Four Reasons You Need Weekly Sermon Evaluation

Any preacher who has been through bible college or seminary knows that one of the most painful experiences of a theological education is preaching class. Preaching in front of a professor and your peers, opening yourself up to their critique, is humbling and often extraordinarily painful. My experience was no different. However, as painful as it may be, a good professor and a good preaching class can help improve your preaching in significant ways. I know that mine served to do just that. I have an undergrad in theology and an M.Div. so I took preaching in college and seminary. Both experiences helped me but studying preaching under Dr. Ben Awbrey at Midwestern Seminary was one of the most helpful experiences of my academic career.

As you take a preaching course, there aren’t many things most of us dread more than the preaching evaluation forms that your professor and classmates fill out to provide objective critique of your messages. It’s an incredible relief when you get to say goodbye to those things upon the successful completion of your preaching class. In light of that, you might think I’m crazy, but one of the helpful things I did as a pastor was to create a condensed, digital version of the sermon review form and ask a handful of trustworthy people in the congregation to anonymously fill it out each week after my sermon. I was careful to choose people that were representative of the demographic makeup of the church, and who would take seriously the responsibility of responding each week. Additionally, I was careful to make sure that the form was anonymous so that they could have freedom to reply as truthfully as possible.

The benefits here are probably obvious, but let me clarify a few of them.

1. It required me to constantly remain in the posture of a student.
The pastor is almost always in a position of authority at the church. I am a big believer that the pastor needs to regularly place themselves in the position of a student. If not, pride has the potential to grow unchecked in the pastor’s life.

2. The Lord regularly used it to keep me humble.
Related to the previous point, even when I preached what I thought was a great sermon, this little form reminded me how fallible I was/am. It was a good and regular reminder of how deeply I need the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Word if I am to ever be a good and faithful preacher.

3. It sharpened my preaching skills.
A few years of seminary or college is not ever enough to fully develop a preacher. This weekly exercise forced me to evaluate my preaching on a regular basis and helped provide for me tools to grow in my skill as a preacher.

4. It clarified for me missing elements in my sermon preaching preparation.
No one is able to see all of their weaknesses. We all need people we trust to lovingly call them out for us. As preachers, if we are not careful we insulate ourselves from helpful critique and then find ourselves only receiving critique that is harmful and not given from a spirit of love and affirmation. This helped remedy those problems.

You may not think this is a good idea, but in the off case that you do, I’d love to give you a free resource to help you kick this sort of reflective exercise in your own congregation. I’ve created a generic template that you can use in your own church as a Sermon Response Form. Be careful not to simply give out this link to those you want to critique you. If you do, I’m going to get their responses. 😉 But feel free to use this template to create your own free Sermon Response Form. I think you’ll find it a worthwhile and helpful exercise.

Click here to see the FREE template.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you think this is a good idea? Have you tried it before and, if you have, what advice can you give to others? Share in the comments below!

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Friends, we are without excuse.

This article originally appeared at LifeWay.com/Pastors

I’ve seen hunger up close. In the dusty villages of West Africa, I have seen the extended bellies caused by malnutrition and the desperation in the eyes of a mother who doesn’t know how to feed her baby. These images are hard to forget. When I look at my own daughters today and think about not being able to feed them, I can’t imagine the helplessness felt by those who cannot feed their own children. I don’t want to imagine it, but for the sake of those who are hurting, I must imagine it.

There was a time when the images I witnessed in Burkina Faso would be limited to the pages of LIFE magazine for most Americans. Yet today, the information age has transformed our ability to know world realities. In a matter of seconds, we have access to the statistics, the stories and the faces of those who are affected by all manner of human needs–the most pressing of which is hunger.

  • One out of six people in the world today are undernourished.
  • 3.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of hunger-related causes.
  • One out of seven people in the United States access food banks to provide food for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, because of the crush of data and statistics around us, it can be easy to run right past these numbers. I want you to stop, though, and think about them for a moment. Consider your own family, your friends and your church. What if those statistics were born out in the circle of people you know and love? I’m positive most, if not all, of us would be moved to do something.

