I have been a pastor for over 13 years. While some would say I am just getting started, it is amazing to me how many stories I can recall – stories of failure, success, loss, pain, elation, and everything in between. No doubt there are different categories, and I took the initiative to record some “blooper” stories from my own ministry.
A “No Show” at Thanksgiving
I was just getting my feet wet as a pastor when I was invited to preach at a community Thanksgiving service in our area. I eagerly agreed and set to work preparing.
The Sunday evening before Thanksgiving, my bride and I went over to her parents to watch TV and hang out. When we got back home that night, I’ll never forget the message on our answering machine. It was a message from my pastor friend John Cory. “Uh….Dan…..where are you? The service is supposed to start in a few minutes…..why aren’t you here?”
As I heard those words, my heart sunk. The service was now long over and there was nothing I could do. For some strange reason, I thought the service was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and not before. Lesson learned: double check the time and date!
One day I got a call from a lady in our area (not from our church) asking for help. She told me her situation and how she was hard up for cash and groceries. I told her I would bring some goods from our church food pantry.
When I arrived I quickly learned that she was in a low-income neighborhood. As I approached her home, one of her neighbors blurted out, “Are you kidding me? You’re the third one today!” Sure enough, as I dropped off the box of food items it was clear that I wasn’t the only one who had responded to her calls. That experience taught me that having a zeal to help people must also be matched by wisdom and discernment. Just because someone asks for help, doesn’t mean it is always prudent.
My wife and I received our initiation into parenthood with twin daughters. Like most children, Elizabeth and Anna were very vocal in church. In our small country church, everyone knew that it was the pastor’s kids who made all the noise. The vast majority of the time, I didn’t say anything, but one time I decided to make a joke of it, after one of the girls started carrying on.
“Will the lady in the back row, please keep her children quiet?”
In an instant, I realized my error. There was a baby girl carrying on, but it wasn’t one of my girls. Whoops! I did get a lot of laughs, but not in the way I had planned. Thankfully, that poor woman in church did forgive me.
Passing out at the Hospital
One of my parishioners, Dick Sherman, came down with a serious heart problem and ended up in the Cleveland Clinic. The first time I visited him, he was still in the cardiac unit and in close proximity to many other patients. It was more than a little unnerving to be in the presence of so many people in critical condition, but I carried on the best I could.
We didn’t talk long before I opened my Bible and started reading the 23rd Psalm. I only made it through about half the Psalm when I started to feel wheezy and was forced to excuse myself. I started walking but I didn’t get very far before I completely passed out on the floor! My wife was there to witness it all and said that in a matter of seconds I had several doctors and nurses examining me to make sure I was all right.
I was fine and Dick eventually recovered, but from time to time he liked to kid me about “passing out,” in the Cleveland Clinic. A few years ago, I had the privilege of doing his funeral.
On June 19, 2009, I preached a sermon on “The Power of a Father.” It was Father’s Day and my text was 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. After preaching that sermon I was convicted that I had failed to be faithful to the text. Instead of doing “exegesis,” my preaching that day was more an exercise in “eisegesis” as I was reading something into text for my own purposes.
I made the decision to preach from the exact same passage in 1 Thessalonians the next Sunday. I began by confessing to our congregation that I had not been faithful to the text of Scripture, and that I could do better. People were surprised at how different the second sermon was and I can say with certainty it was much better!
God used that not only as a learning experience for me, but also for our church, in terms of how the word of God is handled.
One day I was hard at work in my study when suddenly a woman from our church rushed in and said, “Dan, don’t you know? The house next door is on fire!” Sure enough, the house right next to the church was on fire and the fire department had arrived. There were people all around and I realized there was the smell of smoke in my office. Somehow, I had remained oblivious to it all that day.
That experience reinforced what I already knew about myself. I score much higher in the area of concentration than I do in the area of overall awareness.
One evening I was teaching a Bible study in Hebrews when a guest decided to join us…..a bat! For a long time, the bat just flew around in circles until he eventually decided to move upstairs into the sanctuary. We opened up some doors and after what seemed like ages, our bat friend finally decided to exit the building.
It took everyone a while to settle down again after all the chaos. Some visitors were with us that week, but to no one’s surprise, they didn’t come back the next week.
God Uses our Bloopers
Every pastor has a blooper list. For me, this is the edited version. I could tell many more blooper stories. Though I can’t be faulted for all of these things, they did happen, and they were humbling to me. The redeeming element is that God uses our mistakes and blunders to teach and grow us as pastors.
Pastoral ministry has a way of surprising us. Every pastor will testify that this calling is never boring. Ministry is hard (2 Timothy 2:3), and every pastor will suffer (Philippians 1:29) but it is immensely rewarding and we can always trust God to supply His sustaining grace (James 4:6).
As one of my seminary professors told me just before I graduated, “Preach the Word and love the people.” God has called you to be a shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-3) and not a salesman (2 Corinthians 2:17).
If you are just getting started in ministry, expect to laugh, cry, grieve, smile, and be embarrassed from time to time. But get to know your people as best you can and continually point them to “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).