While it’s always a joy to be encouraged by others, not all encouragement is created equal. Thinking through the right and best words can make the encouragement greater to both the one offering it and the one receiving it. Having spoken to many preachers and having preached a fair bit myself, I began considering the kind of encouragement that preachers most love to hear. I thought I’d pass them along and provide a brief explanation for each. As you dig beneath the actual words, I think you’ll see why they may be more meaningful (to you and to the preacher) than “Great sermon!” or “Good job!”
”I saw Jesus” (and/or “I forgot about you”). The preacher’s calling and great delight is to point beyond himself to Jesus Christ. He fights against the desire to be seen and noticed and praised so that Jesus can be seen and noticed and praised. As he prepares his sermon and considers its content, he deliberately removes any elements that may make him the hero or the center of attention. As he considers its delivery, he thinks about when to raise and lower his voice, when to press in and when to back off, so that he never hinders the message through his own prominence. The faithful preacher is content to be forgotten so Jesus can be remembered. “I forgot all about you” may be one of the most encouraging things a preacher can hear.
“I better understand the passage.” While a sermon and Bible study are very different, they do overlap in their purpose of explaining what Scripture says. The preacher takes a text and does his utmost to explain what it means, how it points to Jesus, and how it confronts the listener. Ideally, he discovers the point or central theme of the text and ensures that this is also the point or central theme of his sermon. It is a great encouragement to the preacher when he knows that his hard work of preparation has led his listeners to better understand the passage. (I think we can all agree a sermon fails when it obscures a text rather than clarifies it.)
“I made this application.” While a successful sermon will clarify a text, it will not stop there. Rather, it will also provide or provoke some kind of personal application. We are, after all, to be doers of the Word rather than mere hearers (James 1:22). We ought to listen to preaching with the kind of posture in which we are eager to have the Holy Spirit move us to action, whether that action is internal (perhaps putting off a sin or putting on a new habit of righteousness) or external (perhaps committing to do good toward another person or approaching someone to seek their forgiveness). Sharing some of that personal application with the preacher can be a great source of affirmation and encouragement.
“I talked about it over lunch.” While we listen to sermons as individuals, we also listen to them as congregations; while we can apply sermons alone, we can also apply them together. We often find that the best and sharpest application comes when we discuss the sermon with others who heard it so we can share insights and application. Simply telling the pastor that the sermon was a source of discussion and mutual edification after the service can be tremendously encouraging.
These are just a few examples of the kind of encouragement preachers love to hear. I expect you’ve noticed that the best ways to encourage a pastor about his preaching are also the best ways to personally gain the most benefit from it. Prepare yourself to bring this kind of encouragement and you’ll prepare yourself to see Jesus instead of the preacher, to better understand the passage, to apply it to your life, and to discuss it with others so you can apply it together.