I failed {sound familiar}

I have a preacher friend, don’t we all! They preached a few Sundays ago and someone commented – not to their face, gosh we are church we don’t do that but to the preacher friend’s boss.

The complaint was ‘it wasn’t expositional’, these weren’t the words. The words were about the sermon not being related more to the text. Furthermore, the Bible reading was too long.

In fact, it was one of those complaints that lingers like an egg sandwich on a coach trip. The actual sandwich for the person eating it is lovely, they feel satisfied and hunger is dispelled. However, for the other passengers, the experience is not so pleasant. The sulphur in hard boiled eggs that is present in good ones and bad ones is released into the sandwich and the cling film or foil keeps it in. Until the unwrapping of the sandwich when the smell pervades the bigger space of the coach.

The giver of the complaint is satisfied, they have made their feelings known and tootle off. But for the boss, the preacher and anyone who hears at the time the sulphur does its work.

Any preacher can and probably does give a message that is sometimes not fully thought out, not prepared well and perhaps sometimes can be a rant or soapbox.

A long time ago now I went for some soothing words from a preacher who had the same personality as me. They lived on the other side of the world, had anxieties around their speaking voice among many. I listened to the preach and was blown away by this part testimony, part real-life mission, part inner life of the Christian, part cost and it spoke into my heart – to preach and preach well whenever and however I could. Later that day I was compelled to go and find TJ (the preacher) and chat, to see what was new in their life and I discovered, to my horror that they were dead. That this was their last ever preach. This was their preaching testimony.

I preached on Sunday, I preached badly. I strayed off script (which is ok because it is usually Spirit led) but I couldn’t tie it back to the script. It was a fail. But I learned a whole lot in that fail that I will hold onto going forward. I knew twenty minutes into the service that I would need to rewrite in my head the prepared sermon so as not to cause offense and it all went downhill from there.

But here is the thing, it didn’t matter. Apparently, I shared a whole lot more of my testimony than I usually do, apparently the conversations had after the meal were so life giving and vital that the few minutes of train wreck preach will be forgotten [one day]. I had a text message of support and encouragement, I received from my boss, soothing words from someone else who appreciated I stayed and ate with them.

Even as the train went off the rails and committed train hari-kari, even as it all started to go dreadfully wrong I felt at peace. Not to the extent of protection that I had when I first preached but certainly in that vein.

The ten-thirty minutes of preach on a Sunday is important, it could be those words that leads someone to Christ, or begins a period of deepening relationship with the Father, or can lead to someone realising the Holy Spirit is nudging them in some way. The words spoken must be therefore – of God, not heresy, not opposed to doctrine or church discipline, clear, concise, not over wordy, or long words, not overly about the “me” story unless it edifies the body of Christ, shows a point of change, gives God all the glory. Preaching is difficult, there is the tension of giving enough of self to show sincerity without it becoming the “me show.”

However, to be a fully rounded pastor type I must not allow my feelings about that 20 minutes on a Sunday rule the rest of my week. There is 24/7 – 20 minutes to account for. That is a lot of time, so much of the “worldliness” of church is spent marking the sermon on a Sunday it can feel a little like DWTS on a Saturday evening with score cards raised. Once that actually happened, score cards were raised by the congregation at my accreditation service. The visitors who had come to actually score my sermon were taken aback by them. It was just a funny end to a weird evening.

New memories of preaching days will be made in the future, words that made total sense in the middle of a Saturday night will sound disjointed and from the unravelling a druggie’s mind but hey ho. Each day, going forward, will be full of divine appointments and Godincidences that the 20 minutes will be put safely into perspective.

Each minute of each day has a vibrant, joyful could in it. I need to learn to tap into that, into the God of possibilities and surprises, into the God of love, mercy, grace moments.

If I remember nothing else from this experience of failing to deliver a message from God well, it is this… the egg sandwich smell may come but

I am a breath of fresh air

Ready and able for stale smells

Bring on the wind of change!

Ephesians 5:14

This is why it is said:

‘Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.’