Sermon Evaluation Assignment
3 December 2013
Since April of this year, I had been teaching systematically through the book of I John. The sermon that I got evaluated on was my final sermon at my church in Toccoa, GA over the final passage in I John. I am in the middle of transitioning from Associate Pastor in Toccoa, GA to Senior Pastor in Whiteville, NC. The gentlemen evaluating me were all either current or retired bible or theology professors at Toccoa Falls College.
The message that I preached for my evaluation was a particularly difficult text. It dealt with the verses in 1 John that mentions the “sin that leads to death” and the “sin that does not lead to death”. If I were smarter, I would have strategically picked an easier text to deal with for my evaluation! However, the real world deals with many bodies of text that are difficult to interpret, but the faithful pastor must present the word faithfully, and I felt that I owed it to my congregation to finish my series on 1 John with them.
What I discovered in my preparation with the “Homiletical Bridge” was that I had a difficult time forcing everything to be concise and fit into a singular thought pattern. I understand that this is the purpose of the tool, so I did not have a problem with it. To be truthful, I rather enjoyed the work of trying to make everything fit into such a concise instrument. It really forced me to better “package” the sermon when I forced myself to go through the exercises of sermon preparation with the homiletical bridge.
I learned several interesting things as I sorted through the evaluations of those filling out the evaluation forms. I certainly tried to discover what I could gleam from these forms, since all of these men held earned doctorates and had spent their entire lives teaching students the art of sermon preparation and sermon delivery. Most of the information that I found most useful and beneficial had everything to do with vocabulary, grammar, and other speech related aspects to preaching.
For example, I found similar input on several different forms related to grammatical errors. Much of this, I reconciled, had to do with my southern upbringing. I was cited on phrases such as “would have went”, which my wife informed me was absolutely terrible use of the English language! However, in the entirety of my life, no one had ever informed that this was incorrect English. Part of the reason for these errors has to do with my preaching style, I believe. I do not read from a manuscript and I do not use notes either. I simply prepare a “power point” presentation and use the slides to cue me to the content of what I would like to say. As a result, I tend to slip into a southern vernacular that I would never use if I actually prepared a manuscript and read from it.
In the past, I have tried to prepare a manuscript and read from it. However, I have found, and received confirming critique, that I do not preach as well when I read from a manuscript. My personality lends itself to interacting with the congregation and, in my mind, I would rather have these grammatical errors than lose the interaction with the congregation that seems to be one of my stronger suits when it comes to preaching. However, being made aware of these grammatical errors is certainly going to be a big help to me moving forward in my preaching career.
The other aspect of the critiques that I found most interesting had to do with the variation in perception of my treatment of the text. There were certain evaluations that felt I treated the text unfairly and that I only dealt with the final verse of the chapter. One of the evaluations said that I dealt with the last verse exclusively and avoided what I admitted was difficult. However, there were other evaluators that gave nothing but high marks in this same category and said that they were challenged by the message. When I consider those evaluating me on this sermon, I know that some of those who felt that I did not deal with the entire text were Greek professors who, I am sure, knew much more of the particular text than I myself did. One of the evaluators approached me after the service and let me know his opinion on that subject. Again, there are times when I feel that this has more to do with personality than anything else. I informed the congregation that certain people were evaluating me for a seminary assignment, and I believe that this puts certain people in an “evaluation mindset”. As many people as there were who thought that I did not deal with the entire text, there were an equal number of those who expressed opinions that were completely the opposite. One of these professors, whom I do not know for sure if they evaluated me, informed me that it was one of the best sermons he had ever heard. How does one explain this? Again, I will seek to take away as much as I can from these critiques, but cushion it with the understanding that different personalities simply see things differently.
Overall, this exercise was extremely beneficial for me. Pastors tend to, at least in my experience, receive much positive affirmation of their sermons and as much “hard coaching”, especially from those who are experts in the field. I will keep these evaluations with me and look at them periodically to remind myself of those things that I struggle with. In all honesty, this was probably the single most beneficial exercise that I have been a part of in all my seminary experience. I am grateful that this was a part of this class, and I do believe that all students who feel the call of God on their lives to preach the gospel would benefit immensely from participation in this exercise.
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
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