Updated: Jun 24, 2021
If you were unlucky enough during your middle school years, you were formally introduced to the dreaded time during gym class set aside for square dancing. As newly minted teenagers, with a combination of growth that made you clumsy and a newfound reality that girls (and boys for the girls) were no longer “yucky”, it made these moments quite daunting. Though daunting, looking back, square dancing itself was not that difficult. The steps were mapped out ahead of time, and if you and your partner worked together, you generally came out of gym class unscathed.
There is a similar coordination that takes place between the preacher and congregation. Each has a significant role to play. Due to our fallenness and slow sanctification, we come clumsily to the pulpit and the pew with our calling and responsibilities waiting for us. It is clear what the preacher’s role is: “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). The preacher is given the task to proclaim God’s Word to those hearing. The preacher is not called to give his own opinion or to be theologically creative, rather he is simply called to enter the pulpit and say what God has said. In the strong words of Francis Grimke “It is God’s Word that the people need to hear, whether they wish to hear it or not, and it is the special mission of the minister to see that they hear it. It is not what he thinks but what God has to say that is important. And the man who doesn’t realize that has no right in the ministry.”1
The preacher holds a great responsibility, yet so too does the congregation. In our passage for this morning’s sermon, Cornelius, upon waiting for his soldiers and servants to return with the Apostle Peter, gathered family and friends in his home prepared to listen to what the apostle would have to say. There was great expectancy seen in the fact that Cornelius did not want to hear this good news by himself, but also in the response of those gathered. Cornelius, speaking on behalf of the crowd, was emphatic in telling Peter to “preach all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33). As F.F. Bruce would write: “Never had a preacher of the gospel a more promising audience.”2
It is interesting to note that there is no mention in our text of Peter given a direct revelation from God on what to say to Cornelius and the others. We can presume that what Peter was commanded by the Lord to preach was the written Scriptures (at this point in history, Peter would have only had the Old Testament) centered around the revelation of Christ. And this is what the congregation is to expect. The congregation should expect and be prepared to hear the clear preaching of God’s Word. In the aptly titled What is a Healthy Church Member, Pastor Thabiti Anywabwile asserts: “Just as the pastor’s preaching agenda should be determined by the meaning of Scripture, so too should the Christian’s listening agenda be driven by the meaning of Scripture. When we listen to the preaching of the Word, we should not listen primarily for ‘practical how-to advice,’ though Scripture teaches us much about everyday matters. Nor should we listen for messages that bolster our self-esteem or that rouse us to political or social causes. Rather, as members of Christian churches we should listen primarily for the voice and message of God as revealed in his Word. We should listen to hear what he has written, in his omniscient love, for his glory and for our blessing.”3
As the preacher comes to pulpit prepared to proclaim the Word of God, the congregation must come to the pew ready to hear the Word of God. It is when both pulpit and pew are in sync that the coordinated dance of the church will flourish. To assist in the pews’ preparation, let me lay out a few practical ideas that would prove helpful for Sunday morning:
Rest: Make sure that you get an adequate amount of sleep the night prior. To add, make sure the kids get plenty of rest; they’ll be better capable of sitting through a sermon.
Rise: In conjunction with getting good rest, rise early enough so that you are not rushing in the morning before church. Also, eat a good breakfast.
Read: Take time to read through the passage the night before. While you are at it, scan through the entire liturgy so that you can be an informed participant in worship.
Remember: As a good Presbyterian, remember the words of Westminster Larger Catechism Question 160:
Q. 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.
1 Francis James Grimké, Meditations on Preaching. (Log College Press, 2018), 70.
2 Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Book of the Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2008), 210.
3 Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is a Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 19-20.