Ever have one of those days?
Ever have one of those Sundays and you’re the preacher?
I sat in church last Sunday wondering if my pastor was struggling in his sermon. He’d chosen a difficult subject, one I’d had trouble with during my years in the pulpit, although Pastor Mike on a sub-par day is like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees when they’re less than a hundred percent: still very good.
Every pastor has those times, Sundays when they don’t feel good physically, maybe they had trouble sleeping, perhaps something in the church is troubling them, they’re worried about a relative, or it’s nothing they can identify. We’ve all been there.
What is a pastor to do then?
Answer: You preach.
You show up and do your job.
You go in the strength of the Lord since yours is inadequate.
You depend on the One who took a child’s small lunch and multiplied it to feed the thousands. You want Him to do something similar with your message.
You ignore your own misgivings about the sermon. You are a poor judge of your own preaching.
You accept the fact that this is not going to be your most memorable sermon. Or if it is, that God will have to do it.
You refuse to beat yourself up over how you did today.
You remind yourself that a lot of things happened today in church and your sermon was only one of them. People greeted each other and chatted and connected on a personal level, hymns and gospel songs were sung and lives were enriched, and scriptures were read and prayers were offered. Newcomers were welcomed and God’s people made new friends.
Ministriy occurred in a hundred places.
The worship service was preceded by Bible study classes for all ages. Teachers shared God’s word and members reached out to one another in the name of Jesus Christ.
Were these important? Did they minister to people? Was Christ exalted and was the gospel proclaimed?
You bet they were, and how you as pastor felt today had little to do with any of that.
Before you stood to preach, the Holy Spirit had already done a hundred things in your church that were Christ-exalting, gospel-preaching and people helping.
If your sermon was the only thing taking place in the building today, you might be justified in calling the service a failure and thinking the people went home unfulfilled. It wasn’t and they didn’t.
Our seminary preaching class was assigned to interview outstanding pastors and report back. My paper focused on a successful minister who had served a large church in our city for two decades. I still recall how Pastor Bill said his people would not allow his assistant pastors to fill the pulpit occasionally, that they wanted to hear the main pastor and no one else. He added, “I have to hit a home run every time I step up to the plate.”
He wasn’t complaining. In fact, the pressure of their expectations drove him to dig and prepare and plan in order never to enter the pulpit at less than his best.
Although I would never had said it, I had been preaching long enough to know the truth: No one is a hundred percent all the time.
No one hits it out of the park every time he comes up to bat.
We all have our off days. Even the champions among us.
I decided my pastor was having a less than stellar day by small things, the kind of subtle clues only another preacher would notice, particularly one who has heard him often and treasures him personally and loves his preaching.
What’s funny about this is that when we chatted on Monday about this article–I would never in a hundred years make him the subject of a piece without his approval!–it turns out that only one of the three “clues” I had picked up on was legitimate. In the other two instances, what he did was precisely what he had planned.
The one I got right was a small story that he had left open-ended (i.e., with loose ends dangling) in the sermon. I figured he must have been feeling an internal pressure to stay on point and thus abandoned his story prematurely.
Pastor Mike is a champion of preachers and holds two doctorates (real ones, not store-bought). He teaches preaching at our local seminary and is a great role model for young ministers.
If this pastor has an off day, fellow shepherd of the Lord’s people, write it down in big letters that the rest of us will also. But you knew that. What you did not know, perhaps, is that you’re not alone in this, that even the–pardon the expression–“big guys” do, too.
Pastor Mike has an important word about this. When I asked how he dealt with such a day when he felt out of sync, he said, “Job security helps.”
The congregation loves him and appreciates his preaching. Mike knows that no one will be lining up outside his office door on Monday clamoring for his resignation.
Besides, just before the benediction, Mike introduced twenty new church members to the congregation.
That will make any day special for a pastor!