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Great Sermon, Pastor
By Dan Martella
A few weeks ago I fell into a conversation with a friend who attends our church. “That was a great sermon you preached last Sabbath,” he said. “You are a very gifted communicator. I have sat under the teaching of Robert Schuller at the Crystal Cathedral and Jack Hayford at the Church on the Way, and I’ve got to tell you – you’re every bit as good as they are!”
Honestly, what am I supposed to do with a compliment like that?
Handling sermon compliments is a challenge for all of us. For one thing, the post-preaching moment almost always finds us in a vulnerable place. All week long we have wrestled with the text, struggled to shape the message, and poured gallons of adrenaline into its delivery. When it is all said and done we are fully spent, so a word of gratitude and praise feels good.
At the same time, those compliments can leave us feeling uneasy. Especially when the affirmations are in conflict with our assessment of the sermon. Especially when feelings of pride begin to swell and collide with the spirit of Christian humility that recognizes that it is God who has called, equipped, and empowered us to share His Word with the people.
So how then should a pastor respond when complimented on their sermon? Here are five recommendations:
Graciously Receive the Compliment. When we deflect compliments with an “Aw shucks” look on our faces; when we mumble, “I’m not much of a preacher, but I appreciate your kind words”; when we tell people that compliments are like soft soap – full of lies; when we chide people to praise the Lord – we become rude and offensive. These are people who want to be your friend. People who are grateful for the encouragement they have just received from your message. For the sake of your shared relationship, graciously accept the compliment.
Consider Context. If you are a guest speaker or part of a pastoral staff that does not put you in the pulpit every week, recognize that the compliment may be just another way of saying, “We love our lead pastor and the messages they share with us week after week, but today it was nice to hear another voice.” In moments like these, it is easy to think that you need to visit this church more often or that the preaching ratio between you and the lead pastor needs to be adjusted. It is easy to let the whole thing go to your head. Don’t let the moment stoke your ego. Consider the context, let things roll off your back, and get on with the ministry God has called you to in this church.
Make It Personal. When people compliment your Sabbath morning message, use it as an opportunity to further engage them in a one-on-one conversation about the text. What insights and encouragements have they found in the passage? What are the practical implications and applications that spur them on? What lingering questions invite further reflection? When you use the compliment to build a bridge back to the Word of God, your friend is affirmed and God is glorified.
Be Sensitive to Other Agendas. Sometimes compliments are not really about your preaching – they’re more about your choice of topic and their particular agenda. Sometimes people will compliment your preaching because they want you to feel good about them. So they can better use you to accomplish their agenda for the church. While we need to be gracious in our handling of compliments, we also need to be wise – sometimes there is a hidden agenda trying to suck us in.
Give the Glory to God. When preaching is complimented, relay the praise up to where it really belongs. That is a lesson I learned from an old evangelist who lived around the corner when I first started ministry. One day he put a fatherly arm around my shoulder and said, “Let me tell you what I have shared with my boys (Who were both very popular preachers) – When you get home after church, go into your room and kneel down by your bed. And then thank the good Lord for giving you the grace to preach His Word with power. In that moment, all the glory goes back where it belongs.”
It is an awesome privilege to partner with God in ministry. And it is a privilege to be used by God to share a word of encouragement with His people on Sabbath morning. In the moments that follow, I do not want to unpreach that message by poorly handling any compliments (or criticisms) that may come my way. I want to affirm important relationships. I want to keep the conversation going. And I want to give thanks and praise to God. That is why when compliments are shared following after the sermon, I have learned to quietly say, “Thank you.  I’m glad you were blessed.”
Dan Martella is the administrative pastor for the Paradise Adventist Church in Norhthern California, and serves as managing editor for Best Practices for Adventist Ministry