The glorification of me, the worm

glorification of the wormIn some churches, when the Sunday morning worship service is over, the pastor stands at the back door and shakes everyone’s hand as they leave. Most people typically thank the pastor and tell him how wonderful the sermon was. Personally, I have a hard time with that.

Last week I “preached” twice: once at our community’s high school baccalaureate service and again at all three church services for Graduation Sunday. After each time, people tell me, “Tim, you did a great job!” Sometimes I feel they’re just saying that because they’re not sure how else to start a conversation with me after I was just on stage in front of everyone. Other times I sense that they truly are genuinely thankful for the message. But either way, I’ve found that I really wish I could remove myself from too much praise or criticism right after teaching. In fact, despite wanting to hang around after the baccalaureate service and talk with seniors, I left right away.

My buddy, Tony Myles, wrote something several years ago that has stuck with me. He said:

“I am most vulnerable to criticism right after a sermon, and tend to take [criticism] too deeply in that moment. Likewise, it’s the worst time for me to hear affirmation because then my ego just gets bigger.”

That is so totally true for me. After the baccalaureate I really had to distance myself from all the praise because I was hearing it too much. So I left. Preaching at church last weekend felt somewhat similar. Moments after I finish teaching, I’m way too emotionally attached to the message and vulnerable to really hear anything objectively, whether praise or criticism. I really need about a day to pass before I can respond to feedback with a level head. Otherwise I get too cocky or hurt, depressed, or defensive.

While attending Dallas Theological Seminary, one of my professors, Howard Hendricks, called “sermon praise” the “glorification of the worm.” I am, in fact, a lowly worm, a very inadequate vessel for communicating God’s Word. Anything good that comes as a result of anything I say is solely a work of the Holy Spirit, not me. I’m so thankful that He chooses to work in spite of me, never because of me.

Posted on June 9, 2009

  • Shelby Craig

    Good Post Tim! I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel that same way after preaching in "Big Church". I had someone tell me the week our pastor's father died, that they preferred me preaching over our senior pastor. What do you say to that? AND in the grief that he was going through.

    Anyways, great job! Hope all is well.

  • agreed…great post. but even worms have issues. love this story about sir winston churchill…. "We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glowworm.",9171,…

    understanding our place is important, but so is hearing praise…when you speak from your good heart, it has an impact. well done.

  • I relate to you perfectly on this one. I've begun responding to "praise" with a simple, "Thanks. Praise the Lord." It has for me helped to check the pride that can quickly build when compliments are given. I've even noticed that now some people don't even tell me how well I did anymore. Instead, they come up to me and say, "Praise the Lord." They're catching on.

  • Right there with you. I try to just smile and nod and tune it out, they say thank you or good job and I say you're welcome. Since I've always worked at small churches I couldn't get away with leaving… someone had to lock the doors and turn off the lights! (the real reason for the preacher. ;))

    @shelby- I typically respond to that comment by saying, "It's easy to preach one week, the skill comes in doing it every week." I don't know if that's really true but I think it's proper to point people in the pews back to the main preaching pastor. Internally I recognize that it's just nice to have a break from the main preacher every once in a while. Variety is a good thing!

  • I preach each week and am reminded that Sunday is when most people lie to you straight to your face and say Great sermon …while they were asleep the whole time!!

  • I guess I'm kinda curious to know what the criteria is that's being used to determine if it's "good" or not. Is it good if I just make it through the message? If they feel convicted? If they stayed awake? If they thought it was interesting? If they learned something new? All of the above? It seems to me that it's only "good" if the Holy Spirit uses it to prompt life-change in someone, which something that's outside my control and doesn't come from me anyway.

  • Great post Tim – not only do we need to guard against our egos being overly inflated by the cultural "great sermon" comments that inevitably come but we also have to guard against our own high opinions of ourselves. Many times when I feel the message is "really great – I can't wait to preach this one" it bombs. At other times when I go into the pulpit feeling "less than ready – this isn't going to be one of my better efforts" things go really well. That's when the Holy Spirit takes over and I'm reminded it's not about me anyway – it's all a work of Him. I guess Jeremiah said it best: "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked – who can know it?"

  • Adam

    In the American church, I would say that it was well presented and contained theology and explanations they agree with.

    I had this exact same experience preaching this past Sunday. Typically, I try to find someone like the worship leader that I can talk to, and talk about the next service adjustments. Sounds heartless and mechanical, but I dont' have to deal with empty or ego-inflating praise. Those that want to challenge or criticize me will usually hang out long enough to talk to me…

  • I wonder if this happens with blog post comments, too. You know, when someone simply writes, "I agree with you 100%, great post!," without really telling you anything new.

    Or even events. Does an event turn out great just because everyone walks away happy?

    I never know how to respond when someone asks me "How did it go?", referring to a sermon. What am I supposed to say? From my perspective it could be good or bad. I can't tell if there was life change in someone. That's where I have to trust the promises of God and His work in the lives of people.

  • Tim –
    I feel your pain brother! Now that I am preaching once every month I have had to wrestle with this even more. I like Deek’s comment about saying “Praise the Lord!” I might just try that. Here are some other things that have worked well for me:
    If I’m not shaking hands as people stream out the door I will often say, “Thank you. What did you find ‘good’ about it?” or “What was it that you liked?” Something along these lines often gives me more helpful feedback. It also has the added advantage of making people think twice about saying “good sermon” as a way of filling the silence while shaking a hand.
    When I’m wandering through the foyer after the sermon I will also often approach people and begin the conversation myself by saying something like: “How has your weekend been?” By making a preemptive strike you find out that most people really aren’t that interested in talking about your sermon. Those that do talk to you about it after beginning on another topic usually have something helpful to say. I have also used this approach while shaking hands at the door (something I often don’t do anymore).

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