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.

In praise of ritual & tradition

Can I take a minute or two to defend ritual and tradition? It’s true that this might seem a bit odd for me. I have spent my life in an Evangelical stream that is anything but high church. In my world I have heard, more often than not, Matthew 6:7 used as a prooftext for avoiding any sort of ritualistic traditions in the church. Further, for those who know me, you may know I’ve generally been glad to adopt new behaviors, and have been very comfortable in pretty modern expressions of worship. Some of you may even be chuckling under your breath as you read this. 😉 I am increasingly convinced, though, that those of us who may have been guilty of badmouthing ritual and tradition are missing the rich value of both, and are truthfully a bit hypocritical without realizing it. It may be that our resistance to ritual and tradition is wrapped up in the rather common refrain from many church leaders that religion is a bad thing which is rather unfortunate opinion when you consider that religion is a biblical word. If God thought it important, maybe we ought to do the same? But I digress.

With all this in mind, why ought ritual and tradition matter to us?

1. Every church practices ritual and tradition.
It’s interesting to me how quick we are to diminish ritual and tradition without acknowledging our own rituals and traditions. There is no religious experience, across the globe, that has existed for any length of time that is void of ritual and tradition. Whether it’s something as simple as the time the church gathers, or something more significant like an element of the service or the order of the service, every church has its rituals and traditions. Even the most modern of churches, working hard to reflect contemporary trends and consistently embracing creative new ways to communicate the gospels are full of behaviors that are consistent week-in and week-out. Let’s begin any discourse about this topic with a little honesty to acknowledge that we all have our rituals and traditions.

2. Ritual and tradition are the foundations of some of life’s richest experiences.
Every night I come home and we gather together as a family to pray. We pray for some very specific items each night, including the use of a prayer guide that my wife put together for us featuring every Christmas card anyone sends us. Every day we pray for the family or person reflected on the next Christmas card. Finally, after we do all of that, my girls each come to me and give me a hug, and then kiss me, and then they head off to bed. It’s a ritual that we have been engaging in for years now. It’s also one of the richest moments of my day. What’s more, that little ritual makes my time with my daughters full of meaning in ways that I couldn’t experience apart from it. Our worship experiences are no different. We each have rituals and traditions. Sadly, in many cases, our rituals and traditions have lost their meaning, and in those cases the experiences are not rich and meaningful, but I think that’s a leadership issue, not a ritual issue. More on that in a moment. Let’s not dismiss all ritual and tradition simply because some of us have failed to pass down the meaning behind them, leading them to lose meaning and influence.

So how do we acknowledge the importance and value of ritual and tradition, while not allowing it to lose meaning and value?

1. Be aware of our own ritual and tradition.
This is incredibly simple, but so important. Look through your own worship experience. Spend some time in examination, and then own up to your traditions. Acknowledge them. Communicate their existence to your faith community. Don’t practice unintentional hypocrisy by derisively dismissing tradition, while you practice unacknowledged tradition of your own.

2. Use ritual and tradition to convey meaning.
Once you have recognized your tradition, carefully explain why you practice it, the theology behind it, and how it intersects and influences your worship experiences. Help the people you lead to recognize the value of repeated experiences. It seems odd that we would ever want to argue for less of a good thing, instead of more. If your church practices something that’s an important part of worship, celebrate it, don’t dismiss it.

Remember, ritual and tradition generally aren’t the problem, meaningless ritual and traditions are. Further, meaningless ritual and tradition are almost never a ritual and tradition problem. Meaningless ritual and tradition are almost always a leadership problem. Ritual and tradition almost always begins as a meaningful element in our worship gatherings. They become meaningless because we let them become so. Leaders are responsible for teaching why we do what we do. If you have ritual or tradition in your gatherings that are meaningless, it’s quite possibly your own fault (or the fault of your church’s leadership as a whole). Fix it by leading well.

3. Eliminate ritual and tradition that are void of meaning.
The final element is pretty simple, really. If you have meaningless ritual and tradition, and you cannot lead the church to understand why it is you practice that element, than get rid of it. Meaningless ritual and tradition works against genuine worship by stripping the worship experience of rich theological truth. Do not allow that to happen under your watch as a leader. Either breath new life into old ritual and tradition by teaching and leading well, or eliminate it. There really is not another good option.

*Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com and was taken by Anita Berghoef.

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.

forever by Kari Jobe

Alright friends, Easter is soon to be here and we will see burgeoning attendance, as we always do in our churches around Easter and Christmas. We will gather together, worship God en masse, and celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Thankfully, for those who have trusted Christ, every Sunday is a Resurrection Sunday, but special emphasis will be placed on resurrection this specific Sunday, and we will look to a variety of songs that celebrate His triumph over death. Worship leader Kari Jobe has a new song extolling Christ’s resurrection and I wanted to share it with you. I imagine this is going to be widely used this Easter, and I’m good with that. It is excellent.

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.

Weekend Worship :: I need thee every hour

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Weekend Worship video, but I couldn’t pass this one up. This is Sam Robson posting an acapella version of I need thee every hour. What makes it remarkable, though, is that the song is sung with 9 separate parts, and each of those parts is sung by the same person. If you enjoy this one, Robson’s YouTube channel is filled with other examples just like it.

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.

