Expect the Unexpected (pt1)

June 8, 2007

Over the next few Friday’s I’m hoping to compile a short series entitled “Expect the Unexpected.” As the name suggests, these will be reflections on the ‘unplanned’ aspects of the preaching experience that nevertheless occur. Since preaching is a ‘live’ event and involves a genuine interaction with a large group of people, anything can happen. (NB: John Wesley is being attacked in the below pic!)

The topics I have in mind currently include emotion in pulpit and pew, adjusting to audience response, and chaos in the congregation (including everything from fainting fits to fighting!). You may have more suggestions to throw into the melting pot, and I’ll be most interested to hear over the week’s how you’ve dealt with some of the above.

I wonder then: what has been your most unexpected experience in the pulpit?


  1. Last year, in the “covenant affirmation” service of our new church plant, I was in the last application point of my message, ready to drive the point home when the fire alarm started buzzing really loud. Some kid in the nursery pulled the fire alarm. We had no idea how to turn it off (we meet in an elementary school) so we had to conclude the service (including the Lord’s Supper) outside.
    Needless to say, the sermon was dead at that point. You cannot pick up your conclusion with the same force after a 10 min delay!
    God is good and sovereign!

  2. I look forwrad to reading this. I have never had what is depicted in the picture of Wesley, but I’ve come close.

    May I comment on this and relate it to sermon preparation? I reserve Friday and Saturday for sermon preparation exclusively. But our church is small and there are many unexpected things that I cannot assign to others. This morning a man whose son just got fired and is suffering from severe depression came in to talk. One cannot say “sorry, this is my sermon preparation day”. So I spend the time with him. Less than half an hour later a lady who hasn’t attended here for about three years knocks on the door wanting to talk and asking how she can get back on track spiritually. We came up with something to help her but it is now almost noon and I haven’t made any progress with the message. But how could I ever say “this is sermon preparation day” to her? I suppose this might fall under “chaos in the congregation”. Pastoral ministry is a glorious work and I have been loving it for thirty years. The Lord will come through again for me the rest of the day and tomorrow and early Sunday morning as I get this important message finished. The interruptions just prove out I Corinthians 1:26-31. Now then – don’t ask why I am in a website on sermon preparation day.

  3. I once asked rhetorically in a message what the name “Philadelphia” meant (“the city of brotherly love”), and someone yelled out, “A great cheese steak!” It took me about 5-10 minutes to get my focus and concentration back on the message.

  4. My Rudy Guliani moment. Preaching through a passage in Ephesians, lightning struck the broadcast antenna at the church. We lost lights and sound for a couple of minutes. I think I said something like, “looks like the Lord is editing the sermon” and kept preaching. In His kindness, we only had a couple minutes left on the sermon and the lights were back up before we went to prayer.

  5. Probably my own strangest experience occurred whilst speaking on the reliability of the bible at a Christian University Union. We lost all the lights except the rather dim lit emergency exits. Once we realized this was a permanent problem, we improvised and I actually completed my talk with the help of a mobile phone’s screen light, illuminating the notes in front of me.

  6. Early on in my preaching days, I was preaching to a crowd, 1/2 of whom were teens. I asked rhetorically, “What is faith?” (going on to Hebrews 11). A teen who was fairly new to church, not yet a believer, starts something like, “faith is blind…you really don’t know…blah blah blah”. After that, I was stunned. I’ve heard that argument, but it was so off topic for my sermon. The only good that came out of that was that I learned in all future sermons, either to state questions in statement form, or to be darn prepared for all possible answers.
    Also, preaching on stewardship once in a new ministry, towards the end of the sermon and elderly lady interrupted, “If you’re done about now, I’m going to walk out of here. All you do is talk about money, money, money” I replied, “M, I am about done, and this is the first time I’ve preached on money here, so please let me finish.” I wrapped up, “damage” was done. but afterwards, I asked her to stay while I greeted the congregation, then had a visit with her, when I found out that it was the anniversary of her husband’s death, and she didn’t really want to hear about money then.

  7. My worst moments have often come from my own mistakes. Instead of saying John the Baptist ate locusts and wore camel’s hair. I said he wore locusts skins.

    I had no idea of my mistake and no idea why the congregation was laughing. The sermon went downhill from there.

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