Have you ever stopped to ask others what they think about your preaching or teaching? Have you ever done it in a way that allows for anonymous comments? If you have, you know how humbling it can be.
I’ve done it a couple of times. Most recently, I conducted a church-wide survey to measure the congregation’s perceptions on a variety of issues. One of the questions asked the participants to rank from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” this statement: “The sermons are relevant, impactful, and meaningful to my life.” While a lot of the respondents marked that they “strongly agree,” a fair number marked “agree” and a few even lower.
What? Looking over the survey results brought a flood of initial thoughts. “Do people understand how hard I work on these sermons?” “I’d like to see them do better.” “Well, Adam, you wanted to know the truth, right?” Even though the results of the survey showed unbelievable support of the church and the preaching, I was surprised to realize that part of me wanted everyone to think I was always amazing. In the end, as my pride begin to deflate its puffed chest, I began to go to the Lord and reflect on the ministry of public preaching. From that time, I came away with six reminders.
Preach to be faithful not to entertain.
Why was my first reaction to be concerned with certain people liking me more? Why wasn’t it focused instead on re-evaluating whether or not what I had said over the last year was a truthful and accurate exposition of the text? In the end, my first concern with preaching must be faithfulness to the text. While presentation and cultural connections are important, every congregation consists of a broad range of personalities and preferences. If I’m preaching primarily to please, I’m in deep trouble and I’ll be more likely to compromise or skew the text.
Everyone has critics.
While I should not ignore honest feedback and can learn a lot from those who see flaws in me, I must be careful not to primarily evaluate my effectiveness or faithfulness based upon critics. Critics will always be around me. Everyone has critics, even Jesus had them.
Preaching is not my identity.
I’m called to be a pastor and under-shepherd of the local church. Preaching, as important as it is, is one aspect of my vocational calling, but it is not my spiritual identity. I am a child of God. I’m a blood-bought saint. I’m redeemed and beloved. God doesn’t love me because of what I bring to the table; he loves me out of his infinite grace and mercy. My identity should be found in God and not in my vocation.
Preaching is only one component of my service to God.
This point builds on the last. As a pastor, I must rightly value the exposition of the Word of God, but I dare not reduce the complexity of shepherding to only preaching. So much more is involved in leading and loving a local congregation.
God's love for me is not conditioned upon my preaching aptitude.
Further building upon the previous points is the recognition that I must not develop a theology that conditions God’s love on my aptitude, but only in light of the work of the cross. How dare I measure God’s love for everyone else based on the work of Jesus, but measure it for myself based on my performance. What hypocrisy.
Their truthfulness was not a reflection of their affection for me as a person.
I asked for the people’s opinions, all of them, and they gave it to me. Their honesty was not an indictment against me. These people have proven their love for me as their pastor time and time again. I must not allow one survey to dismiss years of affection action.