Friends, we are without excuse. All over Scripture we are called to serve the physical needs we encounter, yet many of us spend our days focused on our own needs and wants. How is your church addressing this global crisis? How is your family serving those in need in your community? Have you prayed for those who don’t know where to go for their next meal?

On Oct. 11, churches across the country will participate in Global Hunger Sunday, calling attention to the hunger needs around the world and in their community, as well as taking steps to end this crisis. Global Hunger Relief exists for this purpose, supporting projects implemented to feed the hungry and transform communities. I am extremely grateful that 100% of every dollar given to GHR goes directly to hunger-related projects. There’s no administrative entanglement to limit the advance of your money to help eliminate this tragic problem.

Today, GHR dollars are being used to fund a formula program in West Africa–feeding up to 300 babies a week who would otherwise be severely stunted or die from lack of proper nutrition. This project and hundreds of others are taking place through the work of GHR partners like IMB, NAMB and BGR. I wish you would consider joining us on Oct. 11 to show these faces to your congregation, tell these stories, and help us save lives in Jesus’ name.

Resources and videos for participating in Global Hunger Sunday are available at globalhungerrelief.com/resources.

You can download a free bulletin insert here.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

God didn’t call you to be a Super-Pastor

This article originally appeared at Lifeway.com/ChurchLeaders

The “Super-Pastor” expectations that so often seem to go hand-in-hand with modern church leadership are a black mark on the church. The “Super-Pastor” is the pastor who is always on call, ready to serve; nights, weekends and vacations are no barrier, they never miss a hospital visit, they always preach with passion and with conviction, and so on. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? And like every other pastor, I’ve bad mouthed the whole concept, and bemoaned its existence, until I realized that its presence was, in large part, the fuel that kept my ministry (and even worse – my soul) going. Let me show you what I have learned.

I believe that we live in a culture that rests on the twin pillars of independence and consumerism; both of which strike at the heart of Christianity. Our cultural commitment to this end leads to a number of ramifications. For instance, we expect professionalism by those who serve us. I don’t mean that we expect professional behavior as much as I think we expect a certified professional to be the one doing the serving, or work. We don’t generally see shade-tree mechanics anymore, we would never visit an unlicensed doctor, and you can’t show up in court with a lawyer who doesn’t have a law degree. In fact, when I recently had a tree cut down in my yard, I made sure that the person doing the job was insured and bonded so that I wouldn’t be liable for any shoddy work. This desire for professionalism, when coupled with a consumer-driven view of the church makes for a bad combination.

I think most of us shop for churches the way I like to shop for blue jeans. When I look for blue jeans I look for the best store, offering the most comfortable product and asking the smallest price from me (mostly because I’m cheap). We do the same thing in the church. When we are looking for a church we even refer to it as, “church shopping.” Our means of determining a good church generally center on finding a great church “product” that fits us most comfortably, and asks the least of us. Once there, we expect a professional pastor to deliver to us goods and services, of the spiritual kind. We view church as a place, not as a people, and we go there on occasion to get our spiritual “fill-up” where the professional dispenses the goods and services while we sit in the chairs, watching (read: being entertained) and we put some money in the plate on occasion so that we’ve rightly paid for the goods and services we are receiving from the pastoral professional. We then go home, “filled up” and ready to make it though another week, as if church is a place where go to get our “spiritual pit-stop”. In this environment pastors, we aren’t creating disciples – we are crafting consumers, and we are very good at it.

