Sunday, October 05, 2008

On giving critique of sermons

This post was originally guest-blogged by me at Digital H20 this summer:

Alfred Poirer helpfully observes that the cross helps us to receive criticism as beneficial. Giving critique is another thing.

Firstly, it's really easy to give critique to others. Spotting planks in other people is easy, while the dust in our own eyes is hard to see. When I want to critique someone elses sermon for not getting the point I need to remember that I have my blindspots - if I differ with the preacher I should at the least seriously consider that my prior understanding is wrong. I should assume this until further study says otherwise.

Secondly, pride loves to critique others and find their faults to elevate ourselves. A sermon should humble me as I encounter the grace of God - how tragic to allow my pride to seize upon it. How desperate to sin in the pew at the very point I'm being called back to the cross of Christ for grace.

Thirdly, the work of observing someone else and saying how they could do better is infinitely easier than the hard hours a preacher spends in the study seeking the Lord, wrestling with the text, under all the pressures that God has providentially arranged that week.

Sermons are to be heard and applied. They present a tangible encounter with God as the preacher announces from the scriptures that Jesus Christ is Lord, constrained by a text, liberated by a text, empowered by the Holy Spirit and ruled by the word of God. The preacher might not say everything I would say. Thankfully he wont say most of the erroneous things I quickly glean from the text but which are rightly dismissed by hours in the study. Furthermore, that morning he is called to preach not me. He preaches what he has seen. He preaches what he has believed. He preaches what he is able to articulate. And, if through the word of God I am directed back to behold Jesus Christ then what complaint can I have?

Sermons are always imperfect, and every preacher wants to be faithful - no preacher wants to stand up and lie to God's people when they might speak the words of God. As Peter puts it "whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ"

Preachers need critique but they also need prayer, that as they labour over the text they might understand clearly, have soft-hearts to believe what they see and be changed by God, and then to speak from God - portraying publicly the Christ who was crucified.

Linked with helpful commentary by Michael Jones


  1. Great post Bish. I think you should do a series on this. Let me offer a little expose for you. I was (it's a very infrequent thing and not because I'm cool or anything) talking to a well known Christian speaker - a headline Spring Harvest person - a little while ago who told me that one of the things that surprised him about doing talks at CU's was the huge arrogance that he often saw after a talk. He said that quite often, after speaking he was approached by a CU member or worker and offered a free critique of his talk, often without being asked for it. I thought to myself, that sounds a bit dodgy, but everyone has bad experiences. I'll stay open minded about it. A little while later he was speaking at a CU and I sat down in the audience to listen to him. I happened to sit next to a student worker - you would know the person if I named them Bish - who listened to the talk and turned to me and said, "He didn't really preach the gospel did he?"

    As it happened he had actually mentioned everything in the Pauline gospel summaries, but he hadn't used the normal language and phrases to do it and so it was easy to offer the critique, even if it was a demonstrably false allegation.

    My wife has been encouraging me to say postive things and mean it before I get into what I think the gaps are after a talk. And if I don't know the person - then to think very carefully before I open my mouth to offer my "pearls"

  2. It's a post written having both done the killer critiquing myself and having received it.

    To be honest I don't think it's unique to CUs, but it is definitely present there... in part the "youthful passions" that love to fault-find, quarrel and boast inherent in any young crowd... which is NO excuse at all.

    As with able to teach character is a very big deal.

    Which means with CUs for a start that when we train small group leaders I want us to not just prep them with good questions, good grammar and good frameworks - but with a 'gaze-on-glory' encounter with Jesus that aims for the Holy Spirit to leave them humbled, trembly, heart-broken, comforted, encouraged, joyful, kind, loving, repentant... being transformed. Because that makes someone ready to lead a small group Bible study.

    Likewise, after a CU talk - how tragic if my response is to bite another Christian... unless the speaker was preaching legalism which leads to such biting and devouring, then that is an inexplicable effect that exposes horrendous sin in the listener.

    Maybe it's having been to America this year, but encouragement is under-rated in the British church. And I don't think that's entirely a cultural thing.

  3. '...encouragement is under-rated in the British church'

    Yowch! That hurts, because it's true.

  4. This post by Andy Mason was a similar yowch point for me:

  5. Hey, Dave! I love your blog and appreciate the link.

    Blessings on you, your family, and your ministry.