Everything I said yesterday about reading applies to listening as well -- especially listening to sermons. As a guy who speaks in just about every kind of church you can imagine, I cannot tell you how many people seem to listen at me rather than listening to (or even with) me. They sit there, arms folded, listening for error or listening to make sure I touch all the appropriate bases. They listen to sermons the way an umpire watches a baseball game. They don’t listen for personal transformation. They don’t listen to grow.
These are the people who always want clarification on some fine point of something I said in passing that wasn’t even the point I was trying to make. These are the people who want to know what version of the Bible I was reading from and why. These are the people who want to know where I went to seminary. These are also the people who wish their brother-in-law had heard the message. They want to get a copy of the CD for someone at work, because it was just the sort of message someone else needed to hear.
These people never come and tell me that it was just what they needed to hear. They never tell me how they could grow from the message or how they plan on applying it to their lives.
Please understand that not everyone does this. There are also plenty of folks who listen well and humbly seek to apply whatever truth they find in the sermons they hear to their personal lives. I love these people, and I wish I were more like them.
Honestly, I am as guilty of this error as anyone else. One of the things I do – as part of my work – is critique sermons. Preachers often ask me for advice or help or coaching in becoming better communicators. Sadly, it’s become difficult for me to listen to a sermon for spiritual formation now, because I’m always thinking about how the speaker could have communicated his/her points more effectively.
But what would change if I started listening to sermons the way I just suggested we ought to read? What if I first asked myself, “What does this sermon teach me about the character and nature of God?” And second, “How can I apply this sermon in such a way as to help me grow in my ability to love and be loved by God and others?”
Maybe this would eliminate a lot of the bickering and divisiveness Christianity currently experiences. Here, at last, is a way for Calvinists and Arminians to read one another without feeling the need to get all bent out of shape. The Piper-ites and the Bell-eons can listen to and with one another, rather than simply listening at one another.
If they choose to.
Sadly, I doubt they will.
But love believes all things, so I will continue to hope towards that end.