Skip to main content

Pastor Nightmares

Pastor nightmares. Not nightmares about pastors, no. Some people have these, I'm sure. But I'm talking about nightmares related to the work of being a pastor.

I don't usually have nightmares. I didn't even while I was a child have nightmares often. I had nightmares about being eaten by alligators after visiting Okie Fanokie Swamp when I was five. We had taken a boat ride in the swamp during the day, getting up close to alligators, and I thought the whole thing was, well, terrifying.

I also regularly have nightmares about flying. Not about something going wrong while I'm on a flight, just nightmares about being on a plane. Yeah, I don't like flying. I will do it if I have to, and while I'm on the flight I will be (hopefully silently and unobserved) having an internal panic attack. So I have regular nightmares where I am on airplanes.

But I also have a separate category of nightmares. Pastor nightmares. One nightmare is where I oversleep for worship. I'm not a morning person. Not at all. And on Sundays, the only day I have to get up particularly early, I usually set about three alarms, just to be sure. Well, one day I had a 9am funeral. I optimistically thought I would go running before the funeral, and set an early alarm. When it went off in the morning, I decided that running in the morning was a silly idea, and went back to sleep. My secretary called me at 8:58 to see where the bulletins were. I was sleeping. I got up, ran to the church, and had started the funeral by ten after 9, completely mortified with myself. But after that, I stopped having oversleeping nightmares.

I also have "forgot my sermon" nightmares. These involve variations of showing up somewhere to preach and not having my sermon, not having it prepared, not having my manuscript, etc. I used to have this nightmare weekly, like clockwork, unless I finished my sermon by Tuesday or so. As I settled into being a pastor, the nightmare went mostly away, and I started finishing my sermons on Saturday like a normal pastor.

This weekend, I've been serving as the worship leader for NCNY's School of Christian Mission. I'm still in a cast and on crutches (for 57 more hours!!), and so I had to have someone meet me at my car with a wheelchair to wheel me across campus - the building we were meeting in was not very close to the parking lot. While I was waiting for direction, I got out of my car and sat on the steps of one of the buildings, with my Bible and manuscript for my message. When I got a call directing me to park in a different parking lot, I got back in my car...and left my Bible and manuscript on the steps of the building. I realized this almost right away. Someone went back to the steps for me within five minutes to retrieve my Bible and message. It was gone.

Ah, nightmare come true. I'm a manuscript preacher. I know pastors who don't use manuscripts who tell great stories about how they used to be manuscript preachers and then 'grew' out of it, yada, yada, yada. Well, I've preached with and without manuscripts - always without at our Sunday evening services because it fits better with that service - but it isn't my thing. It isn't my best preaching. I like preaching. And I like my manuscripts. But, the service must go on, right?

Fortunately, this was a message I knew well. I had been over it in detail actually trying to shorten it, so I knew it well. And this message had a more basic, straightforward structure than many of my sermons, so I knew how it flowed. I gave the message from memory, and it went very well. No, I wasn't converted to manuscript-free preaching. I don't see that happening. But it was nice to know that I could manage without if I had to, that I could respond to the need of a situation and lead worship even if I felt unprepared.

Maybe now I won't have this pastor nightmare anymore. I've faced the thing I dreaded, and now I know I can handle it, and I can move on.

Do you have any pastor nightmares?


KristaBeth said…
You've basically summed up all my pastor nightmares! Except the one wear I arrive in the pulpit dressed inappropriately. Yikes! At least I know I'm not the only one out there having anxiety dreams about sermons and liturgies.
Anonymous said…
I had nightmares after PPRC meetings once in a while.
TN Rambler said…
I can't recall any nightmares (except following a few PPRC meetings) before reading this post the other day. That night, not only was I wandering the hall of the church in my robe trying to find my Bible and my sermon, but I was finding cartoon kids with big heads and little bodies ransacking our nursery.

Thanks :)
Beth Quick said…
Oops - sorry Wayne ;) But I have to share my burdens with someone, right?
Anonymous said…
When I first started I often had dreams about not waking up in time. At the time we had our bedroom in our basement, where there were no windows, so you never knew what time it was. One Sunday morning, I woke up not knowing what time it was and asked my husband to look at his watch. He informed me that it was 5 after 10. I screamed, ran up the stairs in a panic only to discover htat it was still pitch black outside...he'd read his watch wrong.

I don't ask him for the time anymore.
Brian Vinson said…
For 1 1/2 years after I "left" an Associate Pastor appointment, I had nightmares at least weekly (usually more) about that church, especially about the Senior Pastor. Usually he was undermining my current ministry or micromanaging me in some way.

At that church, when I wasn't having nightmares, I suffered from insomnia... nightmare that came true was when I got a call at 8:00 (I was in the shower) that I needed to take over the 8:00 service that morning. I had no sermon or anything, and did I mention that I was in the shower when the call came?

Popular posts from this blog

Sermon for Second Sunday in Advent, "Peace: All Is Calm, All Is Bright," Isaiah 11:1-10, Mark 13:24-37

Sermon 12/3/17 Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 11:1-10 Peace: All Is Calm, All Is Bright             “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon’ virgin mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.”             This week, I read news stories about North Korea testing a missile that perhaps could reach across the whole of the United States.             This week, I spoke with a colleague in ministry who had, like all churches in our conference, received from our church insurance company information about how to respond in an active shooter situation. She was trying to figure out how to respond to anxious parishioners and yet not get caught up in spending all of their ministry time on creating safety plans.             This week, we’ve continued to hear stories from people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment, as the actions, sometimes over decades, of men in positions of power have been

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, "Hope: A Thrill of Hope," Mark 1:1-8

Sermon 11/26/17 Mark 1:1-8 Hope: A Thrill of Hope             Are you a pessimist or an optimist? Is the glass of life half empty, or half full? My mom and I have gone back and forth about this a bit over the years. She’s wildly optimistic about most things, and sometimes I would say her optimism, her hopefulness borders on the irrational. If the weather forecast says there’s a 70% chance of a snowstorm coming, my mom will focus very seriously on that 30% chance that it is going to be a nice day after all. I, meanwhile, will begin adjusting my travel plans and making a backup plan for the day. My mom says I’m a pessimist, but I would argue that I’m simply a realist , trying to prepare for the thing that is most likely to happen, whether I like that thing or not. My mom, however, says she doesn’t want to be disappointed twice, both by thinking something bad is going to happen, and then by having the bad thing actually happen. She’d rather be hopeful, and enjoy her state of

Sermon, "Invitational: Deep Waters," Luke 5:1-11

Sermon 1/31/16 Luke 5:1-11 Invitational: Deep Waters                         I’m fascinated by the fact that for all that we know, as much as we have discovered, for all of the world we humans feel like we have conquered, there are still so many that things that we don’t know and can’t control, so much that we are learning yet, every day. Even today, every year, scientists discover entirely new species of plants and animals. And one part of our world that is rich in things yet-to-be-discovered is in the mysterious fathoms below – the deep, deepest waters of the ocean. In 2015, for example, scientists discovered this Ceratioid anglerfish that lives in the nicknamed “midnight zone” of the ocean. It doesn’t look like other anglerfish – one news article described it as looking like a “rotting old shoe with spikes, a scraggly mustache and a big mouth with bad teeth. And it has a long, angular fishing pole-looking thing growing out of its head.” [1] Or there’s Greedo, named after