Knowing that I love praise, I have wondered what to do when someone compliments a sermon.
My first reaction to a post-sermon compliment was false humility. But the problem with the “Aw shucks” approach is that when someone is sincere, just looking at my feet made their compliment seem feigned or insincere, like I wasn’t taking them seriously. They truly were grateful. So a “thank you” seems appropriate, but thanking them for what? It’s God’s word not mine. All my material is lifted.
Then I heard Pastor Johnny Hunt say something so helpful. He said that when he receives praise for a sermon he just “sends it on up” to where it really belongs. That’s it. The person may or may not know to give God glory. They may not understand the power of the Word to sanctify us in truth. They may not know that what they experienced had as much to do with us as the moon does in creating light, or a pipe does in bringing us water. We are the conduit, not the source. But that’s OK. Correcting them in that moment is rarely appropriate. So, you take the praise, thank them, and then internally put it where it belongs. Right up with the Father.
In the preaching model of communication, we are not the sender of the message, we are the media.
Think of it this way. Preaching is not inventing, it is repeating. Therefore the effectiveness of a preacher is principally in his ability to get out of the way. The presence of a preacher is measured by his absence. If he removes the impediment, the distractions, then he becomes a clean conduit through which the Spirit can flow. The goal in preaching is to be free from anything that impedes the flow of God’s Word from Him to them. In the preaching model of communication, we are not the sender of the message, we are the media. We are not the show. We are a cover band that makes you think of someone else’s presence. We don’t get in the way, or out of the way, we try to go translucent. We are asking how to be effective while finding the least distracting way to say this. As a tour guide through the gallery of the text, how can I say that in a way that will draw all the attention to the master Artist?
An effective sermon is clean of debris. Uncluttered. The Spirit flows through us. This is why sermon prep can be hard when I have sin in my life. Much of sermon prep is the text snaking through my heart cleaning out gunk. When that is piped out, the Spirit really flows. It’s wonderful. My job is to see that from God, and His word, to the listener, things don’t get dammed up with my own issues.
So if the pipes are clean, we can send back up to God in the same way that he delivered the message through us. The Word flowed though us from God. The praise flows back through us to God. My job is to keep the pipes clean during both transactions.
I love preaching compliments. They appeal to my glad ambition: to see people love the Word. They also appeal to my selfish ambition: to steal glory. I also appreciate people taking the time to say something. It’s genuinely nice of them. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to unpreach the sermon by the way I handled things. So, one strategy is to reverse the preaching process.
Preaching is drawing attention to the text. And so when they say thanks for the sermon, here is another chance to do that. So when someone says something nice, a good response is, “I know, isn’t that text amazing?!” Then you have the chance to dialogue more about it. Isn’t drawing attention to the text what we want to begin with? After all it is in the text that they will be sanctified to be a part of the Bride when they will praise him forever.
This verbal sleight of hand will draw attention away from yourself, but you will also affirm the person by agreeing with them that God’s Word is wonderful. That is most likely what is at the heart of the compliment. The person is affirmed, God is glorified, and you did not steal any of it for yourself! See, nothing up my sleeve.
Preaching is God speaking through His Son, who is revealed in His Word, revealed to others. The post-sermon compliment reverses that process with praise: praise for the Word, which shows us the Son, who glorifies the Father. In this way preaching and praise are the same activity. They do the same thing in different directions: one from God and one to God. And both bring Him glory. So yes, send it on up.