Let’s face it, when it comes to sermon development and delivery, every preacher needs a strategy to deal with praise and criticism. If you have no plan to deal with the nice things people say, then you will likely suffer from an inflated ego. If you have no plan of how to deal with criticism, then you will stay awake far too many nights with a bruised self-worth or maintain a defensive posture.
Like most preachers, I suffer from a tendency to remember every word of every critical comment. One woman sat in my office and asked, “When will we hear a good sermon?” She was dead serious. I was pleasant while responding on the outside but my homiletical identity was quickly crumbling on the inside. At the same time I have heard my fair share of kind and powerfully positive comments at the door of the sanctuary over the course of 30 years of preaching.
I quickly learned that I could not build my life as a preacher on either side of the praise and criticism fence. I needed a plan that had a purpose. About that time, I became fascinated with Romans 12 and the Apostle Paul’s primary conversation about the Body of Christ, which led me to form my Romans 12 plan for dealing with compliments and condemnations.
1. Be realistic about who you are in Christ.
It all starts with Romans 12:3 where Paul calls upon the grace of God to offer a key instruction; “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” In other words, begin every praise/criticism conversation with a realistic view of who you are in Christ. Know yourself, be self-aware, and understand your faith as a foundational posture that is built on grace.
2. You were called to share the Gospel.
From there it is always helpful to refresh and renew your spiritual memory by recalling the ways God has granted you gifts and personally called you into ministry. Romans 12:6-8 will give you a framework for that reflection process. Remember that you are an instrumental part of the Body of Christ!
I know there are times when we all question our call. I believe that is actually a healthy process. The only way to engage or renew your call to share the Gospel is to participate in a three-part process of awareness, reflection, and engagement. When people are critical, it can provide a wonderful reminder to be aware of who you are in Christ, reflect on where you have been and how God has shaped you, and then to reengage the task of ministry. The outcome of awareness and reflection will often invite the engagement activity to look a little different than in the past. Change, adjustment, and continual improvement are also a part of the positive anticipated outcome.
3. Respond with blessing.
When it comes to fielding comments about something as personal as preaching, be sure to follow the advice of Romans 12:14-16. Bless, do not curse, rejoice, live in harmony, and do not be conceited.
There are steps of blessing that you can take on those occasions when someone challenges your preaching content or your presentation. When the lady asked me “When will we hear a good sermon?” I spent time listening to her about what would qualify as a ‘good sermon’ in her eyes. Listening with active intent can be a great blessing to people who want to be heard. It is also helpful to listen as a non-anxious presence and to have a gracious and honest ‘thank you’ ready for them at the close of the conversation.
In that particular conversation, I learned that my dominate narrative style seemed foreign and too informal for her. She wanted to hear ‘point number one, two and three’ along with quotes from well-known political and religious leaders. It was a great opportunity for me to learn and to understand the areas of disconnect.
Don’t forget the admonition in Romans 12:17; “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” From where I sit, “everybody” includes yourself, the person who is sharing with you, and it also includes the presence of God in your life. If you honor all three of these admonitions you will be blessed to be a blessing to others and to the Lord.
As you reflect on the insights from Romans 12 you might also connect your thoughts to the ancient Ignatian process of daily examen. The examen is a short, daily reflection that provides fuel for your ongoing journey of spiritual formation. In the classical form, the examen includes five key steps.
- Remember who you are in the presence of God
- Give thanks for God’s grace in your life
- Invite the Holy Spirit to give you awareness
- Review the day hour-by-hour through the gift of reflection
- Pray for reconciliation and renewal as you confess and seek the face of God
These five steps will keep our spirits healthy, our thoughts wholesome, and our relationships intact.
Above all, remember the words of I Corinthians 1:21; “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Proclaim the Word of God, live the grace of God, and be filled by the love of God!