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how do preachers grow? – john tucker

growing-plants

What enables a preacher to keep developing as a preacher?

There are many answers to that question: make a habit of watching or listening to great preachers; read good books on the theology and mechanics of preaching; meet regularly with other preachers to share resources and inspiration.

Of course, one of the very best ways to improve as a preacher is to obtain honest and informed feedback. But, as we all know, this can be remarkably difficult to find. In my experience, a lot of feedback is simply too general to be really helpful. So at Carey Baptist College we’ve recently redesigned the sermon evaluation forms that we use with our preaching students. Here’s a copy:

New Sermon Evaluation Form (John Tucker)

I’d really value your feedback! How do you think this form could be improved? (Feel free to trial it with your own preaching, although please don’t remove the Carey logo).

While I think these kinds of generic forms can be extremely valuable, I’m starting to wonder if our evaluation processes need to be more targeted. From his recent doctoral research Marc Rader of Morling College suggests the following process:

  • Ensure that the purpose of feedback is formative not summative (i.e. it is for the preacher’s development, with no disciplinary consequences). The results are their property.
  • Identify the specific area or areas in which you as a preacher want to develop (e.g. introductions).
  • Read a chapter from a homiletics text on that area.
  • List several items to be assessed – usually these will divide into primary items (e.g., what introductions are meant to do) and secondary items (e.g., how introductions typically do it).
  • Make sure these items are observable (e.g. not “was Christ glorified?”, but “was Christ mentioned?”).
  • Rate yourself against each of these items.
  • Select a facilitator (e.g. a trusted church elder) to facilitate the feedback process.
  • Choose your feedback team. Confidentiality is essential, so select a team of at least three.
  • The facilitator should invite the team members to participate, explaining that you have asked that they be involved and what the feedback will be used for (development not discipline).
  • Give the team training in “what good looks like” (e.g., give them a copy of the chapter you have read).
  • Set an appropriate rating period (anything from 1 to 12 months).
  • Ensure that the feedback questionnaire tests development over time (rather than individual sermons).
  • Frame questions in positive terms (i.e. instead of a value scale of “excellent” to “poor”, a frequency scale is better – “most of the time” to “rarely”). Some people will not feel qualified to say whether an introduction was “excellent”, but they will be able to “strongly agree” that it held their attention.
  • Include a catch all question: “Do you have any other comments about my preaching?”
  • Give these questions to the feedback team at the beginning of the period, during which they observe the preacher in the areas requested.
  • At the conclusion of the rating period, ask the raters to complete a survey.
  • The facilitator explores with the feedback team any discrepancies between ratings and obtains examples where necessary.
  • The facilitator and preacher discuss the results and compare them with the preacher’s own self-assessment at the beginning of the period.

What do you think? Have you ever tried anything like this? I’d be really interested to know how it went. And, if you’ve found any other methods of evaluation to be helpful, I’d love to hear about it.

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