Help! My Listeners Aren’t Satisfied! #2

NegativeFeedback2We need to recognize “over-blurt” and “misdirected fire,” but what else can we do when we have dissatisfied listeners?

3. Remember Your Audience of One.  The fact that we answer to God in no way excuses bad preaching, or remaining oblivious to helpful critique, but it may protect us from more sinister attacks.  Remember that every sermon you ever preach could have been better, and that God is both understanding and forgiving of human weakness and frailty.

With that critical caveat in place, then we need to ask whether we could stand before God and give an account for the way we prepared, the way we processed earlier input/feedback, etc?  Did you walk through the preparation by faith and do your best as a steward of the ministry opportunity?  His is the evaluation that we value the most. While we listen to those we serve, we mustn’t live in fear of displeasing unspiritual nitpickers in the pew.  Even if they can drive you from “their” church, we must minister ultimately for the evaluation of our Audience of One.

4. Remember to Prayerfully Process.  Whether you receive praise or criticism, be sure to process it prayerfully.  Our fleshly egos are very powerful perverters of personal processing.  Our tendency to self-love and self-concern can elevate praise from others into worship of us, and at the same time turn gentle and helpful critique into a savage personal attack.  I don’t trust me with me.  You shouldn’t trust you with you.

Independent introspective processing is one of the most dangerous things a Christian can participate in, because it is so close to the fallen realm we were rescued from.  So how should we process things?  Prayerfully.  That is, in conversation with the God who can faithfully and tenderly sift and sort through our motives and affections.  Search me and try me, O God!  He can be trusted and must always be the lead partner in such an exercise!

More thoughts tomorrow, but please don’t hesitate to comment on here, or on Twitter @petermead (#ListenerSatisfaction).

Help! My Listeners Aren’t Satisfied!

NegativeFeedback2Preaching is a complex ministry. Consider the issue of listener satisfaction. If listeners aren’t satisfied, it could be a good sign, or it could be a bad sign.  In the same way, happy listeners may mean something is wrong.

So what to do?  How can we navigate the issue of listener satisfaction?  What should it mean for our preaching?  What should it mean for our hearts?

Here are 10 thoughts to ponder:

1. Recognize “over-blurt” – Many folks in churches struggle to express negative thoughts effectively.  Perhaps it is because they never do it (unlikely), or perhaps it is because they feel guilty doing it (at least to a preacher).  Consequently many will hold back unsuccessfully and then over-blurt what they are trying to say.  A gentle critique then comes across as a cataclysmic slap to the face of the preacher (hopefully metaphorically speaking).

Instead of saying “I struggle with his style of delivery,” or “it is difficult to relate to sporting illustrations all the time,” they end up saying things like, “he should never again speak to more than two people at once!,” or “his message was filled with damnable heresy!”  Oops.  Over-blurt.

It is possible to get microphones that condense sound into a middle range – i.e. toning down the shout and strengthening the whisper.  We need to learn this skill as preachers.  Over-blurt attacks need to be toned down before they are processed.  (But be careful your ego doesn’t remove or ignore any negative elements whatsoever!)

Remember that toning down excessive praise can also be very important too.  (“That was the best sermon I ever heard!!!” probably wasn’t.)

2. Recognize “misdirected fire” – that is to say, tension fired your way will often have very little to do with you or your preaching. People will react to the innocent provocation of their pet peeves, or the poking of raw nerves of various kinds. They may also be having a bad week with issues at home, at work, in their personal lives, etc.  You may become the focus of the critique, but don’t take all critique at face value.  Sadly, being willing to be a leader in the church means choosing to be shot at, primarily by Christians.

