It’s fairly often that people apologize to me for something that happened in a church service. I’ve heard lots of great apologies.
“I’m sorry I fell asleep.”
“I’m sorry I had to rush out.”
“I’m sorry my kid lit his hair on fire.”
I love church—both the people of God and the worship services. I love the oddities that can happen during a church service. I’ve had fire alarms go off during a Father’s Day sermon (thanks to an intern who attempted to make scones in the kitchen). My first thought was, is this the way the trumpet sounds at Christ’s return? At the church I pastored in Indiana, the heating element went out for a baptism in January. The woman to be baptized insisted we go through with baptism despite the ice in the baptistery. She took the polar plunge and came up gasping a Holy Spirit language I’ve never heard before nor since.
If you’ve ever spoken to a crowd, then you probably know the feeling of looking out at everybody as a rush of thoughts consume your mind. So what exactly am I thinking while I preach?
First, I don’t notice exactly who is getting up. I learned a long time ago not to get upset when someone leaves during a worship service. It could be a bathroom break. It could be that person got an emergency text from a family member. Or it could be that you hate what I’m preaching. At any point during a sermon, someone is moving around. Unless you’re doing jumping jacks in a leotard, it’s not likely to bother me.
Second, I’ve always got something on my mind, even when I’m mid-sentence. Just like the people listening, I’m working through a spiritual battle to stay focused. Have I ever thought about what I’m going to do on Sunday afternoon while preaching? Yes. Have I ever had stray, random, and distracting thoughts compete for my mind during a sermon? Yes. Sometimes I say a (very short) prayer asking God to keep me on task.
Third, with the way our lights are situated, I don’t always see your face. So it’s not often that I notice someone sleeping. However, when your wife violently jabs you in the side with her elbow while you’re snoring and you jar awake quickly, I do notice it. And like everyone around you, I chuckle inside.
Fourth, I probably heard your child crying, but it doesn’t anger me. In fact, I believe it’s a beautiful sound. A church with no children is dead—a lifeless blob of spiritual zombies who have given up on God’s mission. The sound of a baby is as powerful as a choir anthem. It means the church is alive.
Fifth, every week I think while I’m preaching how much I love the people sitting and listening. It’s a privilege to preach. I don’t take it lightly. I come prepared after much time in God’s Word, much prayer, and much research. I know you prepare your heart to listen. I will admit to having nightmares of showing up to preach and no one being in the room. But that’s never happened and never will. The fact that people care about God’s Word keeps me going.
So I’ll gladly hear your apologies about having to take a phone call, or getting sick and needing to leave, or quickly sliding out of a pew to take a wailing child into the lobby. But there’s really no need to apologize. I’m just glad you care about God’s Word. However, if your kid does light his hair on fire during the Christmas Eve candlelight service, please tell me about. I love hearing those stories. They make me smile.