Sermon Evaluation

It probably goes without saying that personal sermon evaluation is one of the hardest disciplines to grasp. I identify with what my friend Rick (Holland) has often said, “after many sermons I feel ready to resign promising myself never to preach again.” A litany of questions flood the mind after delivering a sermon: Did I preach Christ with clarity? Did I clearly set-forth the meaning of God’s Word? Did I balance strong exhortation with loving encouragement? Did I leave the flock hungry or did I fill their plates? Questions abound and multiply.

To be sure I am convinced that there is a way in which a preacher can live that disqualifies him from ever preaching again (cf. 1 Cor.9:27, a topic for a later post). In short I believe this is a reflection of what he cultivates in his heart on a regular basis (whether holy or hellish). For added measure, no preacher should be without a shared accountability wherein brothers in Christ are provided free access to his “hidden life.”

However, I believe such accountability should extend to a pastor’s preaching as well. I realize many will disagree with what I’m about to say but I see the benefits of having men around me who will give me honest feedback about my preaching. I have seen pastors who surround themselves with “yes” men who never truly experience the sharpening process of shared leadership. In my church it is my fellow elders who give me this feedback. They do so with love, patience and carefully measured words. One of my elders prayed for three months before he shared a particular concern with me and my life is richer for it.

I often think back to seminary days where we would have the torture device known as “preaching labs” whereby fellow students and an instructor would provide feedback on sermons we preached in their midst. The “advice” would often range from silly to the truly helpful. However now I have a real preaching lab that is conducted every Sunday morning in real time with real people (btw: seminary students are not real people). What better place to measure progress and growth for the preacher. Here are a few thoughts that may be helpful and I would love to hear your feedback on this:

  • Take time to evaluate a couple of messages at each elder’s meeting. Ask hard questions and listen to everything that is said without getting into a defensive posture or argument.
  • Meet with younger men in the ministry and let them help you pick apart your sermon over breakfast. These are the guys who are filled-up with theology and lots of reading, if they didn’t get your sermon then few others probably did.
  • Go to thoughtful and trusted laymen and ask them how they are growing through the pulpit ministry. Ask them what you can do to be more effective as a communicator and teacher of the Word. Do you have any bad habits that make listening difficult or distract?
  • Here’s a hard one: do you preach too long (or too short)? Good and godly men disagree on the “how long” question. Piper rarely preaches past thirty minutes and MacArthur has rarely preached under an hour. I recently came to grips with the fact that I just preach far too long more often than not. There is nothing holy about wearing people out beyond what they can endure so the preacher must measure his economy of words and make them count.
  • Seek out the prayer warriors in your church and have them pray for all aspects of the sermon preparation and delivery.
  • I often work on my sermon up to the last minute, many times editing in the pew just before I preach. However, try to allow some time between final prep and the actual delivery. I often relish the Saturday’s where I can spend the day away from my notes and think through the various aspects of tomorrow’s sermon. Sometimes I only have an hour in the early Sunday AM to do this but it’s always helpful.
  • I would be interested to hear your thoughts and ideas on sermon evaluation.
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26 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Caleb on February 11, 2007 at 6:28 am

    You said like CJ Mahaney here. I don’t know many pastors who have this type of humility.

    It is easy to pass out a survey but very difficult to not attack people who answer you honestly!

    Some good opinions here!

  2. Over at the Calvin Seminary Center for Excellence in Preaching website, they have this great sermon evaluation tool. You can hand it out or use it to evaluate your own sermons once in a while while listening to the tape or watching it on video.

    That same website also has a bunch of really great guidelines for pastors and elders, along with a sermonic year planning retreat outline.

    I preach about 40 minutes every week, but my service starts at 9:30, so people aren’t all hungry or tired out. I used to preach about 30 minutes, when I manuscripted.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Jay

  3. Wow! You are one brave preacher! :)

    Seriously, though. I am very impressed by the candor of your comments. If only these things would happen!

    Unfortunately, in most church live you find the preacher trying to find a safe ground away from the constant gaze of the congregation and you find the congregation scrutinizing his every move.

    It’s no wonder the candid environment you describe can’t (or won’t) exist in most churches.

    In my central Alabama SBC church, for example, the deacon body has very little information concerning what the preacher will be preaching. An attempt to evaluate his sermon would be considered an attempted coup!

    Again – a very good post! Keep up the good work!

  4. […] , Paul Lamey , Sermon Evaluation  Paul Lamey at Expository Thoughts writes this insightful post concerning “sermon evaluation.” An excerpt: I realize many will disagree with what […]

  5. I found that one of the most effective sermon evaluation tools for me was getting married. It is easy for my wife to tell me when my thoughts were scattered, I went to long, or I did well. She sees me during the week, and she knows if I put in the work behind the sermon. She knows when I have been praying over a passage. She is my best sermon critic.
    There are many times when I, like Rick Holland, am ready to pull out the resignation letter and find another trade. But when I am in that place my wife is always there to encourage me. Sometimes that means telling me I did well. Other times it means telling me that I need to work harder. And still other times it means telling me that at least I read the bible out loud in front of people! Thank God for my Wife.

