So, what did you think?

How do you give constructive feedback on something that you found unhelpful? Or, to be more specific, what do partners of preachers say to their orating half if / when they ‘preach a stinker’ and ask you what you think?

That was a question that was discussed at a group for the partners of trainee Baptist Ministers when I was at College. Sally came back from that group with the mischievous twinkle in her eye and joyfully told me of the answer that the group came up with: “It was a good text.”

I was left wondering when she was planning to bring that one out of the cupboard – perhaps on the way home after preaching at one of the many churches where we cut our preaching teeth while at College; or maybe over lunch…

I am glad that she did not know of that phrase when I preached my first ever sermon. Although, to be honest, I am not sure she would have found a text in there anyway! It was technically deficient in many ways. It was long, it was rambling and (I am ashamed to admit, even today) I managed to preach about the crucifixion of Jesus without once mentioning the reason why he died! I never explained God’s love! I did not set out to preach a naff sermon, I wanted to preach God’s word. I just preached it badly.

I still have the handwritten manuscript from that sermon, but cannot bring myself to read it again. It serves as a reminder of God’s grace and the incredible ability of the Holy Spirit to speak through even abysmal sermons. You see, the thing that makes me smile (and sometimes even LOL) about that is that at the end of the sermon I had the nerve to invite people to give their lives to Jesus. That’s not the funny bit. The funny bit is that at least four people DID give their lives to Jesus at that moment!

I can honestly say, hand on heart (although that does make typing more diciffult) that it was not because I am a good preacher. It is not because the sermon was powerful. It is not because of me at all. It is entirely down to God who, despite the flaws and faults in the sermon, spoke to people that night. People came to faith in Jesus almost despite me! Trust me, this is not false humility. This is not humility at all. It is simply the truth.

The view from the gallery at our church

And that is how I answer the question I began this blog with. I try to be truthful. I try to be tactful, balanced, encouraging, helpful, supportive, but primarily tell the truth. It does nobody any favours if I am less than honest.

And the astonishing thing about the first sermon I preached is that it still speaks to me today. It reminds me that God chooses to use flawed human beings to communicate his truth. Not just through sermons, but through our lives, our conversations, our attitudes, our words, our strengths and our weaknesses. Our responsibility is to be as well-prepared as we can be, to represent Jesus to the best of our ability, to be and tell the truth using the gifts he has given us and revealing the character he is uncovering within us. God’s Spirit does the rest.

And I give you permission to tell me when it was a good text!
Things you never hear at church:
Hey! It’s MY turn to sit on the front pew!
Personally, I find services much more enjoyable than golf.
I volunteer to be a permanent teacher for the Sunday School.
I love it when we sing hymns I’ve never heard before!
Pastor, we’d like to send you to this Bible seminar in the Bahamas.
I wish you had not stopped preaching after only 40 minutes.

A visiting preacher was greeting people at the church door after the service when a bloke came up to him and said, “You went on far too long,” and then strode off. The preacher was a little taken aback at the honesty but regained his composure and carried on greeting people.

A few minutes later the same bloke was back. “I didn’t understand anything you said.” Off he strode.

The preacher was deflated but persevered in his greeting duty.

A short while later the bloke approached him again. “I hated the songs you chose.” Off he went before the preacher could respond.

The next person to arrive at the door was the church secretary and the preacher nervously told him what had happened.

“Oh, you shouldn’t pay any attention to him,” said the secretary. “He doesn’t have a clue about anything so he goes around repeating what he hears everyone else saying.”

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