When the preacher digs himself into a hole at the start of the sermon

The preacher begins his sermon with several minutes of foolishness. He sees a friend in the congregation, remembers a silly story about the two of them, and goofs off for five minutes.

Five golden minutes wasted. An opportunity he will never get back.

It’s a holiday weekend and the attendance is down. The pastor fusses at those who went to the trouble of being in their place, complaining about how people today don’t love the Lord as much as they used to.

What is he thinking, punishing those who come for the sins of those who don’t.

The guest preacher walked up to the pulpit. Every eye and a few TV cameras were on him. The congregation has been conditioned to expect the sermon from the first, without a lot of chit-chat.

The preacher did the usual greeting stuff, then said, “Before we get into the sermon, I want to tell you about my books that are in the foyer at the book table today.” Five minutes later–five precious minutes that were forever lost–after putting the congregation to sleep and losing all possibility of engaging them in the sermon, he began.

I wondered if he knew what he had done.

What each of these preachers had done, of course, was to dig himself into a hole before he ever started his sermon. He was like a runner beginning five yards behind the starting line. He wasted the best five minutes of any sermon by goofing off, fussing, giving a commercial for books.

Is there a place in the worship service for levity? A time to promote one’s books? (But no, there is no place for fussing at the congregation because some are absent today!) Probably there is. That time–if there is indeed a place for it–would more likely be the conclusion of the service, after the most important business has been done.

Pastors are often notorious for digging themselves into a hole at the start of the sermon, making everything they do in God’s message an uphill struggle. And it’s so unnecessary.

What to do….

Assuming the pastor has done that–moved his starting line five yards behind where the congregation had placed it–the question then becomes: What is he to do? How is he going to compensate for this?

These are my thoughts and no one else’s.

  1. First, there’s no way to undo it. Preacher, you blew it. Just try to make the most of the balance of your time.
  2. Don’t make it worse by apologizing or explaining or doing something else equally bad.
  3. Get into the sermon and preach it well.
  4. You might send up a few panicky “Lord help me” prayers in the middle of your preaching. I’ve done that.
  5. Learn from it, and try not to let it happen again.

One final thought…

There are exceptions to every rule, including this one.

If the setting is informal and everyone is relaxed, the congregation is probably more receptive to the off-the-cuff remarks from the preacher. I’m in a revival this week. Yazoo City, Mississippi’s Center Ridge Baptist Church is a laid-back congregation and a revival service is a great time for good fellowship. At the start of my sermon last night, I introduced my wife and told how God led us to each other nearly four years ago. Then, because I’m sketching everyone before and after the services, I told how my Mama started me drawing when I was five years old. I said, “My wife Margaret used to say I was the oldest person in the world whose mother still puts his artwork on the refrigerator.” And got a laugh.

Then, I went into the sermon.

Tonight, I will bring out the three books I’ll be placing on the table for them to consider purchasing. I’ll make a brief–really!–comment on each one. Sometimes I will add, “If you don’t have any money and really, really want one of these books, please take it as our gift to you.”

It’s important to know when something like this works and is acceptable and when it’s out of place.

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