Gaffes and the Pulpit

This post must begin with a worldview-rocking truth statement. Preachers are in fact human. They may not seem to be, for various reasons, but they are. It may also be that some people do not think they want them to be human. In reality, it is best for you that they are human, but that is a different tangent to the scope of our theme.

I realize that humanity can be plead sometimes as an excuse or a contrivance to escape accountability. Neither of these should be the case for the human preacher. On the other hand though, his humanity should gain him some room, particularly in regard to gaffes, or mistakes.

Allow me first to clarify. By mistakes, I am not meaning going into doctrinal error, e.g. changing his mind about the deity of Christ, etc. I am also not referring to the preacher falling into some sin or immorality. No, I am only referring to honest, plain mistakes and particularly those made while preaching. Hence the term gaffe.

Pulpit gaffes are of a few different kinds. Here are a few descriptions.

  • Tongue-Tied—sometimes the mouth moves faster than the brain and words get jumbled up or mispronounced
  • Memory Lapse—sometimes the preacher forgets why he started telling a particular story or giving a certain illustration. Sometimes he gives a quote or paraphrases a verse and cannot remember who said it.
  • Mistakes—sometimes giving the wrong book, chapter, or verse reference or mixing up the characters or facts in Bible stories. There may be times when the preacher is trying to add up or subtract portions of time while preaching and may get the wrong answer.

You should have an idea of the sort of thing we are talking about. And that leads to the obvious question, Why talk about it? This topic may seem hardly worthy of a blog post and especially since we are considering relatively minor goofs that everyone makes from time to time. Well, I have seen people react in harsh and strange ways toward a preacher over these trivial slip-ups. I have also seen some church members form an ad hoc quorum over such a gaffe and discuss it with one another until they were all worked up about it. Finally, one of them approached the preacher to ask about it and found out that is was simply a mistake.

So, the point of this post is to help us handle this issue when we are sitting in the pew and witness a pulpit gaffe first-hand. First, give the benefit of the doubt to the preacher and let it go. Again, I am not talking about him denying the Trinity or such, but he may give the wrong reference or say a phrase backward. He may mistakenly say Elijah was swallowed by a great fish. You probably knew what he meant or could find the reference yourself with a little work. Second, in case the first option fails, simply go to him and ask him about it. This will cut down on the possibility of starting gossip and you may also have a good chuckle with him. As a preacher, I would much rather someone come to me to ask than go to someone else and say, “Did you hear what he said?”

About Jeff Short