Pastors need feedback in order to improve their sermons. But helpful feedback on your sermon is hard to come by.
“Thank you” from our church as they shuffle out encourages us, but doesn’t tell us what we did well or why. Nor can we trust the woulda-coulda-shouldas that flood our head in the car ride home. I don’t know about you, but after preaching Sunday morning my brain operates at the intellectual level of tree bark. I shouldn’t be critiquing my sermon. I probably shouldn’t even be driving.
To fill this need for brutally honest, educated and constructive feedback, I suggest you start a mid-week sermon feedback meeting.
Every Wednesday several of us on the ministry staff at my church meet in our lead pastor’s office for what we call “Scripture and Sermon.” We spend the first 15 minutes reviewing last Sunday’s sermon: what was strong, what was unclear, where it could have been improved, etc. Over the next 30-45 minutes we dig into the upcoming sermon text together. Questions like “What does the text mean?” “How does the structure lend itself to a sermon outline?” “What is especially pertinent to our context?” “What needs to be illustrated?” guide our conversation.
In my experience, nothing has helped my sermons improve more than this weekly meeting. And I don’t even preach every week.
If you’re a lead or senior pastor, you may be thinking, “Why would I want to subject myself to the criticism of people who are less skilled and less experienced preachers than me?” I’m glad you asked. Here are four reasons.
1. To get feedback from people who know things about preaching.
When I watch sports, I appreciate the perspective of the commentators who have played the game themselves. The way they break down plays immediately after they happen is remarkable because they see things the average person doesn’t see.
The mid-week feedback meeting is like that, but for preaching. When you gather around your interns and associate pastors, you supply yourself with people who have done this before. They notice things most people miss. They can break down your sermon and tell you what was good and what was not so good.
How are you going to discover your blind spots? How are you going find out if that illustration worked or not? How are you going to learn what your strengths are?
You need people who know a thing or two about preaching to let you know.
2. To get good ideas for your next sermon.
This is the secret sauce to the Scripture and Sermon meeting. When everyone starts looking over the text and calls out what jumps out at them, you better have a pen and paper ready. One person notices the structure of the passage. Someone else mentions a parallel passage that you weren’t aware of. The next person shares an illustration that would bring one of the verses out perfectly.
Your missions pastor will tell you how this applies directly to evangelizing your neighbors. Your youth pastor will give you an anecdote from something that is current in the entertainment world. Before you know it, you’re thinking of how this stuff might impact real people. And you might even look hip while you’re impacting them.
Instead of starting from scratch, you already have more ideas for this sermon than you can even use.
3. To become a more humble pastor.
You can’t be the best preacher possible without the help of others. This should be obvious, since we learned to interpret and preach from professors and authors, and because we are dependent on scholars who write commentaries to help us with the academic part of our sermon prep. But even then we easily get prideful when we preach a good sermon.
But what happens when half of your good ideas came from your colleagues a few days ago? It makes it harder for you to get puffed up. Of course God gets the glory. But you can’t even say that you did it all on your own from a human level, because that closing illustration that really drove the message home wasn’t your idea. It was your youth pastor’s.
4. To train your team.
Although preaching every week is the best way to get better, not every church has enough preaching or teaching opportunities to go around. The Scripture and Sermon meeting provides a chance for your growing preachers—younger ministry staff, interns or missionaries on furlough—to interact with a sermon, evaluate it and consider how it could have been better. This weekly rhythm helps everyone in the room develop as preachers, not only the one who is being evaluated.
As a bonus, when your staff guys get a shot to preach (you give them Sunday morning opportunities, right?), you’ve overcome the scheduling hurdle because you have a meeting built into your calendar to give them feedback. How many times has it taken you several weeks before you got around to telling them how it went, as if either of you could even remember?
Get your meeting started
If your church has associate pastors, interns or people otherwise in ministry training, it is easiest for you to get this meeting started. Pick a time that works best for everyone and block it out on a weekly basis going forward.
If you are a solo pastor of a small church, this will obviously be more difficult. But there are options. You could meet with your elders or deacons. You could invite a few pastors around town. Or, if you’re married, you could start with your wife.
I understand that we are all busy, and getting used to a new weekly meeting takes time. But you will see the value in putting forth the effort to start a Scripture and Sermon meeting—and to keep it going—as you see the improvement in your preaching.