Preachers will do well to attend to the different types of hearers who may be present in any congregation. J.I. Packer quotes the Puritan Willam Perkins, who in his “Arte of Prophecying” ‘distinguished the different classes of people that the preacher could expect to be addressing in any ordinary congregation:-
- The ignorant and unteachable, who needed the equivalent of a bomb under their seats.
- The ignorant but teachable, who needed orderly instruction in what Christianity is all about.
- The knowledgeable but unhumbled, who needed to be given a sense of sin.
- The humbled and desperate, who needed to be grounded in the gospel.
- Believers going on with God, who needed building up.
- Believers who had fallen into error, intellectual or moral, and needed correction.’
(Packer, Among God’s Giants, 377 – numbering added)
Someone has identified a number of types:-
- Umbrella hearers. They put up their umbrellas during the sermon and let the rain fall on their neighbours.
- Spy hearers. They sit with poker faces, listening for some evidence with which they can incriminate the preacher.
- Grasshopper hearers. They hear a little here and a little there, with a long hop in between.
- Well bucket hearers. They go down deep into the water of life and carry as much truth as they are able.
I agree with Colin Adams that hearing God’s Word well is as important as preaching it well. A message that is prepared and delivered well must be heard well, or it will be water off a duck’s back.
Adams makes ten recommendations to help hearers ‘squeeze the juice out of the sermon’. Here’s a bare summary:-
- Accept your relentless need for the Word of God.
- Read the passage beforehand.
- Rest well the evening before.
- Sit nearer the front.
- Look and listen.
- Take some notes.
- Be aware of typical distractions.
- Think about the sermon but don’t stop listening to it.
- Talk about the sermon afterwards.
- Review the sermon during the week.
William Shishko, a pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Franklin Square, New York, has written a series of Helps for Worship that includes the following helpful questions for reflection:-
- Have you taken seriously that you are deceiving yourself if you simply listen to sermons and do not actually obey what Christ tells you in those sermons?
- How do you prepare yourself to receive the preaching of the Word?
- What do you learn about Christ from sermons? Are you called to believe in him as your Savior and Lord? How?
- How much do you pray for upcoming preaching? Are you quicker to criticize preaching than to pray for it?
- Do you receive the preaching of the Word with a love for the truth that is given in it? See 2 Thessalonians 2:10.
- How do you meditate on the sermons that are preached to you each week?
- Do you discuss the sermons afterwards, or do you forget them and act as if you never heard them?
- In specific ways, how do you bring forth the fruit of preaching in your life and in your family’s life?
- How can you change to better “take heed how I hear” the Word of God?