WHY PREACHERS SHOULD BE MORE LIKE PEYTON MANNING
I wish preachers were more like Peyton Manning. What, you mean lose a Super Bowl? No, I mean learn from your mistakes. One of the things that impresses me about Peyton Manning is how he studies his job, and how he has learned from his mistakes. I have watched him as a Tennessee Vols fan since he was at UT, and I have seen him make mistakes. We are not very forgiving of mistakes by UT quarterbacks in Tennessee. Sarcastic and caustic comments start getting posted in very odd places. Yet, one of the things that I think has propelled Mr. Manning beyond many of his contemporaries is his refusal to let his mistakes be lost to him as a resource. In an age of television with special effects we don’t seem to teach our people very well that most of life is not perfect, that we aren’t all born with a super arm, super legs, gifted and spontaneous moves. We want to be stars that make our effort look easy, but not as if we had to study, to work at something, to improve even while a whole lot of the world watched us fail a time or two. Preachers are in public usually every week, in a pulpit, proclaiming the Word of God (at least we hope so.) Several things combine to prevent them from revealing their inadequacies. One is that they are preaching God’s Word and they stand for God to deliver his will and pronouncements to the rest of us. This gives them an authority most believers need and want. To think that the preacher’s knowledge is faulty, his delivery and techniques distracting, that his applications are like mis-thrown passes in football deprives us of the mystery and majesty of hearing from God. It would be terrible if a preacher got up one Sunday and apologized for how badly he interpreted the Scripture the previous Sunday, or that he was completely in error in understanding the text, or that he had failed to study or practice adequately so he could hold our attention and actually communicate with us. Terrible, but maybe really great too. We sure don’t want someone to be inept and stumbling every week, but honesty might be really life changing for the whole congregation. The second thing that prevents preachers from being up front about their own inadequacy is their ego and pride. Most preachers I know are competitive. Sometimes it is a competition for the respect of their people, sometimes a competition against every other preacher in the world so they can give a respectful answer when someone asks, ‘how big is your church?” Sometimes that pride is mixed with the fear of men and the fear of failing. Maybe a third reason that preachers don’t own up to the fact they make mistakes, or that they need to learn from them, is the lack of forgiveness of their people. Some congregations want perfection, so they delude themselves that they have it when they get a gifted preacher. So here is just a little advice to preachers. Make it a discipline of your calling to realize what mistakes you are actually making. Most preachers have to throw off depression and despair pretty quickly after a sermon that seems to have fallen into the carpet or else they can’t function very well. Yet, if you allow yourself no reflection, and no request for loving and helpful criticism, no inquiry into what might have gone wrong then you stop learning and you don’t getter better at your craft. Most preachers have critics, and so they develop skills at how to interpret them and quite often this is bad for the preacher since he sometimes dismisses critics as simply personal opponents, or political factions, or servants of the Devil. Every once in while our crtitics have it exactly right, even if they don’t have the wisdom or grace to say it so we might graciously receive it. Sometimes preachers are afraid that if they admit to their mistakes their critics will use it against them and move to get rid of them. Certainly my admissions have been used by those who I realized were my opponents in the congregation. Thankfully I had an overwhelmingly supportive group of Elders and congregation, but more importantly I knew God has always had my back in trying to be transparent. So if people are telling you that you preach too long, listen! If they say you are boring, listen! If they say they are not “being fed,” listen! If they say they feel they are being beaten down with guilt, listen! If they say they can’t understand you, that you are preaching over their heads, listen! If they say you sound angry, or that you seem to be attacking someone, listen! I am not saying they are correct or right in their evaluation; often people aren’t quite sure what is bothering them about your performance and they sometimes say anything they can think of to make a noise of complaint. Sometimes they are “under conviction” and their discomfort looks for someone else to blame. Just start examining your previous preaching performance, ask people you trust to give you some honest and gentle feed-back, ask for their prayers. Every once in a while get up in the pulpit and let the people know what you have learned and how you are trying to improve. Since I have had so many deficiencies I have had to lead with my humility, confessions, and requests for forgiveness. Believe me, I am one of the proudest most ego-centric people I know, and I hate criticism. I just want to get better at what God has called me to do, since what I do makes such a great difference in the lives of men and women, boys and girls. I believe lives are at stake, not the score of a football game.