Why Christians are too nice

As strange as this may sound, I would like Christians to be a bit less nice.

If you have read yesterday’s post, you will know that I prefer really specific feedback (how many seconds should I pause after the sermon before announcing the next hymn??). To this I can add my preference for constructive feedback.

Many of the people I meet while preaching clearly want to be as encouraging as possible. As a result, the feedback they give to new preachers like me is very positive.

Now, positive feedback is offered for one – or both – of two reasons: because something was genuinely good or because the speaker wants another person to feel good.  How can one distinguish the motives behind positive feedback? I find it extremely difficult.

Equally, when giving feedback, I am prone to forgetting that responding to others from love can sometimes mean risking a small amount of hurt in the short-term to help the other person to reach their potential over the long-term.

There is a difference between negative feedback (I did not like…) and constructive feedback (it would be even better if…) so I am not suggesting that commentators should be unrelentingly harsh. More that the desire to be positive needs to be overruled by the kindness of being constructive.

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Ups and Downs

Last week was my first Leaders of Worship and Preachers Group meeting since moving from On Note to On Trial so it was my first experience of accounting.  There was a generally positive murmur when I said that my assignments for unit 4 (The Teaching of Jesus) and unit 5 (Exploring the Bible) were being marked – more on this later.

Any member of the LWPG who has witnessed a service led by me has both the right and the responsibility to provide feedback at the meeting.  This can be useful to the trainee preacher as the feedback is from ministers, preachers and worship leaders based on their years of experience.  However, if the comments are to help the new preacher, they must be specific and speakers must not shy away from giving ideas for improvement. An example of specific feedback I received was the suggestion to leave a pause at the end of sermons to allow the message to be processed but most other feedback was too general to be useful and I could not help but wonder whether the speaker felt they needed to be generous in their praise to build up the confidence of the new preacher (me) in that very public setting.  Personally, I would much rather be told a way to improve a service than be told that the service was ‘very good’.  Several members talked about reforming the process so it will be interesting what happens at the next meeting.

I had my tutorial on unit 5 tonight. I completed the unit a few weeks ago but this was my first opportunity to discuss the contents with my tutor (R). We talked about the distinctions between the Hebrew bible, and the Protestant and the Catholic old testaments but the majority of the tutorial was a discussion of biblical authority.

There may well be as many different understandings of biblical authority as there are christians, and we spent some time discussing how the different models can be justified as well as their weaknesses. It was very clear to R that I had not done justice to this topic in my essay for unit 5 so it has been returned to me to have another go at it. R felt that there is the potential for the assessment to better reflect my knowledge and understanding as well as being a better learning experience for me.

The unit 4 assessment, on the other hand, achieved 73% which was most pleasing. The assessment was to complete a narrative sermon on a passage from Matthew or Luke. The notes I made when researching the task were also assessed. Somehow, despite scoring only 60% for the exegesis, I scored 80% for the sermon itself.  Since I already find exegesis a struggle, it is clear that I need to practice this skill more. One of R’s suggestions was to make the links I have made in the exegesis more explicit and more detailed and I certainly think that would be beneficial for writing sermons for services as well as for assessment.

My next service is for my own congregation which, bizarrely, I am finding far more nerve-racking than any other to date. More on that in my next post.

Good night and God bless x