Many organizations espouse ongoing evaluation for their employees, especially those in leadership positions. That church leaders should be included in this lot is not too surprising. Many churches evaluate their pastor annually. But that may not be sufficient for some ministry responsibilities such as preaching. Probably, no one understands the goals of preaching like the preacher. Input from the congregation is very valuable, but the pastor needs to evaluate his own preaching occasionally. In evaluating my own preaching and in working with numerous pastors, I have found three strategies that often lead to improvement.
Congregational Evaluation
The first strategy is that feedback is not enough. The preacher needs input on the sermon prior to preaching it. I need not reiterate the details of this strategy here, but merely refer you to “Stop Preaching in the Dark,” Preaching (May-June, 1996), 15-16. I will add, however, that evaluation from the congregation proves very helpful. People hear and see things to which I’m oblivious. So, once each quarter, I insert a brief evaluation sheet randomly in about one-fourth of the bulletins. The evaluation form is included below.
Spouse’s Evaluation
A second strategy follows closely from the first. I have found it more valuable than I can describe to gain both input and feedback from my wife. Though I cannot cite the source, or the preacher’ name, I share this one example:
They say that a preacher’s wife is always his number one assistant. An example of this came one Sunday morning after the preacher had just finished his sermon. He went and sat down with his wife and she asked him how he thought the church service went.
The Preacher shrugged and said, “The worship was excellent, and I think the prayer and communion times went quite well, but,” he continued, “I just don’t think the sermon ever got off the ground.”
The wife looked over at him, and before she could stop herself, she said, “Well, it sure did taxi long enough!”
I give the sermon manuscript to my wife on Thursday. She reads it for clarity, flow of thought and mistakes. Often, she can turn to me and say, “Honey, I’m not sure what you’re saying right here.” Or, even better, she might say, “Hey, I have a great illustration of that!” I find that as spouses do this they need to learn to read the manuscript as a sermon to be heard rather than an article to be read.
Occasionally, it has been helpful for me to preach a short section of the sermon for my wife. She has a better idea then of how I intend to say something. She can here the emphases and what is stressed through simple voice inflection. So, strategy number two begins with gaining input from your spouse. It continues, however, with feedback.
On Tuesday, I’ve become emotionally detached from Sunday’s message enough to here my wife’s evaluation. In fact, on most Tuesdays, I can hardly remember what I preached last Sunday. So my wife will sit down with me to talk about the clarity of the message — it’s relevance and authority as well as the delivery. A few years ago my wife detected that I had developed a bad habit of speaking too softly, or without enough energy. Bumping up the force just one notch made huge improvement. Occasionally, she has to remind me of this tendency. It frustrates me a little when she has to remind me, but I’m thankful for her invaluable help. In “preaching clinics” and with seminary students’ wives, I offer these guidelines for the wife’s evaluation:
1. You can be your husband’s best source of good preaching and preaching improvement. Give him regular input and evaluation both before and after the sermon.
2. Give your feedback on the following, at least. (Most wives probably have much more to say, but this is the bare minimum.) Keep a note card of these questions in your Bible.
a. Did the sermon have a clear and emphasized “big idea” or central proposition? (What was it?)
b. Could people follow the argument of this message?
c. Was it obvious that the message came from the biblical passage(es)?
d. Do people know how to respond to this message?
e. Do I need to correct something (mannerism, voice, delivery, style, etc.)?
A third strategy is simply that of self-evaluation. In our day of easy access to camcorders I suggest that the preacher videotape the sermon once each quarter and watch it with either an evaluation pad or notepad in hand. If you have never watched yourself on videotape, watch the first tape uncritically simply to “get acquainted” with yourself. Then, take pad in hand to watch for evaluation. The goal of this evaluation is to (1) answer the following questions and (2) write three specific needs for improvement:
1. Is the message clear and easy to follow?
2. Did the introduction gain attention and point to a need for this message?
3. Did the structure of the message represent the biblical text accurately?
4. Can listeners see that this message came from the passage(s)?
5. Do listeners know how to respond to this message?
6. Is delivery competent and humble?
7. [Write a specific question or two related to the sermon’s topic or text.]
The questions are simple, closed-ended (yes or no) questions. However, a “yes” or “no” will not really provide the information that you need. Better answers will include: “Yes, but…” and “No, because ….” Then the preacher needs to identify three specific needs for improvement.
Of course, the question then becomes “How do I achieve these needed improvements?” This is where a homiletics professor, fellow preacher or speech coach may prove very helpful. Typically, though, I have found that preachers usually know how to make the improvements once they have understood that an improvement is needed. The preacher is not looking for gimmicks or techniques but genuine strategies to improve in specific ways. It is also very valuable to inform your spouse that you want to improve in these ways and ask for related feedback for the next six messages. In about six weeks, videotape again and evaluate specifically for the three areas. Are you improving? Even if you’re not yet where you want to be, are you making progress?
Longevity. Over a period of time, you have the advantage of comparing where you were a few years ago to where you are now, as well as to where you want to be a year or two from now. Set reasonable goals. It’s not reasonable to think that a few “adjustments” will make you sound like Spurgeon or Moody. Nor should you want to sound like another preacher. Be yourself and use the gifts and training that God has entrusted to you. But all of us have room for improvement, so employ these strategies to conduct your “preaching check-up.”
Below is the congregation’s evaluation form that I mentioned. You can simply size this form to fit in your bulletin. Also, the questions that I’m asking may not get the information that you desire. My form is only a sample. Change the questions until you get the information you desire. Also, consider changing the questions annually. Your goal is to get the information you desire and to create a climate for open feedback.
Quarterly Bulletin Insert
This is an evaluation form for this morning’s sermon. Please follow the directions below.
1. Listen to the entire sermon before writing anything on this form.
2. Your honest feedback is desired. Please be candid.
3. For the scaled questions below, please circle a number.
4. For the other question, please provide a 1-2 sentence response.
5. Please return this form to the church office by Thursday of this week.
6. THANK YOU for giving your input toward better preaching.

Share This On: