One of my spiritual disciplines is to read through the Bible each year. Recently, I read through the prophecies of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is not my favorite part of the Bible. It can be a tough read. This year, one portion of Ezekiel’s prophesies pricked my thinking. Here it is.

Ezekiel 33:31 ESV

This prophecy reminded me of the warning of James in chapter 1, verse 22 – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (ESV)

 How do we as church leaders figure out whether the people we lead are “hearers only” or people who are committed to do what Scripture teaches and commands? That’s something to talk about.

I consult with many churches that are in senior pastor transition. I often ask them what they are looking for in a pastor and, invariably, one of the top two traits they are looking for is something along the lines of “excellent preacher.” But what makes preaching “excellent?” Is it the preacher’s volume or sonorous voice? Is it that he held my attention or told great stories? Is it the number of verses he covers or cites or that he teaches verse by verse, book by book? Is it whether I agree with what he is teaching? Or is it the number of peoples’ lives that are being changed, transformed into the image of God, week by week, year by year, as he helps applies the truths of scripture to his listeners’ lives?

How might we effectively assess whether our teaching is changing lives or is just being enjoyed? Here are some ideas for jump-starting your conversation.

  •  I have always been intrigued by how much time pastors invest in preparing a good sermon only to present it once and have it never considered again by those that hear. What tools and strategies might we have or create to ensure that weekend sermons are thought about after they are first heard? Are small groups the place for people to reflect on the teaching they received? Some other circumstance or place? Do we care whether or not our members are considering sermon content beyond their initial hearing of it?

  •  One strategy for helping our members reflect upon the weekly preaching is “sermon-based small groups.” Have we considered this? If yes, how is it going? If not, why not?

  • How might church leaders (staff and elders/board members) engage in determining whether members are using the weekend sermon to become better disciples of Jesus and to be continually transformed? Do we ever ask people such a question? Why or why not? What strategy might we adopt to ensure that we get this kind of feedback from our members?

  •  Quite often it seems that the only feedback we receive is that volunteered by fans or critics. How can we get enough feedback from the masses in the middle to ensure that we are effectively teaching the scriptures to them and that the sermons are producing life change?

I often joked with a previous pastor of mine that there were two sermons I heard during my adult life that produced significant life change – and that he did not preach either one of them. But I hastened to add that I was thankful that his preaching provided week to week, day to day spiritual nourishment that I (and others) needed to continue down the road before me to be continuously transformed by the renewing of my mind. None of the sermons were instant life changers, but they collectively encouraged and guided me toward becoming more mature in my faith and Christlike in my behaviors. Very few sermons are life-changers; but excellent, and even good preaching is valuable for life-change over a lifetime.

 When I had training for training others in my previous employment, the mantra among the trainers was that teaching has not occurred unless the student has learned. This has both encouraged me to teach well and scared me in that I may be speaking but not teaching. It also helped me develop a long-view approach to assessing instruction. Does this translate into what we do as pastors and church leaders? I think so. We haven’t taught if the student has not learned. It’s humbling, and everything within me wants to blame someone else – perhaps rightfully so. But it does not relieve us leaders from the responsibility to figure out whether those we lead and to whom we exposit the Scriptures are learning and growing over the long term. And that’s something to talk about.

Let us know if we can help and how your conversation goes. Contact Bob Osborne by e-mail at

This is one of a series of articles intended to facilitate and guide church leaders’ conversations about significant issues that often are not talked about among pastors, boards, and church leadership teams. Visit the EFCA West website to see prior Something to Talk About articles.