I really like John Piper’s response when people come up to him and tell him how great they thought his sermon or book was, and how much it impacted them. His response is usually along the lines of, “I know, wasn’t that great?! I was so convicted or strengthened by that message as well!” I’m not sure where I heard or read this, but it really stuck with me.
Its always an interesting challenge to learn to respond correctly to praise and positive feedback in the world of ministry. I can see this challenge in the leaders around me at our church, as well as in my own life. At first glance, Piper’s response might seem prideful. Isn’t he using the church teaching spotlight to endorse and praise his own work? Isn’t he bragging about his own preaching?
The answer to this question comes when we try and focus a little bit more closely on what exactly do we think is so “great”. Is it the beautiful word choice, the compelling reasoning, the impressive oratory skills or powerful and gifted penmanship? In this case it is indeed there is a problem. If the preacher praises his own skills and craftsmanship then he is headed down a slippery slope of self praise. Indeed there are those who use the leadership position in church as a platform for personal glory.
However I don’t think that this is what Piper has in mind when he “praises” his sermon. Solid biblical reasoning reminds us that no matter how gifted and amazing the preacher is, the impact of the message is never the product of the skills and abilities of men. The power of the things that they communicate has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the fact that God has revealed himself in an objective and understandable way. Piper’s bragging has nothing to do with his sermon’s style and everything to do with its content.
Thus the preacher biblical preacher can brag away. Why? Because we don’t make this stuff up! In fact, we are the vert first and most impacted targets of our own preaching. The wonder of the things we preach comes from the heart and mind of God. Anyone who has ever prepared a sermon will agree with the fact that the preparation process puts the preacher in the front seat of his own sermon. As he wrestles with the truth, he is grilled by the message of the text unlike anyone else.
Having the chance to lead our youth Bible studies the past few weeks has really reminded me of this. Getting through a lesson, I always feel like I have so much to think about, so much to take in. Getting up the day after, the things that we discussed are always still buzzing in my head. Just as everyone else in the room, I was greatly impacted by what was said and I will talk about how amazing it was.
There is an inevitably power and profundity in the Word of God. All the preacher does is deliver it, and unpack it for all to see. And brag he should, since he is closest to one to its glory as it is revealed.