3 ways preachers can approach constructive criticism

Writing and delivering a sermon is like raising a child. A lot of pain, love and late nights go into getting it ready to launch… but even the slightest criticism can sting like hell’s fire. At least that’s what I imagine it’s like to raise a child, since I’ve never actually done it.

Criticism

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I once preached a sermon after which my youth minister Scott Petty told me that I’d preached like a whiny little girl. It hurt for a week. Although it was pretty brutal at the time, I’m convinced that he did it in love and that it made me a much better preacher as a result. He told me to get to the point, put it clearly, and sound like a dude. Pretty simple, but very helpful.

Paul Dale once told me not to say, “I think” before making a theological point. He said, “Tim I don’t care what you think. Tell me what the Bible says.” Again, it’s a simple point but it’s exactly what I needed to hear. I might have spent another 10 years telling people what I think without ever realising that I’d missed the point. Even small critiques can take a preacher a long way.

Constructive criticism is a strange beast. On the one hand, every body knows they need it. At least they should! How can you get better at something if nobody every tells you where you need to improve? On the other hand, it’s the last thing most preachers actually want to hear. Listening to someone pull to pieces what it took me hours to put together is not exactly my idea of fun.

The sad consequence of this truth is that too many preachers avoid feedback. As I’ve interacted with preachers over the years, I’ve come to realise that they generally fall into one of three categories when it comes to feedback. Not surprisingly, it’s usually the third category that are the best preachers:

1. They never ask for feedback– for whatever reason, this group either doesn’t think they need it or don’t want to hear it. Unless I’ve missed something, this is just plain old pride. As those who lead God’s people, we should be the first to admit that we never arrive! We can always improve, always grow, always develop. Sure it will hurt, but that’s gotta be better than going stale and starving your people!

2. They ask for feedback but don’t want it- I think you can split this group into two. The first sub-section knows they are supposed to ask for feedback, so they do… they just hope like heck that nobody ever gives it. The second group probably wants feedback somewhere deep down, but they underestimate how polite most Australian’s are. Aside from the token abrasive jerk, many Aussies will need to be pushed a few times before they really tell you what they think about your preaching.

3. They ask for feedback and push till you give it- if you know a good preacher, I can guarantee you that he or she is in this group. They know they need to improve, so they desperately seek advice on how to do so. This group are learning agile. They pick things up, they adapt, they learn from the best. They don’t care about the 90% you liked, they want to know the 10% you didn’t like. This group are willing to push through the short-term pain of critique so that they can be more effective in the future.

So which are you?

In the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of working under (in my opinion) two of Sydney’s best preachers- Paul Dale and Justin Moffatt. Both of them, without fail, have asked for feedback on multiple occasions and then pushed until I gave it. I have no doubt that this is what makes them so effective.

Question: What has been the most helpful feedback you have ever received? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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