Expositional Listening

The Shepherd’s Church exists to raise up deeply rooted disciples of Christ who are growing in their knowledge of the Word and learning to think Biblically, with all humility, in every facet of their lives. We seek to accomplish this in several ways, but one of them is by choosing various books to read for a given month and then meeting together over coffee to discuss the concepts. November’s book was: “What Is A Healthy Church Member?” by Thabiti Anyabwile, which discusses 10 fundamental character traits of a healthy church member. After reading and discussing this book, I believe it is important to share the content with you, so I am providing the following summary in 10 parts. Today Part 1.


The book assumes two things right at the outset. 1) If you are reading this book, then you are connected to a healthy and vibrant local church. And 2) being a healthy member of that local church is what Biblical obedience looks like. With that, the book makes the case that there are 10 character traits of a healthy church member. Today, we will cover character trait 1.


The role of the pastor is to study the text, understand it in its original setting and context, and then faithfully communicate that message to the congregation. This is called expositional preaching. In the same way, non-pastoral Christians also have a responsibility to listen to the sermon expositionally.


Practically, it simply means fighting for focus, learning how to actively listen to the text, and remaining engaged while listening to the truth being communicated.


Because a healthy sermon is communicating the Word's of God. It is attempting to plumb the depths of our greatest treasure, God's good and holy Word. Thus, a Biblical sermon is an important piece of communication in our lives that we will do well to listen to expectantly! The most brilliant sermon ever preached will have no impact on the drowsy, unengaged, and apathetic listener. For this reason, all who listen have a tremendous responsibility to listen well!


The following ideas were offered in the chapter (with a couple I added for clarity)


Reflect on the sermon passage before it is preached. At Shepherd’s, we post the Scriptures for the following week ahead of time, so maybe try incorporating those verses into your quiet time or personal study.


Invest in a good set of commentaries. These are books that help the reader understand the text and to dig deeper into its truths. Some commentaries are very technical and suited for the advanced student. While others are more practical in nature. Choose a commentary that is consistent with your current degree of proficiency with the text. As always, if you have any questions, just ask and I would love to point you in the right direction.


Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church. You can discuss main ideas, challenging statements, convicting thoughts, or areas where you would like to dig in a little deeper. You can also incorporate these discussions into the ride home or coffee dates that you plan throughout the week.

Listening to a sermon is helpful, but that is usually just the beginning. Communicating those concepts later, being able to ask questions, formulate ideas, and hear those ideas on the lips of others, helps solidify truth in our thinking and is an invaluable resource for listening and learning well. So, do not overlook this important step.


Choose 1 or 2 main points from the message that you will meditate on throughout the week. Do not try to juggle too many concepts. In fact, remembering all of the content from an entire sermon is impossible, especially at Shepherd’s. By doing this, you will likely forget the whole.  

Instead, try to discern 1 or 2 points from the message that could use more thought and remember to revisit those ideas during the week. It may not seem like a lot, but a Christian who thinks deeply about 1 concept a week will in 1, 2, and even 10 years think and look much different. There will be a depth there that the Holy Spirit can draw from and a reservoir of truth to comfort them, no matter what life throws at them.


I personally do not take notes during a sermon, although it is fine if you do. For me, there is too much data coming at me too quickly for my note-taking to be effective. Plus, I have to write so fast I may not be able to read it later. So, if you learn best by writing, try listening intently during service and relistening to the message later to take more detailed notes. I also provide my manuscript to anyone who wants more, so do not be shy about asking.


While I do not take full and detailed notes I do jot some things down. Especially if something is unclear in the message, I write it down as a question and I will explore it later. This is an invaluable habit! If something is unclear, jot it down in shorthand, and when you have a moment, try looking up the answer for yourself. If that does not work, shoot me a message and I would love to help! My goal is that you would encounter the Living God in the Living Word, so understanding it is essential!  


(The internet has a lot of wacky ideas out there. If something does not align with Scripture, or sounds off, it usually is. Be discerning as you do research.)


The temptation is always before us is to become professional educated Christians who lack the joy and excitement over those beautiful, good, and old ideas. I cannot tell you how many people have told me that they do not listen well to sermons anymore because they already know what is being said or that they have heard it all before. That is a shame.

And while it is certainly true that many American churches offer a shallow watered down message (which of course is wrong), it is also true that when we are under healthy preaching we will never arrive at mastery! We will never have all the answers. We will never discover the bottom of an endless ocean of grace. We will never fully comprehend an infinite and incomprehensible God. The preacher will not. We will not. So we must remain humble.


We are not measured in worth by how much information we can retain. We do not listen attentively to the preached Word of God to gain anything from God. We listen, with eager and excited anticipation to know God and to commune with Him in truth. If you are struggling to follow along and are feeling discouraged, allow the grace of Christ to wash over you. Remind yourself of the truth you know: You are dearly loved. Christ died for you. He purified you. He is sanctifying you. He loves you! He is pleased with you! And your commitment to grow, even if it is slow, is a pleasing aroma to the one who calls you child! Rest in His grace!

The content for this blog article was taken from Chapter 1 of "What Is A Healthy Church Member", By Thabiti Anyabwile. 

Next week we will look at the second character trait of a healthy church member. Until then, Soli Deo Gloria!