“You’re the best preacher I’ve ever heard!” What preacher wouldn’t want to hear those words? One preacher who doesn’t want to hear those words is the home preacher who overhears a member saying that to a visiting preacher (or vice versa). But as harmful as those words could be to the one who overhears them, they can be even more harmful to the one being complimented. Here are a few thoughts on why we need to change the way we think (and talk) about preaching.
What Preaching is All About?
Preaching is the proclamation and explanation of God’s word. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of men who stood before God’s people and explained, “This is what God says, this is what it means, and this is how it applies to us today.” Men like Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Peter, Paul, Timothy, Titus, and of course Jesus were all preachers.
The church needs to hear the proclamation and explanation of God’s word. We need to hear what it says, what it means, and how it applies to our lives today. This is why the Lord gave to the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (Ephesians 4:12). We no longer have apostles or prophets, but we still have (and need) “the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.”
When God’s word is proclaimed and explained:
- it brings glory to God.
- it unites God’s people of the present with His people of the past.
- it makes us into a knowledgable and disciplined community, by encouraging us to stretch our attention spans and develop an ability to hear the word of the Lord.
Preachers should strive to preach well. We should strive to understand God’s word, understand what it means, and effectively communicate to the church what it looks like to be faithful to Christ. That’s good preaching. It’s not about being dynamic or witty. It’s just about communicating God’s will to His people.
How We Turn Preaching Into a Competitive Performance
With singing, we often misplace our focus. We focus on the tune and the tempo, when the focus should be on the words of praise. With preaching, we focus on the preacher’s style and delivery, when the focus should be on accurately proclaiming and explaining the word of God.
But think about it, when we sit in the pew and make the sermon about the preacher’s performance – rather than our own walk with Jesus – it takes the pressure off us and puts it on the preacher. When we have the luxury of sitting and measuring the length and style of the sermon, comparing it with other sermons we’ve heard, our job in the pew is easy. It’s much more difficult for us to accept our God-given responsibility to look beyond the flaws, shortcomings, and human limitations of the preacher in order to discern and apply God’s holy word to our lives.
I’ve been on both sides of comments that reveal our unhealthy perspective about preaching. I’ve been on the side where people have whispered, “You’re such a good preacher. I wish our preacher would preach like you.” And then I’ve been on the side where members laughingly say, “You better watch your job. I think this guy has got you beat.”
What’s worse, as a preacher, my own thoughts betray the fact that I myself often have the wrong perspective. Though it pains me to admit, on Sunday evenings my thoughts lean less in the direction of whether or not I taught people the truth about how to walk with Jesus and more in the direction of how well I performed.
Was Paul a Good Preacher?
Believe it or not, it seems the apostle Paul was one of those brothers who had the reputation of being a poor public speaker. One time he preached so long a young man fell asleep and fell out a window to his death (Acts 20:9). There were some who said about Paul, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
Because I often have the wrong perspective, those comments would likely have hurt me terribly, but Paul doesn’t even defend himself. He refused to play the comparison game. He wasn’t interested in comparisons. He was simply interested in preaching the Gospel (2 Corinthians 10:12-17).
Sadly, Paul might not have even made it past a “try out” in many congregations today. Paul wasn’t a great preacher because of his public speaking ability or his “lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1). He was a great preacher because he proclaimed and explained the will of God.
Pride, Ego, and Self-Esteem
It’s easy to see the harm we do to those we criticize. It’s easy to see how it hurts a preacher’s feelings when we criticize his style; but we might actually be doing more harm to those on whom we constantly brag. When we constantly brag on a preacher’s style and performance, we might very well be stroking his ego.
Allow me to be extremely transparent and vulnerable. I struggle with pride. Compliments about style and performance are like a drug to me. They feel great to receive, but when they’re absent, I go through withdrawals. But I don’t want to be dependent on compliments; I want to hide behind Jesus and preach for His glory.
I have a feeling I’m not the only preacher who struggles with pride (and those who boast in their humility are those about whom I’m most concerned). But this doesn’t mean the church should go to the opposite extreme and destroy the preachers’ self-esteem. We should want neither to crush their egos, nor stroke their egos; we should want to magnify the Lord together with our preachers.
How To Encourage a Preacher
So how can we show appreciation to our preachers, without being stumbling blocks? Here are a few of my favorite kinds of encouragement:
- “That message really made me think. I’m going to have to go home and study some more.”
- “I’m convicted. I’m going to make some big changes in my life.”
- “I never really understood how glorious God was until today.”
- “God’s word is so powerful.”
- “Thank you for telling us the truth.”
Those kinds of comments put the focus on the message, rather than the messenger and I guarantee they’ll be encouraging to your preacher. Preaching is a tough job, but it’s even tougher when those of us in the pulpit – or in the pews – don’t have the right perspective.
I love you and God loves you,