Sovereign over us

Yesterday, while worshipping together with the church body at Fairview Church, we sang a song which was new to me. We have been walking through a sermon series focusing on the hard to understand Proverbs. Yesterday’s focus was on God’s sovereignty. As we thought together about the beautiful theology of God’s sovereignty, and as our pastor Jon Akin preached a powerful message on God’s sovereignty from Proverbs 16, we sang a new song by Aaron Keyes entitled “Sovereign over us.” As we sang, it encouraged me and pointed my heart to Christ. I am so thankful for powerful music that is full of rich theological truth. There is very little that is able to stir the soul like powerful, theologically rich music is able to. Enjoy.

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.

When Indie Rock is Bad for the Church

indierock

This is a repost of an article I originally posted at ProjectTGM.com

Is it appropriate to communicate the gospel message in a manner which is shaped by its context? I think the answer is yes. I assume that contextualization is biblically a given. It is difficult to argue with any integrity that contextualization stands in opposition to scripture. Wearing pants, speaking in English, singing Amazing Grace (the original version, or Chris Tomlin’s recent offering) are all examples of faithful contextualization, and I’m thankful that all are practiced by the American church. As my friend Dr. Alvin Reid likes to say, the very existence of four Gospels, written by four separate voices, to four distinct audiences, nuanced by the audiences who are receiving each gospel, shouts to us that God values the concept of contextualization.

However, almost every time someone speaks of contextualization it seems as if their understanding of contextualization is something a bit strange and parochial, “look as close to an indie rocker as humanly possible”. I find it interesting that those committed to contextualization almost always seem to fall into this category. I am afraid that too often we seem to think that contextualization is really an effort to make us and our churches into the coolest version we can create. The more I dig into God’s word, the more I am convinced that biblical contextualization is not a planned effort to maximize “cool”, but is a concerted effort to live out the gospel by “dying to ourselves” in an effort to reach those around us. No text seems to drive this point home more clearly than Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 9.

Paul begins the chapter by pointing out that he is a man of great freedoms. He understands the gospel rightly that his adoption as a child of God is not dependent on his behavior. As a result, he is free to take a wife, enjoy the comforts of food and drink and even receive financial gain for his labors. These (and many others) are among the freedoms that are now enjoyed by every Christ follower. However, in spite of his freedoms, Paul advocates for the voluntary restriction of those freedoms for the sake of gospel advance. This passage is a strong reminder that there can be areas in our lives, which are not sin, but which can, at some point, be detrimental to Kingdom advance. In order to make this voluntary decision, however, we ultimately must value God and his gospel more than we value our personal freedoms. Verses 14 and 15 drive this point home as Paul offers an explanation for why he gives up his income in his pursuit of the gospel.

Paul goes on to explain that his justification for this kind of voluntary restriction is because he has been given a stewardship of the gospel. Faithful contextualization is necessary as we grasp the weighty responsibility with the gospel entrusted to us.

Paul points out that those who love God and love the gospel are slaves to God, and so we preach, as slaves, in an effort to see others respond in faith to Jesus. Verse 19, in particular, is helpful to this end. Paul specifically uses slave language to refer to his relationship with those who do not yet know Christ. We are often comfortable using slave language in respect to God (i.e. a slave to God) or even righteousness (i.e. a slave to righteousness), but the idea of using it in respect to those apart from God is a bit foreign to most of our vocabulary. Yet, this is exactly what Paul does. “I have made myself a servant to all” Paul says, in a statement that is speaking specifically of the larger group of humanity who still do not know God. Paul’s efforts to contextualize the gospel rests under this presupposition that he is a slave to God and man as he endeavors to advance the gospel.

Paul points out (v. 20-22) that his efforts at contextualization come out of an understanding that he is voluntarily restricting his freedoms. By doing so he is a living example of the gospel on display. Luke 9:23 says, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Biblical contextualization is an effort to live out the gospel call in the ministry setting that God has placed us.

Finally, Paul notes that this effort to contextualize the gospel is not easy. Notice his language, in verses 24-27, concerning his efforts. Paul exercises “self-control”, he “disciplines” himself. He keeps himself “under control”. Often we use this verse in an effort to inform our attempts at discipleship, but by doing so, we miss the point. These are Paul’s attempts to describe the process of dying to self that is implicit in biblical contextualization. The act of contextualizing the gospel is an act of self-sacrifice as we die to our own identity and speak faithfully the gospel in a manner that is most easily understood by our surrounding context.

Biblical contextualization is absolutely necessary, but anyone who understands it as an effort to see how far we can push the boundaries with the gospel is engaging in a theological exercise of missing the point. Contextualization should be an exercise in living out the gospel, allowing your comfortable identity to die as you find your identity in Christ. This should not result in a church full of indie rocker wannabes, but rather a multi-cultural church that is reflective of the church found in Revelation 5 and 7. Instead of a hip, cool leader that stands on cutting edge of fashion and music, a faithful contextual leader may look like a bass fishing, pearl snap wearing, southern gospel listening, country boy. They might even be a guy who wears a lemon yellow sweater vest, drives a Vespa or a Prius and listens to Genesis or James Taylor.

The point, ultimately, is that who we are, and even who we want to be, should not really matter. What matters is that we are walking with Christ, loving those around us and dying daily, as we live out the gospel. We must speak the truth in a manner which may be uncomfortable to us personally, but which communicates powerfully to those around us.

Know your audience, know the gospel, and die to yourself as you preach the gospel, faithfully, to those around you.

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.