Tired, ready for bed, and grateful that my sermon for Sunday was finished after hours of concentrated prep, I asked for my wife’s honest input on the sermon.
Surviving Feedback from Friends
Okay, I really didn’t want honest feedback. I just wanted her stamp of approval, a pat on the head, and an enthusiastic “Good job, Michael!”
Her reaction? “Meh.”
Okay, she didn’t say that, but that’s all I heard.
Instantly electricity flowed through me. I bit my tongue before I asked why she thought it was just “okay?” My mild defense was that it was theologically accurate, engaged a wide swath of the potential audience, and even had a few laughs inserted in areas to keep the listener’s attention.
“Well, it just doesn’t pop … and it isn’t specific enough. It’s kind of general.” Then she recommended a few books I should read to help me craft a better sermon on parenting.
Not only did she recommend books, she pulled four from various shelves around the house and handed them to me. I felt like I was back in seminary.
I was bruised, but not broken. Melissa loves me and is my biggest fan. If she holds up the yield sign on my sermon, I should proceed with caution.
So I took her advice.
And three hours later, into the wee hours of Friday, I had a message that was much better than Version 1.0.
Here are my takeaways:
Don’t ask for feedback unless you intend to receive it with humility and openness.
Too often we ask for feedback when all we really want is praise. This gets old really fast, and doesn’t promote growth and development. Ask Siri to tell you that you look good today and she will say, “I am not one to dwell on appearances.” (I have no idea how I know this …) If your electronic assistant won’t prop you up with platitudes, why should your spouse or closest friend? If you ask, be ready to receive. And do it with grace, not defense.
A few weeks ago I sent out an email and one of the recipients called me up for a chat. He asked if I would be open to feedback about how the email was written. I chuckled, and agreed to the process. He was kind, but didn’t pull too many punches. And I am thankful. My emails have never been the same since. They are quick, to the point, and give only the necessary information.
Now I need his feedback on my blog posts …
The hardest people to take feedback/criticism from are those we care for the most.
Through the years I have received all sorts of criticism, some valid and some downright nasty. It’s easy for me to dismiss and move on when a crotchety senior who has never said a kind word in their lives points out a flaw in my message or delivery. But when my wife does, it really stings. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6), but they are still wounds, and require us to swallow our pride and take the feedback as kindness. In my case, Melissa takes no pleasure in combing through my sermons looking for weakness. She thinks I’m a good communicator. She always wants me to do my best. And if I have spinach in my teeth, she will let me know. I might be embarrassed in the moment, but I’d be mortified if I delivered my message with a salad bar in my teeth.
The ideal of “nailing it” on the first-take is seriously flawed.
We communicators have a flawed idea that once we have preached enough sermons or received a passing grade in a homiletics course that we are above scrutiny. We would never say that aloud (how egotistical!), but that is the vibe we put out there. The same goes for inviting feedback during the sermon prep process. What holds you back from checking in with someone who cares about you to see if they understand the message you are trying to convey? Isn’t the point of a sermon to effectively communicate the Good News of Jesus? And if that’s the case, is it such a bad idea to take a moment to see if you are on the right track?
First drafts should never be the final draft. That’s why you need to give yourself time. Saturday night specials won’t cut it. Give yourself time to get feedback from others and inspiration from the Holy Spirit through prayer and study.
Everyone will be thankful you did.
This article was originally posted here.