In the comments for my last post, Mary Beth brought up a good point. As pastors, we get little helpful feedback on our sermons. "That was nice" is certainly a polite comment, and it does usually get a smile in return, but it doesn't help all that much (especially when it was a particularly moving sermon or when it was supposed to get a different reaction -- like, if I'm talking about children starving to death at a rate of one every three seconds, and someone tells me, "Nice sermon," I know that they weren't listening).
What kind of comments are helpful? How about something like this:
- When you said ______, it really made me think of ______...
- Did you really mean it when you said __________? (or, alternately: What did you mean when you said _______?
- I don't agree with you on this point: __________, and here's why...
- Can we get together and talk about this?
- I've been struggling with that issue, and that was really helpful.
I think you probably get the picture. Oh, I also don't take sleeping as feedback. There are all sorts of reasons why certain people end up snoozing through the message. It might be that Sunday morning was the first time they've had to sit down in weeks. It could be that they were up all night the previous night. It could be that they're old and they just end up sleeping whenever they want ;-)
Anyway, in my sermon yesterday, in talking about the storms, I talked about crises of faith - I took an important detour into theodicy (the problem of evil) and God's response to it, and then I got into God's miracles and the ability of God's people to see His miracles and the next moment to be right back into sin (I talked about the Exodus story here).
Then I talked about when we miss God's presence. I mentioned Mary Stevenson's "Footprints in the Sand" poem (I didn't read it to them; that's a little cornball for me; I think everyone's heard it, and, if not, I explained enough for them to know what I was talking about). Then I told this story:
Once Tara and I were serving a nice dinner to our friends Jeff and Donna and their little daughter, Katie. Katie was naming the people around the table and counting us: she counted Mommy, Daddy, Brian, Tara, and, of course, herself. We thought she was finished, so we said, "There are five of us!" But Katie got this grumpy, defiant look on her little face and said, "No! Six! You forgot Jesus!" We missed Jesus, even though we had taught her that Jesus was with us always.
I asked when they missed seeing Jesus -- is it because life is so day-in, day-out? Is it because you're too busy chasing the American Dream? Is it because the pain is too great to bear? Then we looked at Mark's reason that the disciples missed Him: their hearts were hard.
I finished up by talking about how our hearts get hard even when we're not planning for that to happen, and we end up missing Jesus.
I think it went well. Will everyone go out and do something about it? Probably not. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes.
Speaking of steps, I'm going to step up the stairs to bed. I didn't sleep well last night (I wonder why? Could Jonathan have had something to do with it?) and we've got to be up early tomorrow for Tara's surgery...