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Listening Is an A.R.T.

By Josh Laxton

A few Mondays ago, while I was taking my oldest son to school, I asked him if he learned anything from the message on Sunday. He replied that he did, to which I eagerly asked, “What did you learn?”Then I got the preteen recording, “I don’t know!” response.

I’m learning a lot at this phase of parenting, but I’m pretty sure it meant, “I don’t want to talk about it Dad, so can you just leave me alone?” But being the stubborn yet loving father I am, we talked about the weekend message.

This conversation with my son got the wheels turning for a follow-up post to a blog I wrote titled, “Preaching Is an A.R.T.” Now I would like to add, “Listening Is an A.R.T.”

For most churches, the bulk of the time set aside for the corporate worship gathering is the message. It is expected that the pastor is ready to deliver a biblically-sound, attention-keeping, and culturally-applicable talk. In short, it is expected that the pastor has come prepared to deliver. And I understand this completely.

But here’s a question for all my brothers and sisters and other church leaders who aren’t the main teacher on the weekends: Do you come prepared to the weekend corporate gatherings to listen and receive a word from your Father? Just as there is a burden for pastors and teachers to deliver the teaching of God’s Word, there is also a burden for believers to listen and receive the teaching of the Word. As I want to come and give God and the church my best, I desire that everyone come and give God and the church their best. Both are an A.R.T.

A: Attune your heart to God.

The psalmist exclaims, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ ” (Ps. 122:1). There was joy in the psalmist’s heart in anticipating going to the house of the Lord to worship. Attuning one’s heart to God prior to corporate worship is setting one’s focus on what they are anticipating to experience once they get there.

If I’m going to a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert, I’m going to set my heart on hearing them and being part of their show. If I’m going to Disney World, I’m going to set my heart on seeing and experiencing Mickey Mouse and all that it entails. In the same way, if I’m supposed to be gathering together with my brothers and sisters and meeting with God, then I should be setting my heart on seeing, experiencing, anticipating, and meeting with Him. I think a reason why some leave corporate worship empty, dissatisfied, and disappointed is because they attuned their heart for consumption not consecration.

R: Resist being a Critic.

If you attune your heart for consumption not consecration, you will see yourself as a consumer and thus a critic. I understand we live in a consumeristic culture. When we go to a restaurant, we expect to order something specific off the menu. If that specific item comes out any other way than what we ordered, we have a tendency to either send it back or voice our displeasure to a manager for our poor experience. Although our bellies may be full when we leave, our hearts our empty because it wasn’t quite the experience we had hoped for.

For a little over a decade I lived as a consumer and thus a critic in the corporate worship gatherings I attended when I wasn’t the one preaching. Because I was so “learned,” instead of listening to what the preacher was saying, I was making mental notes of what he said that he could have said better as well as what he didn’t say that he should have. As you could imagine, I would leave empty because I was so disappointed with what I had just experienced. It wasn’t until I resisted being a critic of preachers and seeing myself as a child in need of hearing from the Father that I began to hear God speak. In other words, I started to hear from God when I changed the way I viewed and attended corporate worship.

T: Take notes on the Message.

I hear the argument all the time, “Our culture’s attention span continues to decrease.” Therefore we need to have shorter sermons. In all honesty, I don’t think sermon length is necessarily the issue. But here’s what I do know. There are a lot of things in our culture that keep the attention of people. Two to four-hour ball games. Two-hour movies. My kids can sit for hours on end—if my wife and I let them—and play video games. Thus, the problem when it comes to listening to talks, messages, or sermons (or whatever you want to call them) isn’t a length problem. It is an engagement problem.

Think about it this way. If you go to a movie that you don’t care for, you are more inclined to be disengaged. Therefore, if you had a long week and are tired, you might find yourself dosing off in that particular movie. Or what if a friend invites you to see a ballgame, but the team you are really interested in isn’t playing? As a result, you don’t necessarily mind being late to the game. You don’t mind going to the concession stand during important plays. In short, your lack of interest leads to a lack of engagement.

Therefore, I believe shorter sermons aren’t necessarily the answer for disengaged people. It doesn’t matter how short or long the message is, disengaged people will be disengaged. Thus, the answer to the A.R.T. of listening—and thus engagement—is some form of note taking. If a small business owner had the opportunity to sit down with Jeff Bezos for 45-minutes or more to talk about business and leadership, I bet they would bring something to jot down notes.

Regardless of how flawed or even how unqualified you may think the person is, God can use earthen vessels to deliver divine messages. If God can use a donkey to communicate, He sure can use people—regardless of their abilities or their intellectual capacity. In short, when it comes to taking notes remember this: Consumers don’t write down what is said. Learners do.

So if you find yourself like my son, listening to a message but walking away not really knowing what you learned, then you might want to make some slight adjustments in how you view corporate worship gatherings. Start attuning your heart to God prior to the worship gathering. Tell God you’re eager and hungry to hear from Him. Ask God to speak through your pastor. Come with great anticipation and expectation to meet with God—not necessarily to get your “needs” met. Resist the temptation to be critical. You’re not there to consume but to listen and learn. And take notes to stay engaged and ready to highlight a word that the Father may want you to hear. The reality is that listening, just like preaching, is an A.R.T.



Josh Laxton

Josh has been serving the local church in vocational ministry for almost twenty years, mainly as a Lead Pastor replanting and revitalizing churches. Josh holds a PhD in North American Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center, the Assistant Director of Lausanne North America, and the Director of the Rural Matters Institute at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.


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