I meet with a group of young men and women on Friday’s to evaluate the previous weeks message and to help prepare the message for the coming week. It’s a tedious process in that it takes more time preparing an element of the message with this group than it would in isolation. But I’m convinced that this practice is good for the students on the team as well as for me.
I’ve run into a little bit of push-back on the first element of what we do, which is evaluate the previous week. Some folks in ministry are of the mindset that sermons are not to be evaluated. I disagree, but I understand the sentiment. To be clear, I do not ask the students to judge the content of the scripture, but the content of the entire message and how effective the message was at explaining the scripture. I don’t ask them to judge the movement of the Holy Spirit, but I do ask them to judge me. I ask them things like, “Was I knowledgeable about what was being presented?” “Was the message biblical?” “What was the main point of the message?” etc. This evaluation is really helpful. Here are seven reasons why.
It demonstrates to the students what to look for in a well presented biblical message. Most of the students who gather with me are there to learn how to prepare messages. By evaluating me, through a template of questions they learn what area’s of preparation are important and where they are exhibited in the delivery of a message. These questions then become a preparation guide for when they are ready to deliver their own biblical message.
It prepares the students to be evaluated. The students that evaluate me will also be sharing biblical messages at some point and will themselves be evaluated. By having a standard evaluation process in place they are prepared to be graded on the human aspect of delivery in the same way that I expect to be graded. I can truly evaluate them without having to maneuver on a scale of positives and negatives. They will stand or fall in each category according to their presentation, not my over-sensitivity to their feelings.
It keeps me accountable. I picked or allowed the questions on the weekly evaluation based on aspects of human delivery that every speaker needs to be accountable for. Who tells the pastor that his message wasn’t biblical, or that he filled 3/4 of his time with personal stories, or that he skipped application, or that he missed the gospel? If he doesn’t train his people to expect the right things and gives them a structure and freedom to approach him it will never happen. In the last few weeks I’ve heard sermons/ podcasts where the pastor labored over “extra-biblical” points and preached from word’s not really present in the passage. Those pastors would have benefited from genuine feedback earlier in their ministry to keep them on point, as it was they seemed smooth enough in their delivery that most folks didn’t notice that what they heard was just an opinion passed off as biblical knowledge.
It helps me see how my student leaders think. On the evaluations they share tons of relevant information. I find out which illustrations were clarifying and which ones were confusing. I learned through this process that my students really benefited from hearing my personal stories of struggle and victory in Jesus as I had been applying these truths to my life. Putting a greater value on these illustrations where applicable has made me a better communicator and more approachable by the entire group. I noticed after a shift in my teaching style that students began approaching me anonymously after each message about issues in their life. My ability to pastor students through the struggles they were facing dramatically increased because they saw me as someone who had flaws, but found the solution.
It Creates Better Message Hearers. When students on my team evaluate a message they begin to re-process the message over again. They think through the entirety of the message a few days after the fact and review the specific applications, challenges, etc. By this time they have had an opportunity to react to the message. This raises the bar of expectation. If the message was clear and there was a response needed, how have they responded? This creates an accountability loop for them. They now have to think about the message longer than the original 30 minutes in which they heard it and the Holy Spirit often takes what was said on a Wednesday and replays it in their hearts on a Friday so that the effect of dwelling on the message is greater than if they had not given it a thought beyond Wednesday.
It Demonstrates That I Have Room to Improve. I think it is fair to say that I want to offer God my best. If he has called me to be a communicator then I want to be the best communicator that I can possibly be. I want people to understand His Word. So I diligently study the scriptures, I diligently study those I present to, and I diligently study the effect of God’s word on their life through my preaching. The Holy Spirit can always take the worst sermon and make something great out of it, I would also like to think that He will work on me too through His word and His people.
It Teaches Students to Work. Far too many ministers rely on the Holy Spirit to bail them out of a lack of preparation. This overly mystical view of God misses the point that He calls and equips people for the work of ministry. That ministry, especially in the case of teaching and preaching requires prayer and preparation. Again, I’m not asking students to evaluate God’s Word, or the Work of the Holy Spirit, I’m asking them to evaluate my preparation and presentation. I’m modeling part of the work of ministry.
In our model students evaluate messages I teach. We work together on messages that I will teach. We work together on messages the student will teach. The students teach messages and are evaluated by the group. They get more practical hands on training on how to present a message than I ever got in any of my seminary classes on sermon preparation.