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.
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!