The Blind Spot of the Spiritual Formation Movement
Listening to a sermon is a spiritual discipline that needs to be learned.
Craig Brian Larson
Craig Brian Larson is editor of PreachingToday.com and pastor of Lake Shore Church in Chicago. He is co-author and co-general editor of The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching (Zondervan, 2006).
Craig Larson identifies the spiritual discipline of listening to sermons as a blind spot of the spiritual formation movement. Read more
I want to say that sound biblical preaching does the following nine things that individual Bible reading, memorization, and meditation does not:
(1)Good preaching rescues us from our self-deceptions and blind spots, for left to ourselves we tend to ignore the very things in God's Word that we most need to see. Preaching is done in community, covering texts and topics outside of our control.
(2)Preaching brings us before God's Word in the special presence of the Holy Spirit, who indwells the gathered church.
(3)Good preaching challenges us to do things we otherwise would not and gives us the will to do them. God has put within human nature a remarkable power to spur others to take action.
(4)Good preaching brings us into the place of corporate obedience rather than merely individual obedience. This is a uniquely corporate discipline that the church does together as a community, building up individuals and the community at the same time. We are not just an individual follower of Christ; we are a member of his church and are called to obey the call of God together with others hearing the same Word.
(5)Good preaching contributes to spiritual humility by disciplining us to sit under the teaching, correction, and exhortation of another human. Relying on ourselves alone for food from the Word can lead to a spirit of arrogance and spiritual independence.
(6)Good preaching gives a place for a spiritually qualified person to protect believers from dangerous error. The apostles repeatedly warned that untrained and unstable Christians—as well as mature believers—are frequently led astray by false doctrines. Christians are sheep; false teachers are wolves; preachers are guardian shepherds. A preacher is a person called and gifted by God with spiritual authority for the care of souls in the context of God's church.
(7)Preaching and listening is a uniquely embodied, physical act. It literally puts us into the habit of having "ears that hear." There is something to be said for this physical act of listening and heeding. Good preaching is truth incarnated, truth mediated through a person from its ancient setting to today, truth we can feel through another person's heart, truth conveyed through an embodied person, truth we receive sitting shoulder to shoulder with other embodied Christians.
(8)Good preaching does what most Christians are not gifted, trained, or time-endowed to do: interpret a text in context, distill the theological truths that are universally true, and apply those truths in a particular time and place to particular people in a particular church—all this with the help of resources informed by 2,000 years of the Church's study that average Christians do not own. This is a challenging task for well-trained preachers; how much more so for those untrained?
(9)Listening to preaching has a much lower threshold of difficulty for almost all people. While many spiritual disciplines sound like exercises for the spiritually elite, both young and old, educated and uneducated, disciplined and undisciplined can at least listen to a sermon. It is God's equal-opportunity discipline. Preaching and listening is everywhere in the Bible because it is doable by the masses.