My Compliments to the Preacher
Grace in Receiving Criticism and Praise
Critics in the congregation can be a problem for preachers. They are not a problem because they voice a disagreement or dislike to something in the message. They are a problem because most of those critics are amateurs. They do not know how best to form and dispatch a criticism. Their manner is usually rough and can unnecessarily rile. Their content is ill-formed and provides no real help.
These hack critiques are almost as bad as the amateur praise the preacher receives. Honestly, the praise is more dangerous than the critique though the latter feels more immediately threatening. We want to think about how best to receive criticism and praise, but let us first speak to the perpetrators of both.
Everybody’s a Critic
It is an odd mark of this age that nearly everyone fancies themselves a critic. In part this is due to the egocentrism of the day where each person views the whole world in terms of how it affects them personally. I am amazed at common responses to terrible disasters in far-away places. It seems the only concern is whether it will affect the price of gas or groceries at home. As an afterthought, they suppose it would be bad to lose everything you had suddenly in a moment.
Many come to a church service the way they go into a restaurant. They expect a friendly greeting at the door. They want a good seat that is most convenient for their wants. They sit down to be served completely. They want everything to their particular tastes and liking. They don’t want it to take too long and they feel obligated to grade every aspect of the place, food, and service.
It is valid and reasonable to consider how a sermon ministers to you personally. But it is not the only, nor the primary concern you ought to have. At the top of that list are vastly more important questions: Did the sermon glorify God? Did the sermon honor God’s Word? Did the sermon uphold Jesus Christ as the only hope for fallen man and the only way to God?
In comparison to the ADD-designed media today, a sermon is boring. Hearing a sermon well requires extended concentration, and that is not something this age is known for. You may complain of a boring sermon that failed to keep your attention, but your yawns may have more to do with what you did on Saturday and how late you stayed up the night before morning service. Your distractedness may have more to do with skipping breakfast than the actual sermon itself. The problem may lie less with the preacher and more with your self-absorption that causes you to tune out whatever does not speak immediately to your small circle of concerns.
You must seek the truth in a sermon to hear it well. You must also listen to hear a sermon well. Solomon describes the desired demeanor in God’s house:
Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
– Ecclesiastes 5:1-2
Listen to a sermon to hear it and not just to get ready for what you have to say about it.
Profiting from Criticism
We could wish it were otherwise, but people seem doggedly determined to retain their amateur status. Hacking, duffing, slicing, and hooking critiques will be offered the preacher. It’s best then to consider how to receive them and benefit from them.
- Don’t be immediately defensive. Remember Solomon’s wise counsel: “Be more ready to hear.” At the very least, you know a criticism means that something did not sit well with the critic. It is wise to hear them and consider any validity to what they said. We are not infallible and another person may touch on some real need of improvement for us, regardless of how poorly they may do it.
- Don’t answer in kind. Express appreciation for their thoughts and your desire to consider and pray about what they have shared. It is not the time to respond with four things that are wrong with them. It is reflexive to respond that way, but we must subdue that urge if we are going to nourish a relationship that will bless both of us.
- Don’t take it too hard. Understand that some people are chronic complainers, unable to be satisfied with anything. Hear them and consider their words. If there is nothing valuable in them, let it go. Count them as words for the wind and remember them no more (Job 6:26).
- Don’t believe everything you hear. People criticize, but that doesn’t mean they are right. This also particularly applies to the praise we receive. When you receive praise, thank the Lord that they were blessed or helped and think no more on it. We also have to be careful to discern between praise and flattery. Both can be dangerous, but the latter is sinister.
When it comes to criticism or praise, it is best not to dwell on it too long. Sometimes you get the two-edged sword. I shook hands with a woman after a service and she said, “I really enjoyed your sermon.” I thought that was good, but she continued, “Of course, I knew all that already.” What do you do with that? Well, she did have a few years on me, so praise the Lord she’s down the road ahead of me and I am trying to catch up.