In the next few weeks we will welcome Mr. Dean Williams to our pastoral staff at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church. We have been praying for this day to come for years, and it is finally upon us! But how do we welcome him and his family well? Certainly there are physical, tangible acts of kindness and hospitality toward them in which we can participate, and I encourage you to see the bulletin announcement for more details. But I want to point out a less visible way that you can welcome Dean as your pastor and as a preacher of God’s word: by receiving the word of truth from his mouth in a proper manner.
Our Westminster Larger Catechism speaks beautifully to this point. Having asked and answered the question of how the Word of God is to be preached by those who are called thereunto (WLC #159), our fathers in the faith ask the logical next question: What is required of those that hear the Word preached? They answer: “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.” As you do these things each time Pastor Dean walks into the pulpit or behind a podium, you will be giving him the very best welcome he could ask for.
Receive Pastor Dean’s teaching and preaching with diligence. In Proverbs 8:34 personified Wisdom declares, “Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.” Preaching is the wisdom of God, and it conveys the wisdom of God – thus we are called to listen with eager anticipation to the words Pastor Dean proclaims, watching and waiting for the life-giving rain that will drop from his lips (cf. Deuteronomy 32:2). Attend diligently upon the corporate worship services of the church on the Lord’s Day, morning and evening. That is, make every effort to make it your unbreakable habit to sit under the preaching of the word each Sunday. Likewise, when present, strive to listen diligently. It is not easy to sustain prolonged attention to a 30-35 minute monologue, especially in our short-attention span culture. Your mind wanders to some difficult circumstance at home or work, children interrupt and distract, and Satan labors to keep the word from penetrating our minds and affections. We must therefore be diligent to focus, to engage, to interact internally with what we hear. For many, taking notes serves this purpose. For others, doodling does the trick. Whatever works for you, figure it out, and do it! Attend upon the preaching of the word with careful and persistent effort.
Accompany your diligence with preparation and prayer. Jesus calls us to “take care how [we] hear” (Luke 18:8), and one application of that command is forethought before listening to a sermon. This does not merely mean seeking to put aside temporal concerns so that you can pay attention without distraction; there is also a moral component to our preparation. Before Peter tells us to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it [we] may grow up into salvation,” he commands us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (I Peter 2:1-2). We are to sit under Pastor Dean’s teaching, having repented of the sin we find in our hearts, and ready to respond to the word we hear with further repentance, embrace of hard truths, and new zealous obedience. Our preparation must also include prayer: prayer for yourself as a hearer, and prayer for Pastor Dean as a preacher. As those who are recovering from spiritual blindness, we constantly need to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Pray for Pastor Dean, “that words may be given to [him] in opening [his] mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). As you read the Scriptures, be on the lookout for verses to pray as you prepare to hear God’s word preached.
As you listen to the preaching of the word, you must “examine what [you] hear by the Scriptures.” There is certainly an unbiblical way to be critical of a sermon – nitpicking style, mannerisms, turns of phrases, length, lack of illustrations you like, etc. – but there is also a biblical way to be critical. The Westminster divines were, of course, alluding to the Bereans in Acts 17:11, who received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if the things they heard the apostle Paul preach were true. All God’s people are to be Bereans. Just because pastors have been to seminary and have been called by God to preach does not mean that everything we say is infallible. The people of God have a responsibility to compare Scripture with Scripture, to take everything Pastor Dean says back to the Scriptures, to ensure it is faithful and true. If so, then it must be accepted as God’s truth; if not, then it must be rejected.
To welcome Pastor Dean well, I also encourage you to “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God.” If the word is not received with faith, it will not profit you to hear it preached (Hebrews 4:2). If you do not love the truth, you cannot be saved (II Thessalonians 2:10). James calls on us to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The eagerness and readiness of mind that marked the Bereans must mark our hearing of the word as well – ready to receive the truth, ready to study the truth by the Scriptures, and ready to believe and live in light of what we have found to be in line with God’s word. For when the word of God is proclaimed, it is to be received as the very word of God, not merely the word of some particular man (I Thessalonians 2:13).
Finally, to welcome Pastor Dean well, you must hear his preaching and teaching, and “meditate, and confer of it; hide it in [your] hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in [our] lives.” These words remind us that there is both an individual and corporate duty that we have after we have heard the word preached. Individually, we are to meditate upon what we have heard, hiding it in our hearts so that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). We are to let God’s word “sink into our ears” (Luke 9:44), giving earnest heed and paying close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Hebrews 2:1). One way to do this is to repeat to yourself the sermon outline during the day on Sunday and aim to remember at least one key application from each point. It helps, however, if you don’t only try to do this alone, but with other people. We must confer of it – that is, discuss it with other people. We see the disciples doing this on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus doing it with them (Luke 24:14), and God commands parents to do this with their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). In both of these duties, the individual and the corporate, our goal is to bear much by the Spirit’s power. This is the mark of the good soil (Luke 8:15), that we “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
I know that Pastor Dean and his family are excited about getting here, and we likewise are eager for him to arrive. I trust you will welcome him with true Mississippi hospitality, in love and generosity. But more importantly, will you receive the words from his lips in the manner our fathers in the faith have described, according to the Scriptures?