Sermons are an interregnal part of the Christian church life. It also seems to be church nature to evaluate sermons, often even before they are finished. If you’ve ever attended church, you’ll know what I mean; so I won’t waste time citing typical evaluations here….
As we walk from our pew to the exit, we’re already mentally checking off the preacher’s performance in a list of check-boxes: interesting or not, too long or not, moved me or not, well spoken or not …. the list is quite long and above all else, it is fodder for the next seven day’s gossip, or longer.
Yet as we walk from the pew to the exit, we tend to forget a couple of things. First, our instant Sermon Evaluation has just cheapened the Word from God to a mere entertainment performance, or a sales pitch. In our worldly checking of boxes, we have separated ourselves from the supernatural and from the mysteries of God. We are judging a communication from God by our selfish personal and utterly worldly convenience quotients.
Many Christians seem to take sermons for granted, at best. Others as an interruption and inconvenience when attending church. I believe we need to be reminded regularly that Preacher are God’s representatives and God is speaking to us. He is communication with us, through them! This is the way it has been since the beginning of Christendom and before that, since the beginning of Judaism.
Now these are not my assertions, but from the writer of the Book of Hebrews as he says of the days of Judaism; “God, who at many times and in many ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets…” in Hebrews 1:1 and of the Christian era, “… has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds…” in Hebrews 1:2.
It seems that how we look at a sermon has lot to do with how we feel, and it has always has been that way. Read what John Chrysostomos, the 4th Century preacher said about it in the book The homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople: Volume 2 – Page 576
“Nothing makes friends and rivets them so firmly, as affliction: nothing so fastens and compacts the soul of believers: nothing is so seasonable for us teachers in order that the things said by us may be heard. For the hearer when he is at ease is listless and indolent seems to suffer annoyance form the speaker: but when he is in affliction and distress, they he falls into a deep longing for hearing. For when distressed in his soul, he seeks on all sides to find comfort for his affliction; and the preaching seems to bring no small comfort.”
In other words, when we are suffering, Chrysostomos observed and noted that we are all in rapt attention to the preacher, ready and eager to take advantage of every word God gives us. On the other hand, when all is well and we are at ease, we care not a jot.
Does the Bible support Chrysostomos’s assertion? Let’s look at a couple of New Testament verses, and in particular, those relation to Jesus as the master teacher. To start with, we can see that Jesus, even at the age of twelve, was a wonderful and gifted teacher. As Luke 2:46-47 record for us: “And it happened that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and questioning them. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”
Then at the age of thirty as He entered full time ministry and teaching, He became acknowledged as the perfect teacher. Luke 4:32 sums this up perfectly saying “And they were astonished at His doctrine, for His word was with authority.” All who heard Him were astonished, for He spoke and taught with authority. “All” here means all of those who heard Him, including the lowly and the leaders, and certainly including members of the Sanhedrin, the religious and social leaders of the Jews.
But as Chrysostomos attests, there are two groups of hearers in any preaching engagement, those under affliction, the listeners and those who have it all, know it all, and seek their own agendas, the critics.
Not surprisingly, we find the same holding true in the congregations to whom Jesus spoke. Matthew 13:54-58 says it well:
“And when He had come into His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so much so that they were astonished and said, From where does this man have this wisdom and these mighty works?
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brothers, James and Joses and Simon and Judas, and his sisters, are they not all with us? Then from where does this man have all these things?
And they were offended in Him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country and in his own house. And He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”
Jesus did as He had done before and taught and preached to perfection, yet because of the attitudes of the hearers, His words fell on deaf and unbelieving ears, and the Words of God, were not taken in.
This brings us to the second problem and issue with instant Sermon Evaluation and is something which all Christians need to understand. Jesus, fully man and fully God, was the ultimate and perfect teacher. Even when He gives us the Word of God, as Matthew 13:54-58 says, we, through our own faults, can close our ears and mind to Him, intentionally or unintentionally.
To demonstrate this, let us quickly reacquaint ourselves with the Parable of the Sowers from Matthew 13:1-9,
“In that day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the seaside. And great crowds were gathered to Him, so that He went into a boat and sat. And all the crowd stood on the shore.
And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the birds came and devoured them.
Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth. And they sprang up immediately, because they had no deepness of earth. And the sun rising, they were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered away.
And some fell among thorns. And the thorns sprung up and choked them.
And some fell on the good ground and yielded fruit, indeed one a hundredfold, and one sixty, and one thirty.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
The story is quite clear and I think townies too will understand. However, it is a parable and as such, it has a deeper and alternate meaning. Jesus then explained why He spoke in parables, saying in Matthew 13:11-17,
“Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them. For whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance. But whoever does not have, from him shall be taken away even that which he has.
Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not; nor do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which said, “By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive; for this people’s heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”
But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear what you hear, and have not heard them.”
This is as true for Christians today, as it was for those who followed and thronged around Jesus and heard the words direct from His mouth. If we are aware of our affliction, we will hang on to every syllable which comes from the mouth of Jesus and on His Words. If we are self satisfied, and self reliant and in rebellion to God, then we will just criticise, and the truth is not in us.
Jesus then proceeded to explain the Parable of the Sower for us, in Matthew 13:17-23 saying
“Therefore hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown by the wayside.
But that which was sown on the stony places is this: he who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy.
But he has no root in himself, and is temporary. For when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, he immediately stumbles.
And that sown into the thorns is this: he who hears the Word; and the anxiety of this world, and the deceit of riches, choke the Word, and he becomes unfruitful.
But that sown on the good ground is this: he who hears the Word and understands; who also bears fruit and produces one truly a hundredfold; and one sixty; and one thirty.”
God’s Word, as Jesus says here, is the seed. We are the ground. This concept is shown to perfection in instant Sermon Evaluations. For those who are good soil and wise in the eyes of God, they produce fruit. But those who delight in instant Sermon Evaluations are not so much evaluating sermons, but the sermons are evaluating them! What happens to the seed, as Jesus says above, depends on the type of soil – on us. Instant Sermon Evaluators are just not good soil, no matter how you look at it.
Yes, we all receive the Word in different ways and we all process the Word differently, but as Jesus says, there are broad categories of hearers: those who lose it straight away, even before the sermon is over; those who take it home but lose it in temptations and worldly living and finally, those who hold on to it, until it produces fruit.
You see, All Christians are worldly to some extent. One obvious area, is our lusting after instant gratification. The instant Sermon Evaluation panders to this, as we forget that in Matthew 13:17-23 Jesus made it very plain and clear, that we Word of God sown into us, needs to be watered and nurtured, until it matures and bears fruit; thirty fold, or sixty fold, or one hundred fold. That take time.
Even preachers have worldly tendencies. Many tend to over emphasise the seed sowing phase, for on that phase alone, they tend to be judged. This judging of the seed sowing only, can result in the preachers trivialising the Word of God; honouring entertainment instead, as they pander to the whims of a disinterested and lust driven congregation. for most Churches, it means a diet of baby milk for aged and aging Christians, who instead ought to be mature seed sowers, waterers and harvesters.
Jesus warned us not to judge, saying in Matthew 7:1-2,
“Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with whatever judgement you judge, you shall be judged; and with whatever measure you measure out, it shall be measured to you again.”
I would argue that instant Sermon Evaluations fall under the category of the judgement of others, warned of in Matthew 7:1, while at the same very time they are condemned and judged and measured by Matthew 7:2.
Imagine a Church where the message is always acknowledged more important than the messenger. How would that change things I wonder?