Help! My Listeners Aren’t Satisfied! #4

NegativeFeedback2So we are coming to the end of this series on processing listener dissatisfaction.  It is not an easy subject, but so important.  Here’s a thought that needs to be thrown into the mix:

7. Know there is more than one way to serve!  I have written this series of thoughts from the perspective that you should be preaching.  Maybe you shouldn’t.  There is no shame in that.  Perhaps the hassle of critique undermines too much and indicates a lack of gifting.  We have made this option very difficult by uniting vocational ministry with Sunday preaching and salaries, resulting in people feeling like there is no way out, no way to stop preaching without resigning from church leadership.  Recognizing the complexity of that, the truth still remains, there are other ministries to serve in apart from preaching.  I have known some wonderful church leaders who had lifelong effective ministry, but weren’t preachers.

If, in your honest moments, you recognize that repeated critique is lovingly offered and actually on target, then prayerfully consider swallowing your pride and serving in an area of strength.  You will be a better steward of your life, God will be pleased, and the church will be strengthened.  Maybe cut and paste this point to start the conversation with a trusted friend in your church.

8. Know your own inner landscape.  We all have emotional baggage buried inside us.  Criticism has a unique ability to slip through, stir up a deep wound and create inner turmoil.  It is good to prayerfully ask God to help you evaluate and understand your own inner workings so that you don’t face a never ending attack from external and internal foes.  What does criticism do inside you?  Why?

9. Pursue helpful feedback and support.  We cannot have a growing and effective preaching ministry alone.  We need to find those who will give honest, gracious, constructive input, and who will encourage us when we feel discouraged in our ministry.  This may be a friend or two within the church.  It may be a fellow leader from another church.  It may also be (although not exclusively) a hero from the past – biblical heroes and church history heroes typically all endured incredible misunderstanding, devastating personal circumstances, a torrent of abuse and even martyrdom as they served God.  Spending time with the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther or Jonathan Edwards or whoever will be a real help.

10. Whatever the justification for criticism, be sure it improves your preaching!  While it may not have been stated well, or perhaps it was more of an attack on you than a piece of constructive criticism, there may well be a kernel of truth in there that can help you!  If you shrug off all criticism then your imperviousness will undermine your ability to minister with any sensitivity.  A cast iron shell is not what you need for ministry.  What you need is a tender heart, but with a life-giving God who can pick you up and keep you pressing on to growth and effectiveness.  By all means think through how to protect yourself from an enemy that will work through people in your church to wipe you out, but know that God doesn’t typically call us to be the reverend Rambo.

That’s it for this series, but please comment freely and add your thoughts (here or on Twitter – @PeterMead, #ListenerSatisfaction)

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 – #5

RadarScreen2This is the last of our five radars we should be prayerfully collecting as preachers.  They are early warning systems that will make us better preachers.  There are probably many more, but hopefully these five will prompt us to pray and help us to grow.   So far we’ve thought about an OT radar, a hissing radar, a resistance radar, and an obfuscation radar.  How about one more where we are likely to have blind spots?

Radar 5. Rationalizing Radar (in your personal application)

Before we preach to others, we must first be on the receiving end of God’s transformative work ourselves.  Starting a sermon on Saturday night does not allow time for personal application, hence we should start sooner. However, we can be preparing a sermon for weeks and still fail to hear the message ourselves.  Why?  Not because of a lack of time, but because of our fleshly capacity to rationalize our own lack of application.  What we might see clearly in others, we often see in a rose-tinted mirror in regards to ourselves.  The solution to this is not to try harder, but to engage more with God in the conversation.  What I am calling a rationalizing radar is really a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as He searches and tries our hearts, gently convicting us so that we can first hear, before we also speak.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #4

RadarScreen2This week we are collecting radar equipment.  Better, we are compiling a wishlist to bring before God and ask Him to develop in us as we grow as preachers.  Early warning systems that will make us better preachers.  So far we’ve thought about an OT radar, a hissing radar, and a resistance radar.  How about one regarding our own delivery?

Radar 4. Obfuscation Radar (in your delivery)

def. to make something confusing or difficult to understand.”  Most preachers don’t do this on purpose.  In fact, most preachers’ sermons make good sense to the preacher.  But good preachers’ sermons make sense to the listeners too.

How can we grow in this area?  Chase helpful and specific feedback, listen to the audio of your message, watch a video of your preaching, do whatever you can to develop discernment as to your own obfuscation tendencies.  Do you speak too fast?  Do you pause too little?  Is your energy incessant?  Are your transitions too brief?  Are your gestures distracting?  Is your sermon structure complex?  Is your vocabulary too lofty?

Prayerfully and conversationally (i.e. with friends) develop a radar that will beep when your delivery is, in reality, not as clear as your pride tells you it is.

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.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs

RadarScreen2

To grow as preachers, I believe we need to develop several internal radars.  Think of a radar as an early warning system that beeps when there is an issue in the vicinity.  To be without any radar is to be dangerously naïve.  This week I plan to work through five radars we can prayerfully develop in our preaching:

Radar 1. Old Testament Radar (in your text)

Sometimes Bible writers flag up their use of earlier texts, “to fulfil what was written…”  Often they simply allude to, or hint at, biblical texts that are feeding into their thought.  Biblical writers typically assumed that their readers would have a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament, but most of us do not have anything like a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament.  Hence we need to develop the radar.  Unless we do, we will miss a lot of what is sitting in the sermon text before us.

I am not suggesting that every sermon should fully develop every earlier biblical allusion in the preaching text.  I am suggesting that a preacher who is unaware of how earlier texts inform and shape the preaching text will struggle to be a good steward of the preaching text.  The best preachers do not say everything there is to say, and they do speak with clarity and simplicity.  Please preach with clarity and simplicity, but with clarity built on the richest and most determined exegetical study already under your belt.  This means lots of things, but it must include a growing awareness of earlier texts assumed by the writer of the preaching text.

For example . . . think about John 3:1-16, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Nic knew his Bible, but was treated as unqualified for conversation about spiritual matters.  In the course of the conversation the text is picking up on Ezekiel 36, Deuteronomy 29, Numbers 21, and perhaps the overarching backdrop – Genesis 3 . . . (is Nicodemus dead and needing a new birth, or not?)

How do we develop this radar?  Two suggestions:

A. Read the whole Bible, a lot.  There is no tool that can compensate for a lack of personal intimacy with the Word of God.  Prayerfully and purposefully devour the Scriptures as if they are the most precious gift you have.

B. Double check you haven’t missed something with good commentators.  We need the benefit of the community of God’s people and good commentators are a real blessing.  At the same time, many do miss the influence of earlier texts and so shouldn’t be relied upon apart from A, above.

Tomorrow I will offer another radar I believe we all need to see developed in our lives.

 

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.