A Counter-Intuitive Path to Pastoral Success: Make a Mistake
- Friday, September 24, 2010
In his book, Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg makes a confession. You get the impression that it was not easy in coming.
Here it is in his own words:
The church where I work videotapes most of the services, so I have hundreds of messages on tape. Only one of them gets shown repeatedly.
This video is a clip from the beginning of one of our services. A high school worship dance team had just brought the house down to get things started, and I was supposed to transition us into some high-energy worship by reading Psalm 150.
This was a last-second decision, so I had to read it cold, but with great passion: "Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!" The psalm consists of one command after another to praise, working its way through each instrument of the orchestra.
My voice is building in a steady crescendo; by the end of the psalm I practically shout the final line, only mispronouncing one word slightly:
"Let everything that has breasts, praise the Lord."
Ortberg tells what happened next.
A moment of silence. The same thought passes through four thousand brains: Did he just say what I think he did? In church? Is this some exciting new translation I can get at the bookstore?
Then, everybody in the place just lost it. They laughed so hard for so long, I couldn't say a thing. It was zygomatic. I finally just walked off the stage, and we went on with the next part of the service.
I have been teaching at that church for eight years. Of all the passages I have exegeted and all the messages I have preached, that is the one moment that gets replayed before conferences and workshops. Over and over.
That moment forever endeared Pastor John Ortberg to the congregation of Willow Creek Church.
In fact, the power of that moment was so strong, it would have been worthwhile for him to have planned the flub.
I sometimes say to friends, "If you ever find yourself sitting among two or more preachers and want to get something started, ask them about their most embarrassing moments. Every preacher has had a dozen. And some are pretty hilarious."
Ortberg says: "Sometime ago a psychology journal published an article entitled 'The Effect of a Pratfall on Increasing Interpersonal Attractiveness.' The surprising conclusion: 'Seeing someone you admire do something stupid or clumsy will make you like him more.'"
Part of the reason for that is we do like our leaders to be human and to show their humanity from time to time.
Now, we know they're human. The problem comes when they don't seem to know it.
Earlier in the same chapter, Ortberg writes, "A friend of mine says that one of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt anybody with it. If you have any doubts about that, remember some time in school when you sat next to the smartest kid in class. Did you enjoy it? Being right (or more precisely, having the need to be right) is a terrible burden. An amazing thing about Jesus is that he was always right and never hurt anyone by it."
I'm thinking of two churches I pastored, one in the 1970s and the other in the 1980s. In the first, we had a lot of laughter in church. It was the spontaneous, unplanned kind from things that happened on the spur of the moment. The congregation grew to love the staff and they still talk about the four men who led the church through those years as some of the best.
The church of the 1980s, however, knew very little laughter. Looking back, I'm not sure why that was. Perhaps it was the tension among the leadership that eventually resulted in several of us departing earlier than we had planned. It may have been a factor of the architecture of the sanctuary, with the congregation sitting far removed from the staff. Maybe it had something to do with the staff of the 80s being new and the staff of the 70s church staying for many years.
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