You worked hard to put together a sermon. You studied the text. You assembled some funny anecdotes and pertinent illustrations. And now you are ready to preach. You put powerful emphasis on the text and you bring expect the house to come down, but nothing happens.
A while ago, Peter Mead ran a series on his helpful website on the subject of “Preaching Epistles.” People ask me to bring different perspectives, so here is one that I read from time to time.
At any rate, one of his points for preaching epistles effectively is:
11. Preach, don’t commentate – Don’t offer your listeners either a running commentary or a labelled outline of the text. Make your points relevant to today, put them in today language, then show that from the “back then” as you explain the text. Don’t preach “back then” and then offer token relevance once people are disconnected and distracted.
Preachers determine the meaning of scripture so that they can convey that meaning to the congregation in the preaching moment. Preachers go to considerable lengths to make sure that they preach the truth and not error. They study the passage within the context of the chapter, book, and even the whole cannon of scripture. In many cases, the preacher derives valid and truthful points from the text and then present those vital truths to the people. This is good, but often when you take the points from the story, you remove the ability of the people to fully experience the truth that you are presenting. But before the people can experience the text, we have to both understand and experience the text ourselves.
But how do you experience the text? Well you should do a full exegesis as you have done in the past, but I would also suggest that you might allow all of your senses to guide your understanding of the text. Yes, allow all five senses of touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste to help you ask questions of the text that you are presenting.
How does congregational response affect sermon evaluation when preachers are called of God to speak a word “in season and out of season” to the people of God? (2 Timothy 4:2) This kind of preaching implies that sometimes the people will be encouraged and love to hear the message that the preacher has been called to give. It also means that sometimes the people will not wish to hear the correction that comes from God through the message.
It is sometimes said by preachers, “You can shout at the football game, why can’t you shout here!” Well, a football game is not an adequate metaphor for worship. They are doing two different things. In addition, sometimes shouting is simply not the right response to the message. No congregational response alone cannot be an adequate sermon evaluation metric. This does not mean, however, that congregational response should be totally ignored and belittled as unimportant. The congregation’s response should be factored into our sermon evaluation.
Another point to keep in mind is that the congregations response is not necessarily a one dimensional “shouting” or “rejoicing.” Sometimes the congregation’s response to the word that has been presented is simply a fervent “What Shall I do to be saved?” Sometimes the congregation’s response to the word is best measured by their changed life during the week. There is much too much, in my estimation, made out of the visible and aural response of the congregation. These things are cultural! Stop condemning the people for shouting or their lack of shouting. It is cultural chauvinism and unproductive to do such things.
But no, an adequate evaluation of the effectiveness of the sermon will include an evaluation of the theological content of the sermon. Did I preach a theologically and Biblically sound message? Go back to the Bible and test your words by it. After that, determine as best you can if it is what is needed by the people. Is the correction you providing really from God or from you? Is the problem you are addressing really a problem that is prevalent in the congregation? Was there another aspect of the text that we could have addressed that was more needed by the congregation? Ask these kinds of questions in your sermon evaluation.
Next, you should determine, as best you can, whether change is really happening in your congregation. Church is not simply a party where we have the visible manifestations of “getting happy” week by week without seeing any real change. Are the people changing?
And an even more important aspect of this evaluation is the question: Are You Changing? One of my former pastors used to always pray at the end of every sermon:
Lord, save us by the same message that we preach to others.
If the message is vitally needed by your congregation…and you are a member of the congregation…and change is the point…then if you are not changing more into the likeness of Jesus Christ then there is something vitally wrong with your preaching!
In summary, go to the congregation and look at the congregation to make sure that your sermons are hitting the mark. And always remember that you are a part of your congregation as well. don’t be so arrogant as to think that you are not needing some of the same changes that you feel God has called your people. An adequate sermon evaluation method will incorporate all of these aspects.