Over the years, these words are put on display time and again. Usually what follows is that the preacher is asked to find work somewhere else. As we think about those words “I don’t get anything out of it,” I want to consider a few thoughts. Before you ask your preacher to find other employment, start by asking yourself two questions, and then do some reflection on how you might answer these questions:
- Is this all about me?
- Why am I not getting anything out of it?
Is this all about me?
It might be that a preacher or teacher needs to cover material that you are already familiar with. There might be some of your brothers and sisters who need proper guidance in areas that you have already "mastered."
It might also be that the preacher or teacher decides to do a series on something that has interest to others, but that you have absolutely no interest in. I can recall a time when a preacher at my congregation did a general overview of each book of the Bible, and gave emphasis to certain passages. I also recall how much I did not like that study. It seemed shallow, and at the time I just didn’t see the point. However, as I have grown both as a Christian and as a preacher, I see the value of those lessons now. I will forever remember the “special chapter 2’s of the Bible.” I say that to say, that sometimes you might not know or understand why the teacher or preacher is doing this study at the moment, but it very well may be that this study will benefit you greatly in the future.
Remember that the teacher or preacher is concerned about your growth and knowledge, but—and this might be hard to swallow—he is not interested only in your growth and knowledge. There are other students in the class that he also must instruct. Perhaps he feels that you will be able to forbear some of the seemingly more mundane lessons in order to reach out to others who might not be as far along spiritually as you are. So be patient. If the preacher does not eventually get back to a series of lessons that interest you, you might just talk to him about it one-on-one, privately, and give him a few ideas that you’d like to study.
Why am I not getting anything out of it?
This question is a little more intriguing and causes more inward reflection.
The Preacher or Teacher’s Fault
First, I want to say that it could be the preacher or teacher's fault. This is a legitimate possibility. Sometimes, a preacher doesn’t "bring it" the way he once did, or the way you’d like him to. If this goes on long enough, people will begin to seek another preacher. Let me suggest that there are some things you might do before it reaches that point.
First, ask this: Is he equipped to preach and teach? Has he been trained to do what he is doing? Does he know how to properly explain the scriptures and give proper application? If the answer to these questions is "yes," then perhaps something else is going on in his life.
If he is equipped and able to instruct, then what can we do to find out why he is not feeding us?
- Encourage him: Find positive ways throughout the week to tell him how much you appreciate him. I know many preachers, and the overwhelming majority of them will produce better when they are getting proper daily encouragement. So, sit down, write a card, give him a gift certificate, or do something that lets him know that you love him, and appreciate him.
- Find a way to lighten his load. Too many times, preachers and teachers are inundated with to-do lists. This person wants this done, that person wants a visit in the hospital, another wants him to go and see aunt Suzy with gout. And before long, the preacher is spending all his time on the to-do list, and his preaching and teaching suffers. What can you do? Do some of the to-do list for him. Let him know that you will go by and see aunt Suzy and let him know that he can spend time studying, and that you will be glad to help him with the to-do list in the future.
- Talk to him as a friend. No need to lecture him on the duty of a preacher. If he is qualified, then he already knows what his duty is. He may just need someone to confide in about the work, or about his family matters, or about any number of things going on in his life. Just like you, he needs someone he can confide in. Also, if he does confide in you, then he trusts you. Be careful not to break his trust. Don’t go telling other people what the preacher’s "problem" is. Keep it to yourself, and take the problem to God in prayer.
Sometimes, when we don’t get anything out of it, it might be that there are external distractions.
- Children are cute and wonderful to have in our presence. The unfortunate side effect to all their cuteness is when they have your attention, God doesn’t. We all (myself included) have found ourselves playing with a baby that does not belong to us. We make smiley faces, and "goo goo" eyes with them, until we find ourselves completely outside of the sermon. If we are not careful, we can do this week after week after week, and when we do, we won’t get much out of the sermon.
