Currently I'm preparing to take part in a preaching workshop hosted by the Charles Simeon Trust. This is the third year I've participated and anticipate being just as blessed this year as in past years. Unlike other theological or pastors' conferences, this is a real workshop, with lots of prep work and peer review throughout the week. If there's a workshop meeting near you, I would encourage any pastor to attend. Toward that end, here are a few quick thoughts and encouragements regarding the work of preachers.
- Pastors can be a whiny bunch.* To be fair, it's not just pastors. Experience has taught me that any members of a given profession have a unique ability to identify and bemoan the disadvantages and challenges of their calling. But to be fair again, pastors do it too. The balance between identifying and healing real problems while being strong enough to labor through challenges is hard to find but worth pursuing.
- Pastors need honest critique and healthy oversight. Most of us work alone for much of the week. Few of us let anyone else see or hear our sermon before Sunday morning. And a lot of us hear generally kind remarks from the congregation which are encouraging but often lacking in substance. When we do get critiqued, it's often scattered or unkind or coming from a place we simply can't condone. So whether it comes from good ruling elders, other pastors or a presbytery, pastors ought to expect to be watched and held accountable and given good critique by people they trust.
- Several years ago, Ted Donnelly reminded a group of pastors that almost every man in their congregation was subjected to quarterly performance reviews at their jobs, while many pastors are tempted retreat into self-protection any time their work is put under a microscope. If our work is important, it should be evaluated. If evaluations are honest, they won't always be pretty.
- Pastors need peer review. Most of us go through seminary and presbytery exams with every sermon we preach under the watchful eye of many skillful and caring men. And then we get ordained. And then the reviews stop, completely. It simply can't be healthy for us to never have our sermons honestly critiqued by other skilled teachers or preachers. I've often wished we had some mechanisms in our presbytery which would require or at least encourage and enable preachers to regularly (every six months? annually?) have their sermons reviewed by people outside their congregation. Again, it wouldn't always be pretty, but it would always be helpful.
Paul called us elders "who labor in preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17) and called us to do our best to be approved by God, workers without shame. When we don't seek out opportunities for honest critique, we are implicitly remaining content with our current skill level, happy to be as good as we are but not driven to be any better.
May God give pastors such a passion for their work that we never stop striving to improve.
*Note: I believe Kyle's post on "Hurtful Sheep and Bullied Pastors" stands true and helpful. As far as I know, Kyle isn't a whiny guy.