In this context, we have developed a pattern for the pastor where they serve our spiritual needs in any and all ways we deem appropriate, and in doing so we have created the “Super-Pastor” complex. But, while many pastors decry this publicly, I’m convinced most of us never really want it to go away. See, it occurred to me, in my own life, that the churches I have served are full of people with emotional baggage. In fact, every person on the planet carries their own baggage. In the midst of this baggage, each of us tries to find ways to self-medicate, to help us handle the baggage. Some use food, some use alcohol, some use sex, but all of us use something. For the pastor, though, the emotional need is generally no different. We have our own various kinds of emotional baggage, and while we may occasionally self-medicate using the same means as everyone else, the truth is a fair number of us use ministry as a means of self-medicating. We suffer from identity issues, or morale issues, or affirmation issues, or even purpose, and each of these emotional needs are served every time a consumer-driven people calls on us to serve, and we do, and then they affirm us as the great pastor who does what no one else can do. Let’s be honest, when the sweet older lady grabs us by the arm and says to us at the end of the service, “Pastor, no one preaches to me like you do” it’s like nectar to our souls. It is sweet, indeed.

So what do we do about it? While there’s not enough room here to be comprehensive, I do think one of the solutions is found in Ephesians 4. Paul tells the church at Ephesus,

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. – Ephesians 4:11-13 (HCSB)

God’s vocational design for church leaders is to equip the saints for works of ministry, not to do ministry for the saints. In other words, we enlist, equip and deploy the people in our churches so that, together, we serve the ministry needs of our church family. We kill the “Super-Pastor” when we hand off ministry, prepare others to do what we have historically done, and keep ourselves from always being front and center. In this paradigm pastors don’t stop doing ministry, no they do ministry but they do so along with the rest of the body, and not because they are the pastor, but because they are a member of the body, and every member of the body is equipped to serve together.

The great thing is that, when we embrace this model of leadership, Jesus is much more likely to get the credit. When we do everything, serving as the “Super-Pastor,” we too easily get the credit as the one spinning all the plates. In the midst of it we can even get more credit by appearing humble and overworked (all the while, actually loving the attention and affirmation it affords to us). Instead, what might the church look like if we pushed back, in a truly counter-cultural way, against the rampant independence and consumerism and killed the “Super-Pastor” by equipping the saints, doing ministry together, and the pastor fading into the background? I’m convinced that Jesus would be honored and pastor, you might just keep your ministry from killing you while you try to use it to feed your soul.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

A Gospel that Rewards

This past Sunday I preached at First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS on the topic, “The Simple Gospel: A Gospel that Rewards.” We examined Jesus’ words, describing the gospel and our response to the gospel, from Luke 9.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Happy Birthday Tracy!

Today Tracy celebrates her birthday. She’s 35 today (and yes, she gave me permission to post her age), and I couldn’t be more amazed at who she is and what God has done in her life. My wife is the definition of a Proverbs 31 woman. I am so in love with her. I know that I am not alone in appreciating Tracy, though. There are man of you who also know how amazing she is. With that said, I would love to invite you to celebrate Tracy’s birthday with us.

Some of you may be aware that we are in the process of adopting a child. We have invested pretty heavily to make it happen, and yet we cannot proceed any further without help from people like you. In honor of Tracy’s 35th birthday, we would like to invite at least 35 people to partner with us in our adoption journey by donating at least $35 this week. This would honor Tracy on her birthday, and also really help us raise some more money that we need for the next step in the adoption process. Some of you may remember that we did a similar exercise for my birthday last October. During that celebration we were able to raise enough to cover the cost of our dossier, which is completed and now in Africa. We are currently waiting for the government to match us with a child. As soon as that happens we have to pay $11,000, and your help as we celebrate Tracy’s birthday will get us a bit further down the road to having that money covered.

Thankfully we have partnered with a great organization called AdoptTogether to help us raise money, so anything you donate will be tax deductible. That makes it a win/win, right? 😉

If you want to donate, you can click on [this link] and go directly to our AdoptTogether Fundraising Page.

If you want to give by check, you can do that too by mailing a check to the address below. Please make sure to indicate that it’s for “The Fries Family” on both the envelope and the memo line when you send the check:

AdoptTogether
251 W Central Ave.
#278
Springboro, OH 45066

Also, would you take a minute and share this with your social media accounts? We need all the exposure we can get!

