Each week we want to give our people the best sermon we have ever preached. We pray for God’s wisdom and power. We study and write. We wordsmith and craft clear illustrations. We practice and we edit before we stand in that sacred place of proclamation to deliver what we have received from God’s Word. Still, the routine of preparation and delivery can subtly pull us into complacency, which will keep us from ever giving our best for the glory of God. Opening ourselves to meaningful critique of our sermons will help us avoid complacency and refresh our drive for excellence in preaching.
First, consider how you can develop a plan to receive helpful critique from various people within your audience. Our people are the ones who hear us the most and those to whom we owe our greatest effort. If they are not receiving the meat of our sermon we are failing. Find a few trusted men and women in your church of whom from time to time you can ask strategic questions that will provide clear feedback on your sermons. Choose these individuals carefully and be certain they are mature believers. Look for people from different backgrounds and seasons of life to get diverse perspectives. These people do not even have to know you are asking them to critique your sermon. Craft your questions to them beforehand. Here are some you might consider asking, “What was the main idea of the sermon? What points and applications did you take from the sermon? Did my illustration help you understand that sermon point? Am I doing anything with my voice or movements that distract you?” There are others you may come up with. The principle is to learn from our people what they are hearing and seeing during the sermon and from that discern changes we should make to better feed them the Word.
Next, find local pastors in your area who will agree to meet occasionally to evaluate each other’s sermons. I suggest watching videos of each other or listening to sermons before the meeting. Video is best because it allows you to discuss presence, gestures, facial expressions, and other movements. If you manuscript your sermon, bring those to the table for discussion. This will allow others to help you think through word choice, rhythm, and flow. Try to engage with men whose preaching style and delivery are different from your own. You may learn new techniques and approaches that will help you. As you critique other’s sermons you will gain a better understanding of your own pitfalls and what to improve in your work. Again, be selective of these men. It is important for all involved to willingly make themselves vulnerable and share in humility as you grow together. Do not open yourself to anyone who is not willing to give you the same freedom. Everyone involved must be seeking the glory of God and His blessing on each church represented.
Finally, approach a seasoned pastor whose preaching skills and level of craftsmanship far exceed your own and ask him to occasionally watch a sermon and offer his critique. I am certain that even the preaching professors at one of our seminaries will agree to assist you. Give him the freedom to choose which sermon he will critique. This allows him to take a random sample of your preaching and not a sermon you have prepared and delivered knowing he is watching. Meet with this person face to face if possible. In addition to their critique, ask them questions about how they prepare and continue to grow in their preaching. Get recommendations of books, articles, and other resources they think will be helpful to you. Let them suggest other preachers who may help you in specific areas where you need improvement.
These are a few steps we can take to receive helpful feedback on our preaching. Crafting and delivering sermons is an art, and we should continually seek to improve and learn. Sermon critiques from trusted people are a great tool. Select your critics carefully and the payoff will be well worth it for you and the flock you shepherd.
Tim Wheeless is the Senior Pastor of Cross Family Church in Parker, Colorado.