This post was originally guest-blogged by me at Digital H20 this summer:
Alfred Poirer helpfully observes that the cross helps us to receive criticism as beneficial. Giving critique is another thing.
Firstly, it's really easy to give critique to others. Spotting planks in other people is easy, while the dust in our own eyes is hard to see. When I want to critique someone elses sermon for not getting the point I need to remember that I have my blindspots - if I differ with the preacher I should at the least seriously consider that my prior understanding is wrong. I should assume this until further study says otherwise.
Secondly, pride loves to critique others and find their faults to elevate ourselves. A sermon should humble me as I encounter the grace of God - how tragic to allow my pride to seize upon it. How desperate to sin in the pew at the very point I'm being called back to the cross of Christ for grace.
Thirdly, the work of observing someone else and saying how they could do better is infinitely easier than the hard hours a preacher spends in the study seeking the Lord, wrestling with the text, under all the pressures that God has providentially arranged that week.
Sermons are to be heard and applied. They present a tangible encounter with God as the preacher announces from the scriptures that Jesus Christ is Lord, constrained by a text, liberated by a text, empowered by the Holy Spirit and ruled by the word of God. The preacher might not say everything I would say. Thankfully he wont say most of the erroneous things I quickly glean from the text but which are rightly dismissed by hours in the study. Furthermore, that morning he is called to preach not me. He preaches what he has seen. He preaches what he has believed. He preaches what he is able to articulate. And, if through the word of God I am directed back to behold Jesus Christ then what complaint can I have?
Sermons are always imperfect, and every preacher wants to be faithful - no preacher wants to stand up and lie to God's people when they might speak the words of God. As Peter puts it "whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ"
Preachers need critique but they also need prayer, that as they labour over the text they might understand clearly, have soft-hearts to believe what they see and be changed by God, and then to speak from God - portraying publicly the Christ who was crucified.
Linked with helpful commentary by Michael Jones