A few weeks ago, as I began my 25th year of ministry at Emmanuel, I composed a list of 25 random things I have learned in the pastorate. Some are light-hearted. Some were learned at the school of hard knocks. I pray they are each an encouragement to you.
1. The good sermons are never as good as you thought. The bad ones aren’t usually as bad as you thought.
We pastors are our worst preaching critics. And I’ve preached and pastored long enough to know that you never really know what God did with a message. There have been times I have preached very poor sermons only to discover the Father used it in a powerful way in someone’s life.
I’ve been a pastor for nearly 19 years at the same church. To date, the “worst sermon” I ever preached was followed by a most incredible story. One Sunday night after preaching the evening message, I told a staff member to be sure not to post the audio on our website or podcast. It really was a poorly-delivered message.
That very week, a couple sat tearfully in my office. They could barely speak. The man finally revealed that he was a fugitive from the law. He was a “wanted man” in another state. He testified that God had used the evening sermon to convict his heart. He confessed his sin and committed to turn himself in to law enforcement. The rest of that story is too long to share here but it remains one of the most incredible stories of redemption I have ever seen. And God used a badly-delivered proclamation of truth to start it all.
I still did not post the sermon online. Homiletically, it was as bad as it had ever been! But I was reminded of a truth I’ve learned numerous times: the fruit from a sermon will be better judged at the end of the age than at the end of the service.
2. You are going to occasionally quote Paul from the book of James and make other gaffes. And that “one guy” will notice.
It is very frustrating to misstate a Bible reference, name the wrong Israelite king, or even mention Elisha confronting the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. I have described how God makes oysters inside pearls…and far worse.
I once toured the studio of my preaching hero. The host described the editing process that occurs every week before sermons are published. He commented on how they redact the pastor’s flubs, errors, and gaffes. When someone said we could not imagine this legendary preacher making mistakes, the host quipped, “That means we are doing our job.”
I realized then that David Jeremiah is almost as good a teacher as the guy on “Turning Point.” Adrian Rogers is nearly as gifted as the host of “Love Worth Finding.” And the average pastor is unfairly compared to celebrity preachers who are incredible communicators…just not as incredible as we think they are.
Every person who regularly speaks will occasionally misspeak. Try to let it roll off of you like ducks off a water’s back…yes, I said that one too.
3. Some people have no sense of humor. You don’t have to find them. They will find you.
The proper use of humor in sermons has long been a matter of debate. Humor can be very effective. Properly used, it can disarm a critic. It can soften the blow, prepare the heart, and drive home the point. Like a good fisherman setting the hook, a funny story can be used to “set the hook” of truth.
A few people think that sermon humor is always inappropriate. One such man berated me one day with a reminder that the lost condition of the world should prohibit laughter. “We should not be laughing while the world is on its way to Hell,” he cried. Of course, I never recalled his great evangelistic zeal. But that is another story.
Still, the pastor should be cautious in the use of humor. It can overshadow the message. And on occasion, it can offend. When it does, you will not have to wonder. Someone will let you know. And in today’s social media world, it may even be someone you do not know and who does not know you.
4. Typically, an apology is more effective than an explanation although there is occasionally a need for both.
In my marriage counseling sessions, I often say, “A great explanation is often received as a poor justification.” Every action has a reason. Even the sinful ones. Sometimes the reason is as simple as, “I sinned.”
As a pastor, a husband, and a dad I have had to learn the value of simply saying, “I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?” Then stop talking and let the Spirit work.
Once the conflict itself is resolved through repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation the explanation can be helpful to provide context. But in any case, “I am sorry,” is a great way to lead a conversation when someone is offended.
5. Whoever first said, “Don’t defend yourself because your friends don’t need it and your critics won’t accept it” should receive an honorary Dove award. Or a Nobel prize. Or something.
If you need an explanation on this advice, ignore it one time.
Pastor Mike’s “25 Random Things I’ve Learned” were originally posted on Twitter. The first five are offered here along with some commentary that the space limitations of Twitter do not allow. Future posts will cover the remainder of the list.