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preaching article What Do You Do When Your Sermon Is Interrupted? Try This Five-Point Checklist

What Do You Do When Your Sermon Is Interrupted? Try This Five-Point Checklist

based on 1 rating
Oct 11, 2014

Sooner or later, every pastor has it happen. You're in the middle of a sermon, all is going well, you're on top of your game, the Lord is near, the people are listening well. And then, bam!

An interruption. A disruption. (He will feel like it’s a “corruption.” The trick, however, is not to turn it into a PRO-duction. Okay, enough of that.)

Something happens in the service the pastor was not prepared for. It throws him. For a moment, he is stunned into silence.

What he says/does next and how he does it could end up being far more important than anything he was saying in the sermon.

The people sitting in front of the pastor are of two minds. Like him, they had their train of thought disrupted by whatever happened, and they are watching to see how he handles things.

These interruptions—surprises, disruptions, snafus, foul-ups—are generally of two types: 1) Those involving matters within the congregation, and 2) Those which pertain primarily to the preacher himself.

The pastoral team can make preparations for dealing with the first kind. By setting up a first-aid team or training the ushers for emergencies, you’re set for handling most crises.

Someone in the pew has a health crisis. In the middle of your sermon, you notice a commotion on the right side of the auditorium. People are hurrying to attend to the victim. What to do? Because you have a first-aid team on site, the pastor calmly tells the congregation that well-trained people are taking care of matters. He asks for quietness and prayer while they do their job. A musician will play softly, and the pastor will walk back to check on matters. The EMS people arrive, and the victim is taken to the hospital. The pastor will lead in prayer for the person, and then make a determination whether the service should end or go forward.

An intruder invades the worship service and creates a commotion with his loud rants. The ushers go into action and whisk the person into the foyer where he is dealt with in an appropriate manner.

A bride faints in the middle of the wedding. The wedding director is ready. Someone carries the bride into the church parlor, where she is laid on a couch or the carpet. The wedding director breaks open a vial of smelling salts, and she is given nourishment (a glass of juice or something). After a 10-minute break, the wedding resumes. All is well.

I’ve had all these things happen and more. And we survived them.

Our concern here, however, is with the second type of abrupt surprise—those directly involving the preacher. He’s using PowerPoint when it fails. He is relying heavily on his notes when he realizes the last pages are not to be found. Someone he was counting on to do something necessary to his sermon has dropped the ball.

The pastor is announcing some event or program when a staffer interrupts to say his information is wrong and to correct him. The staff member is correct. The pastor now stands corrected.

What he does next tells volumes about the pastor’s character.

Last Saturday, something happened that caused me to pray about how I handle such interruptions. What it was specifically is irrelevant here. The point is that I had identified a problem with it and was asking the Lord for help.

Then, the very next morning, in the early part of my message, bingo! An interruption. A foul-up. Someone dropped the ball, and it was me. But there I am, preaching to 700 people with television cameras pointed my way and my image being projected onto two large screens, and I am discombobulated.

Not good.

(Before telling the story, I need to explain that the problem was not a major embarrassment to me nor to the PowerPoint operator, I trust. We have since exchanged notes via email, and all is well.)

Does this happen with other people, I wonder? You’re praying about some area of your life that needs improving, and the Lord sends you an object lesson to drive home that point.

On Friday, I emailed three Scriptures to the person in charge of PowerPoint. I typed out the verses exactly as I wanted them on the screen. (Since there are so many Bible versions, it’s important for the preacher to select which one they prefer.)

I arrived at the church in plenty of time to check on matters. But that’s where I dropped the ball. I sat on the front row and listened to the musicians rehearse, I greeted a few people, and then I drew a half-dozen youngsters. At no point did it occur to me to check on what would be projected onto the screen.

When preaching time came, I stepped up and made the typical introductory remarks. Then I called attention to the sermon text. When it came up on the screen, it was a different version from the one I had memorized and was prepared to recite from memory. Furthermore, the last verse was missing. Bear in mind, I’m finding this out as my mouth is uttering the words on the screen. Not good.

