So, sitting with a group of pastors, we were discussing how we can improve as preachers. The generally agreed first thought is that we are not in the best position to assess our own preaching: our sinful selfishness and blindness mean that we are either too harsh or too lenient on ourselves.
What to do? The second general thought was that getting a group around us was a good thing. Some of the pastors met with a few others in ministry to crit each others’s sermons. A few were in larger churches with a staff team, and there were some helpful tips there on giving feedback. That’s good.
But, but, but…
My fellow preachers give me feedback on my exegesis, my structure, my headings, and all that. They know the translation pitfalls, and may well have preached that passage themselves. That’s valuable. It’s feedback from the pros, who know what a sermon is supposed to sound like.
But they won’t give me feedback on the most important aspect, which is what regular church members could or could not understand, or relate to. I’m a shepherd, getting feedback from other shepherds – but I need to know what the sheep are thinking.
There’s only one group who can do that. And it’s the massive majority who heard my sermon, first time, with heads stuffed full of the rest of life, and without the benefit of years of theological education.
Now don’t get me wrong – I do value feedback from my peers. But I don’t preach for their benefit. If I start to think they are the audience I will throw in some clever Greek points to show I’ve done my homework, and finesse my structure win their approval. I will use complex Latin words rather than simple Anglo Saxon ones. I will perform – to produce what my peer culture thinks is a proper sermon.
But I mustn’t preach for my peer culture. That’s being a crowd pleaser – trying to win approval from the people whose approval matters to my self-esteem.
The people I do preach for give me feedback in a different way: by understanding me or not, by staying awake, or falling asleep, by changing their lives on the basis of God’s Word, or not.
I could easily fall into the opposite trap, of dumbing down and being a different kind of crowd pleaser. But I really don’t think that is my most frequent blunder – and I don’t think I’m alone. And while it’s a theoretical possibility that I am a faithful preacher in an arid church, where my preaching is a mark of judgment on a corrupt people, to be honest it’s a slim one.
Much better to look in the mirror and assume that I might be the problem, and get the people who want and need me to improve, to help me.
So find yourself four or five members of the church who love you enough to be honest, and get them together every six weeks or so to get some proper feedback. It will take a few times before they stop being polite and give you some honest, straightforward responses. You might be pleasantly surprised. You might be rather shocked. Either way, you’re getting feedback from the right people.
You do want to be overseen by the congregation, don’t you?