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Going Meta: Reviewing Sermon Reviews, part 2

Part 2: Did it Work and What I’ve learned?

Did it work?
I think so? Or, rather, I can’t fully answer. Is my preaching better now than it was nine months ago? Maybe. Go listen and let me know what you think.
When I started this I wrote, “I believe I am a good preacher. I know I have bad weeks. I believe that even my good weeks can be better.” Six months later, I believe that’s still basically true. I think I’m more honest, at least here, about it. I think my good might be a little bit better. I do a better job of finding evidence of the Holy Spirit in sermons during the bad weeks.
I think that I get stuck in on type of sermon, one theology, one note less often. I think that I do a better job of realizing what I didn’t like faster and then moving on.
The reality of preaching in a parish is that every week can’t be a home run. I work hard on my sermons, but they can’t be everything I do. Other weeks are not going to have much time for reflection on last week’s sermon because I’m eking out time to write Sunday’s sermon.
Fortunately, I love what I do. And I believe that this is helping me do part of it a little better.
I have gained is another small discipline towards consistent preaching, another practice towards sermons that are, prayerfully, more likely to be heard by people.

What have I learned?

Perhaps my greatest fear going into this was how much time this project was going to take. Time is my most valuable resource and dedicating a weekly block of it wasn’t something I did lightly. I was delighted that it didn’t take as much time to review my own work as I feared it might. (A lot of that is, to confess my own self-critical nature, because I critique myself between the end of the sermon and the beginning of the Nicene Creed.)

I’ve come to look forward to the time I spend on reviewing my sermon. This practice helps keep me from getting caught up in what I did or didn’t do last Sunday and focus on writing the next sermon. It gives me some distance from whatever I preached.

Finding other sermons has been one of the hardest and best parts of this. Just as there is a discipline in preaching every week, there is a discipline in recording and uploading a sermon to the internet every week. Finding other Episcopalians who do this regularly was not easy. Building a list large enough so that I could genuinely find a few great (to me) sermons has not been easy.

Taking the time to listen to other sermons has fed me with preaching from around the Church in voices, styles, and theologies not my own. Even if it has not had a direct impact on my preaching, it has been good for my theology, my relationship with God, with the Church, and if those are stronger my preaching will be better.

“I believe I am a good preacher. I know I have bad weeks. I believe that even my good weeks can be better.” me, introducing sermon reviews.

Categories: Priest's Life, Sermon Review | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going Meta: Reviewing Sermon Reviews, part 1

Part 1: The what and the way

At the end of July I set out to not only preach nearly every week, but to take time to review my own sermon. Inspired by something a friend said (and knowing that it isn’t reasonable to attend a preaching conference every year), I decided that this was a way to help me reflect critically on my own preaching.

Every now and then I have a brilliant sermon; I aim for good; I know that not every sermon is good. On any given Sunday, I know that there are things I could have done better. It may be a good sermon; I may have preached the Good News; I may be able to have done a better job. I wanted build some time on that question into my week. And I wanted to do it publicly. Because I of the accountability and because preaching isn’t an arcane art that mysteriously produces sermons.

There are nine things I include each week in my sermon review.

  • A link to the audio of my sermon. Because if you are willing to read through the rest of this, you might want to hear what I preached.
  • Summary of what I was saying and why. I keep this in case you haven’t listened to my sermon or have already forgotten what I said. It also gives me a chance to talk about why I used a particular text or focused on something. I’m not entirely sure that I’ve been making the best use of this so far.
  • Theology: One of my internal checks against preaching ruts and/or getting stuck in a sermon is to ask what the theology of the sermon is. (It has helped me write the conclusion of more sermons than I can count.) So I have this one here for me more than anyone else.
  • Jesus Count: I adopted this from my preaching professor. It’s about how often the preacher mentions Jesus. I tend to measure with a low, moderate, or high count.
  • Good News: The (hopefully) one sentence summary of what I thought people might hear in the sermon.
  • What did I change on my feet? I preach without notes. A manuscript gets in my way and my memory lets me do it. Which means that sometimes things get better or left out on Sunday morning.
  • Every week I’ve asked myself what did and didn’t work. No giant revelation has come out of this. That doesn’t surprise me. I often know fairly quickly what I wish I would have said or a phrasing I fumbled. This is also about being transparent.

The great surprise in all of this was my last minute addition. As I was considering what to questions should be asked every week, what would be helpful, how to frame this thing so I wouldn’t tire of it after a month, I remembered something. One of my favorite parts of preaching conferences is hearing other people’s sermons. So I added a section for sermons other people preached and I liked. Every week I read or listen to 4-10 other sermons (it depends on my time and how many other sermons have been posted) and select 2-4. I look for sermons with a style I enjoyed, a different theology than I preached, or which simply delighted me.

Coming: Part 2: Did it work and What I’ve learned and Part 3: The Other Preachers

Categories: Priest's Life, Sermon Review | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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