From time to time, people in the congregation will come up to me after a Sunday morning service, saying, “That was the best sermon you have ever preached!” I know that these words have been spoken as an encouragement of how the Lord is using me in their lives. However, it has often felt more discouraging than encouraging.
I have been discouraged because I think of what their statement implies about the many of other messages they have heard me preach. I think of how lousy those sermons must have been for this particular message to be categorized as “the best.” However, one verse in the Bible has helped me to receive these words as encouragement.
Paul wrote to Timothy, a young and often discouraged pastor, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15). In the context, Paul was talking about Timothy’s public ministry. He was talking about the public reading of Scripture, his exhortations to the congregation, and his teaching of the church (1 Timothy 4:13).
Paul directed Timothy to aim for progress, not perfection. The goal is for those in the church to see Timothy’s growth in his shepherding of the flock. When I remember this, I’m not so discouraged whenever I preach a sermon that seemingly tops all of the rest. It shows my progress as a pastor.
Sadly, I don’t hear this every week. That’s because spiritual progress is often difficult and slow. But I’m encouraged whenever it is obvious to others.