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Posts Tagged ‘feedback after preaching’

One of the charms of being a pastor is that you are free to put together your own schedule.

You can exercise before going to the office … or afterwards.

You can eat lunch at your desk … at a local cafe … or at home.

You can return calls as they come in … or at the end of the day.

You can study at church … at home … in a restaurant … or in a library.

You don’t have to do things the way your predecessor did … or even the way you’ve done things in the past.

And you don’t have to adapt to everyone else … they usually have to adapt to you.

But with great freedom comes great responsibility.

I believe that when pastors resist being accountable to their boards and congregation, they will eventually be forced to be accountable … and pastors don’t like being forced to do anything.

But when a pastor offers to be accountable without coercion, it strengthens the bonds of trust between himself and his leaders/congregation.

Here are four ways a pastor can be more accountable to his leaders and congregation:

First, the pastor needs to build in times for feedback in his preaching ministry.

I enjoyed preaching immensely, but because I’m a teacher at heart, I wish I could have had more interaction with the congregation on Sunday mornings.

In other words, I wish preaching could be more of a lively dialogue than just a predictable monologue.

I once gave a sermon on the new atheists, and several times during the message, I quoted from Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins and asked people, “How would you answer the arguments of these men?”  I asked people to form groups of two or three to discuss their replies.  Then I invited anyone who wanted to come to the front (where we had placed microphones in the aisles) so they could share their responses … and someone who came to the church as an atheist became a theist that day!

I also wanted to take time after the message for people to ask me questions using their cell phones, but I couldn’t work out the logistics with our tech guy.  Wouldn’t it be great for the pastor to cut his message ten minutes short on occasion and spend that time answering three or four questions instead?

Around once a year, I’d say to the congregation, “Next week will be the last Sunday in our current series.  If you have any questions you’d like me to answer about the issues I’ve been presenting, please write down your question on your response card and I will answer as many as I can next Sunday.”  And that would be the message: answering people’s questions.  I loved those Sundays!

As we closed a series on marriage, someone wrote on their card, “Did you and your wife have sex before marriage?”  I did answer that question … honestly.  It was the first time anyone had ever asked me that question!

Since leaving my last ministry in 2009, my wife and I have probably visited close to 100 churches.  Not once has any pastor invited feedback after his message.  If you want to stand out, try it!

Second, the pastor needs to give the official board a written update of his ministry.

I believe it’s better for a pastor to account for his ministry voluntarily than to have the board/elders make him accountable.

Imagine a pastor who attends the regular board meeting every month but doesn’t tell the board anything about his accomplishments or his plans.

That might work for a meeting or two, but after a while, some board members are going to start questioning the pastor more and more.

It’s better for the pastor to have a place on the agenda where he reports on his ministry every month.  I always preferred to give a written report of one to two pages because it forced me to think through my ministry in concrete terms … and gave the board members something they could take home with them.

I divided my report into four sections:

LEAD THE LEADERS

I’d let the board know about leadership community meetings (composed of all the key leaders in the church, including staff members and board members); mission trips; baptisms; ministry fairs … anything we were doing that involved leadership.

TEACH THE TRUTH

I’d let the board know about my preaching plans … any special classes I’d be teaching … or any special seminars we’d be offering to the church/community.

SUPERVISE THE STAFF

I’d give a brief rundown of each staff member that was directly accountable to me, both personally and professionally.  If I was having problems with someone, I’d ask the board for their input.

PASTOR THE PEOPLE

I’d tell the board about the people in the church who were hospitalized … having surgery … having babies … needing jobs … and who had lost loved ones.

This monthly report let the board know that I knew what was going on at the church … let them be informed as well … and helped us be able to pray for people and coordinate assistance as needed.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d use the same template and hand in a report … even if the board members didn’t want it.  My monthly board report was the single best thing I did to demonstrate accountability … and if anybody asked a board member, “What does Jim do around here, anyway?” they had a current answer.

Third, the pastor needs to give staff members opportunities to consult with him.

