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As a guest preacher, I can clear my mind before rising to preach and start fresh. This is the high point of my week, and in most cases, nothing has happened to cloud my focus or burden my spirit. I am going to give this my best.
Pastors of congregations, however, are often in an entirely different situation.
As a pastor enters the sanctuary to begin the worship service and preach the sermon that has weighed heavily on his mind and heart all week, this is not the only thing on his mind. Things happened at his home earlier this morning, in the car driving to church and during Sunday school. Then, someone stopped by his office with a complaint or a problem, a staff member did something poorly (or wrong) in the early part of the worship service and several musicians are absent today. A family is not sitting where they normally do, we have several new people—That's good; sure hope they like us!—and a light bulb is out over the balcony.
The pastor knows this service is the high point of the week for many, and the sermon should be that for him. But this is Sunday, a full day of work for the leader of the congregation. The budget planning committee meets this afternoon at 3, the deacons at 4, a class at 5 and the preacher will be bringing another sermon at 6. Someone wants to have an after-church fellowship tonight, and he has to leave town early tomorrow to attend a convention in the state capital.
In the service, the pastor sees he picked up the wrong Bible for the sermon today—he prefers that other version of the text—he wonders where his notes are, and he's uncertain about point three of his sermon.
All of these things happen. Ask any pastor. But—and you may take this to the bank—when the moment comes, he will walk to the podium and give it his best shot. He will do all he can to deliver that message as though he had nothing else to prepare for all week.
It's the work of a pastor.
Pray for your preacher. Pray the Lord will protect his mind and heart, give him peace which passes understanding and sharpen his focus on the sermon. Pray for those around him, that they will be a strength to his ministry and not a burden.
Protect Your Peace, Pastor
It's good for pastors to take efforts toward protecting their peace of mind before entering the service. If necessary, he may need to enlist the aid of a colleague to run interference. The pastor will need to be proactive in telling himself that nothing that happens today—not the lighting, the sound, the music, the ushers, bathrooms overflowing and running out of toilet paper, nothing!—is as important as what he is about to share. So, he must not be perturbed, disturbed or bumfuzzled.
He needs to be clear-headed, warm-hearted and Spirit-filled.
I was guest preaching in a church below Birmingham and had spent the night with my brother's family. After breakfast, I left early in order to get to the church in plenty of time. I was feeling good, it was a lovely morning, and I'd be preaching two services this morning. And I got a ticket.
The Gardendale, Alabama, policeman gave me a ticket for running a red light, which I did not do. I had stopped just ahead of the white line when I spotted that the turn signal was red. Across the intersection, a cop was sitting there in his car watching me. "Whew!" I thought. "I dodged that bullet." The light changed and I turned, heading toward the interstate. The policeman pulled out, turned on his blue light, and ticketed me for running a red light.
When I tried to engage him in a conversation ("Sir, I was ahead of the white line, but I did not run the light. I stopped in plenty of time."), he was silent. He actually said nothing more, but wrote the ticket and went on his way. (Later, my brother-in-law, a detective with the local sheriff's office, printed out the law which the cop had written on the ticket as my violation. It has nothing to do with running red lights. This was a speed trap. Because I had an out-of-state tag, the policeman knew it was safe to ticket me.)
I have no words to say how frustrating this was. (Because I lived nearly 400 miles away, I did not return for the court date but sent my check for $120. As you can tell, I was unhappy then and have been ever since.)
Now, I'm about to arrive at a church in 15 minutes and get up and preach. And I'm upset. And somewhat angry. Righteous indignation even.
You can believe I had to do some serious praying on the final leg of my drive to put this out of my mind and do the far more serious work of serving the Lord God.
Some people say men are more able to do this than women because we find it easier to compartmentalize our lives. Maybe so. The sermons go in this compartment, our home life in this one, the staff relationships in another and so forth. If that's true—and it has pretty much been the case with me—it's probably saved my sanity more than once. When I walked into the pulpit, I had to turn off the negativity, whether it was fueled by my wife's being peeved at me for something, a deacon's being upset for a perceived problem, a church family angry for some reason, a committee with an agenda of its own or a problem with the entire congregation.
Ask any pastor. It goes with the job.
What a pastor must never do is vent from the pulpit. He must never unload his anger in the sermon. If he's having a problem with one person or the entire church, no one should be able to tell it by the Spirit-filled sermon he delivers.
That's just one more reason why pastors are God-called. It's impossible to do these things in the flesh.
After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.
This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.
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