evaluating the sermon

Offering critique is always tricky.

While it is possible that a preacher can develop without being critiqued, it is not possible for a trainer of preachers to do so. They must learn to give and receive critique. In Langham our goal is to develop trainers and so it is critical that we think about critique.

The most learnable moment in our training process comes late in each afternoon. The work from the small groups is hung up around the room - a bit like an art gallery. They've been in a biblical passage all afternoon and now here is their 'sermon in a sentence' and a basic shape to their message. Learners roam around, enjoying each other's handiwork (see photo).

Then we evaluate each group's work together. But how? It helps to be evaluating a group's work - not an individual's work.

I try to lay down some ground rules, for starters.
'We are a community of learners together. Let's make this a safe place, an honest place, an encouraging place. But let's commit to improvement in our preaching. I want you to know right now - at the start - that I will always find one area in which you can improve. After I preach later this evening, I want you to do the same with me. OK?'

From my time in New Zealand, there is the sandwich
Here you begin and you finish with affirmation and in the middle you offer some meaty critique. I don't use this approach any more. The affirmation tends to become a forgettable frame for the picture! It is too easy for learners to go away with just the picture (ie critique) in their hearts.

From my learning from others in the Pacific, there is the 'giving a helping hand'
No negative words. No disheartening comments. No shaming in front of others. Just the gentle image of extending a hand to help them move onward and upward in their preaching. Or, alternatively, they speak of 'adding-value' to the preacher's sermon, as distinct from 'e-valuating' the sermon.

From my learning from others in Cambodia, there is the 'honour - advice'
The words are beautiful. 'Honour' is so exalted and 'advice' is so non-threatening. And so this is how they say it: First, 'we give honour to the preacher and then we give advice'.
(see photo from Cambodia)

After my years in Asia, I've stumbled across this phrase: 'if you had more time, this is what I'd work on...' .
I use it a lot. It works well.

In  fact, this post was prompted by an email from Pakistan that arrived just one hour ago. Two local trainers, Tariq and Nancy, are leading a basic Level One seminar in that country this week. My expat colleague writes,
I'm sitting here smiling in a Langham group feedback session - led by Tariq, but hearing your voice. he started by praising him and then your sentence, 'If you had more time...'. The same from Nancy yesterday. I hadn't reminded them and so it is great to hear this in a culture where the teacher can be so devastatingly critical...
So, here is another one to add...
From my learning with others in Pakistan, there is the 'if you had more time...'

[Do readers of this post have other approaches which you use? I'd love to learn from others a little more...]

Some of the deepest and most joyful community experiences have occurred late in the afternoon, late in the week of a Langham seminar (it takes a few days to get the hang of it). I love it. Getting evaluation right can be so satisfying for everyone.

But sometimes it goes wrong. My worst experience of giving an evaluation to a student happened just this past February in a classroom at SAIACS (Bangalore). I still can't believe I handled it so badly. I apologised to the student in front of the class the next day. On other occasions it can be hard to receive an evaluation. At a Langham seminar in the Pacific, they were working on Amos 3 & 4 through the afternoon. I preached in the evening after which a senior, respected participant offered this evaluating comment of my sermon: 'the Amos passage came alive for us this afternoon - but this evening, in your sermon, the passage died again.' Hmmm

nice chatting



Rachael said…
Asking questions can be useful with critiquing. Not always appropriate, and hardly a profound observation, but a handy tool at times.
Paul RW said…
True, very true.

In the post-sermon discussion, I sometimes ask the preacher - 'tell us a little about what you are targeting in that sermon' ... in other words, provide some commentary on what you are doing. That can be very helpful.

Thanks, Rachael
Anonymous said…
I can still remember your first (very warm) evaluation of my earliest sermon back in about 1990 was it?? Ever since I have tried not to "smile expansively" when delivering the bad news bits of a sermon!
Chris C
Paul RW said…
Yes, Chris, I remember you introducing me at OxTce with some reference to that evaluation. Oh dear! On that final whizz around NZ visiting friends from across the years, there were 3-4 stories of a similar ilk that came out of the woodwork. I think we can all agree that evaluation time has a way of being memory-making time.
Hugh Kemp said…
Paul. Taking you up on the invitation for some other frameworks for critique. I've used the 'commend' and 'recommend' binary. At the end of a presentation, I'd say something like 'I commend you for ...', and then 'I recommend you do ...'. In courses where learning outcomes require peer review (students have to give other students feedback), I've taught students to frame their feedback with these two words: one student makes one commendation; another student makes one recommendation, and then we move on. However, it has broken down in contexts with second language speakers: alas the phonics of 'commend' and 'recommend' are a tad close, no doubt. Cheers. Hugh.
Paul Windsor said…
Sorry, Hugh. Missed this comment.

It is SO helpful. That 'commend' and 'recommend' captures exactly the tone I'd want to have with valuation. Really helpful.

best wishes

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