Focus on Your Family, Not Your SermonBy Ted Cunningham
What would happen if you gave a good, but not great, message this Sunday?
What if you can’t study as hard this week as you did last week?
Is it okay to have an okay week?
Is it okay to choose more time with family this week and give an okay sermon on Sunday?
Preachers have a spotlight on them every week. When we are not preaching, we are preparing to preach. With so many of our congregants attending church during the week on YouTube and the apps of their favorite pastors and churches, there’s a pressure to be great and hit home runs every time you step up to bat.
I call the pressure to be great every week in the pulpit the “Crazy Awesome Cycle.” To be perfectly honest with you it is exhausting. It drains me. How will this Sunday’s sermon rate in comparison to last Sunday’s?
There are many aspects to the “Crazy Awesome Cycle.”
First, social media fuels the pressure of this cycle with the comparison trap. I get that social media is best foot forward, but it still weighs on me. I often read pastor tweets and Facebook updates that go something like this:
“I just came out of the most amazing creative team meeting EVER!”
“Sunday is going to be HUGE, you don’t want to miss it!”
“This past Sunday was the best Sunday in the life of our church!”
I rarely see social media posts from pastors that read:
“I should have studied a little bit harder for last Sunday’s message.”
“Did you get anything out of yesterday’s message? It seemed to drag a bit.”
“About halfway through the message I realized that I lost the congregation.”
Second, preaching without notes adds to the “Crazy Awesome Cycle.” When I was in seminary I heard for the first time the debate of whether a pastor should use notes or not when he preaches. This conversation felt odd to me. Maybe because I grew up with a pastor who preached from notes. Then Pastor Chuck Swindoll addressed the issue for me and it was settled: “I preach every week and do not have time to memorize every sermon. Does it bother anyone in here that I am looking at my notes right now?” he asked with a humorous tone. The students looked at each other as if to ask, “Doesn’t bother me, how ‘bout you?” Mix it up. You may have the time this week to prepare a great sermon, but you don’t have the time to memorize it. That’s okay.
Third, we have become a culture of raters. We rate everything. Restaurants, movies, stores, organizations, churches and even sermons. When visiting a large city, my wife and I check out a restaurant’s rating on Urbanspoon before dining. While I don’t think people are picking churches or preachers based on ratings, the idea of scoring our sermons still stands. If last week’s message was a “9,” I need to meet or beat it this week.
Finally, the most important aspect of the “Crazy Awesome Cycle” is that my family often gets caught up in it.
Do you feel the pressure of hitting a home run sermon week after week? I do. During a small gathering of pastors years ago, Pastor Rick Warren said something I have never forgotten: “You don’t need to hit home runs to win the game. Singles and doubles will work just fine.” Talk about a statement that gives each one of us room to breathe! He is right. I often go back to that statement when I’m about to preach a difficult passage or a topic that is politically incorrect.
Pastor Rick also recounts the story of a superstar baseball player who chose his family over baseball. He said “Yes” to his family over another big moment in the spotlight:
“Several years ago, Ken Griffey Jr. was invited to the Players Choice Awards, where he was to be named player of the decade. His award was to be given on national television. He beat out players like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. But when he found out when the award was to be given, he declined to attend. He had something more important to do. His five-year-old son, Trey, was playing in his first baseball game, and Ken wasn’t going to miss it.”
He said “No” to another big moment in the spotlight to be with his family.
My goal is not to encourage laziness or apathy in your ministry or in the pulpit, but rather to inspire you to prioritize your family. Study hard this week. Memorize Scripture. On Saturday as you begin feeling the pressure of the big day, remind yourself that a double is okay. You may not get invited to an awards show or be listed in a magazine for Awesome Pastors, but you will be your child’s hero. That’s good enough for me.
One last consideration: instead of stepping up to the batter’s box every week, why not think about calling in a pinch hitter? When I was a kid and first heard the term “pulpit supply,” I thought it meant those little pencils and guest cards stored in the pulpit to hand to those who come forward during the invitation. I had no idea that it referred to the guest preacher. Maybe it’s time to develop a deeper teaching bench and call on a few others to hit the ball.
Woodland Hills Family Church is a small to medium size church in the Midwest with a teaching team of five pastors. I am the only pastor on staff. We have four other teaching pastors (three from the community and one from out of state) that regularly pour into our congregation.
On the weeks I do not preach, my family feels my mind is freed up. I’m more present in the home. There’s no outline running through my head. I’m not watching my kids for another illustration. As Jon Acuff reminds us, “Let them be your children, not your content.”
I hope and pray Sunday is a good day for you, whether you are preaching or not.
Copyright © 2014 by Ted Cunningham. Used by permission.
Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church. He married Amy in 1996 and now live in Branson, MO with their two children, Corynn and Carson. Ted is the author of Fun Loving You, Trophy Child and Young and In Love and coauthor of four books with Dr. Gary Smalley. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary.