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Whose Fault Is It That They Sleep Through Your Sermon?

Whose Fault is It That They Sleep Through Your Sermon?

It’s almost inevitable.

Sit a sour couple in a room and read through Ephesians 5:21-33. Go over the God-given roles for men and women. And almost every time what will result is that the husband will put his focus on the first couple of verses (the wife’s role) and the wife will put her focus on the husband’s role.

Our sinful hearts are always inclined to lay blame in the lap of another person.

I’ve been reading through Bruce Wilkinson’s 7 Laws of the Learner. I’m not terribly familiar with Wilkinson except to know that I don’t agree with his Prayer of Jabez. But I’ve heard this was a decent book on teaching and I got it for a couple bucks at a used book sale, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Wilkinson’s first maxim is that “teachers are responsible to cause students to learn.”

My first instinct was to reject this as man-centered hogwash. We can’t cause students to learn—that is something the Spirit of God does. I tripped over the word “cause” and the word “responsible.” It’s been a long-held belief for me that you cannot make a student learn. You teach the material and it is up to him/her to pick it up.

But as I got to reading a bit more and thinking through this, I think Wilkinson might be on to something. For one, I noticed that he is isn’t saying teachers are solely responsible to cause students to learn. If a student refuses to learn there is nothing you can do to make him. Yet, I believe there is some truth in what Wilkinson is saying that we need to heed.

Can I let you in on a little secret? We pastors can sometimes be terrible grumblers and complainers. We’ll bemoan the fact that we just preached our hearts out last Sunday and the people responded with the vigor of a block of wood. Seldom have I heard preachers blame this experience on the fact that they preached a really sloppy and scattered sermon. For us preachers, we perish the thought that our people fell asleep because we were boring. We usually lay the blame at the feet of the congregant.

It’s so easy to hide behind right-sounding theology. I’ve heard myself say before, “I just preach God’s Word as faithfully as I can, if they respond well that’s up to them and the Lord.” I suppose I still agree with that theologically, but I wonder if it really reflects the heart of a shepherd. Paul sure didn’t seem to talk this way in his letters to the churches. A faithful shepherd doesn’t just throw a bucket of sheep slop out in the pasture and hope they eat it. No, he takes a bit more responsibility, even going so far as to bottle feed little lambs if it is necessary.

I’m not trying to encourage us pastors to have even worse Mondays. We do need to take comfort in the fact that God uses His Word and is faithful to feed his sheep even when we under-shepherds didn’t do our best on Sunday morning. Nor should we get big heads when learning does take place. But what I am saying is that we should work and labor as if we are responsible for our sheep being fed.

When reading Ephesians 5, the husband should focus on his role and his task and not whether or not his wife is doing her part. The same goes for the preacher. He should be focused on his responsibility to faithfully exposit and make the word of God clear. When learning doesn’t happen he should be very slow to blame the sheep and quick to consider how he might have been able to communicate better.

This article originally appeared here.