As a believer in Jesus Christ I’ve logged a bit of pew time. For those who do not understand my term, pew time occurs when I sit and listen to a sermon. For some people pew time happens Sunday morning. Others return for a second helping Sunday night. Quite a few want a mid-week recharge from a Wednesday night sermon. Through technology we can access great sermons on our car radios, listen on our MP3 players, or even stream via our favorite web browsers. Most churches offer archives of past sermons, although some charge access fees. I love Dr. John MacArthur’s site, Grace to You, where the sermons are free and I can help myself. Chip Ingram’s site, Living on the Edge, is another personal favorite. Opportunities to increase my knowledge of God’s Word abound.
The sermons that move me, that touch my heart, that bring a change, require two parts:
- Speaker preparation
- Listener preparation
Hidden away in his office, the pastor invests hours studying the text for the coming sermon. He reads everything he can get his hands on and takes notes as he researches. He prays over the Scripture text and immerses himself in those verses. For the sermon to be effective, for the message to touch the hearts of his people, the words must first touch the pastor’s heart. He understands his need for Divine guidance and humbly asks God for help choosing the right words.
The pastor searches for illustrations that fit with the lesson. He desires to keep his listeners involved. He has studied the words of Jesus in the Gospels and knows the Savior used many object lessons. Good communicators consider the listener and take painstaking steps to prepare words which lead the listener to the correct conclusion.
The pastor reads, organizes, and hones the message. He knows his speaking time will be limited and he must select the best words to communicate the desired message. That 30 minute sermon we enjoyed Sunday morning required hours of blood, sweat, and tears on someone’s part. Perhaps a note of thanks is in order? I sent mine already.
Many times I bring the wrong frame of mind with me to church. I wear my Sunday clothes, put on a tie with a half Windsor knot (I used to be a full Windsor man but I’ve drifted). I carry my big Bible, worn and held together with silver duct tape. I have good intentions.
The usual family distractions run precious minutes off the clock and we leave for church late. I push the accelerator, forcing the car beyond the speed limit. I wonder if I am sinning by speeding to church, but I am hoping God will forgive me and turn the lights green. I’m already fuming over being late and discover someone is parked in my space. Or worse, someone took my pew. The spiritual funk settles in for the morning.
As the music begins, I am distracted. I’m in a mental uproar trying to plan the events of the next few hours. If Reverend Windbag finds a reasonable stopping point and cuts off on time, the plan will work. Everything about my afternoon, including not waiting for a table at my favorite restaurant, depends on him not going into extra innings.
This past Sunday I struggled to focus on the service. The worship leader sounded like an old turntable with a scratched record. He was stuck singing the same 7 words so many times I wanted to run down and Gibbs smack him to move him to the next track. That worked with the old record player. According to the bulletin, The Big Dog was traveling and a junior pup would be speaking. Oh my. That can be good or bad. We might even get out early. It is rare, but I’ve seen it happen.
The speaker took his place and let ‘er rip. It was vanilla, plain and simple. My mind drifted as I scribbled a couple of diagrams for an upcoming shop project while taking notes on the sermon. Some call it day dreaming, but if we tag it as multitasking, it sounds spiritual. Suddenly I was on full alert. What did that man just say and why had I not considered that before?
Hey, there were Reese’s Pieces popping up in the vanilla, big chunks of tastiness to take home and dwell on during the week. The speaker was prepared. I was capturing notes, even gave myself a couple of action items to investigate later. And the Sunday morning fog cleared.
God is amazing. He can take one verse and break it down a dozen different ways at the same moment to touch hearts in pews all over the auditorium. I think the problem when I miss God’s message is not always with the speaker. It could be I am not prepared for the sermon.
Here are some steps I can take to maximum the return on my pew time investment.
- Limit Saturday evening engagements so I am in bed at a reasonable hour. Sitting immobile in a pew on Sunday can be a challenge for an adult who is always on the go. Trying to stay awake after 2 hours of sleep is nigh impossible.
- Pick out my clothes and my children’s clothes on Saturday night. Finding lost shoes on Saturday evening is much less stressful than searching the house 10 minutes after we should have left for church on Sunday morning.
- Avoid distractions before church. Turn off the TV and stay away from the Internet. Switch off the cell phone. Emails and voice mail will wait.
- Leave for church at the same time each week even if it means getting up earlier. My bed always feels most comfortable on Sunday morning. That is a temptation. Allow adequate time to arrive at church relaxed, not fretting over traffic lights.
- Carry my Bible and build a habit of following along as the speaker looks at Scripture.
- Take notes and try to capture something in writing. My mind is a crowded city street where many things happen at once. Bore me and I change channels to another adventure. Taking notes keeps me in the game.
- Pray silently and ask God to touch my heart. “Lord, is that me he’s talking about? Am I doing this? Lord, how can I change? Lord, what do You want to teach me today?”
- Pray for the speaker. His morning may have been a tough one. Maybe he is wrestling with a cold. Perhaps he conducted a search for the lost shoe or had to pray for green lights. Ask God to give him strength, take away the distractions, and speak through him. Ask God to guide the man’s thoughts. Preaching is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. The Pastor needs God’s help to do the job right. We can help the Pastor by praying for him as he preaches.
In Ephesians 5:16, Paul urges us, “make the most of your time …”
Follow these easy steps to maximize the return on your pew time investment.
See you in church!