida.


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