Those entrusted with preaching or teaching the Bible will inevitably receive criticism, but they’ll also receive compliments. What we need to realize is that both criticisms and compliments have the power to feed the monster called pride in our hearts. Pride is like a coin with two sides. On one side is arrogance. The arrogant person is boastful and puffed up with a lofty view of themselves. On the other side of the coin of pride is self-pity. This is the person who wallows in misery and discouragement because they don’t feel they measure up to the standards they’ve created for themselves. Both arrogance and self-pity reside in a universe centered on “me.” The goal in this self-centered universe is not to exalt God, but rather to make a name for myself, in the place of God.
Compliments have the potential to be even more harmful than criticisms. A hunger for compliments as a leader will enslave you. Under the guise of gaining “feedback” you start looking for compliments, trying to fish for them from others. People quickly spot someone trolling in the waters for compliments. As a leader, you can begin to measure your success by the quality and quantity of the compliments you receive. This is a dangerous place to be. You start to take yourself too seriously. You become consumed with your perceived image. You start to think you’re a pretty big deal, even indispensable. But, God will not be mocked. He doesn’t like to share his throne. The compliment-seeking leader has a downfall coming. Proverbs 16:18 warns, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
How can pastors listen to positive feedback without thinking too highly or too lowly of themselves? Here are three principles for responding to compliments:
1) Receive the compliment with humility and thankfulness.
God uses encouragement within his church as a tool for edification (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:3). Pastors need to learn how to receive encouraging compliments from those in their congregations without having a head that swells up from pride. When someone offers a compliment, the preacher’s response should not be, “Oh, really, it was nothing.” A better response would be to genuinely say, “Thank you.” It may also be helpful to ask, “What part of what I said were you most encouraged by?” This gives you feedback to evaluate and learn from.
2) Give credit where credit is due.
When someone gives a compliment, the pastor should recognize others who had a part in the ministry. Affirming those who have support roles can help to guard the leader against arrogantly taking credit for work others have done (cf. Romans 13:7). One of the primary analogies for the church in the New Testament is a human body (see 1 Corinthians 12). Every part is necessary and there are no insignificant parts. As a pastor, beware of thinking you’re one of the most significant parts of the body.
3) Give glory to God.
Directing the compliment to God helps one remain humble when experiencing praise from people. Jesus says in John 15:5, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” The pastor must remember all credit must go to God for anything good or praiseworthy. God is the one who must supernaturally break through to people’s hearts through the power of his Holy Spirit. He is sovereign and all things are “from him, through him, and to him” (Romans 11:36). God is in the business of spreading his fame, and he invites us to join him in this mission.