Audio-visual glitches, member outbursts, a fainting bridesmaid, and a light fixture fire are just a few of the surprises that may surface during the sermon. My goal in this chapter is to simply highlight some of the surprises you might run into so that they are no longer surprises. Some of these unexpected and unwanted occurrences cannot be avoided, no matter how hard we try. Yet if we know what might happen during the preaching event the shock is minimized and we can plan, in advance, how to respond in appropriate ways.
Fire station alarms and police car sirens, crying babies and cell phones, pouring rain and talkative teenagers, intoxicated sleepers and a loud motorcycle are just a few of the annoyances I have endured during the preaching event. Some of these are unavoidable. Do your best to keep preaching over the noise outside and inside of the church. You will probably have to raise your voice a bit until the police car goes by or the baby stops crying. Address the problem of talkative teenagers with gentleness and tact, but not during your sermon. Remind people before the service begins to silence their cell phones. Remember that people are watching the sermon you live, perhaps more intently than they are listening to the sermon you speak. No matter what surprise surfaces, be sure to respond to the annoyance with grace and composure. When the time is right, address those annoyances you can alleviate.
What do you do when a guy raises his hand in the middle of your sermon and, even though you managed to ignore him for ten minutes, refuses to put his hand down? Do you call on him or not? Well, I called on him and my preaching momentum, it seemed to me, was lost.
On another occasion a young man I will call the “preach it” guy showed up. I enjoy some verbal response to the sermon but this guy was downright distracting. He sat in the second row and no matter what I said, every two or three minutes he would yell out with a screechy voice, “preach it.” Many in the congregation were distracted and, along with me, on the verge of laughter for most of the sermon. It probably didn’t help that the assistant pastor was sitting right behind the “preach it” guy, laughing his head off. There is nothing we can do about these outbursts. Developing a hospitable church culture that is welcome to all may even contribute to some of these outbursts. But it’s worth it. Preachers must learn to “ride out” these outbursts without blowing our lids. Someday we may look back upon these moments as fond preaching memories like I’m doing here.
In one of the churches I served we experienced audio-visual glitches just about every week. Videos wouldn’t play at all, or we would hear the sound without seeing the video, or see the video without hearing the sound. This drove me crazy. When these videos were intended to be enhancers of my sermon, I was especially frustrated. If the video didn’t play properly or the microphone would snap, crackle, and pop loudly I would say something humorous to reduce embarrassment for our technical people, but inside I was fuming.
In order to avoid some of these glitches find and train qualified people to run your church’s audio-visual ministry. Make the financial investment in quality hardware and software. Until you acquire capable personnel and equipment, don’t attempt to be overly clever or frequent with your use of technology. In my opinion, it’s better to use plain old fashioned words to paint the sermon’s picture than audio-visual technology that may or may not work.
Be prepared for someone in the wedding party to faint, an attendee to have a heart attack, or a kid to have an epileptic seizure. Most of us encounter these health scenarios at some point in our preaching tenure. It is very difficult to finish the sermon under these kinds of circumstances. Regardless of the severity of the situation and the size of the church, you will want to finish the sermon, perhaps with some modifications to the sermon’s tone and length. You can prepare for these surprises by helping the church establish a detailed plan to respond to health crises. Also, when someone in the congregation becomes publically ill during the service be sure to pause the sermon and lead the congregation in praying for this person.
As I stepped up to preach the sermon, I noticed one of the light fixtures in the ceiling was on fire. Someone called the fire company and I invited everyone to grab a folding chair and head outside for the sermon. The weather was great. With the fire truck in the background, I preached in the open air. It was fun. There are other building issues that don’t have such a happy ending. When the air conditioner breaks in the heat of summer, you can expect people to fidget, fan, or fall asleep during the sermon. You want to keep the sermons shorter than usual until the air conditioner gets fixed.
Another building issue you may encounter is a power outage. This is the perfect time for a prayer meeting and the sacrament of Communion, both of which rely on spiritual, not electrical, power. The point is, be willing to adapt to whatever surprises may surface during the service and be sure to demonstrate a high level of patience, grace, and calm.
1. Recall some surprises you have encountered in life and ministry. What tends to be your knee-jerk response to surprises? How can you respond to future surprises with grace and assertiveness, resisting the temptation to be either passive or aggressive?
2. Reflect on which category of surprises above is most typical or likely in your ministry
context. Develop a plan now to respond to those surprises when they surface again.