“Great sermon, pastor!” Handling genuine compliments


man-pointing-at-his-haloIt was probably the most formative piece of feedback to a sermon I have ever received.

I don’t remember what I had preached on, but I know I thought it was pretty average, and I wasn’t happy with it.  Straight afterwards a friend came up to me and asked me how I thought it had gone.

I muttered something vaguely dismissive of what I had done, but then he brought me up short. Richard pointed a finger at my chest, looked straight into my eyes, and said,

“You taught me something about Jesus I didn’t know before. How dare you say it wasn’t any good!”

That brought me up short.  I realised I hadn’t thought of it that way before, and I needed to think carefully about how I handle conversations after church.

What I think and feel about my sermon are irrelevant. The whole point of the exercise is the response to the gospel in the hearers.

After I have preached I normally feel pretty empty. There are spiritual, physiological and psychological reasons for that, but I’ve learnt that’s what happens.  Adrenalin seeps away, I’ve travelled a spiritual journey while I’ve been preaching, and I’ve used a lot of energy in the effort of engaging with and communicating to a bunch of people.  No wonder I feel slightly deflated.

And I now routinely dismiss questions asking about my emotional state, even in a more structured feedback session, because provided it is within a range of what I’ve learnt is normal, it is no guide at all to what the Holy Spirit has been doing in the lives of the hearers as his Word has been opened.

I owe it to people who have just heard the sermon not to bring my feelings to the table.  Instead, I need to see the conversations I’m about to have as a continuation of what’s just gone on.

  • There are people like Richard, who want to talk about what I’ve just talked about.  I’ve had to learn a way of responding that gets the conversation off me and onto the Bible passage. So in response to his first query about how I felt, I could have responded honestly but shifted the focus.  Given that he was a good friend, genuinely asking about me, how about:

“I always feel a bit flat after I’ve preached, but I’ve learnt that doesn’t  matter.  How did it come across to you?”  That’s keeping it at the level of feedback on the sermon, but shifts it onto what he learnt rather than how I felt

Or, after he’d poked me in the chest:

“Richard, that’s brilliant! What did you learn?” Again, the focus shifts from me to him, and what he’s discovered about Jesus.


  • There are people who need to talk about something else going on in their life. The sermon isn’t always top of people’s minds (I know that’s a terrifying shock to a preacher, but it’s true).  The medical test results, the discovery of a teenager’s drug habit, the row on the way to church – people need to process other things as disciples, and if they’re processing that with me as their pastor, that’s fine.  If Haggai didn’t hit the spot for them, my role is to find the scripture that will, and pray that home with them.
  • And then there are people who need to say something to me after the sermon, and opt for something vaguely pleasant. “Wonderful sermon!”  “You’re always very clear.”

Again, deflect.  Not onto false modesty, but onto God, quickly:

“Thank you – it’s easy being excited about such a wonderful passage! Was there something that struck you particularly?”

There are a host of other things people want so say, and where we need to work out what to say back.  But there’s a horrid streak in me I have to nail each time.

Pride is a terrible enemy for all preachers.  Pride can tell us we’ve done really well, or that we’ve just preached really badly compared to what we’re really capable of.  Pride seeks praise, and massages conversations so we get compliments. Pride can make us take pride in what is nothing more than God’s gift, which he could equally bestow on any member of the church, but which he happens to have given to us. Pride makes us take pride in being humble. Pride makes us focus on our performance, our impact, and how my sermon is really about me.

Nonsense.  Do your soul work before you preach, and get yourself ready.  Reset your dials after you’ve preached, during the closing song. And at the most basic level,  I find I’m often helped by eating a banana, to reset the energy levels.

If God’s word is having an effect through you, you must expect to have to handle those conversations.  So plan how.

Process questions:

  • How do you normally feel after you’ve preached?  High, low, drained, pumped?
  • How do you respond to complimentary feedback?  Do you believe you’re as good as they say you are?

Thanks for reading this far, folks. Pile in below and let’s help each other out!

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16 comments on ““Great sermon, pastor!” Handling genuine compliments”

  1. That’s helpful Chris. Standing at the door shaking hands after preaching is one of the most complicated times in my week. Rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn in rapid succession while feeling emotionally spent after preaching.

    1. I agree, Paul – and then resetting yourself to do it a second or third time in straight succession is tough as well. I think the big trick is not to take ourselves too seriously

  2. As someone who is an introvert, I find that my problem after a sermon is shutting my mouth down. After speaking, I have so much residual nervous energy it is a like a strongly running tap has been started and it’s difficult to slow it down. I know people are expecting to talk and I’ve got to remain talkative. I am therefore more likely to make a stupid joke or simply talk too much at this point, not good when people want to share how they have been challenged/encouraged. Ideally a few minutes of peace and quiet would do me the world of good. I’m still trying to work on a way of getting past this, aside from a ‘comfort break’ after the message, which isn’t the best of plans! Perhaps the idea of using the last song as a time to slow down would be a good piece of advice. Thanks for the post!

    1. A comfort break isn’t a bad idea, for a few minutes. But, yup, it’s all true. I’m learning about leaving enough in the tank for the next service as well.

