It is hard to improve at preaching, or to gauge how you’re doing, without getting input from others. Every preacher receives unsolicited feedback ranging from flattering to outright rude, but how can a pastor seek feedback? Here are four ways to start.
Develop a Sermon Input Team
Whatever you choose to call it, gathering a group of people who can give you feedback on your preaching (as well as input on future sermons) can be priceless. I have a few friends who meet with such groups, and they find great new perspectives and ideas by having a sounding board. One friend says that most of the creative or visual ideas that surface in his preaching come from this group, because he is not wired to think that way. In my own experience, I have often found this incredibly helpful.
Brace yourself, because this might hurt. Do you know someone who doesn’t pull any punches? A real straight shooter who never leaves any doubt as to what is on his or her mind? Ask them what they think of your preaching. It might hurt, but it will save a lot of time. Why waste your time with people who will tiptoe around the subject? You want people who want to build you up, not tear you down, but it’s better to get to the bottom of what you can do better as soon as possible.
There is no one way to preach well, and we all have a certain style, so a great way to expedite the evaluation process is to ask for the input of other preachers. Identify some preachers who are already preaching the way you do at a high level (or the way you want to preach), and get tips from them.
It can also be helpful, however, to seek input from preachers who do NOT preach like you (or don’t preach the way you want to preach). They can help you see the shortcomings of your style that you might miss because of your bias, and help you to diversify your delivery style in order to effectively reach even more people.
I’ve found this to be a really helpful way to get input. Whether it’s anonymous or not, you can get helpful (even surprising) feedback from a survey. It can also be an unobtrusive, and less-threatening way to give people a chance to give you feedback.
You can ask:
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of my preaching?
- If you could change one thing about my preaching this week, what would you change?
- Who are your favorite preachers, and what do you like about their preaching?
- What is your favorite style of sermon?
- What is the most memorable or meaningful sermon you have heard me preach, and what made it so memorable or meaningful for you?
A simple survey, distributed via an online form or a hard copy paper, might yield surprising or even delightful results.
Filtering The Feedback:
Not all feedback is helpful feedback. Just as the same room can be too cold for one person and too warm for another, the same is true with preaching. You may receive very different reviews from the same congregation. Once you have received your feedback, it may be wise to spend some extended time in prayer, and to seek the counsel of a few trusted advisors if you are unsure on how to proceed.
Dr. Steve Dunmire is Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY). He is an ordained pastor in the Wesleyan Church, and was a pastor in Buffalo-Niagara region churches of New York State for 12 years. Steve also serves as director and primary instructor for Houghton College’s Equipping for Ministry program, which provides non-traditional classes for adults seeking ordination and personal enrichment. Steve is married to Tammy, and they have four children. For more content visit SteveDunmire.com, or follow him on twitter at @DrSteveDunmire