Sunday, July 22, 2007

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?

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