I had the privilege of visiting Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, a few years ago while my wife, Kandi, and I were in London. Standing in the church where the prince of preachers faithfully expounded God’s Word was truly moving. In addition to having a worldwide preaching ministry, Spurgeon had a heart to train up the next generation of ministers.
In Spurgeon’s book An All-Round Ministry, he motivated his students to craft sermons worthy of being listened to:
I have frequently said to myself that I would not go across the road to hear myself preach; but I will venture to say of certain brethren that I would even go across the road in the other direction not to hear them preach. Some Sermons and prayers lend support to the Theory of Dr. William Hammond, that the brain is not essential to Life. Brethren, I trust that none of you will be content with mechanical services devoid both of mental and spiritual force. You desire to do your master’s work as it ought to be done, and therefore you long for excellent gifts, and still more excellent graces. You wish that people may attend to your discourse, because there is something in it worthy of their attention, You labor to discharge your ministry, not with Lifeless method of an automation, but with the freshness and power which will render your ministry largely effectual for its sacred purposes.[i]
Better preaching is a result of disciplined study, faithful exegesis, and proper application. This should be the aim of everyone tasked with delivering the Word of God to a congregation of any size. In addition to these elements, let me offer one often overlooked practice that will revitalize your messages each week: a feedback loop.
I learned this discipline years ago from my friend David Platt, president of the IMB. Whenever I would travel with David to hear him preach, he would ask me something on the drive home: “Robby, give me one thing to keep and one thing to work on.” Years later when I became the pastor of my first church in Louisiana, I implemented the same feedback loop with trusted men in the church. Why? I reproduced what was introduced to me.
I know that hearing Mrs. Ethel encourage you on the way out of church every week (“Pastor, that’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard!”) is flattering; however, it will not help you develop as a preacher. Meeting together with a few trusted staff members, friends, seminary students, key teachers, deacons, or elders for constructive critique gives you a space to evaluate your message and implement new ideas into upcoming ones.
Every week, I meet with a few staff members to prepare my sermon for the upcoming Sunday. Together, we walk through the fundamental practices of identifying the central idea of the text, identifying doctrines in the passage, formulating points for an outline, crafting a working proposition, and determining how to apply the Truth. Before we begin our time of preparation, I instruct the group to “Give me one thing to keep and one thing to work on.”
Unfortunately, some pastors are not open to criticism—constructive or not—about their messages. This is a grave oversight. Preachers of God’s Word must eradicate pride in order to humbly deliver His truth. We should be welcoming advice, insight, and guidance from those who hear our messages each week.
Is it painful at times? Yes.
Can it feel discouraging? Sure.
Is it helpful? Immensely—when it’s done with the right spirit and in the proper context.
Additionally, you will create an environment around yourself that encourages depth and fosters an atmosphere of discipleship. Each person you invite in to offer feedback will grow as they evaluate your messages. They will listen more carefully and critically to what you say and apply God’s Word to their lives more deeply than before.
So let me encourage you to identify a few trusted people in your church (staff or lay leaders), set aside an hour or so each week, and start meeting.
You’ll be glad you did. And your people will as well.
Robby Gallaty (Ph.D., NOBTS) is the Pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, TN. He is the President of Replicate Ministries, a ministry devoted to educating, equipping, and empowering men and women to make disciples who make disciples. Robby is the author of Growing Up and Rediscovering Discipleship.
[i]Charles Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry (London, England: Banner of Truth, 1960), 205.