My Compliments to the Preacher

It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory. ~ Proverbs 25:27

It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory. ~ Proverbs 25:27

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.

Mint . . . Pepper that is

Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:3

Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:3

A curiously strong tip for preachers.

You probably recognize those little white mints. You probably also think I am going to say something about fresh breath. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.

Here are three blessed benefits of those curiously strong peppermints.

  1. Fresh breath. The preacher will be engaged in many conversations before and after a service. Out of a desire to “give none offence” even in this small matter, a small peppermint will make the conversations more pleasant for everyone involved.
  2. Helps dry throat. Preaching tends to dry out the throat and mouth. This leads to the strong and near irresistible desire to cough. However, in a crowded foyer, a cough may be difficult or impolite to execute. Some would choose a cough drop to soothe the throat. An admirable choice, particularly if the flavor is honey lemon or black cherry. Cough drops tend to smell overwhelmingly medicinal, so a peppermint is an better choice in this situation.
  3. Soothes a nervous stomach. Ah, the little known power of the peppermint. It does have the ability to comfort an upset stomach. It is probably not going to help much if you are actually sick. But, if you have a little case of the jitters, peppermint can help. For this to work, you need strong peppermint and the less like candy, the better. Not that I know anything about nervous stomachs.

But, what are the drawbacks? I see primarily two.

  1. Noisy. When that little tin is about half full, it makes a lot of noise when you are walking. In the preacher’s pocket, it can beat out quite a cadence while you are walking to the pulpit. Add to this the fact that the crowd is generally quiet while waiting on you to ascend, and the noise can be amusing or embarrassing depending on your temperament.
  2. Numbing. Too many mints too close to fellowship mealtime and you are not going to be tasting your food well. I suppose this could be a blessing depending on where you are.

A little lighter post than usual, but a practical tip nonetheless.

The Moment of Preaching

Preach the word ~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Preach the word ~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Preaching is a momentary act with eternal consequences. Someone more astute than I probably said that before. The point seems to be that we cannot overstate the seriousness of the preaching moment.

There are several competing desires within me when I enter the pulpit. On the one hand, I have strong desires that Christ will be exalted and His Word honored in such a way that the people will leave impressed with Him. I have strong desires that the Word will be burned on the people’s hearts and though they might forget my name, they will not forget His Word.

On the other hand, strong desires reside in my flesh. I am tempted to relish the attention, to want to be liked and thought of highly. I am tempted to seek approval and congratulation. These are the desires that must be put to death. I walk in Romans 7 every time I enter the pulpit.

I enter into the pulpit with fear and trembling. The most dangerous place to stand in the assembly is in the pulpit. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for seeking the praise of men in their works.

But all their works they do for to be seen of men ~ Matthew 23:5

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. ~ Matthew 6:2

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. ~ Matthew 6:5

Because you are physically seen of men in the pulpit, the temptation is strong to perform. The way seems so open and so easy to thieve God’s glory.

My prayer and heart-cry for that moment is that God will save me from myself and bind my heart fast to Him. My aim and my hope in that moment is to preach a perfect sermon. What is a perfect sermon? A perfect sermon is one where the only obvious and memorable element is Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5).

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