  6. […] you to sign up for our free email list and or to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!The Expository Thoughts Blog has a post up on Sermon Evaluation. He asked for the thoughts of his readers. I am in an evaluation […]

  7. That’s a good list for sermon evaluation. I’m going to write a few of those down for future use and evaluation. I’ve found that my biggest gauge for a sermon usually is not so much in the delivery as it is in how much I pray before and after for the fruit of God’s word in the hearts of the people to whom I preach. I find time and time again that I am utterly deficient in this area of sermon prep.

  8. Good list Paul. It can be hard to take critique, especially when you put so much effort and thought into something, but this just displays my own pride.

    I struggle with asking people to give me feedback because it seems like you’re just asking for pats on the back. I do have a few godly men who will tell me the truth. These men are invaluable.

  9. Sherman at “Soul Preaching” (see comment #6) has a few helpful thoughts that balance some of the things I mentioned in my post. Thanks everyone for your input.

  10. Whenever the opportunity to preach on a moment’s notice comes up – you know, where some calamity or other thrusts you into the pulpit without any notice whatsoever (Hey Bob, the pastor just called on his cell – he can’t make it, and we start in two minutes…can you…?) such that your first prayer for the sermon happens right there in the pulpit – I think there is something to be learned from evaluating not only how we preached under these circumstances, but what we preached. Did we rehash an old theme? Preach out of our pet theology? Was our sermon more personal, or less? Did we try and cite everyone else, or could we make our points from scripture? Was there more scripture or less in our sermon? etc.

    Such an evaluation may tell us a great deal about how we really preach, then again, it might not – I am just thinking out loud really.

  11. […] Expository Thoughts offers some ideas for pastors to evaluate their sermons […]

  12. […] out is the evaluation of the sermon — either before or after the sermon is delivered. I found this post that discusses the importance sermon […]

  13. Posted by Terry on February 18, 2007 at 9:04 am

    I guess I have gone full circle with this and in our home church setting now, my preaching method is more “socratic” (probably more Pauline)and discussion oriented. Their is certainly nothing wrong with what you are speaking of for sure. God seems to use different methods and not what we have always been accustomed to in regard to sermon delivery, etc. Sometimes we can tend to place God in a box instead of allowing Him to use different methods while staying true to the text at hand. Going through the text while opening the setting up for questions and directed discussion has been incredibly refreshing while giving the listener the opportunity to ask that question they have always needed to ask and have it answered in the same setting. Of course, this always needs evaluation too to make sure we are accurately dividing the word of God. You make excellent points and they are great reminders in regard to evaluation.

  14. Thanks Terry,

    I really appreciate your perspective and the balance you are seeking to achieve. However, I don’t know that I would link the Apostle Paul with the Socratic method since he seemed to bend over backwards to say that what we do is “preach” (i.e. proclaim, herald, set-forth and so on)and that it had no kinship to philosophical method (cf. 1 Cor. 1).

    I think there is plenty of room for discussion type groups within the local church but preaching is never once couched in such terms in Scripture. I do exactly what you’re talking about over meals, small groups and smaller Bible studies. I could be wrong so help me to see where preaching is viewed as a discussion in Scripture. Thank you for your input and thoughts here.

  15. Posted by Judd Rumley on February 20, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    I have heard at Capital Hill Baptist Church (Mark Dever Sr. Pastor), they have a Sunday service review in which the entire worship service (music, reading, sermon) is evaluated so that Dever and Co. can better serve the congregation. Your post and Dever’s procedure help us young guys get our hearts right.

    Thanks.

  16. Sermon Evaluation! Interesting Idea. I am not sure that most congregrations have been trained to biblically evaluate preaching. To ask the membership if the preacher has preached a good sermon, are you kidding!

    What I have found as a good sermon evaluation method is studying those preachers whom I have great respect in their preaching. And those website as this one to give some insight into preaching methods.

    Another method would be with Elders in the church who have a knowledge about preaching.

    Charles

  17. Posted by Andy on February 21, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Paul,

    Enlight of your comments above I would be interested in hearing your and other guys thoughts about how “kergyma” as it is presented in the NT speaks to style, methodology, etc. In other words, what does “proclamtion/preaching” include or exclude from a stylistic standpoint?

    D.A. Carson in “The Cross and Christian Ministry” addresses some of the issues surround that discussion.

  18. Andy,

    As I’m sure you know, the term “kergyma” is a loaded term in theological circles. When I was in college, I read a lot of Bultmann (big mistake!) and he paved the way for most of the modern discussions of kergyma. Bultmann hijacked the term in order to drive a wedge between the Jesus of History and the Christ of faith. Needless to say, his argument is unfounded in Scripture.

