Sunday, March 20, 2011

Preaching truism (2)

Let me emphasize again that these truisms are not intended to beat up us preachers! Rather they express common truths about the way we behave, and should alert us to where we can improve.

The next truism builds upon the first. 2. Most preachers find constructive criticism difficult to receive. Of course, most people find any kind of criticism difficult to accept because it often seems to come at the wrong time from the wrong people. Yet, the public act of preaching makes genuine feedback ESSENTIAL. Unless preachers actively seek honest feedback from some, whose love for God and for the preacher qualifies them to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15), they can easily stagnate.

Is this easy? Oh no. Perhaps preachers are some of the most vulnerable communicators because they speak on God's authority from his Book to such widely diverse hearers. Yes, the Holy Spirit gives words and applies truths but too easily the flesh of the preacher can obscure the glory of God. None have enough breadth of experience or depth of insight to be able to relate to everyone, but when we allow others to critique us (lovingly and prayerfully) on the preaching journey we can grow by their help.

I have blogged before about this need for preachers to be open to others. I have been told that it is different for me because I am teaching students in seminary who expect honest feedback. But do we really think that a couple of classes in seminary has given us enough feedback for a lifetime of habit-forming? Do you think this truism is justified?


Anonymous said...

All of us yearn for feedback...but too often, perhaps it's the wrong kind. Maybe the best feedback that we can receive is to hear a parishoner protest, "I couldn't disagree with you more! I'm insulted by your words of judgement!" The problem is that we tend to take such comments as "negative feedback" when, in reality, they are positive words of affirmation often empowered by God's Spirit. So in the end, we need to address other essential questions associated with feedback like, "Who provides the feedback?" "Is human feedback the ultimate evaluator of a job 'well done'"? "When should feedback be considered fair and when does it become an unfair swipe at the pastor?" Questions....questions...questions...that's why you're the prof! You've got the answers, don't you?

Anonymous said...

Yes, as a congregant, I do. I generally feel I have learned something new after worship services and am thankful for the lessons and new opportunities to praise God. It is my pleasure to say thank you on those occasions to the minister and share, given the time, the impact of the word.

But there are times that I believe we have totally missed the mark and the preacher is off the path totally. That is upsetting. An entire church filled with people was listening. Nevertheless, even after confirming my analysis with scripture, I still rarely express my disappointment. There never seems to be the right time or, as you suggest an open attitude to hear a disagreement. Rarely do I land on the square where I believe God is telling me to go ahead and give voice to my opinion, even when I believe I am right.

I believe my preachers have been genuine in their efforts to do God's work expounding on the Word of God, opening it to our hearts and lives. I don't want to quelch their joy and dishearten them and I know God doesn't need me to express his feedback. If there was an opportunity to talk, we might be able to share those thoughts in a congenial way so that no one would feel insulted by the comments. Sadly, in this age, preachers like all mankind is so busy that they usually don't have time to call people back for a few weeks and, by then, they have moved on.