How to Get More Out of a Sunday Morning Sermon

"Restate It"

by Eric Wright on

Articles 9 min read
Psalm 139:23–24 Acts 2:37

How do you approach a sermon? Followers of Jesus are in the habit of gathering with other believers to share fellowship, communion, worship and God’s Word (Acts 2:42-47). The New Testament sets the precedent of believers gathering together weekly (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Hebrews 10:25). Different churches emphasize different things in the gathering of believers. Some may emphasize prayer and worship. Other churches may emphasize the observance of communion. Many churches emphasize the teaching or preaching of God’s Word.

When you come to church, what do you do when God’s Word is proclaimed and taught? How do you digest a sermon delivered by your pastor? Thinking about how you handle or consume sermons may have great impact upon your spiritual growth and maturity. Better sermon appropriation suggests better discipleship.

Unfortunately, many approach a sermon like something they would see on a screen or stream on a phone. Church services and pastoral sermons are often approached like movies or documentaries. We go into the church, sit back and experience a sermon expecting to “be moved” by the experience. Going to a movie is a passive experience where we hope to laugh, cry or be moved in some way. If the movie is good, we will give it a “thumbs up” or “five stars” and we will depart assessing whether we got our money’s worth or not. We leave the theater and say to ourselves “that was nice” and go on with our lives. Movies are often “one and done” experiences that provide us a few moments of entertainment and little more. Many have the same experience with Sunday sermons. If a sermon is good, it may elicit some tears or some chuckles, but we often soon forget what we experienced in our church worship service.

A better way to approach a sermon is to think of the experience like a visit to a doctor. When you go to see your primary care physician or your specialist MD, you go in expecting a diagnosis, a treatment plan and some directions for improvement of your health. Your doctor may tell you a good joke or may make you cry with a tale about another patient. But you do not pay your co-pay for just a moving anecdote. You visit a doctor because you want to change. You want things to get better with your physical health. When approaching a sermon, we should be looking for more than just a moving experience. We should be looking for areas of life that need change and instruction on ways to address these needs. Sermons can be theatrical, but more importantly they should be spiritually therapeutic.

Before listening to a sermon, consider praying to God, asking him to speak to your heart and identify parts of your life that need to change. Ask God to show you via the sermon things you can do differently or with more consistency and passion. A wonderful pre-sermon prayer is found in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Consider that God has put you in your church, on a certain day, when your pastor is bringing a sermon from the Word of God. God wants to speak to you and is using his Word, delivered by his servant, to your heart. Elevating the experience of sermon consumption from entertainment to an encounter with the divine will change the way you see sermons and will often result in significant life transformation.

Consider four things to look for when listening to a sermon.

  1. Look for the “YES.” Sermons are corporate experiences where believers gather together to share the experience of hearing truth. We have many messages from many disparate voices bombarding us daily. Coming to church allows us to hear God’s voice and truth in contrast to other competing messages. Somewhere in the sermon, hopefully often, we may hear something read or said that clearly states what God says about a matter. When a pastor makes a point or identifies a truth from Scripture, our heart should say “YES!” Sermons often provide answers to our questions and resolutions to our doubts. The idea of “Amen,” which means “so be it,” is an appropriate response to a truth claim declared in a sermon. Looking for truth and affirming such truth while listening to a sermon can help us in the application of that truth. You may not be able to say “YES” to everything in a sermon, but looking for and expressing the “YES, so be it” in a sermon can make the sermon experience more enriching and meaningful.

  2. Look for the “OUCH.” Sermons often challenge us in areas that need serious change. If a sermon does not challenge us to think or act differently, we may want reconsider whether we fully experienced the sermon. If we go to the doctor and get no diagnosis or treatment plan, did we really go to the doctor? Jesus said that the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives would include conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-15). A sermon is an opportunity for God’s Word, through the influence of his Spirit, to do surgery on our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). After the sermon that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, the hearers were “cut to the heart” and asked “what shall we do?” in response to the message they heard (Acts 2:37). Look for promptings from God’s Spirit that call you to correction and change while you listen to your pastor’s next sermon.

  3. Look for the “HMMM.” Sermons should also stir us into deeper reflection. A good sermon will often get us to ask more questions and desire to learn more about what God is saying. Your pastor may say something that leads you to consider topics you know little about. A phrase or a story may remind you of something you have heard before or have had questions about recently. A sermon should not have a short shelf life. You can use a sermon repeatedly to reconsider what God is saying. When you leave church, consider reading more about the subject presented by your pastor’s sermon. The Sunday sermon can be a “jumping off” point into an investigation of more Scriptures and more teaching on the truths shared. When Paul preached in his missionary journeys, he encountered believers in Berea who were described as being of “noble character” because “they received the message with great eagerness and they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). The work of investigation after a sermon is a sign of significant interaction with the sermon.

  4. Look for the “WOW.” When walking away from a sermon, there should be a searching for at least one idea that you cannot forget. When you attend a sporting event or theatrical production, there is usually a moment that you want to put on replay. The highlight reel of a grand performance is what you talk about the next day at the water cooler. The standing ovation at a concert is what you remember and replay fondly in your mind afterwards. Sermons often contain moments when you sense that God is speaking directly to you. A “hair-raising” or “heart-racing” moment may not happen in every sermon, but many times God will “wow” you with a truth, observation or message that was exactly what you needed to hear. Sometimes, God’s Spirit may move you to consider things not even mentioned in the sermon, but that are deep matters within your heart. This sermonic “wow” does not have to be dramatic. After a sermon ask God, “What do you want me to do after hearing this sermon?” God will often “wow” you with deep reflection or direction. Try restating the sermon’s “big idea” in your own words. Consider making this restatement part of your prayer and devotional experience in the following week.

Everyone learns differently. Sermons are great because they contain auditory and visual cues for auditory and visual learners. Kinetic learners, those who learn by movement or physical activity, can improve their sermon experience by physically writing down thoughts or impressions during or after a sermon. Information retention and integration greatly improves with handwritten note-taking. Some researchers conclude that handwritten notes made during lectures are vastly superior for retention and comprehension than even typed notes. There is something about writing down, by hand, responses to teaching that integrates content and intent of the speaker to the hearer. No matter what your learning style is, consider developing the habit of taking notes during sermons. If this is too cumbersome, consider replaying a sermon via YouTube or Vimeo (or this website) and jotting down thought or ideas during the replay. Writing down what God is saying to you from a sermon may “cement” those ideas into your memory and heart. Try “restating” in writing what you learn from the next sermon you hear. Writing your thoughts in response to a sermon can help you on a number of levels.

Don’t waste your time spent on sermons. Sermons should be more than “one and done” experiences. Getting more from Sunday sermons should involve a prayerful approach before the sermon. Listening for “YES” moments, “OUCH” moments, “HMMM” moments and “WOW” moments during a sermon should be expectations for every Sunday. Writing down responsive thoughts during or after a sermon can help integrate much of the truth shared each week. Your pastor is spending much of the week preparing a message that God is often tailoring specifically for you. Don’t just passively experience the pastor’s message like a movie. Make much of your time together in God’s word. Expect sermonic diagnosis and cure. It may be just what the Great Physician ordered!

Note: This is part of a 3-article series on how to get the most out of a worship service. For Part 2, see "How to Get More Out of Your Sunday Morning Worship." Stay tuned for the final installment, to be published on March 8, 2024.

About the Author

Eric Wright (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) served as a pastor in churches in Michigan and Texas for 15 years and currently serves as a business administrator for a local medical practice. Eric ministers internationally in Southeast Asia teaching the Gospel of Mark to seminary students, and volunteers with International Students Inc. at UT Arlington.