Receiving compliments can be awkward. This is especially true if you are in ministry. While you want to be appreciated for the work you do, you also want to avoid taking the glory.
Nobody wants to be guilty of—or experience in—what Herod did in Acts 12 when the crowds chanted, “The voice of a god and not of a man,” and he was struck dead by an angel of the Lord for not giving glory to God. At the same time, we do not want to Jesus Juke people who are genuinely trying to thank us or testify to the work God is doing in their lives through our ministry.
The scenarios can vary, but I usually find myself receiving compliments following a sermon, though I have certainly received critiques as well. Someone will come up and say, “Pastor, that was an incredible sermon. I now understand what that passage means now.” I have had people come with tear-filled eyes say something like, “That sermon was meant especially for me. I’m giving my troubles over to Jesus now. Thank you.” In both, and many similar, scenarios, how should we respond when being complimented?
I certainly do not want to smugly say, “Well thanks, I really worked hard on that message and knew it would be good if people listened” or “That’s just what I do.” I sincerely hope you would never say the latter statement. Or do you Jesus Juke the complimenter? “Oh, don’t thank me, it wasn’t me at all,” as the person looks strangely around for the preacher who looks just like you. Do you tell them, “It was all God!” because I highly doubt it was THAT good.
We need to find the balance between receiving a compliment and giving God the glory. Here are three helpful steps you can take to do this.
Thank Them for the Encouragement
When I am complimented for something I do in ministry, I thank the person. Why? For many reasons. First, ministry is hard work and you do not always get to see the fruit of your labor. Second, when someone compliments my ministry it tells me God is using it in their life, that is incredibly encouraging to me. When complimented, I will say exactly that, “Thank you so much for the encouragement” or “Thank you for your encouraging words. I really appreciate it.” This lets the person know I am grateful for their words, and it lets them know it served as an encouragement to me—which is likely what they were aiming for in giving the compliment.
Express Your Joy in Serving God
I like to respond to a compliment by telling people, “It is my joy to use my gifts to serve God.” This accomplishes a few things. It conveys the reality that serving God is a joy. It really is. There are few things as joy-producing as serving God with your gifts. I want that to be known. That helps accomplish a second purpose—that they, too, can use their gifts to serve God and experience joy. We do not serve God out of duty, but out of delight. And even FOR delight. We should express this truth.
Give God Glory
Lastly, in responding to a compliment, I want to give God the glory. It is ultimately through God supplying both the gift and power behind it that anything I do can be helpful to anyone at all. That is the truth. The purpose of serving His people—and anything else I do in life—is to glorify God. How can I do this when receiving a compliment? I say something simple like, “Anything praiseworthy in me, is Him.” I am a sinner in need of moment-by-moment grace. If there is anything in me or through me, that can help others and point them to God, it is all His doing. It is easy for me to glorify God without making the person feel they have committed a crime for complimenting me.
What would this look like in a face-to-face conversation or social media interaction?
Congregant: “Pastor, thanks for that sermon. It very helpful. I’ve never heard it put that way before. That was so good.”
Pastor: “Thank you so much for the encouragement. I love serving God and our church in this way. I feel so unworthy to get to do this, because if there is anything praiseworthy in me, it is all Him. So I really appreciate your kind words.”
You do not have to say this verbatim. Any response of this form ensures we receive the compliment without making the person feel they did something wrong. It also ensures we receive the compliment without taking the glory from the only One who deserves it.