HOW TO SURVIVE AWKWARD MOMENTS IN MINISTRY AND LIFE
- The object lesson doesn’t work
- A bird gets caught in the sanctuary
- Sister “Betsy” decides to bring out her tambourine and lead an awkward
- Brother “Paul Pentecost” gives a prophecy that is obviously the result of too much pizza and not enough sleep
- The thermostat malfunctions and it’s way too hot or too cold when the meeting starts
- The guest speaker’s flight is cancelled and you find out at 5 p.m. on Sat. night
- A person derails the life group by complaining about their lot in life
- The preacher misquotes verses and fails to deliver one significant point
- The preacher goes 10 minutes too long and children’s ministry is forced to improvise as a child screams and throws a tantrum
Can we recover? What should we do?
It’s happened to me many times in 30+ years of ministry. Believe it or not, everything above has happened to me at some point! After a service that bombs or a difficult small group meeting, I’ve wanted to quit; especially when I’m the one that blew it. And no matter how much you prepare, it can happen to you. There are times when I thought I had prepared a great message only to realize about 10 minutes into the message that I was wishing the rapture would take place and that Jesus would rescue me. Looking for the closest door after the message, I’ve disappeared because I didn’t want to see anybody. Yeah, I know some speakers are clueless, but believe me, most speakers know when they’ve failed.
What do you do?
Here are FIVE things to remember when things go bad:
1. If the Bible was opened and read; and if the motive was to honor Jesus, then it wasn’t a total loss. If we believe in the power of Scripture then we believe that Scripture has inherent power that is not based on our performance. I’m not excusing poor study habits, lack of preparation, or sloppy exposition. But if we study, pray and attempt to honor God’s Word then I believe the Word itself has power and ministry has taken place.
2. Guard against deadly comparisons. Often when we are gauging the success of a weekend, a meeting, or class, we are comparing to the ministry down the street or some other peer and his ministry. I must remember that the church down the street has a unique calling and unique gift-mix. I am called to be ME. I must learn to be content with what Jesus is doing through me and the team and the people He’s given me. Yes, I should have a learning posture, to grow as a speaker, as a leader. But I’m also called to be myself and that includes being satisfied with how God wired me and the people He’s given me. One look at the parable of the talents and it seems to me that not everyone has the same number of talents. Comparing yourself to someone else is deadly.
3. God does extraordinary things with ordinary…and seemingly weak ministers. Listen to the apostle Paul talk about his itinerant ministry: “For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing“(2 Cor. 10:10). How would you like to see those comments on Facebook? If people were to judge the apostle Paul based on a sermon or two or a weekend retreat, it wouldn’t have generated much in the way of good press. Yet look at the impact Paul had! God uses ordinary weaknesses to do mighty things. Why? So that God gets the credit!
4. Lead by reminding people that everyone has feet of clay and needs grace. I’m so grateful that throughout my life I’ve had people who believed in me enough to give me second, third, fourth and more chances! Use these flukes and failures as opportunities to remind your team and the “naysayers” that God uses imperfect people and ordinary things to do mighty ministry! Even if it wasn’t up to your “standard of excellence” the gospel can still have impact.
5. Learn and get better. I saved this for last because we need to remember the other four first–especially here in America where we judge every sermon in sound-bytes and score the worship leader like we are the panel on American Idol. We need to remember first, that it’s Jesus’ ministry, not yours. He’s the Head of the Church, not you. HOWEVER, can we learn and get better from the experience? Absolutely! For example, should we test the object lesson twice next time? Should we prepare our ushers or deacons to handle Sister Doris before something like that happens again? Should we buy a new thermostat? Should we prepare our children’s ministry with “plan B” for those days when the speaker goes longer than expected? We can’t prepare
for everything but we can prepare for most things. And we can get better. As you often hear me say, “Small tweaks help you reach mountain peaks.”
Signed: One who needs a lot of grace,