Monday, December 31, 2012

What to Say to Your Pastor At the End of the Sermon

So the worship service has come to an end and you are waiting in line to greet the pastor afterwards. You want to let him know how much you appreciated the sermon but don't quite know what to say. As a pastor, I can tell you that I have heard a variety of comments pertaining to my sermons. Some make me smile. Others bring a chuckle while a few leave me scratching my head. From "you were a little long-winded this morning" to a nine year old confessing "I got a good nap in during the sermon today." A fellow pastor shared with me that he was once told that he gave a "warm sermon," one that was "not too hot." Much of what people say on the way out the door to their pastor is not necessarily wrong or bad but might not be as helpful for their pastor and his faithful task of delivering God's Word as they realize. Perhaps more could be said for the sake of clarity. It is beneficial to give your pastor feedback, but clear communication of what you are trying to say helps him out even more. Let's look at some of the most common "sayings" that pastors hear on Sunday morning and what they may communicate.

"Good job"
To tell the pastor "good job" after the sermon with nothing else attached to it is very ambiguous. What did he do a "good job" at? Communicating the Word? Explaining a difficult passage? Speaking eloquently? Peaking your interest? Keeping you awake? Simply saying "good job" is not as clear to your pastor. Also, it may play on his pride. Trust me, pastors are just as prone to pride as anyone else in the congregation. It creeps up on us without warning! "Good job" emphasizes the work that the pastor has done and his skills and talents instead of directing him back to the very One whose grace he had to depend upon to labor at understanding the passage and communicate it effectively. It can easily lead him to begin patting himself on the back instead of giving glory to the God who actually deserves the credit.

"Thank you for sharing your heart"
Hearing this one actually scares me. Any pastor committed to what is called expository preaching; taking a passage and seeking to communicate each point the biblical author intended to make as he moves through the text verse by verse, does not want to hear this. It actually communicates to him that he has utterly failed in his task. He then didn't deliver God's Word that morning but his own thoughts. Though, unfortunately, there are too many pastors whose sermons result in the congregation learning more about themselves instead of God. But a pastor SHOULD be concerned with the congregation learning and applying what God has said to them in His Word instead of sharing his own thoughts or ponderings.

"Good message"
At a summer interim I served at while in seminary, I remember someone coming up to me after the service and saying this. I asked the person if they would thank the mailman for the letter their grandmother had written to them. They told me that they wouldn't because he did not write it. I then proceeded to tell them that I did not write the message I shared that morning but only desired to communicate what God had said in His Word. I served as the "mailman" in this case and they should be thanking the Author of the letter. He then told me, "Well, thank you for delivering the message." That I could better accept. Always make sure that you thank your pastor appropriately, and that for what he has actually done, recognizing it through the work of God's grace.

"I enjoyed it"
Alongside of "good job," this saying appears to be borrowed from the theater. After watching a play, it is customary to say "good job" to the actors and let them know that you "enjoyed" the performance. This comes very close to communicating that someone viewed the sermon as entertainment, something that they would enjoy as a football game (when their team wins of course!) or a movie. But the sermon should not be entertainment but be the communication of the Word of God to the people of God. Many times it should be convicting. You would not say with a big grin on your face, "I enjoyed the sermon this morning. God really pointed out to me a sin I need His grace to work on and it grieves my heart." Though in a sense we always should "enjoy" reading and hearing God's Word proclaimed because of our joy in the One that Scripture points us to, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, I don't think that is what many seem to be communicating in uttering these words after a sermon. Otherwise that should be said every Sunday if the preacher is doing his appointed task with excellence.

"Thank you for the message"
This is the remedy to the problematic "good message" saying examined above. It humbles the pastor to remind him that it was not "his" personal message that he delivered but God's and it appropriately thanks him for the role that He played in God's work of sanctification in His people's lives. This is one of the better things one can say to their pastor and coupled with one of the following can be very beneficial to him.

"I really needed to hear that today"
This serves as very encouraging to your pastor. It communicates to him that God has used him that morning to minister His Word. It allows him to rejoice in God's grace in doing His work through such a weak and frail vessel. It reminds him of the purpose and power of preaching.

"I have been praying for you for this morning"
The more I serve in pastoral ministry, the more I recognize just how much I need God's grace to serve Him and His Church. For the serious preacher who is concerned about understanding God's Word and communicating it effectively, the sermon occupies much more time than just the 30-40 minutes on Sunday morning. Personally, I probably average close to 15-20 hours a week for sermon preparation. It is always encouraging to your pastor for him to know that those in the congregation are praying for the Spirit's aid in his labor to proclaim the precious words of the Lord. Though make sure that you only say this if it is true; that you HAVE BEEN praying for him and his task of preaching.

"To God be the glory!"
Here is a cry of worship! I believe that it was P. T. Forsyth who once said something to the effect of, "To have someone say 'that was a great sermon' is a sign of utter failure. The proper response should be 'what a great God!' " In fact, God's intention with His Word is to spur His people to worship. Isaiah 55:11 is often quoted or prayed at most worship services but seldom does anyone actually focus on what God's desire for His Word that goes out of His mouth really is. They fail to read verse 12 which follows it and shows what God's purpose is. It is worship! For the people to go out rejoicing and all of creation praising God. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (I just discovered this insight myself from Paul David Tripp in his book, "Dangerous Calling.") This should be the same statement that is on the heart of the pastor as he prepares to preach, delivers the message, and steps down from the pulpit. Saying this to him on the way out the door will allow him to join you in worshiping the great God the Scriptures reveal.

"I would like to talk to you later about some things God pointed out to me with that sermon" or "I have some questions about something you said this morning."
A major goal of a pastor is to disciple the flock that God has entrusted to him. Comments like this provide him an opportunity to do just that. Most pastors would love to hear this and make the time to sit down with you to discuss what God is saying in His Word and how that applies to your life further. It may take a moment though for them to get over the shock of the statement first since they don't hear it so often.

So this coming Sunday, after being blessed with hearing God's Word rightly proclaimed, as you stand in line to shake the pastor's hand, here are some things to keep in mind if you are struggling with how to comment on his sermon. I am sure that several more sayings could be added. These are just the ones that have come to my mind in my "ponderings" the past few days. God bless!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

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