MEASURING TO IMPROVE

Satisfaction is the enemy of improvement. We have to want to improve our preaching before we can improve our sermons. A pastor recently asked me about the purpose behind the preaching cohorts. I explained that the objective is to gather with other pastors to improve our preaching. His response was all too common. He said, “I’m pretty satisfied with my preaching. It is something I think I do well at and enjoy doing.” Here is the danger we all face. We start to settle. What we are doing works. Why fix what is working? We become satisfied, so we stop improving. 

OUR MEASURING TAPE

The problem is that we use a yardstick instead of a measuring tape. A yardstick has a short, fixed length. We reach the end, and we are satisfied. A measuring tape extends farther than we need to measure. We can still stretch more. John Wooden, perhaps the greatest college basketball coach of all time, wrote, “Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you should have accomplished with your abilities.” If an athlete is going to improve, then he must measure success by what he could be not what he has been. He wrote, “True success is attained only through the satisfaction of knowing you did everything within the limits of your ability to become the very best that you are capable of being” (Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court.) The same is true for preachers.
 
Measuring our preaching is unsettling, but we won’t improve what can be without measuring what we now do. Peter Drucker, the great business guru, had a dictum he preached. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” The same is true for preaching. We won’t know if we are getting better if we don’t measure what we are doing now. However, preaching is hard to measure unless we merely paint the picture by the numbers. It is easy to measure preaching if we follow a banking strategy – counting nickels and noses. Unfortunately, we will never learn to improve our preaching if we preach our sermons by the numbers. We must measure what is hard to measure if we want to improve our preaching. How do we do that?

HONEST SELF REVIEW

I know. I know. I hate it too! It was bad enough when we had audio recordings to use for self-evaluation. Now video recordings stress our fragile egos even more. There is, however, no substitute for watching ourselves preach if we want to improve our preaching. For years teaching homiletics in a Bible college I would record the sermons. Each student had to watch themselves and fill out a self-evaluation form to be handed to me. I would then grade them and give them my evaluation form. The process was painful. It still is. 
 
Periodically, I watch myself preach. I hate my voice. The camera reminds me of my extra weight. I can see and hear what I sound and look like. We all develop habits and mannerisms which we only notice when we see it on the screen. I discovered an annoying habit of saying “you know” before making a point. I used certain hand gestures repeatedly. Watching ourselves as veteran preachers is even more important than watching ourselves as newbies. The longer we preach, the more bad habits we fall into without knowing it. An honest self-review every once in awhile will help us correct those bad habits.

STUDY BEST PRACTICES

Good preaching is caught more than taught. I think it is very helpful to watch other good preachers. We don’t want to copy others, but there are great lessons we can learn from others. Someone has said that until you have listened to fifty preachers, you probably don’t know how to preach. Today there are opportunities galore to watch other preachers and pick up tips that will help our preaching. We must make sure, of course, that we are studying good preachers and not just cloning bad habits. It is a good idea to read a textbook on preaching at least once or twice a year. We can also read the texts of sermons because the written text can help us see structure more clearly than the spoken sermon. The insights we gain from the preaching “experts” can help us become more effective preachers.
 
What should we look for as we read, listen and watch? I try to look for specific elements of different preachers. I was watching Andy Stanley recently although I don’t agree with many of the things he says. However, the man has great communication skills. He can preach it! He connects with people. I can learn valuable lessons from this skilled practitioner. We can learn from others if we keep a teachable spirit and a desire to grow in our preaching.

GET GOOD FEEDBACK.

Ask for feedback from your congregation. They’ll be glad to give it to you! When I was first starting out, I asked my mother-in-law, an English teacher, and longtime adult Bible study teacher, to critique my messages. I have asked for feedback from church members over the years. You can give the people a sermon evaluation guide and have them fill it out as you preach. We have one available through Rephidim, but there are many forms out there in homiletics books too. Just make sure you are looking for more than applause. We don’t want to turn into people-pleasers. Anger and disagreement can be good feedback too. 
 
Here is my plug for preaching cohorts. Feedback from fellow preachers is both intimidating and valuable. Other preachers know what to look for because they know what we are doing. Feedback from other preachers is very helpful in improving our preaching. 
 
So grab a cup of coffee, or in my case, tea, open your computer and get going. You will not regret it, and your people will benefit from it.