I've had my share of mess-ups even before I became a pastor. In my last year of graduate school, during a course called Psychotherapy, I was given my first patient. Thinking I was the next Sigmond Freud, I had a beard and a pipe and I looked psychological.
My patient had test anxiety, and I was to do relaxation training, slowly relaxing him so he could take a test. My instructors were watching through a one-way mirror.
Psychologists like to be behind one-way mirrors. There is a little voyeurism in every psychologist. It has been said that when a pretty girl enters the room, people will watch the pretty girl, but a psychologist will watch the people watch the pretty girl. I was never that good - I always watched the pretty girl.
I started the relaxation training of my patient and he went to sleep. He was supposed to relax, not sleep. How could I do the procedure? The guy began to snore and I panicked. I looked at the one-way mirror for advice and all I saw was myself looking stupid. I panicked some more. I figured I needed to wake him. Losing my first patient would not have been good. I grabbed him by the arm and shouted, "Wake up!" a lot louder than I intended.
He woke up, panicked, pulled away, and I reached for him as he headed for the door. Then I started chasing him - I wasn't going to lose my first patient. He ran faster and so did I. He ran down the stairs, and I followed. He went out the psychological service center, and I ran after him. Then I realized this doesn't look good - chasing people out of the psychological service center. I was discouraged. I thought I'd be kicked out of the program.
I went back to the room and the one-way mirror was shaking. I thought that was weird so I opened the door and saw two grown psychologists falling out of their chairs, laughing so hard tears were running out of their eyes. One was banging his head against the mirror. They said it was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Too bad we didn't video tape it so we could show it to students for generations to come as an example of how not to perform relaxation training.
I survived, became a psychologist, and then went to a church, but my mess-ups came with me. I'll never forget my first baptism. All I could think to say was the pledge of allegiance. It was patriotic but it wasn't exactly what was needed.
Today, people won't even notice most mess-ups at church. Most of the people don't know Joan of Ark from Noah's Ark. But there are some mess-ups no one can miss. For example, a pastor called Samson "Tarzan" for the entire message. Or my all time mess-up was at the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas. At the time, only Dr. Truett and Dr. Criswell had had control of the pulpit. Dr. Truett probably turned over in his grave and Dr. Criswell probably wished for his.
I was speaking on, "The Symptoms of Depression," and was going to say that one symptom of depression is erratic sleep patterns. But it came out, "erotic sleep patterns." I even got an amen from a deacon. It brought the house down. After the sermon on depression, I was depressed.
I did the same series in Oklahoma and said it right. So when I concluded the series and packaged it for tape sales, we included the tape from Oklahoma that had erratic instead of erotic. No one wanted that series. They wanted the one where they guy messed up. So we put the original tape back in. It resulted in being the best selling series of the year, and we heard numerous stories of changed lives. People listened to the series because they wanted to hear the mess-up.
I guess that is what relaxes me most about the ministry - I have a great back up. God takes my messes and gets miracles. God could be thinking, "With Charles, I'll never run out of material."
Charles Lowery is pastor of Hoffmantown Church, Albuquerque, N.M.