How much do you think your preaching influences your people? We know the biblical answer. Preaching is God’s ordained means of communicating the truths of scripture and the gospel to His people and the world. But on a personal level, how much do you think your preaching is influential?
Most pastors will never stand before hundreds of people and preach. Still fewer will ever receive an invitation to preach at some conference. In fact, in my small part of the world, most pastors around me are bi-vocational with very little to no training in preaching. Yet, they labor every week in preaching to their same small flock – some for several decades.
It can be easy for a pastor to feel a disconnect between what he knows to be true and what he experiences. He knows that God’s Word is enough and that God uses it to accomplish all His purposes (Is. 55:11). He knows that it is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and that it is never a waste of time to share it. And yet, he rarely ever sees the fruit of his labors. Preaching is one of the rare tasks in which you don’t really know the effect of your efforts.
Furthermore, most pastors don’t go searching for the fruit of their preaching. There is a sense of pursuing flattery or praise from man to ask how your sermon may have set in a person’s heart. Simultaneously, the pastor wants to, and sometimes needs to know if his people are listening, if they are listening well, and if they are benefitting from his efforts. There is an aspect of good shepherding in discerning ways in which your sermons benefit your people without seeking to be puffed up by such information.
Additionally, pastors want to know how they can improve. They want to keep laboring. They want to get better. And they want to be encouraged that they have not and are not running or laboring in vain. I think this is why Paul tells the struggling Galatians, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches (Gal. 6:6).”
“Good things” in this verse might refer to several things. But I think it at least means to encourage the pastor in the labors of his preaching. Preachers will preach better sermons when they know that their preaching has an effect upon those to whom they regularly preach. In other words, right encouragement to the preacher has direct benefits for the preaching ministry of the church.
Let me highlight a few ways to receive encouragement in preaching and then highlight a few ways to give encouragement to preachers.
Receiving Encouragement as a Preacher:
- Remember you are just an instrument. In other words, God does all the work and His Word effects change. You are merely the mouthpiece. Don’t let encouragement go to your head.
- Respond to encouragement with exaltation of Christ. When people encourage you after a sermon make sure to give the credit to God verbally. I try to say something like, “Praise God! If it was good it is because of Him!”, or “It was a good passage wasn’t it?” This helps keep the listeners eyes on Christ and it helps keep your mind on Christ! Gratitude to God is giving credit to God and that is what preachers must do.
- Be humble and receptive. Don’t deter encouragement from your flock in regards to your preaching. They are doing a very good thing when they boast on God’s work through your sermon. Take the encouragement, thank God for it, and then keep working. Humility is not self-debasement. Humility is dependence on and giving credit to God. It would be a good practice to get alone and thank God profusely for using you when your people encourage you for a sermon.
- Don’t get discouraged at the lack of encouragement. Some churches are not naturally encouraging. This may be because of past struggles with previous pastors. But don’t let their lack of encouragement translate to discouragement in your ministry. After all, we don’t labor for the praise of man, we labor for the glory to God. Stay faithful to God even if you never hear an encouraging word from your people.
- Not every sermon will warrant encouragement. Sometimes pastors have to say very difficult and hard things. When this is done it can be hard for people to encourage or be thankful. In other words, conviction is tough and it can be hard to say thank you when God has just raked your soul over the coals! Every sermon should be preached with your best effort, but not every sermon will be fertile ground for immediate feedback.
So much more could be said. Bottom line: encouragement can be so helpful, nourishing, and refreshing, but the goal is faithfulness to and the pleasing of Christ!
What about the listener? How do we give encouragement to pastors without puffing them up? Here are a few thoughts:
- Recognize their labors go much further back than just Sunday morning. My people are very good at saying things like, “Thank you for your work this week.” Or “Thank you for laboring for that message this week.” That is a simple acknowledgment that they know I work more than just behind the pulpit and it yields more opportunities!
- Give credit to God and not to the preacher. I helped one church member express his gratitude for my sermons by telling him to say, “The Holy Spirit really worked in me today.” That means so much more to me than anything else!
- Be careful of the backhanded compliment or the partial compliment. Preachers know that not everyone agrees with their sermon. And they know that no one agrees with every detail in their sermon. You don’t have to remind them of this. It is one thing if they are unbiblical. It is another thing if you disagree with minor points. More good can be done in the long term with simple encouragement and not with encouragement coupled with “….but I disagreed with…”
- Small things are big deals. Let’s be honest, not every pastor is a great preacher. Most of the time pastors know they are not great preachers. But instead of telling them that they aren’t good preachers encourage them in the small victories. This will help spur them on to growth in preaching. Have encouraging chats with them about preaching, preaching styles, language, structure, scripture, etc. This produces long-term health in the pulpit and not burn out or burden. Pastors pour their souls out on Sundays. Don’t wound them with unnecessary complaints about non-scriptural, non-gospel matters.
- Sincerity matters. Flattery for the sake of flattery is frustrating to a pastor. But sincere small encouragement can fuel a preacher’s soul and efforts for months. Avoid flattery by being specific in your encouragement. Then notice your pastor step into the pulpit with more energy, passion, commitment, and dedication.
- Encouragement does not mean lack of accountability. Pastors are fallen men. We have many flaws. We face the pressures of our flaws effecting the whole church. We know we don’t have perfect theology and we wince when we miss speak. So, we must be held accountable. Encouragement is a form of accountability. It is encouragement to do what is good and avoid what is bad. And encouragement doesn’t mean pastors shouldn’t be confronted if they say something unscriptural – especially developing a pattern of unbiblical thought. If you need to confront, do so with gentleness, patience, and clarity.
Preaching is a two-way street. It is not just a man talking to a group of people. It is also a group of people listening to and responding to the labors of the man. Encouragement is one of the great and necessary parts of this exchange.