“Sermons don’t change the world; changed people change the world”-Dr. Charles E. Goodman, Jr.
At its best, preaching is not what is said but ultimately what is heard. Most of the emphasis in the preaching moment is on the preacher. As much as the preacher becomes the focus because of proximity, not much attention is paid to the congregation or the audience. This does a disservice to the intent of proclamation, which is not just a dissemination of information but a vehicle of transformation. Romans 10:17 declares, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.” I want to focus on a few practical and theological observations as a preaching practitioner, specifically the role and responsibility of the audience in the preaching experience.
First, the audience must posture themselves to receive. The preaching moment is not a monologue but a dialogue. The seed of the Word cannot find root in an untilled heart. The audience should prepare their hearts before coming into worship. Unfortunately, many come to worship consumed with other things. This is what Jesus meant in his parable of the Sower when he taught that only the seed sown on good soil was able to produce a bountiful harvest.
Secondly, the audience has the responsibility to be considerate of who shares the listening space with them. Preaching is done within the confines of a corporate gathering. The sanctity of the sanctuary must be adhered to. In this culture, we operate with so many distractions. We can’t put our phones down for one second. We must remember that during worship, the sanctuary is a learning environment. Distractions are not tolerated in any other learning environment. Why the church? Therefore, we should all endeavor to maintain a distraction-free environment during worship.
Thirdly, the audience must support the person proclaiming the Good News to them. Support is helpful in the preaching moment for various reasons. It provides affirmation for the content of the message and gives the preacher encouragement. Public speaking is a top ranking phobia in the world. It is not easy to speak in front of a group. However, that anxiety can be eased with a supportive audience.
Lastly, the audience must internalize and utilize the message in a meaningful and applicable way in their own lives. The Bible reminds us to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (Jas 1:22). The best indicator for the effectiveness of a sermon is a changed life. “How has the message changed me?” is a critical personal question that the audience must ask themselves. John 8:32 says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Information through preaching should manifest into inspiration in one’s daily walk. Romans 2:13 reinforces this by stating, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”
Ultimately, the audience shifts from being active listeners to participatory proclaimers. After it is preached, the sermon does not end once the preacher has concluded and the benediction is given. It continues to live with the hearer. The hearer then becomes a proclaimer. James 1:25 encourages the audience into action by stating, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” I want to encourage every listener of the preached Word to understand that we ultimately will have to represent what we hear. We are all “walking epistles” of the good news that is preached. To paraphrase Luke 12: 48, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Remember that the next time you sit and hear preaching.
Charles E. Goodman, Jr. is the Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia.