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.
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?