11 Reasons For A Weekly Service Review—And 4 Cautions Once You Start
Every Monday night, men from our church gather for a time of structured review of the Sunday service. The majority of our time in the meeting is spent giving feedback on the Sunday morning sermon. However, we also spend some time walking through all the elements of the previous day’s morning and evening services, as well as looking to the following Sunday’s services.
Many of the men involved consider Monday night a highlight in their week—a time when they’re able to press further into God’s Word in a collegial setting. Personally, I’ve found these service reviews to be one of the most effective tools in ministry for mentoring men and growing as a preacher.
Below I’ve listed 11 reasons why you should consider starting a weekly service review at your church, and four cautions to keep in mind if you do.
11 REASONS FOR WEEKLY SERVICE REVIEW
1. So that you may progress as a preacher.
In 1 Timothy 4:13–15, Paul urges Timothy to serve the church with his gifts, particularly in the public ministry of the Word. And then he says, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” Having a weekly service review keeps my development as a preacher on the front burner. It helps me to continue to make progress as a preacher.
2. So that others may see your progress.
Notice how Paul does not only emphasize the importance of Timothy progressing as a preacher. He also stresses the importance of others seeing the progress Timothy is making.
It’s true that the people of our congregation should see our progress just by being present under the preached Word week after week. However, through the weekly service review, we give some people front-row seats to that progress. It’s not uncommon for men to tell me how they’ve noticed me apply the feedback they have provided.
3. To keep you encouraged.
Preaching ministry can be lonely and discouraging. If you only get some vague words of flattery at the church door after the service or an occasional email from people who take issue with a sermon here and there, then you’re not receiving the Barnabas-type encouragement that fuels perseverance in ministry. It’s a rich blessing to hear of specific ways God has used specific things I’ve said from the pulpit to help men and women love God more deeply and glorify him more fully.
4. To keep you humble.
Pride is deadly to pastoral ministry. At service review, I’m regularly reminded of the places where there’s room for growth in my preaching. Having men in the church who prod me to grow keeps me from thinking I’ve arrived. Week after week, I come face to face with the reality of my desperation for God to work through my preaching, despite its imperfections.
5. To model godly encouragement and criticism.
Unhealthy models of encouragement (flattery) and criticism (attack) are modeled all over the media and society at large. The church needs leaders who provide a better, more godly model of engagement. At our weekly service review, I have an opportunity to bring helpful, thoughtful encouragement and criticism to other service leaders and preachers in the church. I seek to affirm gifts and evidences of grace, without unhelpful and vague flattery. I also try to give thoughtful, focused critique that is aimed at helping an individual grow in faithfulness and effectiveness in ministry. My feedback sets the tone for the meeting and provides a healthy, loving model of engagement, not only for service review, but also for other spheres of life.
6. To model humility.
Weekly service review is a wonderful opportunity to show others how to receive critique (and perhaps even occasional correction) with humility and thankfulness. A big part of our job as pastors is correcting error (Titus 1:9). A service review will provide opportunities to model the way Christians should humbly receive critical input from others. It can be difficult to receive critical feedback from men in the church who are not formally trained and who have seldom (if ever) preached themselves. However, I’ve discovered that there is some truth to be gleaned from almost all feedback I receive. Every time my sermon is criticized, I have the opportunity to show others in the church how to humbly receive help in the form of criticism.
7. To create less opportunity for divisiveness.
It’s not uncommon for a church to have a few people who struggle with doctrinal or stylistic elements of the pastor’s preaching. If we don’t give our people healthy space to process their disagreements alongside us, then they’re more likely to process them without us in unhealthy and potentially divisive ways. Because service review provides an opportunity for people to share their concerns in a healthy manner, there’s less temptation for them to gossip behind closed doors.
8. To develop other preachers.
I’ve found our service review time to be an extremely helpful tool in identifying and developing preachers. You learn how someone is thinking about the Bible by the kind of sermon feedback they give. Not only this, but part of what we do at our service review meeting is look to the next week’s sermon text, and I often invite brothers to study and outline the text in advance so that we can compare our work. This gives me opportunities to see how brothers put together sermons before giving them an opportunity to preach at a Sunday morning or evening service.
9. To go deeper.
One of the most important parts of sermon preparation is cutting things out. Often, there are great insights into the text or wonderful points of application left on the chopping block. I frequently have an opportunity to share some of those additional insights in a service review meeting, for the benefit of those attending the meeting.
10. To teach about the elements of the worship service.
Preaching is not all that takes place on Sunday morning. Many evangelical churches today casually move from a few announcements, to a few songs, to a sermon, and a goodbye. Because of this, many elements of our church service—confessions, prayers, corporate Scripture readings, and the ordinances—are relatively new to many members and attenders. While we try to teach the church about the elements of the service throughout the service itself, our service review is a great opportunity to further explain and answer questions about our order of service.
11. To get a pulse on the congregation’s understanding.
More than once I’ve been called out in service review for using words or referencing concepts that I assumed were widely understood, but were totally lost on my congregation. And at times, in the midst of service review, I’ve come to the realization that I hadn’t properly prepared my congregation for a longer prayer or confession. Service review keeps me from pastoring like a zealous seminarian and helps me to lead like a shepherd.
FOUR CAUTIONS ONCE YOU START
1. Don’t diminish the authority of the elders.
In an effective service review, there’s a give and take between pastors and church members. While this is healthy, casual conversations about a doctrinal issue can devolve into diminishing the distinct authority of the elders as those uniquely responsible for guarding the doctrine of a church. For this reason, I recommend that the pastor of the church keep the sermon review structured and on task so he can easily guide the discussion and bring correction when needed. The goal is to allow for healthy interactions and questions while keeping your hands on the wheel.
2. Don’t create a culture where people are critiquing the preached Word as an alternative to submitting to it.
I’ve found that after being introduced to the practice of healthy sermon critique, men sometimes listen more intently to sermons so they’re prepared to give critique at service review. Sometimes this attentiveness can come at the expense of sitting under God’s Word to be nourished by it and to submit to it. For this reason, we’ve begun concluding our time of service review by going around the room and sharing how we were personally impacted by preaching of the Word, and how we want our lives to be different as a result of what was preached. Feeding on God’s Word, not critiquing the preaching of it, should always be the priority in our churches. The Christian life is not merely an intellectual exercise, but one of submission to God’s Word.
3. Don’t preach for service review.
Sermon review has helped me in my sermon prep, but it’s also brought with it new temptations. As I write my sermon, I’m often aware if something in my sermon will get push back at service review. I can also anticipate if something I preach will get special praise at service review. We must not give into the urge to avoid preaching something simply because we will get pushback. Similarly, we must not seek to bring special emphasis to something in a sermon in order to receive praise from men.
As preachers, we’re not primarily servants of our own congregations—we’re servants of God. We must be a servant of God above all else if we’re going to be of any service to his people. This often means telling people what they don’t want to hear.
We must also remember that the people who come to service review aren’t an exhaustive reflection of the congregation. Some of the men at service review might really enjoy it if I spend extra time in my sermon on a textual-critical issue in Matthew 18:15 (i.e. is “against you” original?). However, spending a lot of time on that issue wouldn’t be helpful for my congregation. I’m not preaching to the men at service review, I’m preaching to the whole church.
4. Don’t fail to acknowledge the intangibles of preaching.
The act of preaching isn’t merely a natural event. It’s supernatural because the Spirit of God is at work in ways that aren’t always quantifiable. As we make a practice of critiquing sermons, we must not fall into seeing preaching as a merely one man’s natural act. There are things happening (or not happening) as we preach that are beyond the reach of any helpful critique or encouragement.