How to listen to evangelistic sermons (when you already are a Christian)

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At any one time in a gathering there will be Christians and non-Christians present. This presents the preacher with a challenge.  Does he primarily focus on preaching to the Christians to edify and build them up or does he focus on evangelising the enquirers. Either way, he risks leaving part of the audience behind. Or does he?  One helpful way of approaching the sermon is to preach at one type of listener but with the expectation that the others present will in effect be able to overhear and by analogy apply the sermon to themselves.  So if my main application is for Christians, the non-Christian should be able to trace the Gospel through what I say.  Likewise, there should be something for even mature believers in an evangelistic talk.  So, if I’m the believer in the congregation, how should I listen to an evangelistic sermon?

  1. Listen Prayerfully

There will be non-Christians in the congregation.  It may well be that I have invited some of them along. Certainly there should be people I am actively getting to know and befriend amongst the audience.  So when I hear a Gospel message, it should encourage me to pray for them as they listen that God’s Word will take root in their hearts. 

I will also be listening out both for what is being said and what isn’t being said so that in conversation afterwards, I’m ready to follow up with my friends, to reinforce the points made and where necessary to fill in the gaps.  I will be thinking about the specific context and outlook of the friend I will be talking to. I may also be convicted about people who are not there. You know that feeling “I wish so and so had been here to hear this.” Well this should move me to pray for them, for opportunities to speak with them and tell them about what I’ve heard and to invite them along to future events. 

  • Listen Thankfully

It should warm my heart to hear the Gospel preach.  I should never grow tired of this.  There will be the sense that “the old tunes are the best.”  I will be reminded of what Christ has done for me.  Preaching the Gospel and Listening to the Gospel is first and foremost an act of worship.  We are praising God.  Gospel messages will give us a deeper insight into the character of God and the work of Christ.[1]

  • Listen Repentantly

The Gospel is the answer to how to live as Christians now. There are two aspects to this. As I am reminded of what Christ has done for me, I will be challenged about how I am going on and growing as a Christian.  Justification spurs us on to Sanctification.

Secondly, when I am convicted of sin and failing in my life, then it’s not additional rules or self-help steps that I need.  I need God’s Grace.  I need the Gospel to be applied again.[2] 

  • Listen Teachably

One of the reasons why I preach evangelistic sermons is to help Christians see evangelism and apologetics modelled.  For the same reason, I listen to talks and read books designed primarily for enquirers.[3]

So when I listen to an evangelistic sermon, I am looking to see how the preacher models presenting the Gospel. That way, I can learn for when I’m in a position to share my faith one to one and in small groups.  Although the preacher is usually not in direct dialogue with people asking questions and responding, a good evangelist will be anticipating and responding to the questions that unbelievers will have.  So I can learn how to respond sensitively to questions and objections.  I can learn how to avoid red herrings.  I can see how the preacher takes the listener directly to Jesus.  I will learn both from what they do well and also from what they don’t do well (because no preacher will be perfect).  So sometimes I will think “I want to try and do it like that” whilst at other times I will think “I would have dealt with that differently.” You may want to find an opportunity later on to talk to the preacher about his sermon so you can learn more (though in the immediate aftermath, both his focus and yours should normally be on responding to enquirers).

Good teaching and learning involves opportunities to put into practice what we have learnt. So actively seek them out.  When you are at work on Monday morning and a colleague asks you at tea break “What did you do at the weekend.” You have a great opportunity to say “I heard a really helpful talk.  I think you would have found it helpful too…”

We come to faith through the preaching of the Gospel, but we also stay, go on and grow through the preaching of the Gospel.  This means that even an evangelistic talk is for our encouragement, edification and correction.  Enjoy listening.

[1] This is essentially what John Piper does in his book Desiring God

[2] On this, see Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, NavPress (2006)

[3] Good places to start for this include: Timothy Keller, The Reason For God, C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity and Barry Cooper & Paul Williams, If You Could Ask God One Question.

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