I remember my early days as a reluctant communicator. I never relished the idea of public speaking, but I knew I was called by God, and therefore, I was determined to be as effective as I could be as communicator. Obviously, over the past 32 years I have progressed a great deal in my communication style, ability, and effectiveness. I could tell countless stories from the lessons I have learned over the years, however for the purpose of this article I want to write about the importance of getting honest evaluation of your preaching.
Three Foundation Principles
- Evaluation is our friend.
You have to believe and embrace that evaluation, no matter how painful in the moment, is always your friend. Evaluation is healthy and good. Anything worth doing is worth doing as effectively as possible, and the only way to measure that effectiveness is through evaluation. Evaluation helps us maintain humility, stay relevant, stay healthy, remain gospel-centered, and increase our effectiveness.
- Determine to be a life-long increasingly more effective communicator.
Effective preaching requires the occurrence of actual communication. Talking to a crowd does not mean actual communication is occurring. We have all heard the pastor that preached for 20 minutes and it felt like an hour, while another person can preach for an hour and it feels like 20 minutes. We have all listened to a message and walked away wondering what was said, and we have walked away knowing what was said and having a clear application and inspiration for our lives. If you are going to communicate, then communicate effectively. If you don’t want to communicate effectively, then just stop.
- Embrace the reality that God has entrusted to you the most important message in the world.
Not the specific message you are preaching this Sunday, but the gospel, the message of hope and reconciliation for the lost and dying world as well as for the church attending world. The people far from God who see the cross as foolish are perishing (1 Cor 1:18) and headed toward a Christ-less eternity. The people sitting in your church are starving to understand scripture in a way that applies to their every day lives. You are the person God has called to step on to your stage to clearly and effectively communicate to His children on His behalf. Therefore, increasing your effectiveness as a communicator is of utmost importance.
Four Methods of Evaluation I Use
- Listen/watch to yourself
Most communicators hate listening/watching themselves communicate, but that is the first level of honest communication. Force yourself to listen to you each week. When I began as a communicator, I would get a cassette tape of my messages each week and listen to it. Now, I’m streamed live every Sunday and have message videos “on demand” through our church website that I watch each week. I know this will be painful, but think of it as “watching game film”. Every football coach watches game film to evaluate his team. If your church does not record your messages currently, just use your phone to record your messages.
- Ask a trusted people to give you feedback on your preaching.
These people should hear us every week, but we only need to meet with them once a month or even once a quarter to hear their overall evaluation and feedback of tendencies they are seeing/hearing consistently. Tendencies are really the foremost issue. Getting off track one time in six messages is different than a tendency to get off track in every message. I have a wide-range of people who give me honest feedback and evaluation of my messages; men and women, adults and students.
We don’t want evaluation from a nit-picking or naturally critical person type person. We need broad strokes type evaluation from someone willing to be honest with us. We want someone(s), who understands what we are trying to accomplish to give us regular feedback on our tone, delivery, clarity, flow, “rabbit chasing”, etc.
It is helpful if you ask them specific questions to answer. For example: Was the point I was trying to make clear? Did that illustration or story make sense and connect with people? Was I positive, prepared, and hope-filled? What was the high point or the most important part of the message? Did I give clear applications? Did I transition well? Did my conclusion make sense? Was my energy good throughout? Did I point to the cross and Christ?
- Evaluate the fruit or results of your communication.
By “fruit or results” I don’t mean how many people responded to the altar or believed on Christ in a specific message, but over a period of time, are your messages resonating with people, are they growing, moving forward, developing spiritually, etc? Are they talking about your message on social media and/or to their friends? Your communication will bear fruit. You can evaluate that fruit. You might not like that process, but it’s healthy and good. A healthy tree produces healthy fruit. Bad fruit means something is wrong with the tree. Communicators produce fruit too.
- Listen/watch effective communicators (or even hire a consultant as a coach).
Find communicators who light a fire in you, and learn from them by listening and watching them. Don’t mimic them, but look for transferable principles that will help you as a communicator. Compare your style to their style. Listen to how they transition or how they “connect the dots” for people as they make applications, or how they organize their thoughts.
Our God-given message is too important to allow ourselves to be comfortable in mediocrity or even our success. We must continue to improve. Even as I write this article, I have a paid consultant who is “coaching” me through my next level of improvement. Evaluation is our friend. The gospel matters. The cross matters. I am committed to becoming the most effective version of me I can be for the glory of God.