I have been a part of various avenues of discipleship and study for the ministry whereby a preacher was evaluated. They have ranged from the very informal–“What struck you most about the sermon?”–to the very minute–“Was the exegesis appropriate? Where did it go awry?”
I call this a “Preacher Evaluation Form” as opposed to “Preaching Evaluation Form” because what we are evaluating is actually the preacher. You can quibble if you’d like, but every sermon offered is a bit of the preacher at the pulpit. We can talk at length about objectivity through exegetical method, but at the end of the sermon, we are still left with the preacher’s accent in our ears. I believe this fact is something we ought to whole-heartedly embrace. This is the economy God has set up in preaching. Derivatively, it is fallacious for a pastor to say, “I didn’t say it, God said it.” Note the irony that he is saying it?!?!
The problem with the informal method is that the preacher is very rarely helped in a formative way. The critic is given free reign to argue about his particular bent in theology or praxis.
The problem with the very minute way is that the pastoral heart is very rarely affected. The criticism veers off toward trees branches and misses the proverbial forest.
Surely both matter! In an effort to navigate a balance between informal that doesn’t have teeth and the formal that tears unnecessarily, I came up with my own evaluation form. This form is dynamic and I would welcome your dialogue on how to improve it.
I pray it is helpful to you as you seek to disciple people who want to communicate the Gospel in a vibrant and exact way. Ideally, it would be filled out and talked about a day or two after the sermon is given. I personally don’t think it’s helpful to give it right after because it fosters a critical atmosphere during the message. I also think it best for those who are evaluating to give their thoughts a couple days to process–rather than giving a gut-reaction to the sermon. This translates to time and care given when evaluating. This is not your time to say what you would have done, but to find out why the preacher did what he did. You want his person to be sanctified and affirmed rather than imputing your person on him–like armor that doesn’t fit.
PREACHER EVALUATION FORM
I have been streaming Kristen Gilles new offering–Parker’s Mercy Brigade–as she reflects on the stillbirth of her son. It has been a sweet place to rest. Even though I have not had to go through the unspeakable pain of losing a child, the beauty and the pain of the songs remind me of a sweet presence that heals wounds that even the closest friend cannot mend.
Perhaps you could benefit from a listen if you’re hurting.
If you have lost a child, Kristen also wrote a very sobering and truthful piece–“Dear Grieving Parents.” Here’s a poignant excerpt:
I can appreciate the confusion you feel (This wasn’t supposed to happen, certainly not again or Why did you allow this, God? You could’ve have prevented my children from dying!), and we do feel cheated when death takes our loved ones, especially when they die so young. But you and I also know the Lord is upholding us and is trustworthy in everything he says and does. We won’t necessarily have all our questions answered here, but we will always have our Father here with us to lead, instruct, comfort, and encourage us. Psalm 68 says that God daily bears our loads (another translation is he daily carries us in his arms). He is doing that for you, dear sister and brother.
Over the past few years as I have been working through major disappointments in life, I have heard of others’ struggles and realized that everyone is carrying a burden of some sort. It may be a burden laid upon them or one they have taken up themselves. Either way, you pull up the shirt sleeve and you will see scars. This is part of living in a beautifully messed up world. A world full of selfish people. A world full of selfless people.
This is simply a reminder to remember that every person you interact with has scars. Don’t be so quick to condemn and to peel back the layers of their life. They have had enough of that. What people need is less verbiage and more life. Instead of letting your breath strike your vocal cords. Perhaps just breathe out. Breathe out life.
“But they need advice!”
“They need to know the truth!”
You are probably right. But. Why are we so quick to think that we have to speak. Why do we think we understand the multi-faceted issue so clearly when we didn’t have their husband or their wife or their father or their absent father or their mother or their always-hovering mother? Perhaps we would all do well to write and speak less than we think we need to. Why snuff out the light by snuffing it out with words that bruise? Why not breathe out life by being silent? So then the smoldering wick ignites and will soon give light again.
An excellent article in The Plough (which if you have not read or subscribed to is an exceptional journal worhty of your consideration) entitled “They Watch More Than They Listen” challenges our parental sensibilities for thinking that if we merely transfer right content and place our children in the right schools for high-level academic learning we have done a good job. This is a sliver of what we are called to do in the training and loving aspect to parenting.
It is without doubt that I want to transfer truth. But too often I fail–daily, I fail–to love my children and live the truths I want to convey. Here are three paragraphs that cut me and reminded me that Scripture models for me the longsuffering and grace of God. In light of all that I am the beneficiary of, how can I not also extend such a life to my children.
The real problem arises – and this is more widespread than one might think – when children are taught to “do as I say, not as I do.” Told this half-jokingly in one situation after another, they gradually learn that there is never anything so black and white that it is always good or bad, at least not until they make the wrong choice at the wrong time. When that happens, they get punished for their lapse of judgment. And they will always find the punishment unjust.
Being a father, I know how hard it is to be consistent – and conversely, how easy it is to send confusing signals without even realizing it. Having counseled hundreds of teenagers over the last four decades, I also know how sensitive young adults are to mixed messages and inconsistent boundaries, and how readily they will reject both as clear signs of parental hypocrisy. But I have also learned how quickly the worst battle can be solved when we are humble enough to admit that our expectations were unclear or unfair, and how quickly most children will respond and forgive.
Reflecting on the ways in which children so often mirror their parents – in actions, attitudes, behavioral characteristics, and personal traits – my grandfather, writer Eberhard Arnold, noted that children are like barometers. They visibly record whatever influences and pressures currently affect them, whether positive or negative. Happiness and security, generosity and optimism will often show themselves in children to the same degree that they are visible in their parents. It is the same with negative emotions. When children notice anger, fear, insecurity, or intolerance in an adult – especially if they are the target – it may not be long before they are acting out the same things.