After my sermon this morning, a man visiting our services approached me and said this: “I don’t want to give you the big head, but your content and delivery were both flawless this morning.” He was gracious and genuine, so it was a nice word of encouragement! (I know it was not flawless by any stretch of the imagination.)
Here is what that man did not know…When my family moved to Granbury in 2004, the church conducted some kind of church wide survey. One of the questions on the survey was: “If you could change anything about the Granbury Church of Christ, what would you change?” I don’t recall all of the responses, but one stands out… A couple said: If one change could be made, they would like to hear better sermon content and more effective delivery of sermons. It was actually not stated that nicely on the survey, but that is the essences of their response to that question!
I handled their commentary very poorly. I knew this couple. I thought they were my friends. I should have gone to them immediately in person. In a personal interchange, two questions needed to be posed: what do you perceive as good sermon content? How do you think my delivery could improve? I could take what was helpful and move on with life! But, I was deeply hurt. I felt betrayed by a friend. I did not share this experience with anyone.
I internalized their criticism, which did nothing but impede my growth as a public speaker. The style of my weekly presentations was characterized by caution. I was not about to be personal or transparent, as I delivered weekly sermons. It was a disservice to the church. And it was my fault.
That couple moved away well over a decade ago. By the grace of God, I am still here working away. I have had several outstanding “coaches” enter the picture since 2004. Such coaches came alongside me and offered constructive criticism. They noted the areas where I was excelling and ways I could improve as well. Their comments had depth and substance. Good coaches are priceless.
What is the learning curve in this situation? If someone is critical of you directly or indirectly, go to the source. Go in person. No electronic communication allowed! Approach your critic in a spirit of humility. Ask them: what I am doing wrong? How can I improve? You can then evaluate the merit of their observations. In most cases, even our worst critics have something to offer that is helpful.
As the kind gentleman offered his words of encouragement this morning, I could not help but smile. The people in 2004 that felt the most needed improvement was sermon content and sermon delivery were probably right! Today, I am grateful for thoughtful coaches. They challenge us. They help us grow. May I take I a page out of their notebook!