How to Do a Sermon Review

sermon review

The nuts and bolts of making your preaching that much better

Today I want to give you the best ministry advice I have to offer: reviewing your sermon. 

Reviewing your sermon affirms what is working, tweaks what is broken and ultimately makes the experience more engaging. Obviously, a sermon review applies to preachers. But it also applies to additional people. A sermon review affects and benefits everyone in the church. It benefits the guests because they have a better experience. It also benefits the volunteers and staff because it provides respite, spiritual refreshment and encouragement during the weekend. And a weekend that embodies those characteristics helps everyone avoid burnout. Whether you’re a preacher or not, I strongly encourage you to keep reading. 

I’ve worked in single-site and multisite churches for over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of things succeed and a lot fail. One of the things that I’ve seen work with wild success is the sermon review. That is why I consider it the best advice I have to offer to people in ministry. Now this concept isn’t new, but I’ve seen it incredibly refined at Liquid Church. Pastor Tim Lucas at Liquid has been doing this for over a decade. I don’t take any credit in coming up with this great idea. I’m just here to communicate it to you.

Here, I’ll describe the what, why and how to conduct a sermon review. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of reasons why a preacher shouldn’t or couldn’t do a sermon review. And some of those reasons I’ve uttered or grumbled myself. Toward the end, I’ll present some of those counterarguments and debunk them. Make sure to read all the way through. Now let’s jump in and talk about what a sermon review is.

WHAT

Review on Thursday.

The best day to review is Thursday. It is late enough in the week that you should be able to get all the assets—your manuscripts, slides, videos and props ready to practice with. It is also not so late in the week, like a Friday or Saturday, that you don’t have time to make needed corrections. Now your Thursdays might be swamped and you’re thinking it’s not going to happen. I understand that. So let me say this. Thursday is a great day. But Wednesday or Friday are still good days. So don’t let a particular day hold you back. A good day is better than no day. Now if you can’t do Wednesday, Thursday or Fridays, let me ask you this, who is leading your church? It is probably you. So lead. Make the needed change in your schedule and the workweek of your organization and review your message.

Review With Everything.

Try to practice with as much as possible. Your manuscript – what you will say. Your slides and videos—what you will show. Your props – what you will hold. Your blocking—where you will move. Your tech—how it all works. Practice with it all. This allows you to identify any gaps in content. If I told a personal story about playing football in high school, maybe we should have a picture of that. If I showed a testimony video that ends with ten seconds of black, maybe we should edit that out. If I lead people through communion at the end, maybe we should have the elements on stage as I do that. Practice with everything because it will identify any gaps in content.

Get Feedback On Everything

You want to hear feedback from a panel on every aspect of the message. Every aspect. Here are some of the questions you should be asking. Was that cultural reference a little dated? Was that joke a little sexist? Was that illustration a little played out. Was that political reference a little divisive? Was that application a little weak? Was that theology a little heretical? Was that message a little long? You want to make sure the feedback is as exhaustive as possible. This will ensure your sermon is as great as possible. A great sermon review includes a panel during the week providing feedback on everything. I also alluded as to why you should do a sermon review—to make it great. Let’s examine a number of other reasons why you should implement this practice in your church.

WHY

The Sermon Is The Main Thing

I polled over 30 growing churches to learn how they allocate their service time. I polled from growing churches because I want my church to grow. I want to learn their best practices and apply it in my setting. On average these churches allocate their service time with a 10, 40 and 50 percentage model. 10% to hosting. 40% to worship. And 50% of the service is dedicated to the sermon. I’m not gonna discuss whether or not a sermon is the best way to spend half of our service hours—that’s another talk altogether. Let’s just acknowledge that growing churches spend half of their service time on the sermon. The sermon is the main thing. Since the sermon is such a priority in our churches, it should receive an extensive degree of review. 

