The Value and Challenge of Sermon Review
Every week our ministry staff gathers for prayer, service review, and planning. Part of that meeting includes reviewing my sermon. We did it just yesterday.
Let me admit up front, a review of my sermon is not easy for me to facilitate. Preparing and preaching a sermon is both a private and public exercise, and it is deeply personal. A sermon is not simply a speech. A sermon by its very design is handling the Word of God so that it cuts, exposes, challenges, confronts, corrects, and soothes. That which it exposes is very intimate, so the process of studying is often very intimate. Wrestling with a text feels like wrestling with God. I do not handle the text as much as the text handles me. So what I bring to the pulpit is more than just information; it’s the breath of life for those who accept it and the sentence of death for those who do not. Preaching is war, and I feel the battle that’s being waged for the hearts of my hearers. When I am done, I am spent. I liken the entire process to childbirth. Identifying the text is like conception. Studying is the pregnancy. Preaching is the birthing process.
All that to say, when someone questions or critiques my sermon it feels like they are critiquing of one of my kids. Why on earth would anyone ever do that? And why on earth would I let them, much less make this a weekly event on Mondays?
Yesterday was a perfect example. Here’s a rough transcript of what happened. (By the way, I don’t lead the sermon review discussion. I’ve found that the staff feels more freedom to speak honestly if I am as “absent” as possible in the conversation.)
Chris: “So, what did you think about the sermon yesterday? What were your take-aways?”
David: “The introduction and first point were way too long. The amount of detail and background really lost me. However, the four take-home truths at the end were gold. I wished you had cut out most of the beginning so that you could have emphasized and expanded on the points at the end.”
Johnny: “I loved the introduction and the background you gave in the first point. In fact, you set up the application in the introduction so that I knew where you were going with it. I loved it and felt that I really felt the weight of the text in the way that you wanted.”
Nathan: “I agree with David. Too much information at the beginning and too little time for application at the end.
Brien: “I loved the background stuff and thought that it was necessary to understand what was going on. That nailed it for me.”
There was more to the conversation, but it gives you the gist. And a conversation about like this takes place almost every Monday.
Here is why I led our staff to do this.
- I need to improve as a preacher, and I will always need to improve as a preacher. If I am not humble enough to admit that, then I am disqualified to preach.
- No sermon that I preach will ever be perfect. I need to constantly cultivate humility since I am so prone to self-pity and arrogance, especially on Mondays.
- If my staff is affected differently by the same sermon, how much more are my people? This exercise is such a good reminder to me that if I want to cultivate growth in all of the different types of people in my congregation, then I need to cultivate my speaking to help each of them profit from the preaching.
- If I want to offer suggestions to my staff to help them improve their preaching, then I need to set the example in how to listen to helpful critiques.
- I want to cultivate an atmosphere where our church can have personal and honest conversations about sensitive matters without being defensive. If the leaders can learn to do that, then the people will be more inclined to follow that path.
- I want to serve with people who not only love God, but who love one another and me. I do not want them to fear me. I want them to love me. If I want them to love me, then I must love them first. If I love them, then I will value their input and even ask for it. If they fear me, they will probably not be honest with me.
I do not preach exactly the same way that I used to. I hope that ten years from now I will not preach exactly as I do now. I hope to get better. I need honest feedback for that to take place. I am grateful for a ministry team that provides it, even if they never agree!