I was reading a magazine article with a group of pastors awhile back. The article was about Sunday morning critics who used the car ride home to complain about everything they didn’t like about the worship service.
After we read that line, this group of pastors admitted to each other that we were the worst Sunday morning critics. In fact, chances are, if you used the Sunday lunch to gossip about your pastor, your pastor was at some other restaurant being 10 times more critical of themselves.
You see what happens is that a pastor accomplishes more in 5 hours on a Sunday morning than you accomplish in a 40 hour work week. Most Sundays, we survive at a level of chaos only known to E.R. surgeons. It is a wild ride of emotions, little crises and small performances. It takes a huge amount of adrenaline to get through those 5 hours and the best pastors are always on their guard, painstakingly choosing every word, carefully forcing themselves to convey meaningful body language at all times and trying desperately to connect with people who may need a reminder that their pastor cares for them.
And the more a pastor does on a Sunday, the worse it gets. For pastors who teach a Sunday School class, preach more than one service, go out to lunch with congregants and lead a Sunday night group, it takes until about Tuesday morning to be even remotely recovered from that adrenaline surge.
Furthermore, if something very drastic goes wrong that morning, like a parishioner decides this is the morning to scream at you (which happens to most pastors about once or twice a year), you can pretty much write off the week.
In my life, I have found that since I have been “on” since 7am, the “off” switch usually takes the form of telling my wife everything I did wrong that morning. You see, all Sunday morning I have been compiling my list in the back of my head about things I shouldn’t have said, body language I shouldn’t have conveyed, people I forgot to talk too, mis-communications that happened between me and others and the like. Strangely enough, I am almost never critical of others, except when they scream at me after church.
This all lead to a new ritual in my life that I am calling, “Monday Morning Repentance.” I did not choose this ritual nor have I even thought it all the way through. But I do notice that when I manage to drag myself out of bed on Mondays and get to the office I usually have a list of apologies I need to make.
The list has three categories. The first is apologies to others. The second is apologies to myself. The third is apologies to God. Then my Monday morning is spent in prayer, contemplation and waiting for that proper hour (11am) to make some phone calls of apology.
It is a quite uncomfortable ritual and one that grew out of all the frustration I have with myself. Why did I say that thing I said? Why did I add that unnecessary point to my sermon? Why did I forget that Powerpoint slide was in the presentation and skip over it? In Sunday School, why did I insinuate that potato chips are as bad as alcohol? Why can’t I ever start the service on time? Why wasn’t I more prepared? And why didn’t I stop and listen when that older woman started to tell me a story about her week while I was on my way to the restroom?
The answer to that last one is fairly obvious. If I had stopped and listened, her story for next week would be about the wet pants of a young, inexperienced pastor!
These questions are probably well and good. I pursue the perfect Sunday morning every week and every week I feel like I fall shorter and shorter of the mark. A lot of times the mistakes are perfectly avoidable and flow out of sheer lack of self control and a lousy work ethic. And sometimes those mistakes are unavoidable or unforeseeable.
Be that as it may, us pastors must take care that Monday Morning Repentance doesn’t replace Sunday Morning’s Grace. After all, the church doesn’t rest on our shoulders. The grace of God is not limited by our full bladders or by our adrenaline addled body language. Neither is God’s grace undone by our half thought out Sunday School insinuations or our lousy sermon metaphors.
After all, this God we worship is the same God who in Scripture uses things like donkeys, dead bodies, magicians from the East and even a witch from Endor to communicate saving grace. Even though I feel pretty beat up right now, I am sure I am more capable than three of those four things. And you are probably more capable than all four!
So I hope that Sunday Morning’s Grace will meet you during your Monday Morning Repentance. If today your find yourself begging God for forgiveness, making those frantic phone calls to angry congregants and trying to find the strength to forgive yourself, I hope a donkey starts talking and a valley of dry bones grow some flesh to remind you that God is greater than your lousy body language!
Blessings this week.