- External noises: Someone might have a whistling nose one week. Or someone will wrestle with papers, or take their candies out of the packaging for a long period of time. For a few months in my life, I recall sitting in front of an elderly gentleman each week, who had a horrible habit of exhaling all his breath at one time in a very loud way. He did this every 3 minutes or so… it became such a habit for him (and me) that I would clock him, I would time him between each breath. If he was a bit late, I would look back to check on him to make sure he was still alive. The problem was, that I completely lost focus on the Bible Study the whole time. Before long, I decided I needed to move to a different pew to sit on. The problem was… at the other chair someone was bouncing their leg up and down, up and down… until I only focused on that. The point is, I need to be mature enough to bounce my attention. We cannot take away every single external distraction, but our attention needs to bounce: from the baby, back to the lesson; from the heavy breather, back to the lesson; and so on. When we can eliminate the external distractions, we should consider scriptural ways to do so. When we cannot, we need to figure out how to be mature enough to find our focus once again.
My Own Fault
Sometimes, when I "don’t get anything out of it," it might be my own fault.
We need to take responsibility for ourselves. When the preacher or teacher is doing his job, and I am not getting anything out of it, I need to own it if it is my fault.
Sometimes I don’t get anything out of it because I was too tired when I came to worship. It was a late night, and I spent most of the night with friends. There is nothing wrong with spending time with friends or family. But let us be honest about the situation. If I was up late, and spent the wee hours of the morning with my pals, it is obviously not the preacher or teacher’s fault that I didn’t come prepared to worship. So, let me give a simple suggestion. If it is your normal habit to stay up very late the night before worship, then break that habit. Start going to bed a bit earlier and get proper rest, so that in the morning you will be able to focus better on what you need to do.
Sometimes we don’t gain much because our mind wonders about different things. This is in some way normal. We worry about things that are happening in our lives, and the preacher may say something that causes our minds to go down the path of following a thought on some adventure, and soon enough we are unable to focus on what is being said. Again, the problem is not with the preacher—the problem is our own. We need to learn to bounce our attention back to the sermon or lesson. But let us not place blame on the one who is actually doing his job, when it might be me that is not doing my job and listening properly. Luke 8:18 instructs us to "be careful how we hear." That is, it is our responsibility to listen with the proper mindset so that we may learn.
Sometimes we don’t "get much out of the lesson" because, to be honest, we only come for an hour a week to learn. Don’t get me wrong, we are thankful that people come anytime that they come. However, if we were to apply this ideology to anything else in the world, we would understand it is not the teachers’ fault, but the student’s. For example, suppose you are a student in college and you go to your math class. The class meets 3 days per week, for an hour each class period. The rest of the class comes, as they should, to learn. But you decide that you will only come one day per week for 1 hour. The rest of the class is learning and growing, and they know the different equations that have been discussed over the whole session. However, by the fifth week, you are completely lost, and you don’t seem to be "getting anything out of the class." But that is not the teacher’s fault. The other students who come all the time are learning and growing—the problem lies with the student who only comes once a week and expects to be able to keep up. It simply is not possible. How do we fix this? Simple! Come to class all the time. But wait! There is one more thing.
Sometimes we don’t get much out of the lesson because, the fact of the matter is, we don’t study it on our own. When I played football, the coach gave all of us players the "playbook." We were to memorize the playbook by the time we were finished with the two–a–day practices. That meant we had to go home and study each night. If we came to practice unprepared, we would not play. We had to learn the playbook even when we were tired, worn out, and physically exhausted from our practices. But, those of us who were dedicated actually took the time to learn the playbook. We studied it day and night until, when the coach called “101 base right,” every person knew their blocking pattern and the routes they were to run, and the quarterback knew what his best options for passing the ball were. This is simply an illustration to show that those who are diligent will learn, because they want to "be in the game." The sad fact is that sometimes we don’t get anything out of the lesson because we never pick up the "playbook" (Bible) in-between the practices (church services). We expect to learn everything that we need in our half-hour per week of sermon listening.
What can be done to fix this? Simple! Study the book on your own, outside of class.
So, before you get angry at the preacher or teacher, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it always have to be all about me?
- Is the teacher or preacher equipped to preach and teach? If so, what can I do to help him out?
- Are the external distractions causing me to lose focus?
- Is it actually my own fault that I am not getting anything out of it?
When we are honest about diagnosing the problem, more often than not, we find that it is we ourselves who are responsible for not gaining anything from the Bible study that is prepared for us.