The Sermon & The Church -
Whether the Sermon is central or supplemental to worship when visiting or joining a Church, is there a simple and effective way to apply what we hear to our lives?
(Response by Dr. Haddon Robinson)
How do you choose a church to attend and what do you look for when you get there? Those are important questions for a thoughtful Christian to ask. You can't be a Christian alone. Although you have a personal faith in Jesus Christ, you cannot have an individual faith. You need other Christians and other Christians need you. Investing yourself in a good church can guide you in your worship of God and enrich your life and the life of your family. It should also help you to bear witness to your faith in your community.
Think about choosing a church this way. Selecting a church to attend resembles choosing a good garage. How do you decide where to take your car to be serviced? Usually you ask people you know who own an automobile about what they would recommend. You would inquire exactly why they recommend a particular garage.
From some sermons you may receive a rebuke. Don't resent it or get upset by it. Consider it and determine whether the rebuke clearly comes from the Scriptures and then heed it.
You probably would not make the choice merely because it was close to where you live (though that might be a consideration). You would be a bit skeptical of a recommendation based entirely on the personality of the mechanic. Your fundamental question would be, "Can I depend on that garage to diagnose what is wrong with my car and then repair it?" "Will they help me to keep my car in good repair so that it won't break down?" Good churches can keep your life in good repair and they can restore you when you break down.
So when you look for a church you want to ask, "Will this church help me to grow and develop in my life with God?"
What would you look for in a healthy church?
First, look for a church where the minister preaches from the Bible. That means that when you return home after the service, you can you read the passage on which the sermon was based and see where the preacher derived his sermon. In some churches preachers treat the Bible like the national anthem at the baseball game. Everyone stands and salutes it but for the rest of the afternoon what goes on in the stadium has nothing to do with the anthem. Good preachers don't merely refer to the Bible. They base their sermons on it. This is vital! You'll not grow much as a Christian if you do not have a regular input from the Scriptures.
Second, look for a church where the pastor applies the truths of the Scripture to your life. After the sermon is over ask yourself, "Do I know what I am supposed to believe, or change, or do as a result of that sermon?" Effective preaching takes place when flint strikes steel. When the flint of your problems strike the steel of the Word of God there's a spark that can set your life on fire. Teaching and application are both ingredients to look for as you listen to the sermon.
From some sermons you may receive a rebuke. Don't resent it or get upset by it. Consider it and determine whether the rebuke clearly comes from the Scriptures and then heed it. Other sermons will guide you into changing something in your life that needs correction. Still other sermons will provide specific, down-to-life counsel from the Bible about your family, your job, your relationships that will help you to live your life the way God wants you to live
You need to listen carefully to a pastor. Communication is a two-way street. As you listen ask yourself,
- "What exactly is the minister talking about?"
- "What is the minister saying about what he is talking about?" Then ask yourself,
- "Do I understand?" and "If not, why not"
- "Am I convinced that what is being said is true? and "If I do believe it, what practical difference would this make?"
Good listeners ask questions as they listen. Listening to a sermon is like a bank. The more you put into it, the greater the interest. You will probably want to visit a church several times before deciding to attend regularly. You'll want to know if the church sponsors Bible study groups where you can learn the Scriptures and meet other Christians? Are the people friendly? A church where God is at work should be one that cares about new people. Remember, though, that friendship works both ways. You would be wise to introduce yourself to folks that you meet as well as expect that others will introduce themselves to you.
If you have children, look at the classrooms where they will study. Are they clean and inviting? More important, meet the teachers who will teach your children. Are they warm and loving? Do they teach interesting lessons based on Scripture or are the classes simply a child-care service for parents who are worshipping or doing other things? Does the church have a youth program for your teens? What do they do? Although this isn't the first question to ask, it is an important question. How your children respond to a youth group may determine how well you will fit into the congregation.
Some churches are stronger than others. Some ministers preach better than others. But there are no perfect churches or perfect pastors. The church is not for those who have arrived and are already perfect. Hospitals exist to make people healthy but they are filled with people who are sick. Schools exist to help people learn but they contain huge pockets of ignorance and stupidity. Churches exist for those who know that Jesus is Lord and want to know more about him in order to serve him.
About Dr. Haddon Robinson:
Dr. Haddon Robinson is President of Gordon-Conwell Seminary in South Hamilton, MA, Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and he is widely regarded as an expert in the area of preaching. Dr. Robinson was named one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world in a 1996 Baylor University poll. He is also co-director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Gordon-Conwell.
Dr. Robinson has completed graduate studies at Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1955), Southern Methodist University (M.A., 1960) and University of Illinois (Ph.D., 1964). He received an honorary degree (D.D.) from Gordon College.
Formerly he served as President of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary, in Denver, Colorado, since 1979. He taught homiletics on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary for nineteen years. From 1970-79 he was General Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society, whose membership is made up of over 7,000 physicians and dentists in the United States.
A prolific writer, Dr. Robinson has edited the Christian Medical Society Journal, published articles in Christianity Today, Bibliotheca Sacra, Moody Monthly, the American Lutheran Magazine, and for the Leadership and Decision magazine. He writes regularly for Our Daily Bread, a devotional that goes to seven million people each month. He has authored six books: Psalm 23, Grief, Biblical Preaching, Biblical Sermons, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, and Decisions by the Book. Biblical Preaching is currently being used as a text for preaching in 120 seminaries and Bible colleges throughout the world.
For Further Study:
It's All in How you Tell It
Making a Difference in Preaching
Biblical Sermons: How Twelve Preachers Apply the Principles of Biblical Preaching
The Bible Sermons: How Twelve Preachers Apply the Principles of Biblical Preaching
The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching: Connecting the Bible to People
Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century
Illustrations for Biblical Preaching
Other helpful books by Dr. Robinson -
What Jesus Said About Successful Living
Decision Making by the Book
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