There are plenty of myths floating around. You may have heard of some. You may have thought of others. Here are a few that bear a little bit of scrutiny. Let’s start with this one:
1. Since the preacher was led by God in the preparation, it would be wrong to evaluate the sermon.
Here is one I heard a few years ago. Astonishingly, it was spoken by a church leader in reference to a visiting speaker. The speaker had preached a message that was technically wrong in some details, but more overwhelmingly unhelpful as a whole. I gently mentioned this to a more senior leader in the church who made it clear that it was not his place to evaluate what this godly man had been led to by God in his preparations. Huh?
Here’s one reason why this dear brother was wrong. The pastoral leadership of a church has the biblically defined role of shepherding the flock, which includes at least four elements. The shepherds, that is, the pastors or elders, are responsible for the feeding and leading of the flock, as well as making sure it is protected and cared for. All four elements of the leadership role come into play when a sermon is preached. Whether the elder/pastor is preaching or not, he is responsible. Therefore, if a visiting preacher is unhelpful in any of these areas, it is the spiritual responsibility of the leadership to evaluate that message and determine whether something needs to be done retrospectively or just in anticipation of any future visit. Non-evaluation is not a spiritual option, it is pastoral abdication.
That is specifically in respect to the pastoral leadership, but what about the average listener? Acts 17:11 is informative for us: The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians – they listened intently to the apostles and they checked the Scriptures to see if what they heard was so. There is no footnote or marginal comment that adds, “but if the preacher has prayerfully prepared then the above referenced eagerness and Scriptural evaluation does not apply.”
Next time we will look at another sermon evaluation myth.
The old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” Maybe. Practice can also ingrain bad habits. I think it was Howard Hendricks who said that “evaluated practice makes perfect” (inexact quote, please comment to correct wording and source!) I want to offer a suggestion for “evaluated practice” that can really help. First the obvious sources of feedback, then the more obvious one.
Obvious sources of feedback – While you may not have pursued it diligently, you’ve probably considered asking listeners for feedback on your preaching. Perhaps you’ve handed out evaluation sheets to a select few, or perhaps you’ve asked for feedback on a specific issue of content, clarity or delivery. Perhaps you’ve sent your mp3 to another preacher or trusted friend for critique. Perhaps you’ve gone so far as to form a preaching team that includes non-preachers, creative communicators, etc., to evaluate and feed into your church’s preaching.
The more obvious source of feedback – Perhaps this is so obvious, but it’s worth a mention. Feedback as a form of evaluation is something you can also do for yourself. Don’t just do this yourself and avoid the input of others, but don’t miss this either. After preaching, why not carve out some time to prayerfully evaluate the message. What went well? How did the time slip away in the middle section? Which transition felt clunky? When did attention drop? If possible, sometimes listen to the message and ask the same questions, plus, How much variation is there in vocal punch, pitch, pace and pause? Now and then get a video of yourself and also watch for eye contact, gestures, expressions, movement, etc. Whatever you do, whether it is thinking back over the message, listening to it, or watching it, be sure to make some notes. Perhaps have a journal of sermon evaluation. That journal will offer nudges in the right direction, and great encouragement when problem areas become strengths in time.
After all, evaluated practice makes perfect . . . or realistically, evaluated practice makes better.