This is going to be a blog about how to deal with PMS. Now that I have your attention, let me assure you that this has nothing to do with “that time of the month,” I might only have 7 years of marriage under my belt but I know better than to go there–something about hell hath no fury… This is actually about dealing with “that time of the week.” And though it is not guaranteed to always occur, it is something that every pastor is going to deal with to some extent or another. I’m talking about POST MESSAGE SYNDROME.
Now there is also a lot to be said about PRE MESSAGE SYNDROME, because both the spiritual warfare and the nervous energy ramp up as you prepare to speak. I have found this is especially true as you prepare to preach the gospel in an evangelistic outreach. But in my opinion the period directly after a time of intense ministry can be even harder to deal with than the period leading up to it so that is where I want to throw down some one’s and zero’s in this post.
It’s not that I think there is more warfare afterwards, that’s not necessarily the case, but as you go into it you know you are at war so you are taking appropriate countermeasures. You are on your knees, putting the armor of God on in your mind. You know you need to be sober and vigilant, and you are. Heck, you are ready to pull a Martin Luther and throw an ink bottle at the devil in the night if he even thinks about showing up. Furthermore, during this time you (hopefully) have a team of armor bearer types around you who are holding up your arms and praying for you, keeping you free from distraction so that you can get your game face on.
I’m not trying to make light of this, or to suggest that even when you know it is coming, the spiritual warfare isn’t incredibly difficult to deal with. It is. Yet, when things go wrong before a message you’re reaction is going to be to filter it through the grid of what you are doing for the Lord. You’ll be like, aha! I’m getting attacked, this must mean we are on the right track! Surely God is going to save the entire city now because I got a flat tire. Praise God! I’m being persecuted for righteousness sake. The devil targeted my tire to keep me from preaching the gospel–but it will never work, I will drive on my rims over a road covered in flaming scorpions if I have to!
Now, maybe Lucifer blew out your tire or maybe it was a pot-hole. But I’ll tell you what, you get that same flat tire driving home from church on Sunday after you give the message and you’re gut-level reaction will be different. It will probably be more like, seriously? after I poured myself out all day trying to help these dang people come to know you? what the heck?! Are there no breaks in this world for a man of God? stinking, lousy tire and stupid awful roads. Lord, can I call down fire from heaven and blow up this wretched highway? Why did you call me to a town with so many pot-holes anyway?
All right, I was probably being a little melodramatic there but you get the idea. And if someone is reading this who holds ministers to unrealistic standards and you are appalled at this–please remember, pastors are people too! And this is nothing new either, didn’t the pouting prophet Jonah want to die when the worm ate his shade plant just hours after he gave his sermon to the Ninevites? Didn’t Elijah curl up in the fetal position and get emo after the showdown at Mt. Carmel?
This funk can strike differently at different times. Maybe you will be discouraged because it didn’t go very well, not as many people came as you hoped, or your delivery was off. Or maybe you will be discouraged even though it went really well. Last time I checked Jonah had a pretty good response to his preaching in Nineveh. And Elijah’s ministry on Mt. Carmel couldn’t have gone better. They still got bummed out. I have had times of ministry that exceeded my wildest expectations and yet I found myself full of melancholy for no apparent reason.
I don’t know why this happens. Maybe it’s to keep you humble, perhaps it’s because you’re tendency is to let your guard down when the bell has rung for this round. You are sitting there on the stool with your eyes closed trying to catch your breath, and that’s when the sucker punch comes. Neither your flesh nor the enemy play by the rules. Part of it is biologically understandable, there is no way for there not to be some kind of an emotional crash when the adrenaline, preparation and excitement that has gone into an outreach or a big service like Easter Sunday gives way to reality and the endless stream of Sundays that are coming. And love it or hate it, ministry in the past is like toothpaste–once it’s out of the tube there is no going back.
Some weeks it’s clean and simple and you move right on. Other times you agonize over it for a day and a half. If it was a really bad message you think, I made a mistake, I shouldn’t have quit my day job. If it was killer, you think I peaked, I can never do better than that, and next Sunday they are gonna be back with friends. You inevitably drive home playing the game tape over and over in your mind, sometimes wishing you could get in a time machine because you just thought of something you should have said…it’s quite maddening.
Of course the solution to all of this is to get your eyes off yourself, and give it all to the Lord because it was never about you, it was always about Him. And you have to keep telling yourself that lest you sink into self-adullation or self-flaggelation. Both are mistakes. It’s all about Jesus, not you.
The best advice I have ever got on dealing with this came from reading Greg Laurie’s autobiography Lost Boy. He describes the process of coming down from a crusade and how he learned from Billy Graham to not strut around like an exultant quarterback who has just thrown a game winning touchdown. He said the best thing to do was to normalize as quickly as possible, get some food, respond to some emails, get on with it. He described a time where he hung out with Billy after preaching and Billy was wearing pajama pants with loafers while eating dinner in a hotel room. It’d be difficult to get a big head wearing an outfit like that! With that in mind I try to move on quickly: erasing the glass whiteboard in my office where my message had been brewing in different colored markers, clearing off my desk, playing with my kids, watching a movie, taking a nap, reading a novel, going for a bike ride. That stuff is the preacher equivalent of midol.
Sure there are things that are going to come into your head that didn’t go well at the event. That’s bound to happen. I used to call everyone up whose dept misfired and have it out right then and there. I have learned to take notes in a moleskine and save them for the debrief, unless there are immediate ramifications. And I have also been challenged by the reality that regardless of how you feel you have to celebrate what the Lord did, not just for your sake but for your team’s sake. (read 2 Samuel 19:1-8 to see this in action)
Above all things when you come out of a battle, don’t let your guard down. Expect the attack as you come down from the mountain. And keep praying! I hope this has been helpful for other pastors who will read this, even if it’s just to let you know that you aren’t crazy if you have been experiencing stuff like this. You are not alone! Take heart.