  3. I just typed a long comment here, hit “post comment”, only to receive “sorry, your comment couldn’t be processed” – which is precisely how I must come across to so many who comment after my sermon! I’m good at deflecting the “lovely sermon” type comments, but I’ve realised that I’m good at ignoring pretty much every type of comment. After preaching I feel like my work is done, I’m bottomed-out, and I’m on my way home for a well deserved dram (after an evening service, that is!). I need to learn to “see the conversations I’m about to have as a continuation of what’s just gone on.” Practically, I wonder if as part of my sermon prep I’d do well to consider what questions might come up and/or might usefully be raised in discussion afterwards. Or, as I keep promising myself I’ll do, pose a focused question to everyone at the end of the sermon which can then be picked up on in conversation. Thanks, Chris!

    1. Thanks, James. I’m all for “continuing the sermon” by comments later in the service (e.g. tweaking the words of distribution at HC, or in dismissal prayer, as well as song introductions). Ending on a question like you suggest isn’t something I’ve tried, but I think I will give it a go.

  4. I’ve realised that I’m impossible to please regarding sermon feedback. When I receive lots of praise after a sermon I feel embarrassed and awkward, conversely if people speak to me afterwards and don’t mention the sermon I worry they thought it was rubbish—hence I’m impossible to please. I’ve recognised that my spiritual barometer isn’t reliable when gauging how I’ve done, so I just need to try my best, faithfully prepare as best I can, and pray and trust that God works through me, despite of me. Emptying myself of self is a process God has been doing over the years regarding preaching—and it’s not been an easy process and I’m sure I’m not there yet.
    I’ve also realised after preaching I still have lots of adrenaline, but in the afternoon as the adrenaline fades I feel flat and kinda empty. So I try not to schedule strenuous or social things after preaching, and just spend time with my family and pottering around the house if possible. 🙂

    1. Yup – the internal state of the preacher is an interesting roller-caster, Dan. I think a sense of perspective should come with time, then pride catches us out all over again…

  5. Thanks Chris, I always try to have at least one verse or point from the sermon in mind so that my immediate response is “Thanks, verse 11 is incredible isn’t it? What struck me so much was…” That will either get them going on verse 11 or inspire them to bring up what had struck them most.

    After the service is not the time to deal with the preacher’s emotional state. It’s the time to model and enjoy talking about Jesus,

    thanks for this blog. A real help.

  6. Interesting. I understand that there is an odd discomfort when some people are complimented on a sermon. From a laymen’s point of view, after reading this and other blogs on the subject of “compliments”:
    1. When I compliment the sermon, I’m not complimenting you for the text, whether that text be Biblical, or a quote from an author, a video clip, etc. I AM complimenting you on the way you put that information together. The way you presented it. The way you related that text to what’s happening in my (our) life. The fact is that I have heard some iteration of all the above sources previously, but there was something in THIS sermon that got through. I’m thanking YOU for that, the same way you thank me for picking up some trash from the church parking lot. I didn’t really have to, and you really didn’t have to. You had free will, and you choose to…

    2. work hard on a message that made an impact. You didn’t have to find that extra source. You didn’t have to find that visual aide. You didn’t have to change out that clip-art laden slide from 1998. You could have spent the week filling your fantasy football slots instead of getting to that sermon. You could have knocked that sermon out during half-time Saturday afternoon. You could have dusted off that “really good” sermon you’ve given many times and preached it with all the emotion of something you’ve given many times. You didn’t. While the inspiration for that great sermon is certainly the Lord’s….

    3. you listened to that inspiration. And you kept listening. And while excessive pride could be a problem…you do have pride in a sermon…right? Think about it…synonyms for pride are pleasure, joy, delight, gratification, fulfillment, satisfaction. Do you really not seek these? Doesn’t God WANT these things in your life? Isn’t it, within reason, healthy to seek these things. Without these, how do you get better at what God wants you to do? That sermon compliment may be God telling you “keep it up!!”. Can’t God use me to help you craft your next sermon? If someone tells you that your sermon was confusing, or boring, or sounded like a robot….are you gonna use the same logic that led you to “deflect” a compliment…that you are just relaying the word of the Lord? Or are you gonna use some healthy pride and use this positive (and/or negative) feedback to get better at what you do?

    I get it: it’s difficult to take credit for a good sermon. You want to be modest. Yet God built you just like me….with pride. To me, the seemingly universal discomfort from the when it comes to accepting compliments seems….wrong. From this layman’s point of view: compliments are critiques. You need them. I (we) often feel LED to give them. I love some of the ideas written above on how to take compliments, and I’ll use this knowledge to reframe some of my compliments. God literally could have used a tree stump to relay that important message that I needed. He choose to use you. Feel pride in that. Call it feeling “Blessed” if you need to. But nonetheless, smile with pride the next time you get a compliment. Dig into what you did to make that impact. Dig into what what you missed. You need the feedback, and I need to give it.

  7. Its interesting how people are not senstive at all to the fact that their criticism is potent after the preaching moment. not to mention the monday morning quarterbacking from the pews.

    1. I’m so grateful that I’ve never had to handle that Monday morning criticism. Other than my own inner critic. Which can be pretty brutal. Keep preaching faithfully!

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