A-hem. Please don’t answer that too quickly. While most of us are tools in one way or another, I am thinking in a more gracious way.

I have heard of a preacher who would pray:

“Get past me to the people. Get the people past me to you.”

I am not sure that is an entirely proper prayer. It’s true, we don’t want our idiosyncrasies to get in the way of the glorious message of the Gospel, it is these very idiosyncrasies that highlight the beauty and glory of the Gospel. That is, in my frailty and stupidity, the Lord magnifies his ability to save the most dignified from the most abased.

Analogous to Romans 6, that doesn’t mean we multiply our transgressions through off-the-cuff preaching and lack of preparation. Me genoita! Rather, may we work diligently to train and rightly divide the Word of God. But may we never forget that preaching comes through time and space and person. You preach Romans 6 one way an I another way–giving the same authorial intent (I pray!). But your eyes highlight certain truths and mine others. We can never give a sterile and entirely objective interpretation of Scripture.

Rather than kicking against those goads, perhaps the Lord would have us consider the fact that he chooses tall men, short men, skinny men, and fat men to bring the diversity and beauty of Scripture to bear on people. It is not a matter of getting past the preacher, but it is seeing the magnificence of God through the preacher.

Would you agree or disagree with this assessment?

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Preacher Evaluation Form

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

Modern-day Power Encounters

I remember reading in my Perspectives Class on world mission a phenomenon called “power encounters” whereby a missionary would directly confront the idols of the day in some bombastic way to show the futility of such idols. For example, tearing down a totem pole or cutting down a tree (if these were the items of worship) in an area. While the confrontationalist in me loves the idea, I wonder how much was missed in these opportunities to really get to the heart of idolatry–namely, through teaching that idols are nothing (1Cor 8.4). Yet for those who worship an idol, it is very much a real thing.

I am currently reading Roland Allen’s formative text on mission, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, and have been immensely helped (in tandem with Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret). Regarding the moral and social condition in which Paul preached, Allen makes this side comment:

Incidentally I should like to remark that in heathen lands it might still perhaps be the wiser course to preach constantly the supremacy of Christ over all things spiritual and material, than to deny or deride the very notion of these spirits. Some of our missionaries know, and it were well for others if they did know, that it is much easier to make a man hide from us his belief in devils than it is to eradicate the belief from his heart. By denying their existence or by scoffing at those who believe in them we do not help our converts to overcome them, but only to conceal their fears from us. By preaching the supremacy of Christ we give them a real antidote, we take them a real Saviour who helps them in their dark hours” (pp.28-29)

Allen brings balance. Too often preachers can assume they are preaching the supremacy of Christ, but they never pinpoint what exactly he is supreme over. Put another way, we preachers can preach rather generically. “Jesus is Lord over all!” We declare full throttle. Yet those listening have not been helped.

What is he supreme over?

He is supreme over your doubts of salvation. Your incessant anger. Your slavery to lust and pornography. Your boring and romantic-less marriage. Your bad parenting. Your disobedient children. Your greed. Your self-doubt. Your self-aggrandizement. Your obedient children. Your good parenting. Your healthy marriage. Your pure eyes. Your self-control.

He owns you. Therefore, the world doesn’t revolve around you anymore. Instead, he sets you free to think of others. Even more, he empowers you by his Spirit to think of other more highly than yourself. Your fears that you will be passed over for the job promotion. Your self-righteousness toward your unbelieving neighbor is set under his lordship in such a way that you no longer possess the answers, but are possessed by One who does. You cannot gloat that you understand the world en esse. Rather, you are saddened by the way the world actually is.

So, Christian, we need a modern-day power encounter. Not where we smash totems. But by understanding the world around us and helping others see our need for a Savior. We limp forward together. We bind up wounds together. We use the splint our arm is wrapped in to bind our neighbors’ arms. Thereby we see that instead of hiding the idol in shame, our neighbor is free to admit the idol and know that he will not be condemned but helped.

A Challenge to My Expositional Preaching Friends

I am convinced that expositional preaching should be the steady diet in the local church. I think it helps people read their Bibles well (if preached well!), unfolds the storyline of the exegeted book better, rounds out the jagged edges of a preacher’s hobby horses, and it forces the church to have to deal with every word of Scripture (particularly the thorny ones).

With that said, I have a challenge. I have been preparing for a message on the grace, mercy, and patience of God this past week and have found myself caught up in moments of worship. Of course, this message will be a topical one. That is my challenge: Do some topical sermons. This is not to say that worship shouldn’t well up in our hearts as we prep an expositional sermon–that most definitely be the case whenever we open the Book.

Rather, the reason I think this specific way of preaching (again, not on a regular basis) has affected me in a profound way is due to my having to thumb through ALL portions and genres of Scripture. I have been reading in the Pentateuch, the Wisdom literature, the Gospels, the Epistles. . .scouring the pages to see how God has dealt in this particular way with his creatures.

Further, I have found myself OVERWHELMED with what to say. This has been good for me since I have found that, at times, in expositional preaching I can come to a place where I feel as though I have mastered or exhausted a passage. I have never felt that way when I am doing a topical sermon. It would be a good reminder for us to proactively fight this tendency by laying the Bible in our laps and saying, “Have a go.” You will be gloriously overwhelmed. There are infinite ways to mine the treasures of Scripture in a topical sermon.

In light of that, I have also been humbled as such a study has reminded me that there is no one way to execute such a task as topical preaching. God has been kind to remind me that just as many preachers there are in the world, so there are sermons on any given topic.

So, my friends, give yourself a few weeks out of the year to be overwhelmed by God’s riches. To be humbled by your lack of knowledge. To worship at the goodness of God in giving you a book with infinite value.