From the Larger Catechism:
Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
A. 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.
In order to benefit from the preaching of the word of God, one must first come to church and hear it preached. Nothing else will substitute. Sermonaudio.com is nice, and hearing preachers on the radio can be edifying, but hearing the word preached along with the rest of the saints is more convicting, because godly conversation after the sermon, can drive the points of the message deeper into our hearts. Following Christ is not a purely individualistic thing, we need the aid of our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as our elders, to guide us in our walk with God.
Now, merely coming and warming the chair or pew is not enough. Our minds must be fully engaged as we consider what is preached; what we are hearing should tell us that these are life and death issues — not as some popular so-called ministers who merely tell you how to improve your life. From such who will not tell you that we must strive to seek Heaven (even as faith is a gift from God), and that Hell awaits for those who are faithless, careless or malicious, we must flee, so that we can hear the Gospel of grace preached.
Choose as your minister one who makes the truths of the Bible plain. Don’t listen to a storyteller, one who does less than explain the truths of the Bible. They are a waste of time, no matter how large their congreagtion is. Storytellers, and those who preach self-help sermons, will attract large audiences. Those who preach repentence from sin and explain the Bible plainly will not attract large crowds (unless there is a revival) because there is little to appeal to those who are frivolous.
Now, some things are obvious about how to listen to a sermon. First, sit there. Don’t let anything distract you. Come well-rested; you will learn more. Clear your mind of the problems/joys of the week, and focus on the sermon itself. Prepare on Saturday to hear the word on Sunday. Pray that your mind would be enlightened by the Holy Spirit; ask that God would endow the minister with power from the Holy Spirit to make dark things clear. Ask the Lord that you would be willing to obey what is faithfully preached.
But remember, preachers are men, they make mistakes, both conscious and unconscious. Some ministers are rogues, even some very popular ones. This should not be a surprise, as even the Apostle Paul said (via Luke):
Acts 20:28-30 (New King James Version)
28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God[a] which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
Listen to the minister closely, and compare his teaching to the Bible. Some ministers don’t teach that the Bible is infallible and inerrant. Others are content to tell stories, teach self-improvement, and entertain. Flee ministers that do not plainly explain to you what the Bible means. This is all-important.
Now, to the minister who preaches God’s word truly, we must still compare what he says against the Scripture, but we must receive the truth of God with meekness, realizing that the minister stands in the place of Christ. As the preaching is faithful, it is Christ speaking to us, and we must heed it.
After that, we must meditate on the Word, discuss it with other saints, and hide it in our hearts that we might remember it in a time of need. Finally, we must doers of the word and not merely hearers. We must bear the fruit that our Father in Heaven wants us to bear, showing that we are true believers.
Are we equal to this? No, but we trust that the Lord will enable us to follow his commands here, as he gives us grace through he Holy Spirit.
May this be so for all of his people.