What Would Help?

People often quip, at least in my country, about having roast preacher for lunch on a Sunday.  In our house we are training our children to listen well with a good attitude on Sundays, so we tend to have a quiz together as we digest the sermon over lunch.

Some Sunday lunch quizzes are more difficult than others for us as parents: sometimes the children struggled to listen and remember what was said, sometimes we parents struggled to listen and remember what was said, sometimes we have to navigate around sermons or preachers that didn’t really do so well, and sometimes we have to answer questions when our children start asking about the preacher’s content or demeanour.

Instead of fostering a critical spirit toward preachers, we want to encourage our children to be good listeners with hearts open to what they can learn.  As preachers, we need to be continual learners too, looking for how we can be ever better stewards of the ministry God gives to us.

So here’s a question for us as preachers: what would help us to improve?  Actually, I’m not asking about the generic class of “preachers” – but specifically, what would help you to improve, what would help me to improve?

I started a poll over on LinkedIn to get a few responses, and have added it to the facebook page too.  If you are on LinkedIn, click here to go to the poll and add your thoughts (you’d be most welcome to join the group too).  If you are on Facebook, click here to go to the page and you’d be welcome to “like” the page too.

Since I only had five spaces for possible answers, here are the five options that came to mind:

– Further training in preaching

– Further training in biblical studies

– More time for preparation

– More fellowship with other preachers

– More encouragement from listeners

In the next days I will share some thoughts on these needs, and for what it’s worth, I will collate the results at the end of the week.  Please do confuse matters by adding other suggestions too, either here or on either networking site.

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10 thoughts on “What Would Help?

  1. A sixth option may be to have someone to give honest feedback; highlighting those parts that worked well and also those that didn’t. If delivered and received in a constructive way, even otherwise negative feedback can be gratefully received.

  2. Further to my suggestion of feedback; receiving feedback is something to be worked at. The natural response is to defend or excuse ‘negative’ comments. We need to learn to suppress that and to digest and consider what you did or said that brought about those comments.

    • Absolutely, it isn’t easy, but it is important to hear and then to prayerfully process. I’ve written about feedback before on the site, so I deliberately left it out of the poll, but I agree, it is so valuable.

  3. I would say further training in preaching. It doesn’t matter how well you know the Bible, without effective communication skills your preaching is a waste of time.

    I’m pushing to hold a quarterly 1 or 1/2 day preaching conference at church for our preaching team. This time will be used to sharpen our preaching skills, brain storm and encourage each other as to what works and what doesn’t work for our congregation.

  4. Time. Without question. That is the big limiting factor. It takes me the best part of a whole week’s evenings to prepare a sermon, so I really can’t do more than one every few months without burning out.

    I seem to remember reading an essay of yours where you said that preparing a sermon shouldn’t take longer then X hours, but I can’t remember what X was or whether it seemed reasonable to me. I do have a sense that it was less than what it takes me to prepare, though.

  5. Peter,

    I recognize that the question I am about to ask is not directly related to your post, but one of your comments has brought the issue up. You said that you have tried to model for you kids an attitude of humility, one that can learn from a pastor or sermon that was not particularlly good. How have you tangibly done this? My wife and I are lay people in a church where the preaching has gone south. Usually pulled out of context or amounts to little more that the outlined-commentary style message, that misses the point of a passage. I have talked to the pastor a few times about this, but I still struggling to sit humbling under him and learn. Can you maybe offer some counsel on how to learn for a sermon once you have determined that it is being preached poorly? What should you look for? How should you positron your heart to protect it from pride and arrogance? How should the sermon be talked about afterwards?

    • On the last question, how should it be talked about, I think it depends who you are talking to. For instance, in our own home I am prepared to have honest interaction with my children in order to protect them from the idea that a bad sermon was a good representation of Christ or Christianity. In conversation with a leader in the church, I would be more open since there has to be honest evaluation of preachers/preaching. With others in the church, there must be real caution. Sometimes it is better to avoid the subject, rather than lie about the message or inject negativity/bitterness where there isn’t any already. There is no virtue in splitting the church or tearing down the preacher.

      How to learn from a bad message? This is a real challenge. Sometimes I feel there is a real need to train a church how to listen to a sermon. I find myself looking for points of accurate textual representation. I also look for helpful points of contemporary relevance. As a listener it is sometimes bad enough to where I tune out the sermon and look at the text in order to at least be fed by reading the Word. I would rather remain a listener though (some preachers make this almost impossible, it must be said). You are right to consider the tendency of your heart toward pride and arrogance. Praying as a recipient is so important. Maintaining a prayerful conversation with God during the listening to a sermon can make a real difference, and you can be praying for the preacher as you do this.

      Please nudge me again if you want to, I think this is probably a huge issue for many people.

  6. On the subject of listening to bad preaching, Listen Up! by Christopher Ash is a wonderful little 30 page booklet full of powerful advice on listening to sermons, and it contains a very helpful final chapter on listening to bad sermons. I would recommend it to anyone!

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