Distraction Decisions

Jon commented on the issue of distraction with the following:

Peter, do you have any solutions for #3, distraction? A few weeks ago I preached a message. I was prepared, everything was ready, and the night before, a dear friend and church member almost passed away, and was still critically ill.

My sermon wasn’t really related to what was on my heart and the heart of everyone else. I wondered if I should have just set it aside, but there was no time to even really think about something else to preach. I could have just spoken without notes/preparation about trials, etc.

Thoughts?

My feeling would be that if the cause of your distraction as a preacher is known to everybody in the congregation – i.e. the whole church is feeling the weight of the situation – then I would lean toward setting aside the notes.  In this case it was a dear friend in the church who lay critically ill.  On other occasions it could be a global event like 9/11.  But if all are thinking of the same thing, then it makes sense as the preacher to engage with that present reality.  A few thoughts:

1. Sometimes the situation is personal to you, but less so for others.  In this case I would lean toward preaching as planned.  There are no rules here, just a sensitivity to the situation and the congregation, not to mention the Lord, of course.

2. If you only have a couple of hours to prepare, God knows.  I wouldn’t advocate leaving preparation until the last minute.  That smacks of abusing grace.  But when it is genuinely minimal preparation, God understands and undertakes (as they used to say in my church back in the day).

3. You don’t know the impact of sensitive, relevant, engaged, pastoring.  But you might guess the impact of irrelevance.  Even an outsider who doesn’t know the individual concerned might be touched by the love of the church for the brother or sister in Christ.  By this will all men know that you are my disciples . . .

I don’t think these decisions are at all easy.  And the challenge is to make the decision in a moment of personal distraction (perhaps it is good to consult some trusted colleagues on this kind of decision?)  These thoughts are just off the top of my head (and while the intermittent internet connection is temporarily on!)  Any thoughts you’d like to add?

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7 thoughts on “Distraction Decisions

  1. I believe the preacher / pastor needs to address the needs of the congregation….and often those needs are met by acknowledging where the pastor / congregation is at.

    By doing this, the pastor is encouraging the congregation to live and truly engage with the world they are in, warts and all. I know a pastor who set aside his planned sermon and shared with congregation his struggles in how his son was diagnosed with mental illness and was hospitalised a few days before… the true sermon was life in action when the elders and congregation gathered around and prayed for the pastor and his wife.

    I think also one needs to be listening to God and there will be times when you sense God telling you to drop the notes you have prepared and share on another topic…even as you are stepping up to the pulpit to deliver….

    • Thanks Craig. I agree with what you say here. I would say that some preachers seem to live with the final thought in your comments as their M.O. They are almost disappointed when they don’t think they hear something fresh on the steps to the pulpit. We certainly have to be open to the work of the Spirit in our lives, and be thankful for the amazing resource of God’s Word that the Spirit uses week in and week out to transform lives. This is a big topic, but I’m with you in your call for sensitivity to God and to the congregation.

      • I certainly advocate that we should be soaking in God’s word and preparing before we get to the pulpit. I have sensed twice that God wanted me to change what I was going to share.

        I hadn’t preached for around 5 years and was invited to do so again early this year. I was seeking the Lord to give me the text and his message and continually felt the Lord was saying he would give me the words only when I stepped up to the pulpit. Ouch! I don’t think I have ever prayed as hard as I did that morning…with much fear and prayer – I stepped to the pulpit and I just started to preach, and every one listened…:)

        The Lord was showing me that he was reinstating me back into a preaching position and that it wasn’t by my efforts, but by his spirit. I certainly advocate the hard work of preparing a sermon and spend more than 10 hours preparing for one… but I have learn’t it has to be via God and not through our own effort.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Peter. I tend to agree with what you’ve said. There aren’t really any “rules”, I suppose, just some general guidelines to inform you as you try to use your best wisdom and mostly, trust the Lord.

    I appreciated your point #2 particularly. As a “bi-vocational” pastor, those genuine times when you can’t prepare as well as you like come occasionally, but God is gracious. Sometimes, that’s the weakness in which He is strong.

    • Absolutely Jon, I think a lot of bi-vocational preachers live with a sense of guilt that they aren’t able to put in tens of hours in the days leading up to the sermon. Having said that, bi-vocational preachers who don’t preach every week may be able to put in as much time, over time. I suppose the important thing for all of us, whatever our life situation, is to be good stewards of the ministry God gives us.

  3. I’m not a full-time pastor yet but from the advice I’ve been given so far, preparation for something like this is key. I’ve created something of a framework already for events like 9/11, natural disasters, deaths in the church and the like. It’s a theology of trials/suffering into which I can speak truth about the current situation. I think this approach is helpful in two ways:
    1. It will prevent my emotions from overshadowing sound, biblical sermon prep.
    2. I won’t be rushed if I read about a disaster just hours before I preach since the message is 80% complete already.

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