Finally, if you would be willing to sign up as a prayer partner with us, we would love to hear from you. You can sign up using the form below.

Thank you so much for considering this. We are genuinely grateful for your partnership!

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Celebrate, Pastor.

Pastor’s, let’s be honest, as much as difficulties in the church can often trouble us, we are naturally problem-solvers. Whether it’s dissecting a biblical text, designing a discipleship strategy, helping unravel spiritual needs in a church member, or serving a family as they search for hope in the midst of grief, we like to approach and address problems. It’s among the most consistent things we do for and with the local church. With that said, I have noticed that many pastors struggle with celebration. We move from one problem to the next with little thought of relaxing and celebrating what God has done. In fact, many of us spend most of our time looking ahead at what we think God should do, rather than celebrating what he has already done. The problem with this approach is that it can burn our people out. More importantly than that, it doesn’t resonate well with the Christian experience. Christ came to give us life – abundant life. His yoke is easy. He guards our heart and our mind. He calls us to be still and know that he is God. I could go on and on. Yes God wants us to push forward. Yes, his mission must be priority. Yes this world is not perfect, and we are to advance his gospel as he heals the world. However, all of that is a means to an end, namely the end of being adopted by God, resting in his grace and enjoying life in him. When we constantly push our churches for more and more, without celebrating what God has done, we subconsciously instruct our people that life in Christ is a works-based faith, with little room for resting in him.

What should we do about it, then? In truth there is a host of things that could be done, but in short, let me encourage you to share stories of transformation from the pulpit/platform. I have done this a number of ways, and it can be as simple as bringing someone on the platform and interviewing them for 3-5 minutes about God’s work in their lives. We have found, however, that one of the best options available is to share stories through video with the church. This doesn’t have to be expensive (in fact, it can be almost free), and can be pretty simple to accomplish, and can go a long way to encouraging your church and can even be used to tell the story of God’s work to the community at large. It really can have a powerful impact. Additionally, to be clear, we didn’t come up with this. We have followed the lead of plenty of other churches who have done the same. I just want to continue to share what we have learned, and what has been helpful for us.

Find a method to record, whether it’s something as simple as your iPhone, or a more expensive option, and sit down with some folks, and ask them to share their story. We have found that a small investment ($200 or less) in a wireless microphone, and making sure that lighting is good goes a long way to making the video quality strong. In fact, I would go so far as to say that good lighting and good audio is almost more important than an expensive camera. Camera technology has advanced so much that your iPhone can record incredible videos, if you supplement it with a good microphone and good lighting. Nevertheless, edit that video down to 2-3 minutes, using some simple software, and show it in your services. Even more importantly, though, is the need to share the videos through your various social media channels. This not only helps spread the celebration throughout the week, but it gives your church a great opportunity to share with their friends and family, and many of them may be unchurched. As a pastor/church leader, I am constantly on the look-out for ways to help our people facilitate face-to-face, person-to-person advertising for our church. I would much prefer investing time and energy in that, then paying for traditional forms of advertising.

We recently completed a 4 week sermon series entitled, “I love my church.” Essentially it was a 4 week series on a theology of the church. We created a couple of these videos for every worship service, and then shared them via social media. Below is an example of one of these videos. Watch that and tell me that’s not incredibly exciting!

Another helpful idea that we use is to show stories of gospel transformation before each baptism. This allows the church to know each person being baptized a little better and it helps baptism become an even clearer testimony of faith. When we share the videos on social media, it turns that testimony into a viral statement as the one being baptized shares their story of faith with friends and family. Here’s an example of a man in our church who was powerfully changed by the gospel.

Pastor or church leader, I hope you understand that this is not that difficult, can be nearly free and yet can have a significant impact on the congregation that you help to lead. Let’s be troubleshooters, yes, but let’s also take the time to celebrate what God has done and is doing in our churches, and watch as he uses that to encourage our people and draw more people to faith in him.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.