Have you ever embarrassed yourself in ministry? Embarrassment hasn’t been my only teacher, but she’s certainly been one of my most effective. We learn from it when we’re kids. However, we often fail to learn as much from it as adults. Let me explain.
Last night, the girls softball team I coach was embarrassed. I was embarrassed. I have no idea who our team was last night. We were unfocused, lazy, and squirrely. The other team scored 12 runs on one bunt hit all night. It was a coach’s nightmare born of some softball poltergeist. We played in a way that made me want to go on a tirade that would make Bob Knight blush. Instead, I’m letting the embarrassment just sit there. It’s often it’s own motivator. In case it’s not–I’ve got a plan. However, embarrassment is soooo effective on it’s own.
I remember a sermon I gave many years ago on a fairly large stage. I delivered it semi-unprepared. It wasn’t in the local congregation. It was “on the road.” The sermon was undercooked because I was so tired I couldn’t muster the strength to go over it as I should. To this day, I believe it’s the worst I’ve ever preached. I can remember looking out at about minute fifteen at the anonymous mob, realizing I was delivering the sermon poorly, and I was slotted for an hour. The next forty minutes were a long forty. I’d like to hope it wasn’t as bad as it seemed…but it probably was. I felt awful.
That incident changed the way I preached from that point forward. Now, I say “no” if I don’t think I have the energy to do it justice. I usually suck it up and go over a message one more time when I’m tired. I’m a more humble communicator than before–trusting God and the importance of preparation more than any meager natural abilities I may possess.
Most of us loathe embarrassment. I think that’s good. I’m not referring to when someone embarrasses us and it’s out of our control. I’m speaking of the embarrassment at getting caught off-guard. Embarrassment because you didn’t bring your best. Embarrassment because we let ourselves down. Embarrassment is a quiet, but oh so effective teacher. She reminds us of our frailty, and the importance of paying attention to life. She’s a humbler, and we shouldn’t fear her. We should embrace her when she shows up to teach us something.
A good mom might say, “Oh honey, it wasn’t that bad.” There’s a time for that. However, a great mom will sometimes allow the pain of the embarrassment to teach. Why? Because there’s a time to say, “You’ll get ’em next time,” and a time to acknowledge you won’t get them next time if you don’t take what you’re doing more seriously than you’re taking it.
Ministry is fun…and serious. Every now and then a good ministry embarrassment can teach us things a simple, rational lesson could never teach. So, rather than fear embarrassment, let’s embrace it in a way that teaches us.
When was the last time you were totally embarrassed in ministry? For me, it was on a Sunday when a colleague was totally unprepared and engaged the task of ministry so poorly on that Sunday I almost crawled under the pew. It was on a “bring a friend” Sunday, and we embarrassed those who risked their relationships to extend an invitation to their friends. It was truly awful. The good news was, he felt the same way, and never made the mistakes again. He realized he hadn’t just embarrassed himself–but far more importantly, there were real people in need of a real Savior that may have been impacted negatively by what he’d done. I’d been in his shoes, and welcomed his awareness and humility so I didn’t have to be aware for him.
Those who can’t be embarrassed or who always blame others for their embarrassment don’t usually make great ministry partners. Those who learn from embarrassment get better…and humbler. So, this morning, I say, “Three cheers for embarrassment.”
May she stay far from us. But, should she appear to teach us something, may we learn from her.
Question: When was the last time you were really embarrassed in ministry? Care to share? What did you learn?