There’s more to come, but please comment from your perspective, are these points on target?  (Feel free to comment on Twitter, @PeterMead #ListenerSatisfaction)

10 Pointers for Young Preachers

10 target2This post was offered last week as a guest post on Randal Pelton’s site, www.peltononpreaching.com

I am way too young to be called a sage, but I don’t get called young any more either. So while there is better advice to be found, here are some pointers from me for young preachers:

  1. Get to know God. Never settle for knowing about God. Make it your life’s greatest ambition to really know and love the God who loves you.
  1. Be a Bible person, not an issue person. It is tempting to let certain issues define your ministry, but these will shift over the years. Instead of choosing a pet issue, develop an infectious passion for the Bible.
  1. Determine never to be a glory thief. Decide now that showing-off has no place in your preaching. Always point listeners to Christ and not to yourself. God delights to lovingly give glory, but never steal it.
  1. Learn to discriminate feedback. People will praise a public speaker. You are more likely to lose your way through hyped up praise than through nasty criticism. Learn to pursue and process genuinely helpful feedback.
  1. Don’t let your homiletical skill get ahead of biblical and theological awareness.People will praise a public speaker, but they need a preacher who is biblically and theologically healthy.
  1. Don’t let your ministry profile get ahead of your character. Let your ministry move forward at God’s pace, otherwise you may get a profile too heavy for your character to bear.
  1. Be proactive, but not self-promotional. Look for opportunities to serve, to learn, and to grow, but be wary of leaving God behind as you chase “more strategic ministry.”
  1. Learn to read wisely. Invest time in reading quality rather than quantity, widely rather than just your favorite author, and selectively rather than getting stuck in books you no longer want to finish. Prioritize books over blogs!
  1. Do not journey alone. Preaching is often a lonely ministry. Prayerfully pursue mentors and prayer partners who can speak into your life. Find a string of Bible read-through partners and chase God together in His Word.
  1. Have a lifelong conversation with God. There are too many technically capable and theologically informed preachers that have no meaningful relationship with God.

 

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #3

RadarScreen2So far we’ve pondered a radar needed in textual study, and another needed in considering our own theological assumptions.  As preachers we mustn’t go too far without thinking of the listeners, so here’s another early warning system to ask God to develop in you for your growth as a preacher:

Radar 3. Resistance Radar (in your listeners)

It is naïve to think that clearly explained and relevantly applied Bible passages will automatically result in changed lives.  More mature preachers prayerfully ponder where their listeners will resist what the biblical text is presenting.  This radar can only be fully developed by knowing the people you are preaching to each week.  Perhaps this radar has two tones of beep.

A. The first is a human nature beep (i.e. people everywhere tend to resist in this regard).  It doesn’t matter what the culture, or the education levels, or the demographics of the community, or the age of the listeners . . . some truths are universally resisted or twisted.  Grace is a prime example.  It is not a lack of understanding that makes us resist God’s grace, it is our fallenness.  We don’t want God to be God, and we want to be God.  But to receive God’s grace without some effort at payment or cooperation, that is to admit that I am not God and I need God.  We must not think that this does not apply to those who have received Christ and joined God’s family . . . our flesh still rebels and seeks to corrupt God’s grace into an exercise in shared effort.  It may be as illogical as a starving person turning down food, but in a post Genesis 3 world, it makes perfect sense for us to resist or twist grace.

B. The second is a specific humans beep (i.e. this congregation, or this individual, will resist this message because of such and such). When you know the people in your church, then you can better spot where the resistance will come.  Maybe it is not grace, the example I gave above, that is the point of resistance for some in your church.  Maybe it is the notion of close relationship with God.  Perhaps the notion of a loving father is frightening to some.  Maybe holiness has been perilously pickled in the perspective of some.  Perhaps legalism has turned some listeners into collectors of instruction, rather than seekers of wisdom.

Grow in understanding of humans in general, and people in your church in particular, so that this radar becomes well tuned and messages can more effectively hit home.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #2

RadarScreen2The second of five radars may well be the most important and the most difficult to develop.  Yesterday’s radar considered one aspect of our textual study skills, but this radar is about our underlying assumptions about everything.  I think we should all prayerfully ask God to develop in us:

Radar 2. Hissing Radar (in your assumptions)

The most dangerous assumption we can make is that we are neutral and can think clearly.  Every one of us has spent our entire life swimming and soaking in the brine of a post-Fall world system that hisses constantly with The Lie of pseudo-godlike autonomy.  The serpent introduced skepticism about God’s word, God’s character, and invited humanity to dive into a totally new version of godliness.  This new godliness meant that we humans became the image of the god of this age – self-absorbed, autonomous and overly confident in our own independent capacities.  We live our lives deafened to the hiss of our serpent-shaped existence.