Every Tuesday in my last ministry, we had a staff meeting from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.  We ate lunch together … shared what God was teaching us in our quiet times … had a training time … reviewed the church calendar together … and ended our time by praying at various places in the worship center.

I let the staff know that if anyone needed to speak with me, I would set aside time after the meeting to meet with them.

And if I had a concern about someone’s ministry, I’d arrange to meet with them after the staff meeting as well.

There were a few times when a staff member would criticize me to someone else in the church … or resist my leadership … and I’d say to them, “You know I’m always available for you on Tuesdays.  Why didn’t you come to me?”

Staff members rarely came to me and criticized me, although that did happen a few times.  But I wanted them to know that I cared enough about their ministries to be available for them.

Yes, the staff was accountable to me as lead pastor, but I viewed us as team members, and I wanted to keep communication flowing freely.

Finally, the pastor needs to stand before the congregation and answer questions at least twice annually.

When I was a young pastor, I dreaded public meetings of the congregation because there was always a disgruntled person who tried to hijack the meetings.

For that reason, many pastors either eliminated them from the church calendar or held them at a time when they would be poorly attended (like on a Saturday night).

I felt exactly the opposite.  I looked at congregational meetings as a time for people to own their church.

In fact, I wanted as many people as possible at those meetings.

I suppose if you’re in a church that isn’t doing very much, you might not want to hold a public meeting.  But if you’re in a church that has great plans for the future, you want to have time to explain what you’re doing and why.

So we’d hold our meetings on Sundays after the second service … put together a lunch … offer child care … and make presentations that showed where the church was going in the future.

And I’d usually have time to take the microphone and answer any questions people had about the ministry … and I loved those times.

If someone was unhappy about something, that was their time to speak up … right to my face.  But in a public setting, most people end up pulling their punches, and sometimes didn’t come off as coherent.

And if I couldn’t answer their question properly in a public meeting, I’d offer to meet with them privately … or have them meet with a leader who could help them.

Jesus stood before large crowds … some composed of hostile leaders … and answered all kinds of questions.  Shouldn’t his servants today do the same?

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The four ways I’ve described above work well for a normal pastor in a normal church setting … but because they have flexible schedules, pastors can sometimes do things for which there is no accountability.

I’ve shared several times that I know of a pastor who was having an affair with a woman in his church for twenty years.  Nobody seemed to know what was going on … or if they did, they didn’t want to say anything.

What could the church board have done to make that pastor more accountable?

I don’t know if there is anything that can be done.  Should a pastor be under constant surveillance?  Should he have to call into the church every few minutes?  Should he wear a chip – like a dog – that specifies his whereabouts at all times?  Should various board members follow him without his knowledge in their cars?

I’m sure some have studied this issue and have some answers.  The only thing I can think of is for board members to ask a pastor some surprise questions periodically about his personal life … and try and determine if they need to delve into his life further.

What are your ideas about keeping pastors accountable?

 

 

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I believe there is something wrong with the preaching in most Christian churches today.

The problem isn’t the setting.  Most worship centers make it easy to see and hear the pastor … often with video enhancement.

The problem isn’t the source material.  Scripture is spiritually rewarding, intellectually challenging, relationally practical, and emotionally fulfilling.

The problem isn’t with theology.  Most pastors know what they believe and why they believe it.

The problem isn’t the pastor per se.  Most pastors possess fine stage presence, connect well with their congregations, and are good communicators.

No, in my mind, the problem is this:

Preaching has become a monologue.

Last Sunday, I attended a megachurch nearby.

I thought the pastor’s message was very good.  He taught verse by verse … told some great stories … and tended to view the world as I do, since we’re roughly the same age.

But after he was done preaching, I had some questions about his message.

But how and when could I ask them?

The services weren’t designed for congregational interaction.  The first service started at 8:00 am … the second was at 9:45 … and the last one was at 11:30.

Since the pastor had to preach three times, there wasn’t any time for questions.  I understand that.

But if I sent him an email during the week, what were the chances that I’d even reach him?  I once tried contacting a megachurch pastor online and had to fill out a form beforehand … and he never wrote me back.