    I’m not sure of your reference to Carson’s “Cross and Ministry” (it has been a while since I read it). Looking back at Carson, I didn’t see a formal discussion on this but maybe you can provide some page numbers (maybe p.37?).

    As for style, the word “kergyma” is never defined in Scripture in terms of style (unless one considers what it’s not in 1 Cor. 2:4). However, that is not to say that it has no substance or definitive “look.” Jesus described the preaching of Jonah as “kergyma” (Mt. 12:41; cf.Lk. 11:32). We can also say that it is the content of the Christian faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 15:14). Also from Paul we can see that he associated “kergyma” with his ministry to the Gentiles (2 Tim. 4:17; Ti. 1:3). Apart from these uses, the NT is silent (except for one use in the disputed ending of Mark 16:8).

    Therefore, I would be cautious about building a theology around such a word or drawing conclusions about modern “styles” in preaching from this word’s usage in the NT. There are other words for preaching that are far more prominent in Scripture (e.g., kerysso, euaggelizo, martyreo, didasko). If this is not what you were looking for then maybe you could give us more information and direction on where you’re coming from. Thanks for the question.

  19. Posted by Andy on February 22, 2007 at 2:11 am

    Paul,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I haven’t read Bultmann and don’t plan on it in the immediate future. (I was looking in and around pg 37 on Carson)

    It seemed that you were ruling out any kind of dialouge in preaching based on 1 Cor 2 in your comment to Terry. I was just trying to understand that and how you got there.

    It just seemed like you were making a style distinction in your earlier comments but it seems like you doing less of that in the later comment.

    Maybe this a dialouge to have over lunch where we can have bit of back and forth then on a blog. Especially since this is completely off the topic of sermon evaluation. Thanks again for your comments. Grace and Peace.

  20. I agree Andy,

    I see a trend among some today that tends to downplay preaching and turn it into a conversation. I was simply pointing out to Terry that I don’t see that in Scripture. That is, I don’t see preaching as this “back and forth” conversation like you and I would have over lunch (which we should do!). That is not to say that no conversations are had within the Christian community. I think I made that much clear in my comments. I would argue that forms such as “progressional dialogue” should not be considered preaching. Rick Holland has dealt with this is the most recent addition of TMSJ (vol. 17:2, Fall 2006).

  21. Posted by Terry on February 22, 2007 at 7:25 am

    I agree with you about the trend of many in our culture to turn “preaching” in to a conversational event (emergent church). I am concerned about that too. At the same time, I do not see in scripture that standing behind a pulpit alone and having a particular sermon delivery style qualifies alone as “preaching” either.I have had those classes in seminary too! :) I am concerned that we limit God by putting Him in a box of tradition when He uses other ways of delivering/preaching of His word as well that does not dilute preaching at all. To proclaim, herald, set-forth as you described quite correctly, is done well and effectively in a setting like I described earlier and also allows for the making of disciples by devoting ourselves to the apostles teaching.(Acts 2:42) In our house church we are currently studying verse by verse from Matthew 5. While I am proclaiming, heralding and setting-forth the word of God, their is also a time of intentional discussion (conversational is not accurate here) among the saints in order to make sure their is a proper and correct understanding of the text at hand. I believe this enhances the “preaching” of the word of God and does not dilute its effectiveness. It would be a stretch to say that preaching is “downplayed” (your word) in our fellowship and it would take a rather long lunch to cover what we do on a typical Sunday morning. I think you may be (unintentionally) assuming that we have some kind of casual coffee house dialog (yuk) when actually it is very much the opposite. In terms of evaluation, my concern is have I accurately divided the text at hand based on the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the direction of the elders among our fellowship. It intimidates me greatly that I would mistreat the word in any way! We probably are in agreement more than we realize, but our method is different.

  22. Terry,

    I think you’re right, I do agree with most of what you said. However, make sure you’re listening to what I actually said and not responding to a point I never made. At no point have I said one must be devoted to a particular style or stand behind a pulpit. I think styles are highly subjective and every man is different (which is a good thing).I will say again however that nothing in the NT gives credence to a dialogue style of preaching. SO whether you sit in a circle, stand behind a pulpit (wood or plexiglas), walk around a stage, etc. the issue is that you proclaim the message, herald the Word and exposit the one meaning of the text.

  23. Posted by Terry on February 22, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Good comments and very helpful. Thanks to all!!

  24. […] 7th, 2007 by Paul Lamey I suggested here a few weeks ago that expositors should have some sort of mechanism in place whereby they are […]

  25. Posted by Dale Herr on November 5, 2007 at 5:43 am

    I have been a bible teacher since the 80’s off and on in home fellowships. I have written a few sermons and would llike to kow if I could post them where others could read and share them if they want to. If you want to preview one I’ll be glad to send it to you

  26. […] Expository Thoughts Blog has a post up on Sermon Evaluation. He asked for the thoughts of his readers. I am in an evaluation […]

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