Three fellows from other area churches and I share the leadership of a local ministry to young adults and college students called Forge. On the fourth Saturday of each month, we gather in a downtown Rutland venue to worship in song and teaching. The four of us rotate speaking duties, and recently we decided to more formally draft criteria to help us compose our messages and then review each message as a group in our subsequent leadership team meetings.
I thought some of my readers might find this interesting or helpful, so with the Forge team's permission, here is the criteria Forge speakers must keep in mind in crafting our talks and by which we will be critiqued.
Was there a biblical text as the foundation of the talk?
How well did the talk understand or explain the text?
Because Forge is not meant to be a church -- but to aid the local churches in encouraging and edifying their young people -- we do not expect the talks to necessarily resemble sermons, expository or otherwise. Nevertheless, we want every talk to be grounded in the word of God and reflective of a response to God's revelation. God has all the best ideas, anyway.
Was Jesus the star of the talk?
Christ-centered teaching is part of Forge's tagline, and we want to make sure that he is proclaimed, not just mentioned. We have agreed that the best way to encourage young adults is not primarily through inspirational thoughts or spiritual pick-me-ups but through reminding them of the good news of God's grace. And this means Jesus has to be the focus.
Did the talk treat the listeners as partners in ministry and mission?
Was the feel of the talk "me over you" or "us together"?
We want to promote a distinct sense that we are all in this together. Young adults and college students in our area already have a general sense of being on the fringes of what the churches are doing and what the churches are all about. We want to impart ownership more and more to them, so that Forge is not about consuming and spectating, but about joining together to see what God will do through all of us in the state of Vermont.
Was the talk reflective of and/or were the discussion questions afterward conducive to authenticity, brokenness, and transparency?
Every Forge gathering includes built-in group discussion times. In these times groups of 3-6 discuss not just the information given in the talk but how it might apply to them personally. We want to foster real community among the area's young adults, because it is sorely lacking and desperately desired. So we want our talks to either reflect a speaker's place of brokenness or authenticity (either by way of testimony or demeanor) or we want the discussion time after to include questions designed to help attendees gradually let down their guards and put themselves at gospel risk with each other. Or both.
Was the talk good?
Was it presented clearly and confidently?
This is an interesting criterion, because in it we must avoid the temptation to critique based on style or taste. Because we are not bound to a traditional sermon model, each of our four speakers is free to present in a way they find appropriate for the occasion. So one other guy and I probably had the talks most resembling an expository message, although his was shorter (on purpose) and mine was longer (on purpose). Another guy's talk was more topical and conversational and included photo illustrations projected on the screen. Another guy's talk was a quick devotional thought on a verse that was meant to be a discussion starter for more intensive group interaction. So we don't critique based on model, but on execution. Was the talk listenable? Was it understandable? Was it effective at what it aimed to do?