The Gospel doesn’t save us from one or two sins we have done, but from the absolute self-loving, God-hating, autonomy of our spiritually dead hearts.  The problem we have as believers is that we tend to think we are somehow now immune to the subtle influence of The Lie.

Our flesh has been pickled in the subtle but sour vinegar of that original Lie.  As we seek to grow, let’s pray that God will develop in us a radar that will hiss when our assumptions evidence that serpentine autonomous impulse.

Here are some quick flags to highlight areas this lie often surfaces:

  • God can be a source of resources for us, but always from a distance.
  • With suitable resourcing I can do the job myself . . . i.e. sanctification.
  • I can be a good Christian, but I don’t need any sort of relational closeness to Christ.
  • I don’t need you (where you is God, or you is other believers).
  • I make independent and uninfluenced decisions, and therefore I am alive.
  • If my preaching can offer practical guidance, then individuals can make the decision to apply the teaching and be successful at living their individual and independent lives.
  • Etc.

May God develop in us an early warning system that hisses whenever our assumptions are dangerously autonomous and self-glorifying.

8 Ways to Become a Warm-Hearted Preacher

Hot2John Stott wrote that a preacher is a bridge builder. That is, in the act of preaching, the preacher is seeking to build a bridge between the world of the Bible and the world of the listeners. A good biblical message will be solidly earthed in the biblical text, but it must also fully embrace the listeners in their world.

Effective communication requires that we know about those who are listening to our message.  However, the preacher is not a politician, nor a salesperson.  The preacher is a shepherd of souls.  God invites us not only to know the listeners, but to really love them.

Here are eight nudges in that direction:

1. We love, because God first loved us.  We cannot self-generate love for God or for other people.  Love is a response to the love God has first poured out for us.  As we fix our gaze on Him, our hearts will begin to beat with His.  He loves our listeners, so we can too.

2. A lack of love for others indicates a problem. We can’t claim to love God, but not love our brother.  Let coldness toward others stir you to ask God to search your heart.  Take coldness seriously, God does.

3. Loving those we pastor is sometimes challenging.  Loving strangers is a challenge for a visiting speaker.  Loving people you shepherd can be harder. Vulnerable sheep can bite.

4. We can connect because we are not in a separate category.  Maintaining a permanently stoic resolve does not make you a great leader, it makes you a distant one.  You experience many of the same challenges and struggles others face.  Be honest with yourself about what you do face, and what you don’t.

5. Diligently study your people. Don’t be a master exegete of the text, but oblivious to your people.

6. Before you talk in the pulpit, listen carefully. Most people don’t necessarily want to be seen, but they long to be heard.

7. Sharing life experience helps massively. Remaining distant is easy, but harmful.  Have folks over, visit them at home or at work. Share sport, share celebrations, share sorrow, share life.

8. Pray for people. It’s easy to pray a “God please bless all the listeners on Sunday” kind of prayer.  I think God can spot the value you place on people by the prayers you pray for them.

Resolved: Read God’s Heart

resolved2Three years ago I wrote a post that really polarized readers.  I wrote a critique of a famous Bible reading plan.  If you want to see that post, click here.  As we start a new year, many of us, and many in our churches, will be making the determination to read through the Bible.  For some it will be the first time.  For many it will be a repeat attempt.  Sadly, for many, they will have failed more than they succeeded.

Here’s the bottom line for me – I want people to be reading their Bibles.  Whatever else goes into the mix of a personal devotional life, being exposed to the Scriptures is a critical ingredient (really it is the “without this, nothing” ingredient in the recipe for relationship with God).  Now it may be that someone you know is not a confident reader for whatever reason . . . know the audio options and be ready to promote them (even good readers would benefit from listening to the Bible too!)

Motivation Issues - I know the motivation of reading plans is to help give some structure and sense of progress to readers.  That is great.  My concern is that the plan can easily become both the focus and a taskmaster.  We should be concerned when there is a lack of motivation for God’s Word – both in our own lives, and those we care about.  A lack of motivation is not an irrelevant emotional blip that can be overcome by our great diligence, determination and accountability.

