Feedback Can Be Scary!
I was nervous. I had asked a friend, David Pinkley, to give me honest feedback about my preaching. On Sunday I preached in our church’s morning service, and the following Thursday David and I were sitting in a greasy Chinese buffet. I couldn’t tell whether my loss of appetite was due to the chunks of unidentifiable meat floating in old duck sauce on my plate, or because I could see David’s instruments of torture across the table–a well-marked legal pad, and a bulletin from Sunday crammed front and back with notes about my sermon.
David is one of the most articulate people I know. As a professional resume writer and career sage, he is a student of human personality and the communication process. From his stories of his past clients, I knew that he could apply his penetrating insight with surgical precision. When David started to shuffle through the notes in his legal pad, I wondered whether I should have asked him for an anesthetic before he began cutting.
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About Your Preaching
This isn’t the sort of feedback I was used to. I, and every young preacher, has heard the the fawning comments from admiring congregants: “That was the best sermon I’ve ever heard!” “You are going to be a great preacher!” With five years of preaching experience, I have learned to hear these comments more as an expression of their love for the Bible and preaching, than as an evaluation of my ability to communicate the Word of God. If I hear these statements as affirmations of me and my preaching, I am in danger of being deceived into thinking that I am a gifted preacher when I am truly not. Then I will be less likely to put effort into improving my preaching.
The danger of self-deception and complacency can be avoided by soliciting honest feedback. This feedback must come from people who meet three qualifications. First, they must be spiritually-minded. Second, they must understand good communication. Third, they must be motivated by seeing the preacher succeed.
Is It OK to Evaluate Preaching?
This idea of sermon evaluation might raise a couple objections. First, if preaching is speaking God’s word, is it even legitimate to evaluate it? In answer, it is important to understand that we are not evaluating God’s word, but rather how effectively the human preacher is communicating it. Also, I would contend that since preaching is indeed speaking God’s word, it deserves being communicated in the best possible way. Preachers are human. The Word is divine. Lack of clarity, distracting habits, failing to make appropriate application–all these can stand in the way of God’s word being heard as it deserves.
A second objection might be this: won’t asking someone to evaluate your preaching rob them of the challenge they need from God’s word? That is a real possibility. You can avoid this danger by taking a couple precautions. First, make sure you ask a spiritually-minded person. They will be able to distinguish between the message from God’s word that they need to obey and how effectively you communicated that message. Second, evaluation doesn’t need to happen all the time, nor always by the same person.
My point is this: any preacher who hopes to improve his preaching should get honest feedback from spiritually-minded supporters who understand good communication. In the next post, I plan to expand on an area David pointed out to me–platform mechanics. I never learned this in any class on preaching, and my mistake in this area greatly weakened the response to the message. I will also suggest (perhaps in a third post) how to get the best feedback, and explain why your wife may not be the best choice as your preaching critic.