Reflecting on Preaching – Balancing the Ego-inflating & the Soul-Crushing Feedback – Post 1

Intended Primary Audience – Fellow preachers who don’t preach weekly

Obviously this being my blog, I don’t speak for anyone else (including my friends or anyone I’ve served with in the past, currently serve with, etc.) but It’s been good for me to write about preaching as it’s forced me to think and put words to some of this.

If you are like me, I’ve come across so much stuff regarding dealing with the feedback to sermons. Our homiletics courses, preaching seminars, magazines, sites, books on preaching/teaching have offered many good words but for whatever reason it never feels like enough. How do we handle the feedback, the praises, the criticisms, the in-between comments, the awkwardness, etc.?

I’ve been in ministry for almost 13 years now. I’d say in my early years, I was really relying on the feedback. Then I went through a season that more or less thought, “I gave the message God laid on my heart” and walked away and let the encouragements and rebukes wash over me. The latter started off healthy but later I was discovering that not only was I becoming numb but (for me) it was a self-defensive mechanism that was distancing myself from community.

Those moments after giving the sermon are among the most awkward. You’ve just bore your soul to a room full of people, given the benediction, and now find yourself with a series of relatively brief encounters. Some people really appreciated the message, but don’t want to sound trite with saying, “Great message pastor and insert cliche here______” so instead, they might talk about an illustration, mention their reaction to what a particular point reminded them of or ask you about your week and your family.  In this context, the fact they stopped to talk to you is the compliment  (Of course, those that didn’t are not to be received as an insult).

Some will tell you that this sermon was the single greatest message they’ve ever heard … ever. Which is better than hearing it was the worst they’ve heard but the extreme nature of those words don’t always feel right either.  And worse, there’s no where to go but down right – “My preaching has already peaked!”

If you are a non-regular preacher like me, it’s customary for people to say, “I wish they would let you preach more.” Some will go further and say you should preach every week. Some preachers will take these words to heart and go plant their own church, some will succeed, some won’t (because among the reasons, preaching is only one aspect – an important one but only one. Another aspect is there is a danger from finding a calling from the 5 minutes of feedback after a sermon but I digress). Some preachers will allow the ego to balloon and some will take it in stride and interpret the feedback as a sentiment of encouragement.

So what does one do when they’ve just been told that was the best sermon they’ve ever heard?  Thank them for the encouragement and ask them how their week went.

There is such a danger in believing your own hype as it not only feeds your ego but it also has the potential to create a strand of disunity within the congregation. It is very similar to that line that circulates football teams, “The most liked player on any football team is the second-string quarterback.”

The reality is people have to say something to you, again, you just shared your heart for 35 minutes (and if you stunk, then you shared for 45 minutes ;) and if you put yourself in the lobby to connect with people (some of the best conversations ever happen there afterall), if people don’t stop, it feels like you’ve been left hanging. So many try to say something.

Given the time, the words are short and border on feeling trite and cliche. Don’t fault the feedback, it would likely be different if you were sitting down over coffee but even then, at some point, we have to give our sermons, walk away from the pulpit, realize it’s not about us, receive the words from the community and process in communion with God.

From the preacher’s mentality, you want people to think the message was solid, Biblically-grounded, relevant, applicable, etc. but when a congregant tells you that, depending on who it is, you have little idea of what to say. Again it’s an awkward moment. Just go with it, allow people to share what is on their minds, receive as much as you can, and ultimately seek your identify in your time of reflection and prayer to the Lord.

There are a lot of things to reflect upon – for me these are some of my specifics:
“Did I honor the Lord tonight?
“Did I feel prepared as I was delivering?”
“Was this message accessible to those who are over-churched/under-churched?”
and a couple more but all these questions usually come up with an answer of “Yes and No” … and that’s good.
If you can get a copy of your message, critique yourself, what went well, what didn’t, what can be done next time?

You can’t live in the world filled with the praises of people. Encouragement is good and needed, but again, the blessings we find in communion with the Lord needs to be there as well. Next post will discuss processing the criticism and how to respond.

Thanks for reading, preachers and non-preachers, feel free to comment.

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