Writing Sermons in Community

by Dayton Hartman October 20, 2016

I have to be blunt - the fact that American Idol is no longer an active show will have absolutely no impact on my consumption of cable television. I hated it! Okay, well, part of me took some sick pleasure in the highlight reels of people who think they can sing, but can’t. I mean who doesn't love it when someone thinks they sound like Adele and they actually sound like Chris Berman? Still, I found the premise of having a panel of judges overly affirm or brutally critique people in a public fashion to be, well, terrifying. Even when Jack Sparrow (I mean, Steven Tyler) went on a streak of affirming everyone, the whole thing still seemed like a bad idea. Then suddenly, it hit me. This is what Mark Dever has been talking about for years! Well, maybe. But not exactly.

I remember the first time I heard Mark explain the value of performing a group sermon review after each Sunday’s message. That seemed crazy to me at the time. How could you ever preach a sermon in front of people who are examining every word with a critical ear? How do you preach to those who are preparing to give you verbal push-back? Yikes!

The supposed goal of celebrity judges on talent shows is to help contestants to be their best, right? They want to help contestants be their best at things that may have artistic value. I remember Mark Dever explaining that holding a group review of one’s sermons will help push the preacher toward gospel clarity and smoother styles of communication. Thus, sermon reviews help preachers become better gospel communicators. More than fine-tuning an art form, the practice fine-tunes something that has definite and eternal value.

So, our church body has instituted weekly reviews (plural) of each Sunday’s sermon and it has produced exactly what Dever promised it would: clarity in gospel communication. Every Thursday, our staff and interns meet to review the sermon manuscript for the message to be delivered on the upcoming Sunday. Then, on the following Tuesday, we review the message that has been delivered. The benefits of this practice are numerous and I cannot recommend it enough. Let me simply encourage you with a few of the most important:

1.) It increases gospel-clarity.
Having multiple eyes on your manuscript and multiple, critical sets of ears listening to your sermon will increase the care with which you communicate the gospel and exposit the text.

2.) It makes your sermons better.
The Spirit draws us into community and gives each of us unique, complementary gifts. Nearly every week, our sermon reviews produce some of the best content found in each week’s message. The collective wisdom and insight of men who love Jesus and love your congregation will help you better apply the text to the hearts of your people.

3.) It produces humility.
It is an incredibly humbling thing to invite criticism. Preaching is already a very “exposing” exercise as you pour your soul out in front of your church body. It leaves you feeling vulnerable. Thus, inviting critical feedback and comments seems like madness, but it isn't. It only serves to encourage your heart and to produce increased humility before your people and your leadership team. We all need more humility.

4.) It builds good preachers. No, I’m not talking about you (well, I am, but I already covered you in point #1). I’m talking about the guys who preach on your teaching team. Sermon review is immensely beneficial for them. Moreover, we’ve seen the incredible value of this practice in equipping our interns (future pastors and church planters) as they are invited into the sermon prep, delivery, and feedback process. If you want to build preachers, this process is a must.

Pastor, don't misunderstand. This process is not meant to invite your church’s Simon Cowell to lambast you and provide harsh criticism for no good reason. Instead, this is meant to ensure that we are doing the very thing Paul has commanded us to do: rightly handle the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). The truth is that the Christian life is communal. That is, Jesus saved us and made us part of a people - a community. All of the Christian life is meant to be lived in community. Why then would we assume that the central practice of the Christian rhythm of life, the proclaiming and hearing of the Scriptures, ought to be accomplished in isolation? No! The crafting of the sermon ought to take place in the same way the hearing of the sermon occurs: in community.