Ten Questions to Ask When Seeking Sermon Feedback

Flickr Photo: glasgowamateur

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:

Okay preachers … assuming that you reflect on your preaching, how do go about getting helpful and informative feedback on your sermons?” Facebook | Twitter

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.

How do you evaluate your own sermons?

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.

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The Faithful Way to Sing to God? Mine.

Photo by glamhag on Flickr

On more than one occasion I have heard praise music called “7/11 music,” the same seven words sung eleven times. Because I tend to run in mainline church circles, this commentary is often served with a hearty serving of condescension and a generous side of superiority. After all, all that silly “praise” music is theologically shallow and in no way brings glory to God.

While the battles about worship and music are traditionally focused on the use of organs, guitars, hymns and drum sets, I have heard this same thing from those whom I would say have very creative music and worship expressions. So what it really comes down to is that many of us believe that the only true way to worship God is the way we do.

Now do not get me wrong, when I hear praise music that has a “Jesus is my boyfriend” vibe or organ music that seems better fit for a carnival, my skin crawls and my soul is not moved. And yet for some, that is where they meet God. Personally, I love a little bit of everything as I worship. Powerful organ music, deft guitarists, rocking bands, swaying choirs and the singing of Taize (And yes, Taize is basically the same seven words sung eleven times, *cough* *cough*) all can stir my soul. This musical buffet is not for everyone and not every community can pull it off, but this is how I meet God where I worship and I am grateful.

One of the reasons that people are so passionate about music is that this is where and how we often connect to the holy. To mess with or critique that choice is to mess with and critique the very nature of our relationship with God. Sometimes this may be needed and appropriate, but most often it only creates unwarranted conflict, cultural entrenchment and calcification of the Spirit. Whether it’s music or any other parts of our worship lives, the sooner that we embrace a reality that one music style is not more faithful than another, the sooner we will liberate our minds and hearts to experience God in new ways.

So when we so easily mock the ways in which others sing praise to God, we are buying into a culture of self-centered bullying, exclusion and judgement that have no place in the church. If anything, even in the face of theological differences, we should be finding ways to model to the world ways of dealing with difference that does not always lead to disembodiment of the faithful, but to the building up of the Body of Christ . . . and in achieving this, maybe we will truly be worshipping God.

Pass it on.