You can’t phone it in.
Itzhak Perlman is a champion violinist. Disabled by polio in early childhood, he gets around on a scooter or with hand walkers and is arguably the world’s greatest living violin virtuoso.
Hear him once and you are a fan for life.
In USA Today for Wednesday September 2, 2015, Perlman said, “If you are a golfer, you have to be reliable. But you cannot do that as a musician. The challenge, as I tell my students, is not how you play something the first time. What about the 10th, or the 50th, or the 150th? Am I going to play something the way I did last time? Maybe yes, maybe no, but the point is never to go on automatic.”
We preachers know about going on automatic. It’s what actors call “phoning it in.”
Some of the things we do in ministry, we do for the 50th and 150th time. Consider….
I’m thinking of one-on-one conversations in which a pastor might ask personal or intimate questions of the church member.
Some things you just do not need to know.
Do not ask questions such as these:
1. How did you vote on that issue?
2. Are you a Democrat or Republican?
3. Will you support my political candidate?
“Be thou humble, preacher.” (Stated and repeated and reinforced one way or the other in a hundred scriptures such as Isaiah 57:15, Micah 6:8, and I Peter 5:7.)
It’s a personality type, I suppose. If Mr. Hotshot were not a preacher, but were a bus driver or school principal, a politician or insurance agent, he would still be full of himself and cocky. But as unpleasant as that trait is in any profession, it’s ugliest and deadliest in one who claims to be a man of God.
You’re in churc listening to him preach. He’s not five minutes into the message before you realize Mr. Hotshot is on full display before you in the flesh. His words and mannerisms give him away. Listen to him:
— “I told my…I want my…My convictions are…I believe…I insist that my staff….”
All church employees are “my staff,” the new program is “something God told me to do,” and this sermon is “My strong conviction.”
It’s all about him.
Good title, right?
Now a confession. I was never afraid to stand in front of a group and speak. In fact, quite the opposite.
In our little West Virginia schoolhouse, teacher Margaret Meadows would invite her fourth-graders to share a story they had read recently. I recall Violet Garten (love that name!) was so good at it. But when she called on me–I’m the kid frantically waving my hand–and I walked to the front of the class, I broke the rules.
I did not tell a story I had read somewhere.
(I wrote this a few years back, so it’s dated. Nevertheless, I’m going to leave it as it was. Pastor David Crosby and Pastor Jay Wolf have both retired from their churches, although they’re still around. David is interim pastor at FBC Gatesville, TX and I’m sure Jay is preaching around Montgomery, AL somewhere. Okay…..)
Not long ago, on a Sunday when I wasn’t preaching anywhere, I dropped in on a church service not far from my house. A luxury of being retired from pastoring and denominational service is that–with the okay of my pastor–sometimes I visit churches led by friends of mine.
That day, I saw something that struck me as precious and extremely rare.
I’ve thought about that conversation ever since.
A friend whom I know only from our internet exchanges wanted to know if in all the articles on my website, there was anything on a text he was researching.
I responded that I could not recall dealing with those verses, but suggested where he might find help. Then, I said, “Are you preaching on that text?”
I had no idea whether he was a pastor or not.
It turned out he was a layman and had been asked to bring a message that Wednesday night to his church. The Lord had laid on his heart a text, and he was trying to find out all he could on it. Good for him.
Then he said something which has lingered with me ever since: I want to give the people truths from this passage which they will remember the rest of their lives.
Wow. Big assignment he has given himself.
In his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg makes a confession. You get the impression that it was not easy in coming.
The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of messages on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.
This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150.
This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!” The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra.
My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly:
“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13).
Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders as opposed to giving them.
That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his earthly work was finished and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.
For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.
What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?
After the death of comic genius Robin Williams, someone was reminiscing about the time he preceded Bob Hope on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
For some reason, Bob Hope was late arriving at the studio that night. So, instead of Robin Williams following him, which had been the plan, Williams went on stage first and did his hilarious knock-em-dead routine. People were beside themselves with laughter.
The great Bob Hope arrived and had to follow that.
Robin Williams said, “I don’t think he was angry, but he was not pleased.”
As Bob Hope walked out onto the stage and settled into the chair, Johnny Carson said, “Robin Williams. Isn’t he funny?” Hope said, “Yeah. He’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.”
Let’s talk about me. I smile. Even the great Bob Hope could not handle that.
No right-thinking person would voluntarily follow Robin Williams on the program.