There is a lot of pressure preaching every week. It feels like everyone is waiting for the preacher to either “feed” them something they consider good enough to come back for another meal, or give something to will justify their reasons for leaving. It’s rather disturbing to watch and hear the “feeding” of the flock play out on a given Sunday. I have seen it all, the rolling eyes at the mispronunciation of a Greek Word, the feverish flipping of pages (sure sign of a brewing debate over context), or my personal favorite, the you’re” putting me to sleep-teary-eyed-try to hold my yawn in-grimace. Of course, we won’t even mention the people whose bladder-control is completely lost as they go to the restroom 25 times, not to be confused with the “bad back bandit” who has to get up and walk or else they’ll “stiffen” up. And it doesn’t help to know that, for any given passage one might preach, there hundreds of podcasts (like Christian Take-out) available to listen to that will give one what they”really” need as they dream about what it would be like to be at that church.
If the outside pressure isn’t enough, the internal criticism that a pastor will bring upon himself is sufficient to launch a regular Sunday afternoon depression. All that to say, this last Sunday sermon, during first service, on Joshua 20 and 21 felt like a train wreck to me. Quite honestly, the entire first service felt like a train wreck. The morning started a bit slow, understandably, as it was the night to “spring forward” to save some daylight. The band had to restart a song after starting. The words to the only new song we sang were missing preventing anyone from singing,minus the band. Even the lights proved too dark for regular Scripture reading before the sermon. Everything was just a little off. I should have expected the sermon to follow suit. Instead, I didn’t see the gap in the tracks until the train was already steaming strong. Sometimes train wrecks are obvious to the guy preaching–even before they happen. He feels it, perhaps even expects it because he knows he didn’t prepare or pray well. When Charles Spurgeon approached his pulpit to preach every Sunday, it has been said that he repeated to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit…I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes, the train is wreck is completely unexpected–but there are subtle hints. Some hints of wreckage includes compliments from those who don’t really ever give them–almost like a “Don’t worry…accidents happen”‘ type of feeling. Others will say things like, “I learned a lot”. Some people say nothing—silence….crickets…no response before, during, or after. Overall, the experience feels more like a structured event (and a bad one) as opposed to a spirit-filled gathering.
I have had this experience before and I expect I will have this experience again. The truth is God use these experiences to change us, not necessarily to make us better preachers, but better people–whether we are the preacher or the hearer. I believe that Satan often hooks us where we are most passionate or gifted. That is likely why we find some many preachers struggle with pride. Sunday, first service, has caused me to question my own motivations for preaching; to ask who this is really about and who, as Moses learned, made the tongue to speak in the first place. For whatever reason, if God seemed strangely “absent” (though I know he wasn’t) at first service, he seemed quite present at second. It felt completely different. The music sounded different. The environment felt different. Even the sermon sounded different. Though the 2nd sermon usually is a bit more polished, having been practiced, this Sunday was significantly so. I don’t know why exactly, but I know that there was a difference. I find I am tempted to want wish that “everyone” listens, or re-listens to the second sermon. That the first sermon, and overall service, were a bad representation of Damascus Road, a bad representation of the text, a bad representation of God. What I probably mean is that, it was a “bad” representation of me. This smells like pride. So, I believe it is a mistake to think that first service was a throw away, an accidental train wreck that could have been avoided. It was intended to be spoken as it was spoken. To think otherwise is to come dangerously close to wrongly believing that God’s glory in my preaching is ultimately dependent upon me.
For further reading, there is a linked blog that is also helpful for all of us who experience a “bad” sermon from pastors. Be warned, however, it is convicting. Once you read it, you’re responsible for what it says: What to do when your pastor preaches a sermon dud.