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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Feedback - Something I Welcome

I am a pastor, which means one of my main responsibilities is to preach a sermon every week.  It is a responsibility I take seriously.  My goal is to bring the church to the point where the story of their lives intersects and then merges with the story of the Bible.  In this two-part movement of intersection and merger, I hope that people will hear God speaking into their lives.

Many weeks, I get no feedback, or unspecific affirmation.  No feedback is self-explanatory.  People say nothing about the sermon and I thus have no idea how it affected them.  Unspecific affirmation is encouraging but from the standpoint of understanding the effectiveness it is unhelpful.  

Kind individuals say to me, "Good sermon, Rob."  They smile and I smile and say, "Thank you."  I have no idea how the message made any kind of influence or had any kind of impact on that person.  Why was it good?  What about it was important?  Where will it lead?  "Good sermon, Rob," is a nice statement, but unhelpful.  

This past Sunday, I received three comments that I will summarize here.  I feel this feedback has the potential to generate conversation from which all participants can grow in their knowledge of God and practice of faith.

** By the way, to reference the message, just refer to the previous blog post on The Produce of Grace.  All my messages are put into manuscript form and posted on this blog.

(1) In the sermon, I listed steps we can take to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit.  I did say that God comes at God's initiative.   But these steps are things we can do to ready ourselves for when God chooses to fill us.  One listener did not hear it that way.  She felt I was saying we had to do these steps before the Spirit comes.  These steps are prerequisites and the Spirit won't come until we do these things.  I did not say that, but that is what she heard.

(2) In the sermon, I referenced Hell, and I said that it is the condition of being eternally separated from God.  I said that when the Bible talks of lakes of fire or outer darkness, those are metaphors for depicting how awful it is to be eternally cut off from God.  My sermon was not about Hell, but I did make that reference.  One listener was very concerned that I might not think Hell is a place.  Indeed, I found in trying to answer this question that I need to do more work in my own study and develop more thoroughly my understanding of Hell.  I am absolutely convinced that the descriptions of Hell in the New Testament are all descriptions by comparison - metaphors and similes.    But, I find myself without a concise response when asked, "Is Hell a place?"  I appreciate this feedback because it shows me where I need to do additional study.

(3) A third question that came up was about Christians relating to Christians and to non-Christians.  As I mentioned, I offered steps to opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit.  One step was to get the junk out of our lives.  Junk includes addictions, bad behaviors, and also toxic relationships.  Of course, we cannot accomplish this cleansing without much help including God's help.  But we can do our part and try to rid our lives of harmful behaviors and damaging relationships.  Another step I suggested is to fill our lives with participation in worship, missions, and other Christian activities.  One listener said this could potentially be interpreted as a "Holy Huddle" mentality.  People might hear me saying, 'have nothing to do with anyone outside the church.'  I was not saying that and she, the listener, did not hear it that way, but she said my words could be interpreted that way.

Those three pieces of feedback are great for helping me think through things as I review my preaching from the previous week and look forward to this coming week.  I invited seven of our members to review what I said to see if they had these concerns and none did.  

My conclusion at this point in what is an ongoing conversation is that I need to be as clear as possible in my communication, I need to accept that some will disagree with my conclusions but that does not mean I need to change my views, and I do need to do some work in my theology of Hell.

I invite you in the comments section to add your thoughts to this conversation.  I love feedback.

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