He is writing mostly for other preachers, I think, but his advice is useful for preachers and hearers alike. (And believe me, it’s harder to listen to sermons now that I am a preacher than it was when I was a layman.)
Some good quotes:If I differ with the preacher I should at the least seriously consider that my prior understanding is wrong. I should assume this until further study says otherwise.
Pride loves to critique others and find their faults to elevate ourselves.
The work of observing someone else and saying how they could do better is infinitely easier than the hard hours a preacher spends in the study seeking the Lord, wrestling with the text, under all the pressures that God has providentially arranged that week.
In other words, it’s easy to spend ten minutes criticizing even though you haven’t spent hours studying the text, thinking through its implications, and praying over how to communicate them, all while in the crucible of pastoral ministry.
One more quote (best for last):
The preacher might not say everything I would say. Thankfully he won’t say most of the erroneous things I quickly glean from the text but which are rightly dismissed by hours in the study. Furthermore, that morning he is called to preach not me. He preaches what he has seen. He preaches what he has believed. He preaches what he is able to articulate. And, if through the word of God I am directed back to behold Jesus Christ then what complaint can I have?
All good things to remember before criticizing the man in the pulpit.
(1) You are a guest and therefore have no credibility with the preacher because he doesn’t know you. This means he’s probably not going to accept your criticism the way you want him to. And, besides, if he changed his preaching for every person who came through the door, he wouldn’t be much of a preacher, would he? Be blessed by what he says and pray for him. If the Lord leads you there as a member, you will have ample opportunity to interact with his preaching.
(2) Remember that a man’s ministry must be judged in its entirety, not on the one sermon you heard that day. He may have been preaching for many years (not to mention the time in seminary, lay ministry, etc.). Remember that you’ve only heard one sermon (or only a few, depending on how long you’ve been visiting).
Be gracious and remember that you are a guest in that church. Think of it like this:
If you threw a dinner party and you worked for hours to get the meal just right and to plan the evening just so, you wouldn’t take it well if someone’s guest stayed after to explain to you (completely unsolicited) how you should have cooked the meal or how you should have planned the party or decorated the house, chance are you’d be offended and think it rude. But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you attend a church for the first time and stay after to criticize the preacher. It’s also no less rude.
When God’s man has spent hours preparing to feed you from God’s Word while bearing the same cares of life you do and also bearing the cares of the Gospel ministry and sharing the burdens of his people, the least you can do is be gracious, give him the benefit of the doubt, and be grateful that he preached the Word to you despite these pressures and cares without drawing undue attention to himself so that you could see Christ.