Should pastors facilitate conversations that critique their sermons? I believe they should. Immediately one may object, “Pastoral ministry is hard enough, why invite more pain?” While I agree that ministry and particularly preaching is hard, we are not quite pulling arrows out of chest and back all week long. It’s hard but not so hard to invite constructive critique.
Why would it be helpful? Simple: we don’t know everything. Remember we preach Jesus, we aren’t Jesus. As pastors care more about getting the Bible right than simply seeming like we’re right. We can certainly improve in our preaching.
If you are a pastor who does not regularly receive feedback on your preaching I want to provide a few suggestions for avenues where you might consider implementing some. These have paid great dividends for me over the years.
Preview and Review the Sermon with Your Family
This is a practice I have been doing since my first sermon. The dynamics have changed over the years as the children have grown, but the nuts and bolts are the same. We read the passage together, and I attempt to communicate with clarity the big idea of the passage in an understandable way. Sometimes as we are talking together my lack of clarity becomes clear. What a blessing this is! This past Saturday night, for example, my wife and my 17-year-old son both were asking the same questions. As it turns out I said a few things that muddied the water. As we talked, I noticed that I had not sufficiently thought through a couple of details that would have served me and them. We talked for nearly an hour about the passage, and as we did I saw where my windows were being fogged up by my hot air. Thankfully I had another 15 hours before I had to stand behind the sacred desk and preach. It’s far better to realize your lack of clarity before rather than after you preach! On another note, I have found repeatedly over the years that my younger children help me immensely with clarity. When you can effectively communicate and illustrate your point to your 5-year-old when you are giving him a bath then you may be nearly ready to preach.
After church, over lunch, I will often ask our family questions about the sermon. Sometimes the questions are comprehension questions, other times they are about application. In either case, I am getting feedback by learning how my family has been affected by the Word.
Ask Church Members Questions After the Service
Being careful not to lobby for compliments or an argument, I’ve found it helpful to talk with church members on Sunday morning and Sunday night. Just engaging with them over the text helps me to understand what was clear and what was not. When someone says, “I really appreciated the sermon this morning” I try not to simply reply, “Thanks!” but press further and ask, “What about it did you appreciate?” This almost always opens the door for some type of immediate feedback. Here I can learn what our church is thinking and feeling about the Bible and its propositions.
Establish a Service Review
On Monday mornings we conduct a review of our entire Lord’s Day. One aspect of this is the sermon. Here I hear the feedback of brothers who are training in ministry and laboring to likewise preach God’s Word. They provide thoughtful, direct, and constructive feedback. Each week they give me something useful to work on. I love this weekly rhythm.
Talk with a Few Friends You Trust Enough to Hurt Your Feelings
Assuming you can’t do a service review and aren’t in a church where the culture is set to provide thoughtful, constructive criticism, then consider enlisting a few friends to help you. I love the friends who love me enough to tell me the truth. They tell me when the sermon is clear, and they tell me when it’s a dud. I remember one brother taking me out for breakfast and thoughtfully laying out some encouraging observations only to empty his duffel bag of constructive criticism on the table before me. I’d be lying if I told you that my feelings weren’t hurt. But I’d also be lying if I said he wasn’t right. I needed to hear his counsel. It rings in my ear to this day. Think of a few friends that you can trust to tell you the truth and grant them the permission to provide regular feedback to you on your preaching.
The bottom line here is that we as pastors should care more about getting the Bible right than simply feeling like we’re right. We have been supremely critiqued at the cross, and because of what Jesus has done we’ve been given a ministry and the power to faithfully preach his Word.
If you would like more information on this consider these 9Marks resources:
- Podcast: On Receiving Criticism as a Pastor. This is great stuff. Lots of nuggets in here that will help on this topic.
- Blog by Garrett Kell: Giving and Receiving Criticism. This is a most helpful article; read it twice.