Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “The world is dying for want, not of good preaching but of good hearing.” A recent book dealing with preaching are not actually targeted at preachers. It is aimed at those who listen to sermons, which we hope includes at least most of our congregations.
Helping Johnny Listen by Thadeus L. Bergmeier is subtitled Taking Full Advantage of the Sermons We Hear. Bergmeier, a pastor, wants to provide a tool to help the average church member better hear, understand and apply the biblical insights he or she receives during church’s preaching.
“Although human beings in general are not good listeners in any subject,” he writes, “attempting to listen to someone preach from the Bible is even harder. It is harder because of the spiritual dynamic that is taking place when the preacher stands up to preach…The preaching event is unlike any other speaking event, for the audience must deal not only with the physical liabilities of listening, but also with a spiritual battle that is taking place in which their natural sinful condition does not want them to change and neither does the enemy of Christ.”
Bergmeier starts with a discussion of the nature and theological foundation of preaching, then adds some interesting observations about “a theology of listeners and listening.” He then proceeds to discuss ways to prepare oneself to better hear the preaching of God’s Word, including physical preparation (such as being rested and not coming to church physically hungry) and spiritually (such as coming with an attitude of worship and prayer).
The author includes a chapter on ways to listen to sermons “with a discerning ear.” Among his suggestions: Listen alertly, prayerfully, spiritually, energetically, humbly, relationally, patiently, hermeneutically, homiletically, actively and lovingly.
His suggestion to listen hermeneutically is one that church leaders should heed—few churches do an effective job of teaching their members how to interpret and analyze a biblical text accurately and effectively. While there are good expository preaching models such a hermeneutic, we need to help our people understand how to study a text for themselves. We can drive people to the biblical text for themselves when we help them realize that what we do does not require some magic we learned in seminary, but that any serious student of Scripture can interpret a text to find its meaning.
Bergmeier offers a major chapter suggesting tools for better applying sermons to our own lives, then concludes with a chapter on the challenges of preaching today, such as technology.
One obvious question is: Who is the target audience for this book? At 157 pages, it’s not likely to be read by the casual church member who likely needs it the most. Perhaps it will best serve as a useful resource for pastors who develop their own messages about how to listen and apply the preaching of God’s Word.