I guess what’s bothering me … and I’ve felt this way for nearly 30 years … is that most people don’t learn very much by listening to a monologue.

For example, I once heard former President Bill Clinton speak at an event after he was out of office, and five minutes later, I couldn’t remember a thing he said.

This is one reason why some pastors include a sermon outline in the bulletin … sometimes using fill-in-the-blanks … because “impression without expression leads to depression.”

And some churches feel they’ve resolved this problem by offering small groups during the week that discuss the pastor’s sermon … but let’s be honest, you’re still not speaking to the pastor directly.

But what if a pastor brings a message on a topic and you:

*disagree strongly with his viewpoint?

*think he’s completely missed the point of a passage?

*would like him to clarify something he said?

*want him to elaborate on an issue a little bit more?

*are struggling to find the relevancy of his sermon?

Let me offer four ideas to encourage more feedback between pastors and their hearers:

First, set up microphones in the aisles and let the pastor answer questions for 10-15 minutes after his message.

This was the custom of a famous pastor in London for many years.  After he was done speaking, he allowed people to ask him questions in public.

This is certainly biblical.

In John 8, Jesus does something similar in the temple courts in Jerusalem.  He says, “I am the light of the world.”  The Pharisees challenge him.  Jesus responds.  They ask him a question.  They mumble to themselves.  Jesus answers.  They ask Him another question.  Jesus answers … offers a clarification …  and then John says, “Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.”

Whether this practice is done weekly or monthly, it would certainly arouse congregational interest.

Yes, the pastor might have to cut his message a little shorter, but what’s wrong with that?

I tried this once while preaching on “the new atheists,” and received a great response … and I absolutely loved it myself.

Second, let people text questions to someone who chooses several questions and displays them on a video screen.

While the pastor is preaching, listeners can text questions to a central location.  A very wise individual … maybe an associate pastor or staff member …  then chooses 3-5 questions … inputs them into the church’s software … and throws them up on the screen when the pastor is done speaking.

This is something that I wanted to do in my last ministry.  I’m sure there’s a way to do it, but we just couldn’t figure it out.

But this approach uses technology … keeps people interested … and forces the pastor to clarify, defend, or expand on his remarks after he speaks.

Third, the pastor announces an upcoming topic and asks people to write down their questions about that issue.

Let’s say that I’m going to be preaching on raising children in two weeks.  I’d tell the congregation, “If you have questions about raising kids, please write them on your communication/response card today and next Sunday.  I’ll choose as many questions as possible and answer them two weeks from today.”

I did this with messages on marriage, forgiveness, and heaven, and found that my preparation time was cut in half …  but the interest in those topics was sky-high because the congregation determined the topics.

On those occasions when I did this, it was always for the last message in a series.  I wanted God’s people to let me know what they were thinking and feeling.

Finally, consider having a forum over issues of national importance.

When the scandal involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky broke in 1998, I was living in Arizona.

Millions of Americans were riveted to their TV screens, not just because of the scandal, but because we didn’t know how to think about it.

Some of the President’s defenders said, “This is just about sex.  It’s no big deal.”

Others said, “But the President has repeatedly lied to the American people and refuses to tell the truth.  Should he resign?  Be impeached?”

People were throwing Bible verses around like “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  We were told, “Let’s just forgive the President and move on.”

For the average American … and the average Christian … it was all very confusing.

A church two miles from my house … one of America’s top ten largest churches at the time … decided to hit the issue head on.

They put together a panel of experts and asked them to share their views from a biblical perspective.  As I recall, the congregation was allowed to ask them questions during Sunday services.

While I loved this idea … realizing that it scares the daylights out of others … at least that church was being relevant and letting people offer feedback.

I believe in preaching.  I believe in one man holding a Bible and saying, “This is what God says in His Word.”

It’s a powerful way to communicate … but it’s not the only way to communicate.

So from time-to-time, why can’t pastors present God’s Word and then let people ask questions?

This is just my opinion … but I think people would flock to a church that offered feedback.

What do you think about my ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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