Who are you?
Martyn Lloyd Jones described preaching as theology coming through a man on fire. Every Preacher is different. The Holy Spirit moves through the personality of preachers. This is hugely important to understand both for preachers and those who sit under their preaching. My friend, Pastor Yancy Arrington, wrote a great post that provided a foundation for a fun dialog among the Elders and staff at RHC. He listed four personalities: Professor, Author, Life Coach, and Prophet.
I have talked to a number of other pastors and their self-evaluations were fascinating. Pastors tend to be highly self-critical and many guys are trying to press themselves into a given mold of preachers they like. As we wrestled through this, I realized that everything is shown through the bottom-line questions we ask after a sermon, both as preachers and as hearers:
"Did they understand?" or "What did I learn?"
If this is how you evaluate sermons, you probably love to listen to the Tim Kellers and Don Carsons of the world. This is the Professor. As a preacher, learn to leverage your passion for theological understanding to cut deeply to people's hearts and avoid lectures in the pulpit. Remember that a sermon drives us to worship in light of truth. As a hearer, praise God for the chance to learn deeply as a path to worship.
"Was I clear?" or "Weren't his stories good?"
When they are at their best, Authors preach sermons that are carefully crafted, tight word-smithing, with the perfect illustrations and stories that drive home the point of the text and open us up to receive God's truth. If you are a preacher whose strengths fall here, stop trying to get away from your notes and embrace the importance of tight wording. Work hard at your illustrations and allow them to drive your preaching. As a hearer, enjoy the portraits of God's grace that your preacher is able to paint.
"Was it helpful?" or "What should I do?"
Life Coaches have a brilliant capability to give people the practical tools to live life in light of the truth preached. They will be informal in their approach, zeroing in on the rubber-meets-the-road aspects of practical life. If you are the type of preacher whose primary goal is to see obedience in people's lives, this is you. Work hard to make sure your application is rooted in gospel identity and be careful not to slide into moralism. As a hearer, remember that obedience is better than sacrifice and learn to live the gospel through the week.
"Were people changed?" or "Did I feel it as I heard the preaching?"
Prophets are concerned primarily with drawing sharp distinctions between what is and what ought to be, with the primary goal that their hearers would feel the weight of their sin and feel the hope and beauty of the gospel, leading to transformation in the moment. Prophets will typically feel like the life is taken out of their preaching if they are too scripted. They are not as concerned with clocks, clarity, or the rest of the week as they are with what happens in the moment as God's Word is preached. As a hearer, emotionally engage on the journey of each sermon through the highs and lows so that you feel the weight of conviction and the joy of God's glory.
What is your bottom-line question?
Too often preachers try to shape themselves to be more like their favorites rather than thoughtfully exploring and embracing who God has made them to be. If you are a preacher, you need to realize that God didn't send Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, John Piper, or Tim Keller to your church in your city. He sent you. Preach God's Word and the glory of the good news of Jesus and His work for us, and do so in a way that allows the Spirit to use you as an instrument for redemption. Leverage the strengths God has given you.
By the same token, I am convinced that most critiques preachers receive are based on a misunderstanding of what they are working to accomplish. We have a tendency to get attached to a particular style or personality and evaluate in light of these very secondary factors. If you are part of a local church, work to understand what your pastor is trying to accomplish and allow him to be the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit can move in you to stir your affections for Jesus. If you understand his preaching personality, you will be able to more effectively engage as a listener.
What is your bottom-line question as a preacher? As a hearer?