Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
What happens when the sermon is over? For some, this is simply the indication that worship is about to conclude. But that response, while all too common, is hardly a godly response to the privilege of hearing Christ's ministers explain and apply his word.
Usually there is a "hymn of response" following a sermon. Sometimes this is used as a kind of congregational prayer, asking the Lord to bring to us the specific gospel blessings that have been opened up in the preaching. At other times, the hymn following the sermon is evangelistic in nature, calling all present to entrust themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. At other times, the hymn is contemplative and reflective, calling us to specific repentance and new obedience. At other times, there is no hymn of response. That is not because the minister forgot to include one (nor usually because the service has run too late!), but because the minister believes that any hymn would detract from the message preached, or that it is simply better for the congregation to have time for quiet reflection following the preaching of the Word.
Whatever the order of worship includes after a sermon is preached, it is imperative that those who have heard the Word of God respond to it. The Bible is clear that we deceive ourselves if we think that hearing the Word of God is sufficient. The Lord's people are to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22).
Following a sermon, do nothing that will have the effect of taking away from you or from others the impact of the Word preached. (Read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3–23 to be reminded of how that can happen.) Speak with others (Mal. 3:16a) about what you have learned from the sermon, how you have been convicted of failings, how you have been helped, or how you have been prompted to change. The ministry of the Word continues through you, as you tell others about what God had done for you under this most important means of grace. Continue your discussions on the way home and at your lunch table. Christ's will is that you and others be changed by the Word preached. Whatever you do, don't let the work of the sermon end with the minister's closing prayer!
The author is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Franklin Square, New York. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, July-August 2008. First article in series. Index.