Criticizing Preachers

As we have finished our ReFocus process here, one of the initiatives we developed was a “Sunday Service Excellence Team” that reviews our services and evaluates everything from the PowerPoints to the sound quality to the sermon presentation. That last part, sermon evaluation - has been particularly key as we do team-preaching.
 One of the issues that we’ve had to struggle with is the very nature of evaluating a sermon and the effect that has on a preacher. One of the lessons I had to learn while at my former church was
1) Don’t criticize a preacher within two hours of the sermon’s end; and
2) Don’t get “in the head” with silly stuff before a preacher gets into the pulpit.
I’ve tried to help the team understand the nature of preaching: that preachers get up there, pours out their souls, “leaves it all on the field,” and always gives ‘A’ level effort. After giving a sermon, the preacher is raw, spent, and frequently still running on adrenaline. That is exactly the *wrong* time to offer critique or challenge. But it is exactly the time when people feel compelled to do so.
Right here - I have to again beg the pardon for violating these rules during my time at my previous church. My pastors there helped me to understand and gain sensitivity to this matter of how to better express love and respect for the preaching ministry in the moment. They helped to understand that in the abstract and now I understand it experientially. I appreciate their patience with me.
 So we are going through this issue. It is hard.  I remember being ticked off by critique I received days after the “preach.” BTW, this is the first place I’ve heard the word “preach” used as a noun (as in, “That was a mighty good preach you did there, pastor”). Criticism of a sermon is an intensely personal thing. Most people who haven’t done it regularly do not understand this dynamic. Attempting to separate the message from the messenger, it seems to me, is a fool’s errand in the realm of preaching. All that to say that there is a real tension in evaluating and bringing critique to a sermon in both encouraging excellence and encouraging loving relationships.
 Of course, one of the ways to deal with this (as I’ve come to realize) is to understand the danger and mentally steel myself against the nonsense comments that can come afterwards. I was briefly toying with the idea of just exiting the sanctuary through the door that happens to be near the pulpit and going to my office to de-compress after preaching. That is not a good idea. But …
That got me thinking. I remember hearing of a former pastor at a previous church that would preach his sermon and then disappear right after the service. At the time, I interpreted the story to say that this guy didn’t have enough of a pastoral heart to interact with his flock during after-service mingling time.
 But now I wonder. I wonder if the ethos of that church - back in that day - was less loving and more critical. I wonder if that guy was acting out of emotional self-protection by getting the heck out of Dodge before some “well meaning” person told him - again and for the umpteenth time - about how he was a failure as a preacher because of some little inconsequential fault or disappointment. A pastor can only take so much of that before they start to hate the sheep that keep biting at him. So maybe that guy - to keep whatever pastoral heart he still had - ran away from the dangerous “post-preaching molestation time" as a self-preservation strategy.
I don’t know if that was the case at all. But I do know that criticism of a sermon right after delivery takes on greater force than the criticizer probably intends. Call me immature or not tough enough or inexperienced or whatever. But as I’ve looked into this with other mature, tough, and experienced pastors – they all tell me the same thing: criticizing a preacher after the sermon is very hurtful. Of course, let’s not forget that there are people who do want to hurt.
Anyway, all of that to say that I have learned that to keep my energy (and, yes, even my defenses) up until I’m done greeting and mingling with folks after a sermon. 

1 comment:

Yukiko said...

Wow, Eric! I'm so glad you linked your blog to fb. Just want you to know how blessed your flock must be to sit under your teaching on a weekly basis! It was always a blessing for me when we "knew you when". You are so engaging as a teacher, I can only imagine the impact you have as the "preacher". God be with you as you weather the storms in your body and bless you many times over for your perseverence.
BTW, I still remember your review in SS on The Shack. I started reading it ($2 @ Half Price Books!) based on your review... however since then I seemed to misplace it. I can't find it, really! Anyways, just wanted you to know that I approached it with an open but cautious mind thanks to you. I ordinarily would not have considered reading it.