Reflections – 2018.03

A Little Eutychus in All of Us

Article Disclaimer: If you were sleeping last week (or any other week) in church, this article was NOT written with you particularly in mind.  I used to sleep regularly through sermons.  Now I preach them.  I write this as one who understands the struggle.

Every other month or so, elders from the PCA churches in our region gather together for a meeting of Presbytery.  The meeting begins with worship and ends with different business and judicial items.  In between the worship and the business is normally a presentation of some sort, which can be on almost any topic.  The presenters are often pastors from the Presbytery who are interested in sharing with others aspects of their ministry or work, in hopes of encouraging us in our ministry.  Last Presbytery, the presenter was Rev. Sebastian Kim, pastor of Hope Chapel (PCA) in Lutherville, MD.  He was speaking about listening in church and how our smart phones have negatively influenced our ability to listen carefully to sermons.   It was an excellent presentation and got me thinking … and thus this little article.

It is sometimes easy to hear a presentation like Rev. Kim’s and to think that this is a recent phenomena, that listening to sermons used to be easy, but smart phones and technology have really messed things up.  But I have this book, written in 1673 by Rev. Richard Steele, entitled “A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts In Worship,” suggesting that listening has always been a bit of a struggle for some.  Let me know if you would like to borrow it; I will not judge you.

Since the days of Eutychus (read Acts 20), sleeping, as well as hearing, has accompanied the preached Word.  In the Eutychus incident, we could blame the preacher, Paul, who the Scriptures said “talked still longer.”  In the modern church, we could blame the preachers as well for our inattentiveness – he speaks too long, he is uninteresting, he doesn’t use enough illustrations, he has a monotone delivery, his applications aren’t relevant, etc.… I may at times be guilty of one or all of these.  I appreciate everyone’s efforts to try to listen to the sermons that I preach.  And I also know that for a variety of reasons, sometimes what I preach is not heard.  I thought it might be a good idea to consider some thoughts of our Christian forefathers on this topic.

The Westminster Larger Catechism has this instruction for the preacher (me):

Q. 159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?

A. They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.

The Westminster Larger Catechism has this instruction for the listener (you):

Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the word preached?

A. It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

These words ought to challenge all of us!  May the Lord bless us, preacher and hearers, as I seek to develop and share the gifts the Lord has given me for your benefit – diligently, faithfully, plainly, wisely, zealously and sincerely – and as you seek to best benefit from those gifts!