As someone who speaks, it’s painful, yet unsurprising that there have been a few…like one…possibly two…and then there was that one time…well, let’s just say I have preached my share of what one might consider a “bad sermon.”
For different reasons I felt “off” and had the hardest time recovering. Maybe I didn’t prepare as I should have, the subject matter was something I was not comfortable with, or there were things going on outside the sermon itself that were distracting. I remember on one occasion I got done speaking and said to my friend, “You know, I should just get up and offer everyone in the audience a refund because that one stunk!”
As generous as you might like to be with giving public speakers the benefit of the doubt, chances are you know what I am talking about. Ten minutes in and the preacher has already lost you. Some time ago my wife and I were attending a church when this happened. From about ten minutes in we both got the sense that we were going to be in for a long morning! I say ten minutes. She is more gracious. It took her until about the thirty minute mark to whisper something.
In that moment I felt deep sympathy for the speaker. I knew exactly what was going on because I had been in the exact same position. This experience got me thinking, what do we as Christians do when we are at our church or Christian event and the speaker’s message is going off the rails? (BTW, this happens when we listen to young and experienced speakers alike)
I think there are a couple things we should do.
1. Double down on your efforts to stay engaged
It’s easy to grab your smart phone, start making a mental list of things we need to do, or start clipping our nails (Yes, I have seen this happen). Don’t do this. The speaker needs your help and prayers. Rather than disengaging, start praying for Jesus to help them (preferably not out loud) and smile.
2. Start taking notes on the passage
While sometimes the speaker might butcher the passage, God’s Word is still powerful. Many times I have come away from rough messages with a word from God, maybe not because of anything the speaker said, but the passage that was read.
3. Remember what’s not for you might be for someone else
Numerous times my wife and I have had radically different views on a message we heard. One of us loved it while the other did not connect. She likes a message with a lot of stories. I prefer straightforward content. Just because you’re not connecting with a message, don’t spoil it for others around you by letting on that you are disinterested.
4. Don’t forget that new Christians might be evaluating the message based on your response.
This point is a bit more nuanced but I remember as a young teen that I would often gauge whether a speaker was good based on how the most “mature Christians” in the room were responding. If the Sunday school teacher or person with a Ph.D thought it was good, so did I. If they seemed disinterested, it was harder for me to engage. Funny thinking back on that because none of the people I observed probably had any idea the impact their listening habits had on my life. Point is, people watch more than you know. Tired of hearing what you think are “milk driven John 3:16 messages?” Stay engaged. That new Christian needs it and is watching.
5. Get over yourself.
This point is the toughest of five but it needs to be said. Not every message is about making you feel good and meeting your needs. Obviously, if you are in a church where you and your family are consistently not being fed, that’s a problem. But if it’s a one-off message, give grace. Think how much you would enjoy standing up front with dozens/hundreds of eyes focused on you. Don’t grumble about it on the way home for your kids to hear. Find something positive and focus on that.
It’s likely after creating this list that I may have to give this out as a preface for future messages I speak!