Some Christians can claim to have listened to thousands of sermons or homilies in their lifetimes. That is an incredible amount of words to hear and data to absorb. Why is it that we can hear some good lessons and walk away wanting but hear someone fumble and bumble through their talk and be encouraged?
The #1 rule of public speaking is to know your audience. A speaker can influence or turn people off by any number of things: the sound of their voice, the shoes they are wearing, a nervous tick they might have, etc. The fact of the matter is, though a sermon may have some entertaining elements, it is not a form of entertainment. The main point of the lesson is to teach or remind you of things about God. There is a great responsibility on the preacher to deliver a message that is consistent with that and they should try to limit or eliminate distractions. There is also a responsibility on the hearer of the word. What will happen to that seed once it has been scattered upon your ears and heart? (I hope the reference to Jesus' parable of the sower and the seed was caught, see Mark 4, Matthew 13).
What would the #1 rule for the audience be?
Here are a couple of options and recommendations to adopt any and all of these.
1) BE SPIRITUAL - from a worldly perspective, the sermon is a cognitive interaction between a speaker and an audience (you). A spiritual perspective would re-view this as a desperate soul making contact with the life-giving words of God. The demand shifts from, "entertain me" to "enlighten me." (The demand for entertainment goes up when we tune into an online video - beware!)
People can let you down. They can say things wrong, jumble their words, and be plain-old boring.
What about the Holy Spirit?
What about the Word of God?
Hebrews 1:3 calls the words of Jesus, "powerful" and "sustaining"
Hebrews 4:12 calls God's Word, "alive and active... it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Isaiah 55:11 says that God's Word will accomplish its task.
Next sermon you hear, approach with the mindset of, "what is going trying to say to me through this person?"
2) BE A LEARNER - Marilee Adams' book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Mind makes the case for us to make the shift from thinking (and questioning) like a judge and becoming a student: going from judgers to learners.
In the Parable of the sower and the seed that was mentioned earlier Jesus explains how the Word of God grows differently in different soils or hearts. The seed that grows and produces is this:
Mark 4:20, "Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop"
Matthew 13:23, "But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it."
The key difference that Jesus points out is simply that the person understands the word and accepts it. I think a lot of churchgoers and online sermon-watchers miss out because they too quickly become judgmental rather than trying to seek understanding.
Hebrews 5:11 says, "We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand."
On the flip-side, if someone is trying to understand, it becomes easier to be clear.
3) BE A DOER - A spiritual approach with a learner's mindset will get you places. The go-to Scripture for this third idea is from James 1:22, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." Doing what you've learned or changing something because of the lesson shouldn't be dependant on how persuasive the speaker was or how guilty or convicted you felt. A better way would be to have the conviction ahead of time that you will try to put the lesson into practice. Then, while you are listening you can be thinking along those lines:
"How can I do this in my life?"
"What needs to change?"
"What would that look like for me?"
Make a plan for yourself and share that plan with someone to hold you accountable. This may be tough to do week in and week out but having a do-the-Word mindset is the right way to listen to a lesson.