Blunders in the Pulpit when the right words are out of reach and often out of place
December 28, 2012
So far as I know, there are no findings to suggest that persons careful to “dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’” get it right significantly more often than the rest of us who are more prone to be slip-shod in such matters.
Such seemed even more the case in yesterday’s world, when most communication consisted of complete sentences and “uncontracted” words. (And we dared shortening states’ names to abbreviations only when feeling feisty.)
Mostly, we attempted mightily to “be ourselves,” understanding that we’ll make goofs, but never, hopefully, of the heart. We harbor hope that readers and listeners will be charitable, understanding and—in some cases—forgiving.
An art to be practiced in such matters is merely to smile—as opposed to laughing out loud or crying—when someone stumbles.
Preachers are often “sitting ducks”—okay, maybe “standing ducks”—for a couple of reasons. They appear regularly in front of the same folks–and sometimes they try too hard.
Case in point: One parson, urging parishioners to move closer to the front, explained “the agnostics are terrible” in the sanctuary. Reckon he meant acoustics?
Another pulpit blunder—back in 1998–likewise was caused by a single word. It occurred when Bill Clinton’s name was in headlines for other than presidential reasons.
At a Waco church, the Sunday morning prayer was fervent. It centered on the importance of forgiving. “He makes mistakes, and we make mistakes. He made bad choices and so do we. He deserves forgiveness as much as we who seek it,” etc. It was a lengthy prayer, and the staffer at the lectern fully intended to end it with “So please be with our President.”
Instead, he said, “So please be with our pastor.”
Ministers know they’re going to be “second-guessed.” Dr. Travis Burleson, a Salado pastor, should be so lucky. Instead, he is “third-guessed, fourth-guessed and fifth-guessed,” too.
In his flock are five retired pastors, most of them several years his senior.
Claiming they are typically gentle with him, he prizes a hand-written note one of them slipped into a handshake following a sermon. It read: “Your material was excellent, research solid, illustrations effective. However, I could have preached it better!”
A guest preacher was not at a “loss for words” recently. Instead, he was at a “loss for electricity.”
The struggling little church was in arrears on the electricity bill, and when the preacher arrived for the Sunday night worship, it was a “candlelight service”—by necessity.
His sermon notes didn’t do him much good, however.
Sometimes speakers wander in where angels fear to tread. I did so at First Baptist Church in Plainview in November. I knew that Dr. Paul Armes, president of Wayland Baptist University and an FBC member there, had taken a nasty fall on his bicycle last fall.
I thought I’d kid him gently, noting that Wayland’s next catalog will include a course called “Bicycle Safety 101.” There were polite smiles, but little laughter. What I did NOT know is that a Wayland student had been struck and killed while bicycling a few weeks following Dr. Armes’ mishap.
The lesson there, of course, is to avoid trivializing someone else’s mishaps. Speakers typically are much better off being their own “fall guys.”
Long ago banter can produce smiles. A friend attended a baseball game at Fort Worth’s LaGrave Field around 1930. A WWI pilot was performing daring aerial maneuvers above the field. Two wide-eyed 14 year-olds focused intently on the aerial show.
“Can you imagine anything worse than being up there in that airplane?” one asked. “Oh, yes,” his friend answered, “Being up there without that airplane!” (It may be one of these youngsters who, upon finishing a theme assignment, bunched several commas and periods in the corner on the last page–“extras” the teacher was free to “place wherever needed.”)
Next week, I’ll begin my second decade of weekly column-writing. Some of it will be “on a wing and a prayer.” The prayer will be for your continued indulgence, forgiving attitude and charitable nature. I hope some of my stories will make you smile and sometimes even serve to inspire.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.