It Makes Future Messages Better

The sermon review not only makes an individual message better, it also makes future messages better. You can apply review from your current message to your next message. If the review panel keeps telling me I have too many points each week, then maybe I should have fewer points next week. I’m sure you’ve heard about the benefits of compound interest for your finances. How it builds upon itself. Well, a review system is compound learning for your sermons. What you hear and learn one week doesn’t just apply to that week. It applies to future weeks as well.

Go the Extra Mile. Most preachers take 10 to 20 hours each week to prepare their sermon. The review process should only take you 90 minutes: 45 minutes to preach and 45 minutes to review. So let’s go the extra mile and create room for these 90 minutes in our workweeks to do the review. Most preachers only hear general feedback after the sermon. Most preachers don’t get particular input before the message. Feedback after a message makes the preacher feel better. Input before the message makes the preacher preach better. So go the extra mile. Do a review.

It Becomes a Leadership Pipeline

Think about how much knowledge and experience pastors and preachers have. Think of what it would do if they invited a panel to review them. Think of how much knowledge and experience would naturally be observed by those on the panel. These people would see behind the curtain. They would get a better understanding of how a message is prepared. How to take the spiritual pulse of a congregation and how to respond to it through a sermon. They would see what vulnerability and humility looks like up close. The review process can become a leadership pipeline for new and aspiring communicators as they watch and learn. 

Gives You a Weekend. 

A review gives you a degree of accountability since your panel is expecting you will have the sermon ready by the end of the work week. Not by the end of the weekend. This planned rhythm is a huge benefit that cannot be overstated. It gives you a weekend. And your weekend gives you professional and personal margins. Professionally, you will be launching instead of limping into Sunday. Personally, you will have the needed time to invest in yourself and those around you. Having a weekend provides greater opportunities for you to fill your tank, strengthen your marriage and care for your children. It allows you to put your family before your church. My pastor, Tim Lucas, who taught me these principles has a deal with his wife. He can work as late as he needs to on Thursday night to finish polishing his message after the review. But when she wakes up at 6 on Friday morning, he better be in bed beside her. The church gets him during the week. But she gets him on the weekend. Getting a weekend helps you avoid burnout, allows you to nourish your marriage and provides you the time and freedom to teach your own children how to develop a deeper walk with Jesus.

Gives Your Team a Weekend. 

Your team can’t have a weekend if you don’t have a weekend. And conversely, if you have a weekend, your team can as well. Since your message involves other moving parts, the sooner you get your work done, the sooner others can get their work done. This means your worship leader won’t be picking out a response song on Saturday morning. Your graphic designer won’t be selecting fonts on Saturday afternoon. Your videographer won’t be editing a video on Saturday night. As pastors and preachers, we need to remember that our message is the first domino to fall. And there are a bunch of subsequent dominos lined up waiting behind it. Giving your team a weekend helps them avoid burnout, stay committed to their work in the church and, most importantly, stay committed to their faith in Christ. We talked about what a review is and why to do it. Now let’s talk about how to do it.

HOW

Review With Trusted Advisers.

Proverbs talks about wisdom being found in the counsel of many. So you need a panel of trusted advisors. I have seen a council of 3-4 trusted advisors work well. Any less and there are too few perspectives. Any more and the process can take too long. I say ‘trusted advisors’ because you need people that have your best interest at heart. You need to trust they aren’t there to hinder or hurt you. This isn’t American Idol. You do not want any Simon Cowell’s on the panel. These are people that lovingly tell the truth. They are people that exhibit Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” In other words, you are not looking for a panel of yes men and women. You are looking for people to speak truthfully into your message. 

Review With a Diversity of Advisors

You want people that bring different perspectives to the table. So, get a diversity of advisors. Someone to watch how you look. Were you smiling enough? Someone to watch what you said. Did you deliver the line better than how you wrote the line? Someone to watch what you wrote. Are the slides spelled correctly, are there any typos? Someone to watch for structure and flow. Did you have the right content, but just maybe in the wrong order? Someone to watch for time. If you are looking to preach for 45 minutes, do you have someone timing the sermon? Someone to watch for believers and unbelievers. Do you have content that applies to both groups of people? As much diversity—age, gender, ethnicity, religious background—as you can get on the panel of advisors, the better.

