Yesterday, I had the opportunity to do something again that I love— preaching. However, the preparation this week was a little harder and more stressful than I am used to. I don’t fully understand why, but the text I was assigned to preached from, Psalm 40, was a challenging one to me. Maybe it was because it had so many different themes that I didn’t feel like were all connected so perfectly. After all, some people think Psalm 40 was two different psalms that were later put together into one chapter.
But, the amazing thing was that even though I didn’t feel like it would be the best sermon I ever preached, many people told me after service that I did a good job with the sermon, and that my translator and I did a good job with the presentation. I have gotten used to the encouragement that people give over the years after a sermon, and I want to write down a few thoughts about that for anyone else who is in the business of preaching or teaching the Bible.
- Expect encouragement
Over the years, as God has shown me both through experience and through his Word, he has created the church to be a conduit for blessing and encouragement (Read Ephesians 4 for example). This is not always true for every church (if it’s not, I would encourage you to consider finding a new one or working for reform in yours). But, when a church is healthy, this will be a natural thing—people encouraging one another.
However, you have to understand that encouragement often happens first for the people who get the most time on the microphone. This is not necessarily good, and we should always be encouraging and thanking the people who cook the food and run the sound board and projector as well, but because when you are preaching, you are standing in front of a group of people poised to encourage for 30 minutes to an hour, you are most likely to get the full force of their praise. Which leads to my next point:
- Don’t let people’s praise become your motivation
At this point in my life, I think the greatest challenge in preaching is not studying the Bible, coming up with good illustrations, applying it to culture and to individuals, or answering the objections of non-believers. For me (maybe this is not true for everyone) the greatest challenge in preaching is in my motivation for doing so. I love the encouragement that I get from brothers and sisters when I have had the opportunity to teach them, but when those words of affirmation become my primary motivation for preaching, I am in a very dangerous place.
At this point, I stop challenging them, because I want their praise, not their anger. I stop being prophetic. And I stop calling Christians to continual repentance. When that happens, the church becomes stagnate, and we have all but lost any hope of reaching the unbelieving world.
- Let the words of affirmation encourage your heart, but turn the spotlight on others
There is a tension that we have to walk in where we let the encouragement feed our souls without making it an idol or our primary motivation for preaching. I sincerely love it when people tell me I did a good job. It encourages me to keep preaching. (I also love it when people challenge me with feedback of how I could communicate something better). But, I also realize, as I said before, that there are other people who need to be praised too. So, I want to remember to suggest that people should say thank you to the other people who served to make the worship gathering possible, especially those whom most people don’t see.