Mistakes: A Letter to West Franklin
West Franklin Family,
On September 23rd, 2001, the church I pastored was half as full as it had been the previous week. The week prior was September 16th, 2001 – when the church was literally packed to the gills – the Sunday after the horrific events that transpired on September 11th, 2001. I had been a pastor for a whopping 5 months. A true veteran at the whole pastor thing.
Many will say that America “turned to the Lord” for a week or so, then everything went back to normal. What they mean is the Sunday after 9/11, churches were full. Sunday’s after that? Everyone went back to doing their thing.
That may have been the case for most churches, but not the one I pastored. At least, I don’t feel like I can blame the people in Amite, Louisiana for not coming back. I blame myself.
I blew it.
I made a HUGE pastoral mistake that day. Huge.
I was preaching a series through Matthew’s version of the Beautitudes. The next Beatitude up was the one about mercy. Since it was the next one up, that was my text for the morning. I remember mentioning a word or two about showing mercy to those who had done this to America, but that’s about it. I really didn’t say much else about what happened the Tuesday before. I mean, I had a series to get through!
Sigh. . .
What I remember most about that Sunday, however, was the fact that the tiny sanctuary that sat to the right of an old cemetery in nowhere, Louisiana was filled with people. So full, people were standing in the back because we were out of pew space. And, to my shame, I vividly remember people walking out the same way they came in. As homosapiens so often do, they let me know what they thought about it by not coming back the following week. We tend to show our support (or lack thereof) with our feet.
Though I didn’t get a count of how many attended on the 16th, I know for certain more than half didn’t come back on the 23rd.
And it was my fault.
Oh, to have that Sunday back!!
The people came desperate to get some hope, and I gave them the next sermon in a series.
The people longed to hear that it was going to be okay, and I plowed through my plan.
The people desperately needed to hear God was in control, and I told them to be merciful to Osama Bin Laden.
Don’t misunderstand. Matthew 5:7 is a wonderful truth and a wonderful verse and something that is desperately needed now as then. Sermon plans are great and necessary. I’m all for ’em. But there are times when the plan needs to take a back seat.
The next sermon in a plan was not what was needed that day. It was as if I had my head in the sand and had been living under a rock throughout the week. Not my brightest moment. Not my best. Not the greatest pastoral effort. They needed a pastor to love them and give them hope. What they got was a preacher who yelled at them for half an hour.
Though I pray nothing like 9/11 EVER happens again, I would give anything to have 9/16/01 back. I learned many lessons that day and would do many things different, given the chance.
But that’s what I appreciate about mistakes. From them you learn something and – if you let yourself go there – can become a much better person as a result.
Recently I have made mistakes in my parenting. I have made mistakes in the way I converse and plan with Katie. Mistakes I wish I had not committed. Things I have said or done I wish I could “do over,” if you will. But allowing myself to go there in my mind and heart has allowed me the opportunity to grow. To learn. To appreciate differences and look to the Lord for insight, wisdom, discernment, and – more than anything – HELP. My actions, as wrong as they were, helped me learn more about myself and those I am privileged to love and lead.
Here’s the point I am trying to make: All of us will make mistakes. Though we need to learn from them, be kind and gracious to yourself. And, others will make mistakes toward us. Be patient and kind with them. Don’t waste a mistake. They can be life’s greatest lessons.
One of the greatest scenes in all the Bible (to me) is when Jesus reveals Himself to Peter and the apostles post-Resurrection. The disciples were fishing. Jesus shows up on the shore. Peter changes into his swim shorts, swan dives out of the boat and swims as fast as he can to Jesus. I envision him saying over and over, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” (Peter had denied knowing Jesus 3 times prior to and during the crucifixion.) What did Jesus do? Restored him. Peter learned from his colossal mistake and – by God’s grace – was able to move on.
You’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them and be kind to yourself the way Jesus is toward you.
Others are going to make mistakes, too. Be kind to them the way Jesus is toward you (and them).
After all, Jesus isn’t limited by our mistakes. He’s got this and is in complete control. With Christ Jesus, there is always hope.
If you happen to run into someone who hasn’t been back to church since 9/16/01, be gracious. It may not be their fault. Their preacher may have blown a golden opportunity.
Because Jesus Came to Fix Us,