Epiphany Preaching Blog


Epiphany – Let a little light shine on our preaching

In my day job at the School of Theology in Sewanee I listen to sermons. Lots and lots of sermons. Loads of sermons. Tons. They pay me to do this because I am expected to listen critically, and evaluate the strengths, problems and potential of the sermon to help the student grow as a preacher. Then they graduate, are ordained, and unless they come back to enroll in the D.Min. in Preaching program or come to an Episcopal Preaching Foundation conference, they rarely receive meaningful evaluation and feedback. Except for the exceptions, and Epiphany is a marvelous time to become an exception.

Time is short – Lent will be here in less than a month – so this may have to wait until next year. But I encourage you to find a way to receive the sort of regular, critical, and challenging evaluation that will help you grow as a preacher. This does not come from spouse, partner, parents or children, not from your biggest fan in the parish, or the one marking the days off the calendar until you leave. It can only come from people you respect, and who respect you, and who care enough about your preaching to give some time and take some risks to help you grow. Here are three suggestions for creating a regular sermon-evaluation process, with an increasing degree-of-difficulty.

1.      Friends helping friends.  In seminary you may well have shared ideas, outlines, and drafts of your sermons with a friend or two before you launched them into the classroom or chapel. Many good preachers still do so today, sometimes with the same classmates, for others with a colleague in the community in which they serve. It happens informally all the time – “Heh, I listened to the sermon on your website. Great job, but there is one thing I want to ask you….” If you formalized an exchange like this, even if it is just over the telephone, and created an atmosphere in which a fellow preacher gave you honest feedback, it will make a difference.

2.     Group hug. A simple back-and-forth like this is a vast improvement over, “Thanks for the sermon,” on the way out the door. But it has the obvious limitation of only a couple of points of view, and the danger of becoming a two person homiletical mutual admiration society. What if you expanded the group to include two more friends, whether by conference call, Skype, or, be still my heart, face-to-face over lunch or coffee? This requires more organization, taking turns whose sermon(s) you will listen to before you meet, and who will lead the conversation, but these are hardly insurmountable barriers. Not if you plan on getting together every 6-8 weeks. Or more, but probably not less if you want to get much out of it. Every now and then you might agree to read a new or classic book about preaching, and include the author’s voice in your discussion.

3.     Epiphany Sermon Evaluation Group. And you might consider having a formal evaluation every year or so by a group of parishioners. Epiphany is a wonderful season for this, with great texts, a bit of a liturgical lull, and the energy of a new year’s resolution or two to spur you on. How might you do this? You will need six or so people, with whom you share trust and respect but not necessarily affection and friendship – though liking your preaching is not a disqualification. You will need to have recorded the sermons in order to watch or listen together, rather than trusting on memory and perfect attendance. And you will need to prepare a guideline to direct the group toward the manner of evaluation you want to receive. (sample form below.) Three or four sermons, in two sessions, is a good target, because you cannot expect to get much help from the discussion of the first sermon – some will think you only want their praise, others will bash away. By the time you discuss sermons three and four the group will have found its rhythm, and you will be so busy taking notes you will not have time to respond. Two other thoughts – in a parish with multiple preachers regularly on the rota, it is best to include them all in this process. And while you have a few people gathered around the preaching task, be sure to ask them, “What would you like to hear a sermon about?”

See you in the pulpit!

Bill Brosend  

 

 

Sermon Evaluation Form

 

A sermon should have something to say worth hearing, and say it well enough to be truly heard.

 

Having Something to Say

 

  1. Biblical Exegesis and theological understanding:  the exegesis and theology grounding the homily was sound, cogent, and persuasive.

1-disagree           2-somewhat disagree      3-somewhat agree      4-agree      5- Amen!

Comments:

 

 

 

2.  Clarity and focus:  the goal(s) and purpose(s) of the homily were clear, relevant,

and important.

1-disagree           2-somewhat disagree      3-somewhat agree      4-agree      5- Amen!

Comments:

 

 

 

Saying It Well

 

  1. Structure and movement:  the homily was clearly organized and moved in a logical fashion.

1-disagree          2-somewhat disagree      3-somewhat agree      4-agree      5- Amen!

Comments:

 

 

 

  1. Interest and engagement:  the homily held the listeners’ interest, engaged their issues and questions, and challenged and strengthened their faith in significant ways.

1-disagree          2-somewhat disagree      3-somewhat agree      4-agree      5- Amen!

Comments:

 

 

 

 

  1. Delivery and style:  the homily was appealing, appropriate, and persuasive.

1-disagree      2-somewhat disagree      3-somewhat agree      4-agree      5- Amen!

Comments: