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This year's big surprise

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At 52 years old, I am rarely surprised. When I visit a church I can normally tell if it is growing before I even ask. I can smell it. I can't always explain it, but after you have been doing this for a while, you can just tell.

Life has a certain predictability, and, after a while, you can can tell. You know. You are rarely surprised.

I was recently very surprised.

I read something in a Barna book once that said the number one factor predicting the growth of any church was the preaching ability of the pastor. I thought this was good news because I saw myself as an excellent communicator--a solid 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is world-class. (Some of my favorites in that category would be John Ortberg, Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. I am sure you have your own list.) My point is that. . . (this is really embarrassing to admit). . . I thought I was just a notch or two below the best of the best.

I thought that sense this was true that I would have not trouble growing a church. The pastor's preaching is the #1 predictor of growth and me being as good as I am, the church would just naturally and spontaneously start growing when I started preaching.

I based this on a couple of things. First, people are so nice. Whenever I have spoken, people have said nice things. And, I have been a professional speaker for the past 11 years. I figured I have to have been good or people would not have had me back. What I didn't think too much about is the fact that there is a world of difference between polishing one talk by delivering it over and over, and coming up with fresh new content every week.

Because I know that preaching plays such a pivotal roll in the life and health of the church, I decided to do something that I thought would would make me even better. It might move me from being very good to being absolutely world class. (Again, this is all very embarrassing to admit.)

I started recording myself and listening every week.

WOW.

My evaluation of myself quickly moved from about an 8 to about a 4 on the same scale. Listening to myself, I see myself as about half as effective as I thought I was. I stutter more than I thought. I am not as convicting as I thought. My humor is not as funny as I thought. Do I need to go on?

Note, by the way, that I am not comparing myself to anyone else. The Bible warns us not to do that. (1 Corinthians 10.12) I am just saying that I had greatly over evaluated my ability.

(And, just to give you a warning as to where I am heading, I think there is a chance you have too. I am going to invite you in a bit to follow my example and record yourself and listen to yourself every week. This applies to preachers and teachers.)

I am not that good, but God helping me, I can get better

I had a similar experience a few years ago in photography. I have been a hobbyist in photography my entire adult life, and I thought I was pretty good. My friends told me I was pretty good, who was I to disagree?

March of 2007 one of my son's friend's got married. He asked me to photograph the wedding. I told him I had never done a wedding. He said, "I am sure you will do fine."

"But, I am not that good."

"You are good enough; we weren't going to pay you anyway. We want cheap." (They actually did pay to fly me home and back from a road trip.)

This event caused me to get serious about my photography. I started reading up. I started studying really good wedding photography. I started participating in forums. I posted pictures and asked people to critic me. I bought more gear, and more gear, and more gear. (Anyone like to donate a 7d to the cause?) I learned photography. If you are interested you can check out my work at www.joshhuntphotos.com

Looking back on it, I thought I was pretty good when I was not that good. I thought I was an 8 and I was closer to a 4. Basic issues to photography like white balance had not even shown up on my radar screen.

I learned photography by doing and evaluating. I plan to learn to be a better communicator the same way.

Evaluating is the key component. Can you imagine trying to learn photography without every looking at the photos?

Can I take off the gloves?

I have spent the last 11 years cris-crossing the country speaking on how to grow groups. I have heard a lot of preaching and teaching. Secretly, I thought a lot of it wasn't that great. It was a long way from world class. Secretly, I thought I was better. I don't think that any more. I want to get better, and I want to invite you to try to get better as well.

I used to think, "There is a reason this Sunday School class in not growing. The teaching is not that good." I still believe that. I also believe I am more like that teacher than I ever imagined. God, forgive me for my arrogance and pride.

We teach the greatest news ever to hit planet earth, the hope of mankind. We serve a God who is unspeakably great in every way imaginable. Wouldn't you agree with me that He deserves to have His spokesmen speak as well as possible about Him? Don't you want to get better?

Here is how we can get better: by doing and evaluating. Record yourself (I do it by setting my IPOD on the pulpit) and listen to it every week. It wasn't difficult for me to think of a million ways I can improve.

You might say, "I can't do it. I can't stand listening to myself." Your people listen to you every week. You owe it to them to improve. If you listen to yourself every week you will improve as surely as studying my photographs caused me to improve. We improve by doing and evaluating.

Want the advanced class?

Sometimes when we teach, we say, "Follow my example." So far I am able to say that. Sometimes all we can do is point to the top of the mountain and challenge people to go there, while admitting we have not gotten there ourselves. This challenge is that way. I want to challenge you to do what I hope to get the nerve to do, by have not done yet.

Get someone else to evaluate you. Do what I did with my photos--I posted them online and asked people to tell me what was wrong with them and how they could get better. I hope to do this one of these days with my preaching, although, honesty dictates that I admit I have not done so yet.

I was privileged to work with Sam Shaw for 5 years. Sam is an excellent communicator. Every week he would ask me for an evaluation of how that sermon could be better. He insisted on a written evaluation every week--if nothing more than a few words scribbled on the back of a visitors card. There is a reason he is as good as he is.

6 key questions

What is good communication? I read a book that has some really good ideas about that: Made to Stick, and have recently written a series of articles based on these sticky princples.

I made a graphic for my desktop that includes six key questions I want to ask myself every week about every teaching. These are based on the series of articles I have done on Made to Stick.

If you would like this for your desktop, here are a couple of different resolutions

http://joshhunt.smugmug.com/Private/desktop/stickyDesktop2/731661605_x8VYb-O.jpg

http://joshhunt.smugmug.com/Private/desktop/stickyDesktop/731661567_snwAv-O.jpg

Every week I plan to ask these six questions about every sermon. I hope these questions can help me be a better communicator.

Closing thought

For all of you who have listened to me over the years--thank you, thank you, thank you.

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