On April 18, 1999 I preached my first sermon, and this means last month marked 15 years of preaching God’s word. It is a great joy to prepare and preach a sermon, and over the years there have been many strange and memorable and unexpected events related to these opportunities. Here, in no chronological order, are 15 vignettes.
1. During one of the summer weeks of my college years, I was vacationing at a beach house with my future in-laws. On the Sunday morning of that week, at an hour so early that everyone was still asleep, I received a phone call from a church where I’d preached a few times. Their scheduled preacher had to cancel, and they needed a replacement. They didn’t know I was at a beach house, but I knew that I was within driving distance of the church service start-time. “I’ll be there,” I told them. I grabbed my Bible, pen, and paper, and went on my way, alone. For the first and last time, I put a piece of paper against the steering wheel as I drove and wrote out a sermon outline while my Bible lay open on the console.
2. I once filled in at a church whose interim pastor was away for the week. He kindly allowed me to fill his pulpit but neglected to tell me how long he usually preached. A staff member told me, “You’ll have about 15 minutes for the sermon.” I don’t remember how long my sermon was, but it definitely ended before half an hour was up. Still, I’ve never been asked back.
3. From what I can recall, I’ve only used a movie clip once. It was many years ago, during a Disciple Now. I chose a clip from Superman Returns (the Brandon Routh one) to illustrate some point about death and resurrection. In hindsight, the clip didn’t add to the message and I deemed it ultimately unnecessary. Should’ve went with Christopher Reeve.
4. Disclaimer: my wife Stacie is a huge supporter and encourager of my preaching. With that said, once after preaching at a youth lock-in, she told me to never preach my message that way again. “That was boring, you went on too long, and you tried to pack too many things into the message.” She was right. I put that sermon in the Whoops drawer.
5. While nearly running late for a church service where I was scheduled to preach, I compensated by speeding. As you might expect, I soon saw red and blue lights flashing behind me. “Where are you heading so fast?” the cop asked. Of course I told him. “To preach at a church.” My response was not greeted with sympathy–instead I received a ticket. I still made it to the service on time, accompanied by a fresh illustration.
6. I can only recall one sermon where I thought I might actually pass out because I felt bad. I persevered because it was a Christmas Eve service, though the sermon was definitely shorter than it would have been! Never had I felt so awful while preaching. I remember thinking, Lord, please keep me from throwing up. There are visitors. I guess I thought the members could handle it.
7. One evening during a mission to Cameroon, there was a spontaneous and eager gathering of people in the large house where we were staying. One of the mission leaders told me, “We’ve decided to have a worship service for them in 10 minutes. I want you to preach, so get a sermon ready.” I’d recently been studying Acts 3, so that’s the text I chose.
8. I once had to stop in the middle of my sermon to correct one of my children. My wife was out of the sanctuary at the moment, and my 5-year-old was acting up in the pew. I tried giving him some stern stares while I was preaching, but the people who didn’t see him probably just thought I was angry about what I was teaching. He was distracting me, and I could tell from people nearby that he was distracting some of them too. So I stopped and said, “Jensen.” He sat upright in shock. “I want you to settle down and sit still, now.” He came to his senses, and I continued with the message.
9. When I was on the phone with a church leader who was scheduling me to preach for their congregation, he said, “You’ll be preaching in front of cameras because the sermons are broadcast to local TV stations.” Boy was that nerve-racking! I had to be overly concerned about timing and length. Needless to say, the people watching from home probably saw me check the clock a lot.
10. While I pastored a church in Texas, I preached a message that I knew would probably go a little longer than usual. But I didn’t know how long until 12:30 pm arrived and I was only halfway through my notes. I decided I’d gone long enough, so the next Sunday I picked up where I left off. The nursery workers were glad I divided the message into two weeks.
11. When I was in college, my maternal grandfather attended a Sunday evening service where I was preaching. That was the only time he heard one of my sermons, and it was also the only time I’d ever seen him in a church.
12. One time the power to the sanctuary went out during my sermon. Since we could still see everyone, even if only dimly, I said, “Everyone stay seated. I’ll keep going.” They did, and I did.
13. I once prepared a sermon from Colossians about worshiping God through singing. The week before the message, I decided that we should flip the service order. We opened the service with the sermon and then had a time of singing after I finished. Instead of the congregation hearing “Let’s open our hymnals,” they heard “Let’s open to today’s sermon text.” After the sermon, though, the cluster of songs turned out to be a wonderful way to respond to a message about singing!
14. During my college years, I once got a call from a church in Texas that wanted a praise band and a preacher for an upcoming event. I agreed to preach. After the event was over, the person who invited me held out an envelope and said, “Split this with the band.” When I was alone I opened the envelope and pulled out the single check. I spent the next minutes trying to figure out how to split $100 among six people.
15. After a few years of preaching, I got connected with a church who needed pulpit supply for one Sunday. Turns out they needed much more than that. During the service, I led the singing from the piano, took up the offering, and preached the sermon.
I would love to hear your stories about what unusual or unexpected things may have happened before, during, or after you preached. Do share!