So, what did I say? Nothing bad. And nothing embarrassing to my friend the PowerPoint operator, I trust. I did ask and he signaled that, no, the final verse would not be thrown onto the screen. I think I told the congregation that I had meant for the Scriptures to come from the New American Standard Version.

Not a major thing. But—and this is what bothered me—it wasn’t sharp. I had been caught unexpectedly by the little foul-up and had not reacted as appropriately as I wished I had.

The next morning, the PowerPoint guy and I exchanged notes. He had received my email only at the last minute and hardly had time to type it up. And I apologized for assuming that all was well and for not checking.

As one who still has a way to go regarding handling disruptions, here is my five-point checklist:

1. Figure on the unexpected happening. It will.

The less you anticipate disruptions happening, the more they will throw you for a loop when they do occur. So expect the unexpected.

2. As much as you are able, plan for ways of handling such surprises.

This is where a great ministerial staff comes in. Discuss these matters with them, and get their input on how to prevent meltdowns the next time there is an eruption of some kind. And, if you do respond poorly to an emergency situation, at the next staff meeting lay it out there before your team. Get input on how it could have been avoided and what to do next time.

3. Pray for the Father’s presence and guidance in responding to interruptions.

This will be your best resource. Nothing will assure you that your response will be in order and gracious like the Holy Spirit working within you.

4. Cut yourself some slack. No one is 100 percent all the time.

Sometimes you will blow it. That’s not all bad. I’ve even known a preacher to react in the way most of us dread the most—with a curse word. After the congregation recovered from the shock, some members actually gave the pastor points for being human.

5. Don’t be afraid to publicly apologize.

If you blew it and know it and everyone else watched you humiliate yourself (or worse, someone else), there is only one thing to do: Confess it publicly and ask them to forgive you.

Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at JoeMcKeever.com.

Talk about it...

Richard Scotland avatar
Richard Scotland
0 days ago
Another good article Joe, thanks. I think a degree of forward planning (#2) is a good idea. I have seen a preacher humiliate someone else (#5) and then compound the error by doing so again and trying to laugh it off. Truly awful and the number of people commenting on the incident afterwards was close to everyone there. So never be afraid to apologize! We are all human and make mistakes.
Rev Fred Mazune avatar
Rev Fred Mazune
0 days ago
This is a very good article Joe, When we trust God to take over in our interruptions we have the cofindence and God guides us. Thanks!
Chris Schwanz avatar
Chris Schwanz
0 days ago
Recently, during a funeral message, I referred to the surviving daughter as the only child of the deceased. I had completely overlooked she had a brother who died years before I became her parents' pastor. After the service, a gentleman came up to me and said, "Great eulogy, pastor, except they had a son you failed to mention." I'm sure I cursed - silently, to myself, and at myself for not catching this ahead of time. What to do? As I was handed the mic to give the prayer before the post-service meal, I announced I had a correction to make, that I had failed to mention the other child. I felt horrible. After the meal, as I was about to leave, I approached the surviving daughter, told her I was sorry for my overlooking her brother, and she gently put her hand on my cheek and said, "Thank you for being who you are." Made my day!
Clarence Lawson avatar
Clarence Lawson
0 days ago
I have had something similar happen to me. I just smiled, said oops, my bad. It relieved the pressure, every one laughed and I picked up at the mess up and moved on into the point. After service a few came up and laughed with me and said they enjoyed the service. Each interruption is an opportunity to show your flock you are a real person. Sometimes I think perfection, or the illusion of perfection distances us from our people. It sometimes may even help to let people see grace under pressure! Great article. Thank you for your insights!
Jeff S. Mann avatar
Jeff S. Mann
0 days ago
Thank you, Dr. McKeever, for your article. I especially appreciate your fourth recommendation. I've learned to be the first to laugh at myself - but I try not to curse :). Most people appreciate the fact that their pastor is human, too.

So, what did you think?

Thank you.