How to listen well to online sermons

  • John Le
  • 22 September 2020

Most Christians consider the Sunday sermon to be a staple of their spiritual diets. It’s a nutritious meal that the family of believers share as they open up to the weekly Bible passage together and receive through the preaching of God’s word. It’s a tremendous blessing to receive the preaching together for the sustenance of our souls.

Yet, ever since the start of the pandemic, it has been difficult for me to chew this weekly meal. As social distancing regulations were set in place, accountability structures became disrupted. Who is there to tap me when I doze off, or to ask me what I found encouraging about the sermon? As church worship shifts online, congregants are given full discretion to tune in and out of the livestream at their own convenience, often affected by screen fatigue from other days.

Does this describe your experience of online church? Consumerism, computer screen syndrome, and the competing distractions at home make listening to sermons online a challenging endeavour. What should we do to be better listeners of the preached word of God and to be spiritually nourished despite being online?

1. Prepare for the meal

If spiritual nourishment is as important to us (and it absolutely should be), we should make ourselves ready for the weekly banquet.

In order for us to have a whetted appetite for the preaching of the Word, beforehand we can:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep
  2. Catch up on last week’s sermon
  3. Eat, so that hunger doesn’t distract us
  4. Read the anticipated Bible passage
  5. Pray, thanking God for your pastor’s faithful preparation and asking for attentiveness and a responsive heart.

2. Respect the meal

Regardless of whether we are listening online or physically in a church building, we must remember that throughout the sermon God is speaking to us. We need to respect the meal that God has provided and recognize that his servants—our pastors—have worked strenuously to prepare it. Here are some ways we can give our utmost attention to the preaching of the Word:

  1. If you are using multiple screens, hide or close all your tabs.
  2. Put away other devices.
  3. Avoid the sensory distraction of snacking.
  4. Resist combining church with chores. You may be a good multitasker, but listening well requires full focus.
  5. Keep your Bible open and find what your pastor is saying in the text.
  6. Take down notes and questions you have about the passage and the sermon so you can process your thoughts and reflections later.

3. Find others to gather around the meal

Though online platforms have brought some sense of continuity to our week, eating our spiritual meals in solitude isn’t ideal. Historically and theologically, the reception of the preaching of God’s word has and should always be done within the embodied gathering of believers together.

So, if possible, assemble for fellowship around the meal through whatever creative means necessary.

  1. Arrange to meet physically in each other’s homes to listen to the sermon together.
  2. If you are confined to your own home, gather with those you live with.
  3. If physical meetings are impossible, organize a group of believers online (through Zoom, Facebook, Google Meet, etc.).

I recognize and empathize that some of these options are not feasible for everyone—yet it must surely be lonely and discouraging to eat alone. Do whatever is possible to congregate around the sermon and share your insights and reflections. You will naturally find greater and more fulfilling refreshment to your souls!

4. Be thankful for the meal

One of the main reasons why we should persist in gathering with other Christian brothers and sisters is that we not only listen to the sermon together, but we respond together. There have been numerous occasions when I was only driven to deep reflection and gratitude—for who God is and for what he has done—when a fellow believer asked me how I found the sermon. However, whether you are tuning into the sermon by yourself or with a group of believers, we should all strive to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for the meal we receive each Sunday.

  1. Thank your pastors for the effort they put into the sermon. It gives them extra joy when writing the next one!
  2. Ask yourselves (and others around you) what you can give thanks to God for in response to the sermon. This shouldn’t be a hard activity—there is always something you can be thankful for.
  3. Even if the meal was poorly prepared (based on your perception), salvage what you can and recognize the good parts of it. Challenge yourself to ask “What was good about the sermon?”

The unfortunate reality is that we don’t know when the pandemic will be over. There are likely more sub-optimal meal experiences coming our way. Listening well to sermons online will require a great deal of diligence and commitment, and we will still fail at times to give God the due respect and attention he deserves.

Nonetheless, COVID-19 has not prevented the Spirit from sanctifying believers around the world. The Word is still living and active, penetrating to the soul, and judging the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. We, God’s people, still have the potential to flourish and grow in our spiritual lives amidst a season of inconveniences and distractions.