Start With an Overview, Then Go Page by Page

Starting with an overview from the panel lets the preacher know how the message landed. They can quickly get a sense of what worked and what didn’t. This overview should be less than a minute and generally positive. Starting with an overview also lets the preacher catch their breath and mentally change gears. It can be difficult preaching content for 45 minutes and then jumping right into nitty and gritty details. After the overview go page by page. The panel should write notes on their copy of the manuscripts during the message. They can bring up these notes as you go through them, page by page. 

It’s Not a Democracy

The review process is not a democracy. It’s a benevolent dictatorship. And the preacher is the dictator. The panel isn’t voting where to take the message. Instead they are simply presenting their feedback. The preacher then decides to take or leave the feedback. So, not only does the preacher need to have thick skin for this to work, the panel needs to have thick skin as well. Some of their feedback will be implemented. And some will not. The panel needs to be comfortable with this for the process to work. If not, then a preacher starts to make decisions based on how to appease members of the panel instead of how to engage members of the congregation. And that’s not a good place to be. 

COUNTERARGUMENTS

We’ve talked about what a review is, why to do it and how to do it. You’ve heard arguments for a review, but some of you might have arguments against it. You might be thinking, I don’t have time to do a review. Or, this review process will eliminate promptings from the Holy Spirit. Or, there aren’t others I trust enough to invite onto a panel. I hear these tensions you bring up, but let’s explore how these tensions can be overcome.

I Don’t Have Time. 

Here’s the deal, you are going to do the same amount of message prep each week, I’m just saying do it earlier in the week. When pastors say, “I don’t have time for a review” what I hear is, “I don’t know how to manage my time for a review”. And this problem is totally understandable. But it is also totally surmountable. Here’s the solution. Instead of front loading your work week with meetings and back loading it with message prep, just retool it. Message prep on Mondays and Tuesdays and meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you do this, you will find that extra 90 minutes for the message review. 

It Isn’t Spirit-Driven. There is a misnomer out there, that the Spirit can only work at the last minute. That pastors can only receive revelation for Sunday morning on Saturday night. But if God was able to layout his plan of redemption in eternity past, don’t you think He could help guide you to write a message at a planned and purposeful pace? The Spirit wants to equip you for Sunday. Trust him. Start your message prep earlier in the week. Also realize that preparation does not eradicate the possibility of spontaneity. It doesn’t erase your ability to respond to the Spirit on Sunday morning. Instead it supports it. You can’t be confident in taking a detour unless you know your destination. You can’t be confident to go off script unless you first have a script. Preparation gives you the confidence and freedom to go where you feel you need to in the moment.

I Can’t Trust Others

Now I never really hear pastors saying this. But this is what I infer from their actions. There is sometimes a lack of vulnerability and even humility that keeps pastors from opening themselves up to a review process. And I understand. It takes vulnerability to have people pick apart your work. But here’s the deal. People are already picking apart your work. Your whole congregation does it as they drive home from church. If you allow a select few to shred your message in front of your face (hopefully, as lovingly as possible) it will minimize the amount of shredding that happens on those rides home from church.

CONCLUSION

So, that’s the what, why, and how of sermon reviews. I hope you found the info helpful. It is the best ministry advice I have to offer. If you want help implementing a review process like this then visit benstapley.com/coach. Now let me flip the script and ask you, what is the best ministry advice you have to offer? Think it through and share it with others. This is how we grow as a church. It is also how we grow as individuals. When you share your ideas and learnings with others, it crystallizes your thinking and sharpens your practice. So take the plunge, write a blog, post on Facebook, or open up your car window and holler at strangers. Share your best ministry advice with the world. We need to hear from you to make ourselves better. So do it.

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This article originally appeared on Ben’s blog and is reposted here by permission.