The Art Of Listening To A Sermon: Part 1
In the next few blog posts I want to give some pointers on how to get the most out of a sermon. Many Christian adults have never learned how to really listen, and as a result they have not modeled to their children the art of interacting with a sermon. Cornelius had trained his whole household to fear God (Acts 10:2) and since his worship was a model that stood as a memorial before God (v. 4), I will use him as a model for the art of listening to a sermon.
An art to be mastered by the whole family
And before we get to some of the specific techniques, I want to emphasize that this is an art that must be mastered by the whole family. The family will never learn how to enter into every aspect of a worship service if the whole family is not worshipping together. Cornelius “called together his relatives and close friends” (v. 24) and said, “we are all present before God” (v. 33). If your goal is to really listen to a sermon, it may seem counter-intuitive to have your children sitting with you. After all, doesn’t the Twenty-First-Century Church consider children to be the major distraction to worship and to listening? That’s why so many churches have children’s church, right? But in our church we have found that when children have learned to be listeners as young children, they become outstanding listeners as adults. So we train our children to get the most out of a service.
And I find it interesting that you cannot find R-rated worship in the Scriptures – the children were always involved. Despite a long worship service in Joshua 8, “the congregation gathered before the Lord, the men, the women and the little ones” (v. 35). Despite the uninspiring subject matter of the worship service in Joel 2:15-16 (it was a call for mourning and fasting), God said, “Blow the trumpet in Zion… call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes…” Deuteronomy 31:12 gives the constant pattern of the Scripture when it commands the church, “Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law.” Notice especially the phrase, “that they may learn to fear the LORD your God…” Learning reverence for God in worship is not an automatic process. It is something that is learned by doing. And we shouldn’t be discouraged when at first we don’t succeed.
One of the negative things that happens when children’s church is established is that their worship is geared to attention-deficit children, and their attention-deficit problem is reinforced for years, rather than being overcome. Suddenly when the children join the adult worship at the age of 12 or 13, they have a hard time concentrating. They have a hard time applying the passage, digging for meat, being interactive with what is being preached, and evaluating their inward response. They have never been trained for it.
Let me give you a tip that will have your children sitting still and paying attention in church within 3-6 weeks – have family worship every day at home. This was the learning context for worship that was practiced by Christians for thousands of years. Sadly, family worship is rare in Christian homes. But it is a fantastic context in which children can be trained for proper involvement in every facet of worship.
When you have family worship, have your children sit still on the chair as if it was in church. Tell them, “This is worship, and we need to sit still and reverence God during worship.” The youngest one may have to be held firmly in your hands so that he or she doesn’t wiggle. And give firm discipline to the children each time they move, or act up. It’s a whole lot easier to do it at home than it is at church. And the key is being consistent. Don’t discipline one time and fail to discipline the next time. Make it so that the child can predict that he will always be disciplined if he acts up, wanders, talks or disrupts the worship. If your discipline is done during family worship, you will find that it won’t have to be done as frequently during church. Not every child will learn at the same pace. Some children are sitting still within a week or two. Others take a month or two. But persevere and you will find that it will pay off. Reverence is learned. And it can’t be learned simply by avoiding the difficult circumstances where our children might embarrass us.
By the way, using games or art books to distract your children’s attention reinforces the opposite of what the Bible calls for. I know it’s an easy shortcut for a desperate parent, but it teaches them how not to pay attention. If they need an activity, the best early activity is to draw pictures of what the pastor is preaching about. And ask them to explain their undecipherable picture to you. You might be amazed at what they have picked up. When they can write, it might be trying to take down some notes of what God wants them to do. It’s good if they can look at the pastor when he is preaching and when they are not writing. But use this as an opportunity to train your children to be listeners with an attention span.
The bottom line for this first post is that this art of active listening can start to be learned very young. And there are thousands of children in family integrated churches across our nation who have been successfully trained in this without the use of gimmicks. I will present other tips in upcoming blog posts.