“And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” – Matthew 4:19 (ESV)
Maybe you’ve felt the same way I have…
You’ve just finished preaching. The worship team is singing. And you’re critically reviewing everything you just said in the last 20-40 minutes.
Some Sundays you feel great after preaching. Yet there are days when things just don’t go the way you had imagined them and you’re at a loss. Maybe you simply feel vulnerable. Maybe you saw someone wince at one of your carefully crafted statements. Maybe you just felt like you flopped.
That’s when the temptation begins
You want to feel better about what just happened. You just want to know that you did a good job…that you’re in the right place. This is especially true if you’re inexperienced and it’ll be further compounded if your leadership tends to be heavy-handed.
So what do you do? You go fishing. “Hey Brian! What’d you think of the message? Did you think I spent enough time talking about ______? Did I talk too fast? Did the sermon hit home for you? Do you think people heard what I was trying to say?”
While feedback is necessary to improve at anything, soliciting feedback right after the message is a trap and I fell into it hard when I first started preaching. In fact, there are weeks I still feel the urge to seek validation outside of God and God alone.
I wasn’t fishing for men. I was fishing for compliments.
2 Timothy 4 tells us to preach the word with complete and sound teaching. It warns us, however, that a time is coming when people won’t endure sound teaching and instead have itchy ears. They will find teachers that will scratch the itch and tell them what they want to hear.
Fishing for compliments is more about scratching itchy ears than it is about displaying the truth and the power of God. As a result, you’re looking to give them something that sells them on you and your church rather than on Jesus and the good news of the Gospel. If you go down that path, you’re no longer preaching. You’re just entertaining.
Here are five steps I’ve taken to keep that temptation at bay and be a fisher of men.
1. Pray Up
If you just rolled your eyes, you’re not alone. I’ve done the same thing. This shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but it needs to be. While it’s common sense advice, I know many (including myself at times) who don’t spend enough time in prayer.
When I am praying every single day of the week for the words I will speak on Sunday morning, the difference is incredible. Sermons bathed in prayer that I felt uneasy with landed with far more force than the sermons I poured hours into without prayer. Don’t underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit working among your church. If the Spirit can translate languages on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit can take a message you’ve prepared and help it land with conviction and excitement.
2. Prepare Well
I’m not a fan of the “Wing It” philosophy. While there are times that I go off script, it’s usually not just a rant or off the cuff. I’ve probably thought about it during my study. But generally I find I walk away from a message feeling like I did my job when I can look back and see the perfect combination of preparation and delivery mixed with the power of the Spirit at work in me. When I can look back and know I delivered truth and the Gospel, it helps me cope with those emotions directly after I finish the message.
3. Know Your Mission
What is the mission of your preaching? I’m not talking about that specific Sunday. Think long term. What does the grand-scale of your preaching look like? I know some will spend more time teaching while others will be heavy in worship and pumping the body of Christ full of energy. Either way, we’re called to proclaim the Gospel. Know your mission wherever you land on that scale. This way you can walk away and actually measure whether or not you achieved your mission.
4. Evaluate Your Message
Even if it’s not going on your website, it’s a great idea to video record your sermons and watch them back so you can critique yourself. If you are able to put yourself in the shoes of your listeners and judge yourself objectively, as difficult as it might be, it’s incredibly worth it. After time you can be reassured that the way you’re presenting is solid and disciplined.
You might also want to come up with a way to get feedback from others. Just don’t do it right after you preach. You might want to do it survey style or find a good group of a few people who will be lovingly honest in what they thought of your whole presentation.
5. Check Your Heart
Chances are this isn’t going to be the only place this attitude shows up. It’s a sign that there’s an issue in your own heart. For me, I needed to be told that I was doing and saying the right things. It revealed a lack of confidence in my calling and a desire to have my ego boosted by people. Simply uncovering these truths allowed me to reconfirm my calling to preach and humble myself before God and the people he’s called me to serve. Look at it as an opportunity to grow in the Lord.
Preachers, be careful what you fish for. Be confident, yet disciplined in your calling. You have an opportunity that not many others have. There’s a very real pressure at times to perform and make people happy with what you said and how you said it. But don’t sell your calling short. Speak with confidence in the authority of the Scriptures and speak to deliver the truth in love. God’s people will follow your lead. Teach them to protect their hearts and to be fishers of men.
How have you fought back against this temptation to fish for compliments? Let me know in the comments below!