Motivation Matters - Let’s treat a lack of motivation as a flashing light on the dashboard of our lives.  When the oil light flashes I don’t “obey” it and choose not to drive the car.  Equally I don’t disregard it and press on.  I address the issue.  It is the same with a lack of motivation for Bible time . . . don’t simply obey it, nor ignore it, but address it.

Addressing Motivation – The best way I have found to address this motivation issue is to talk to God about it.  Be honest.  Out loud.  Tell him what is more attractive to you than His self-revelation.  That will typically be convicting and bring us back in humility with brokenness and renewed, albeit weak, hunger to hear from Him.

Best Motivation - The best motivation for Bible reading is a hunger to know God more.  Therefore the best motivator for stirring others to read their Bibles is to know God more and be infectious with it.  When you are captured by a person, others will want to know Him too.  This is a far cry from language of diligence, duty, discipline and so on.

Marital Accountability? - I don’t ask my friends to hold me accountable to pretend to love my wife and listen to her.  I may ask them to point out if they see me rationalizing a drift from healthy relationships though.  It is the same with the Bible reading.  I don’t need someone to crack the whip to make me do it, but I am wide open to hearing from a friend that I seem touchy or less excited about God than is normal.

I would love our churches to be filled with people eager to hear God’s heart as they chase Him in His Word.  I know that for our churches to be filled with this kind of people we will need our pulpits filled with this kind of preacher.

 

Resolved: Preach Christ

resolved2Here’s another resolution to throw into the mix as we head into another year.  How about making a prayerful determination to preach Christ, rather than the tempting alternatives?

Here are some tempting alternatives that are worth dumping in favour of Christ:

1. Don’t preach issues – It is tempting to be contemporary and to buy into the idea that what people really value above all else is contemporary relevance.  Of course the Bible is relevant and Christ is relevant, but that doesn’t mean your preaching should be salted with relevance like meat in a medieval barrel.  Some preachers are so concerned about being up-to-date that they lose sight of what they have to offer those sitting before them.  Relevance is important, but it is not the primary and central goal in preaching.

2. Don’t preach tips – Of course God’s way is the best way and lives gripped by the Gospel tend to work a whole lot better than lives lived according to the values of the world.  And yes, the Bible does include a lot of insight into living life, both legitimate and moralized.  But our job is not to be the weekly top tip provider for a people totally absorbed with successful living.  There should be a huge difference between our preaching and the self-help guru folks may pay a fortune to hear on Friday night.  The gospel will transform lives, but we are not called to be known as life coaches.

3. Don’t preach pressure – With all the best intentions we can easily undermine the work of the Gospel in the lives of those we preach to each week.  That is, we want them to be thriving spiritually and in life.  We know the damage sin can do.  So we will always be tempted to twist arms and pressure people to conform to an outward Christianity.  It makes church life easier if all messes are hidden and people act appropriately.  But pressure preaching assumes that listeners can fix themselves and that we can achieve God’s goals without any meaningful involvement from Him.  There will be moments where we seek to appropriately apply the pressure of God’s Word, but that is not what defines us as true Christian preachers.

4. Don’t preach yourself – Over the years our own flesh has this amazing ability to get used to being the centre of attention.  If you are naive enough to believe the polite comments you receive after preaching are objective evaluations of your ministry significance, then you can easily start to buy into your own hype.  Please don’t.

5. Do preach Christ – The Gospel is not a self-starting life-change program, it is good news that involves us introducing listeners to God in Christ.  Don’t preach self-help programs, or church programs, or Christian morality, or even Christianity . . . preach Christ.  Make 2015 a year marked by a weekly introduction to a heart-capturing Saviour!

Preaching Christmas

MangerJesus2Christmas is an amazing opportunity to preach to people who normally wouldn’t be coming into church.  Here are seven top suggestions for making the most of the opportunity:

1. Pray a lot – there is a spiritual battle going on and the enemy wants to keep people distracted from the truth of the gospel. In the busy world of Christmas service planning, he can also keep preachers distracted from the wonder of the gospel too!

