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How to Take Compliments (Without Being a Jerk)

On the way out of our little Texas church one Sunday, a man new to faith said he liked my sermon that morning. I put on my best “aw shucks” look and mumbled something about not being much of a preacher, but I appreciated the compliment.

He stopped and said, “Pastor, can I give you some feedback? When you respond to my compliment like that, it sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about. It makes me feel foolish for having said anything.”

I was dumbfounded. I thought I was doing a great job of playing the humble preacher, but I actually offended a man for his kindness.

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation in the years since. What is the right way to handle compliments?

How do you receive the praise, affirm the giver and credit God, all while avoiding a soul-shrinking addiction to flattery? If you are in any kind of public ministry, I imagine you struggle with this balance as well.

Here are some principles I try to remind myself of every time I receive a compliment.

Seven ways to handle compliments.

1. Don’t deflect the compliment.

As I learned from my friend in Texas, deflecting a compliment makes the giver feel foolish. What they are saying is, they thought you did a good job. That is their opinion and they are welcome to it.

A simple, “Thank you, that really means a lot,” is much better than, “I’m just a tool being used by God.” (Pun intended.)

2. If God has gifted ,then you should be good at it.

Compliments shouldn’t go to your head. If God has truly gifted you, then you should be good at what you do.

If people compliment your preaching or singing or art, it is positive reflection on God. It is the same as one of Rembrandt’s students hearing he captured the style of the master. 

When I receive a compliment, I try to remind myself how awesome it is to be used by God.

3. Compliments (and complaints) often are more about the person than you.

I recently did a message on John 20, and I shared the reasons I believe in the resurrection. I received several compliments from members of the congregation who feel we don’t spend enough time on apologetics.

They weren’t complimenting my preaching, they were complimenting my choice of subject matter. Beware hidden agendas in compliments and complaints.

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Geoff has served on the leadership teams at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church, and as Managing Director of Exponential. He is the author of several books, including Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry written with his wife Sherry. Along with writing, Geoff coaches churches and leaders around the U.S. and in Europe. Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado. Twitter: @geoffsurratt