Blunder at the Pulpit

I knew what I meant, but that’s not what I said.

Unfortunately, words are like toothpaste—once they’re out of the dispenser, they’re not going back in. The biggest preaching blunder of my career involved words I wish I could take back.

I stood facing the largest crowd our new church had ever seen. They had all gathered to listen to my most controversial sermon. A few months earlier I had foolishly decided to preach a series of sermons entitled, Burning Questions. One of my leaders suggested, “Will, why don’t we start a website and let anyone on the Internet ask questions? The most frequently asked questions will be the subjects of each sermon.”

Sounds like a great idea, right? When I received the final list of questions, my heart sank. The most frequently asked question: What is allowable in the bedroom for a Christian couple?

You know that feeling in your stomach as you ascend the Tower of Terror at Disney? Yeah, that was what I felt. Stomach in knots, I led the congregation in a quick prayer. And for some reason my mind went to a conversation with an older lady in a former church.

Mrs. Betty had burst into my office. “Will, you need to dress more appropriately.”

I quickly looked down at my outfit, uncertain. She then told me a story from her childhood: “Here you are in shorts. I will never forget the moment when, as a little girl, I first saw my pastor with shorts on. Seeing his legs felt scandalous. I came to a conclusion that day: A pastor should never be seen in anything other than pants that fully cover his legs.”

I stood facing the large crowd gathered to hear me address this burning question, and I began to pray: “God, you know this subject is one that I am embarrassed to address. While you are the author of sexuality, it seems unsuitable to talk about this in church. [Thinking about my conversation with Betty, I continued.] Lord, there are people here at church today who just aren’t used to seeing their pastor without his pants on.”

Completely unaware of my blunder, I continued, but nothing else I prayed after that mistake mattered.

You can imagine everyone, their eyes closed as they listened to me pray, thinking, What am I going to see when I open my eyes?

This fact remains: We all make mistakes, pastors included. Although, I aim to be perfect—to be like Jesus, I am fully aware that perfection is not in the cards for me, or any of us, for that matter. Fortunately, we have something else in common as well. God is willing to forgive all mistakes, big or small. Sometimes in life we have to take a long hard look at ourselves and make some life changes. At other times, we just need to laugh and take Taylor Swift’s advice and “Shake It Off.”

And no, my pants were not around my ankles. It was an unintentional blunder.

One that I, and now you, will likely never forget.

By Will Browning