Okay the smart guy in the room immediately responds to the above question, "With your ears!" Funny. The problem is not everything that our ears technically hear is spiritually processed in our minds and through our actions. Quick quiz... whatever church you who are reading this attend, what did your pastor preach on last Sunday? Two Sundays ago? You may remember the title- especially if your pastor is one of those hip creative types with jazzy titles (not me), but can you cite the central text of Scripture the sermon was built around (assuming it was built around Scripture and didn't just sprinkle Scripture in)? Can you recall the main point of that Biblical text and thus the main point of the sermon? Have you meditated on the appropriate and critical application for your life that the particular Biblical text pushes you to?
If you are having trouble answering any or all of those questions you are probably not alone. Sadly though, the same people who by Monday morning cannot remember the substance of the sermon they just heard can give you a play by play of the football game they watched on Sunday afternoon or describe in detail a phone conversation that was shared with a friend on Saturday night. We process what is important to us therefore we need to make an added effort to listen to preaching or teaching with a sense of importance. Now I'm not going to address bad preaching or poor exposition. That's another post for another time (I've actually covered that one a few times already). I do want to address the issue of bad listening. In Thabiti Anyabwile's helpful little book, What is a Healthy Church Member? he defines the way we should listen to sound expositional preaching as "expositional listening". Expositional preaching is preaching that takes the main point of the text as the main point of the sermon- supports it, explains it, and applies it (the preacher "exposes" the meaning and implications of Scripture). Anyabwile says, "Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate [i.e. your whole church] lives as Christians." So what can you do to be better "expositional listeners" and what is the pay off? Check back with me tomorrow for part two but until then watch a classic Mr. Bean clip below about how not to listen to preaching!