2. Preach fact – the Christmas message is not, as most tend to think, another holiday season fairy tale and religious myth.  Luke launched his gospel with a declaration of the trustworthiness of his message, let’s take a leaf out of his book.  Look for ways to make it clear that there was an original Christmas.

3. Correct carefully – nobody likes a cavalier critique of comfortable traditions, so be careful when you point out that Jesus was not born in a cattle shed, or that Mary wasn’t timing contractions as she arrived in Bethlehem, or that the Wise Men actually arrived months later.  One of these “facts” is probably wrong, but even truth can be unhelpful if people think you are just being critical, or there is no benefit in the clarification you bring.

4. Celebrate sensitively – it is easy to hype up Christmas like a children’s TV presenter, but for many people it is a bittersweet season.  Be sure to take a moment in the message, or in a prayer, to recognize the difficulties as well as the joys.

5. Proclaim good news – yes, Christmas is a season of giving and cheer and peace.  Yes, this is a good year to mention the famous Christmas truce of 1914.  But remember that Christmas is not about stirring sentimentality and periodic pauses for peace, it is ultimately about something on the vertical plane and not just the horizontal.  Jesus came to us to bring us to God.  Don’t preach just a nice message, be sure to preach the best news!

6. Undermine assumptions – as well as communicating the gospel message in some way, remember that there is also an opportunity to undermine some common assumptions.  Making clear that there is a historical reality to the Incarnation is a good idea, and why not take the chance to clarify the nature of God’s character too?  Everyone comes into church thinking they know what God is like.  If they don’t really know Jesus, then they don’t.  Christmas is a great moment to point people not to speculations about the Majesty of God, but to bring them to the manger to meet the One who makes God known to us.

7. Worship personally – if the Christmas message has grown old for you, then you can’t preach it well.  Take some time out with your God and let Him stir your heart afresh.  Then you can preach Christmas.

Prayerfully Pondered Impact

impact2For many years people considered communication to consist merely in the transfer of propositions from one mind to another.  Many preachers still do.  Actually there is a lot more going on.  Without getting too technical, Speech-Act Theory analyses communication using three measures instead of one.  There is quite a bit of scope for this communications theory to help preachers consider their task.  Here are the three measures:

A. There is the actual set of words that comprise the communication, which can be evaluated for meaning, but only incompletely.

B. What the theory underlines is that speech doesn’t just say something, it is always delivered with the intent to do something.  Some acts of speech are typically used as clear examples, such as, “I pronounce you husband and wife” … in the right context, those words actually do something.  In reality every act of speech is given with the intent to do something.  There is the intended impact of the speaker that is communicated with and by the actual words used.  So you might use the same set of words, but with different intent depending on numerous other factors, to communicate the following: a threat, a promise, a flirtatious hint, etc.

C. Once we open up the realm of the intent of the speaker beyond mere analysis of propositions (which we automatically do as listeners), then there is a third measure to bring into the mix . . . the actual effect of the speech-act.  What actually happens may be intended or unintended, and it may be multi-layered.

If you want to chase Speech-Act Theory, by all means search for it, or for the terms locution, illocution and perlocution.  For now I want to probe this final element described in respect to preaching…

Do the actual effects of our preaching match our intended effects?  Obviously we have a significant added dimension as preachers – that God brings conviction, transformation and growth.  Nevertheless, it is definitely worth pondering our impact prayerfully.  Here are some possibilities:

1. Do people take our tone in the way we intend?  You might mean to come across as loving in what you say, but actually be felt to be antagonistic, negative or aggressive.  You might intend to couch certain content in a tone of hope, but come across as uncertain and hesitant.

2. Does the main goal of the message get through?  We do look to God to bring about transformation, but that doesn’t excuse us from prayerfully intending certain impact.  Are we seeing that impact over time?

3. Do secondary but significant goals get achieved in your preaching?  For instance, you might intend for your listeners to be motivated to read their Bibles during the week, but does your preaching bring about that motivation?  Prayerfully pondering actual impact might lead to some tweaks in your preaching that will help your church.