Emerging Young Preachers (EYPs) have a unique needs and advantages in the feedback process. The early years of preaching development include a lot of adjustment and we change our approach to preparation and delivery, much more than those who have 15+ years of experience. EYPs should seek feedback with far more frequency and implementation than an old pro. If we don’t, we’re liable to get stuck in our own heads, abandoning our more promising approaches to preaching, or failing to avoid our approaches that might lead us to less effective preaching.
Smell the praise perfume but don’t drink it.
Jim Watkins once told me, “Praise is like perfume, you can smell it, but don’t drink it.” EYPs will get some encouraging words—often people are trying to “encourage us” more than that they really have experienced much impact in the message. Because of this—we must be careful not to fully ingest the perfume. Sometimes we need the encouragement, yes, but we can’t let it get to our heads. One of the ways I do this is to store praise sent to me all in one box in my office. I don’t re-read these when I get them, but instead save them for that “blue Monday” when I feel horrible about my preaching—and I smell the perfume a bit and get back on the horse.
Ask for feedback
We have not because we ask not. No one will give you helpful feedback on your sermon unasked (and if they do then perhaps they aren’t the ones you want feedback from!) We get the feedback we ask for. Our potential feedbackers trust that we are getting advice somewhere else—but they notice we are not improving and begin to wonder. Here are two systemic ways to get feedback:
1) Routine – Some EYPs develop a weekly cycle of feedback from a few trusted individuals. Whether a spouse, a teaching team, or a wise advisor, the key to this kind of feedback is to ask people for a sustainable system of feedback.
2) Intense – Some EYPs sense that in certain seasons they need to work on one part of their preaching—or that they need to grow up quick in all areas intensely. This is a big ask, so you have to be clear in who you’re asking to give feedback.
Implement the feedback
We often get feedback without implementing it. I might get feedback that I jingled my keys in my pocket in a distracting way 21 times in a sermon, but then the next time I preach I end up doing it 22 times. I might hear that my altar call seems manipulative—but then I continue to use the same tricks every week. I could be told I’m mispronouncing Melchizedek and then I still mess it up for the entire series on Hebrews. This is emotionally defeating for the feedbacker. Asking for advice I won’t follow is like asking for a prescription from the doctor and never going to the pharmacy to get it filled.
Feedback on the feedback
We EYPs should point out what parts of the feedback were most instructive. This shows that we are not just “making a show” of our feedback process. Recruiting people to invest in our preaching does indeed influence them to take ownership of our development. However, it is manipulative to do that merely for political reasons. Feedbackers sense this. I know of a pastor who had an extensive system for routine and intense feedback, but they never changed as a result of the feedback. They were defensive on each point, and over time everyone just stopped saying much. This will happen to us as EYPs if we don’t take feedback to heart.
Over time we learn from our feeedbackers and we start to develop a self-corrective eye and ear, a more in-tune heart and mind for preaching. I know at 37 I don’t ask the same questions from feedbackers that I asked when I was 27. For instance, I used to have feedbackers count my “Um’s” in a message, and my other verbal pause distractions. Through many years of correction, I was able to eliminate them almost entirely—and when I hear one every once in a while in my videos it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. At this point we can move on to other more intense and focused feedback to become better and better at communicating the holy word.
Getting a variety of feedback
It helps to get more than one kind of feedback. Each kind gives us a different angle and helps focus the feedback.
- Live feedback – By giving someone a special feedback sheet of paper with certain questions we can get feedback right away. We did this in our teaching team at Spring Lake Wesleyan Church (www.slwc.org) and it was a great method of routine feedback.
- Audio feedback – It’s easy for the feedbacker to listen on an iPod or in the car, and their feedback is more about the word choice and content than the delivery.
- Video feedback – Many of us get weekly video recordings of our preaching, and at College Wesleyan Church (www.collegewes.com) it goes online every single week. Few things help your feedback better than “rolling the tape.” TV adds 10 pounds they say. I would say it also adds 10 minutes to how long a message feels, it add 10 nervous tics I don’t notice otherwise, and adds 10 mispronunciations and 10 odd gestures or repetitive actions I don’t remember doing. Video exposes so much. For the last seven years I’ve watched the video of every single sermon I’ve given at my church. What’s more, I recently sent video to some pastors who hadn’t seen me preach in more than 5 years, and to another that hadn’t for 10 years, so they might advise me on how I’ve improved or hadn’t improved over the years. I’ve even sat down with Pastor Steve DeNeff, a true master of the art of preaching, and analyzed video of one of my sermons with intense moment-by-moment feedback.
- Delivery feedback – Sometimes we need an old pro to point all we are doing to distract from the message. My wife is helpful for this kind of feedback in particular. She notices the things I do repetitively, and helps me eliminate them. A good trigger question for this is: “What are the things I always do that could be distracting?”
- Manuscript feedback – By working on delivery, we end up “saying things good,” but still don’t have “good things to say.” In manuscript feedback, without all the verbal and visual helps to communication, a feedbacker can incisively show us logical flaws, inherent contradictions, and push us to go deeper into the text and history behind the subject, pointing out our stream-of-consciousness gibberish and elevating us to poetic word choices and powerful truth.
These are many of the ways EYPs are ensuring they have feedback strategies to grow as preachers. How about you? How do you ensure you are getting feedback to develop your full potential as a preacher? What other ways you invent to get evaluated with more effectiveness as EYPs?
What’s your take?