This post was reposted from my column on www.WorkingPreacher.com.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching at the congregation where my family and I currently worship.
Unlike when I guest preach in other locations, where I can pose big-picture questions and take on general church issues, this church is one where I know the context and am part of the community. What this meant is that for the first time in a long while I had to dig just a tad bit deeper into my understanding of the community and not rely on some tried and true themes. After preaching, I was asked how I thought it went and I gave myself an 8 out of 10. Please do not ask me what that scale really means, but suffice it to say, it was not horrible … not earth-shattering, but nothing to write home about.
Being out of the church for a while, I posed the following questions to my Facebook and Twitter communities:
I would encourage you to take a look at both sets of responses as folks offered some very thoughtful ways in which preachers can solicit helpful feedback about their preaching. As I weighed these responses and reflected on my own experience, I would offer ten questions that preachers might ask themselves when thinking about sermon feedback.
Do you even want feedback and criticism?
This seems like a no-brainer, but I suspect that there are some of us who simply do not want or feel like we need sermon feedback. While not the best long-term strategy for growth, if this is the case, then it is vital to acknowledge how this aversion to feedback will impact any system that might be attempted.
What have been your past practices for receiving feedback in general?
Look back and reflect on your current or past evaluation patterns. How have these been beneficial? What patterns need to change?
How do you deal with both criticism and affirmation?
Not everyone takes criticism or affirmation well. Because we sometimes take it either too seriously or not seriously enough. Knowing how to be even keeled with the positive and negative is crucial.
How important is it to you that people “like” your sermons?
Everyone likes to be liked, so be sure that you are not only seeking feedback from people who will generally always like you and your sermon.
There are always surprises, of course, but sometimes preachers “just know” if a sermon is good or bad. How does this self-reflection fit into the evaluation process?
When do you best receive feedback?
Some people are ready to get feedback as soon as “Amen” is spoken while others need a few days to settle. Determining when feelings will not be “raw” is important.
Who are a few people you trust to give you honest feedback?
It seems that most people lean on the words or silence of a few trusted folks in order to gauge impact of the sermon. Finding trusted, thoughtful and willing partners is key.
How do you get feedback from the larger community?
While in-depth feedback is helpful, it might also be helpful to find ways to get more general feedback from the larger community. Whether over coffee or an online survey receiving broader feedback can be gives more lenses with which to view your preaching.
How intentional and consistent are you in asking for feedback?
An important aspect of getting helpful feedback is being consistent in seeking that feedback. Asking once and then never again sends a message that getting feedback is a burden not worth the attention.
How integrated is the community in the development of the sermon and subsequent reflection upon the sermon?
Like many preachers, I have found that the more engaged and integrated in the preaching process that the congregation is involved, the better. From helping to think about sermon themes, to being asked for feedback, the entire preaching experience becomes more integrated in the life of the church and feedback is more honest.
There are, of course, many different tools and mechanics to implement an evaluation process once these questions have been asked, but without asking these kinds of questions the feedback received will be far less helpful. I would again commend the threads on Facebook and Twitter where some preachers have offered some helpful advice.
Preach on, preachers.