What Pastors Actually Think About While They Preach

People often apologize to me for something that happened in a church service. I’ve heard lots of great apologies.

“I’m sorry I fell asleep.”

“I’m sorry I had to rush out.”

“I’m sorry my kid lit his hair on fire.”

I love church—both the people of God and the worship services. I love the oddities that can happen during a church service. I’ve had fire alarms go off during a Father’s Day sermon (thanks to an intern who attempted to make scones in the kitchen). At the church I pastored in Indiana, the heating element went out for a baptism in January. The woman to be baptized insisted we go through with baptism despite the ice in the baptistery. She took the polar plunge and came up gasping a Holy Spirit language I’d never heard before nor since.

If you’ve ever spoken to a crowd, you probably know the feeling of looking out at everybody as a rush of thoughts consumes your mind. So, what exactly am I thinking while I preach? I’ll share my thoughts, but if you preach regularly, share yours in the comments.

First, I don’t notice who is getting up. I learned a long time ago not to get upset when someone leaves during a worship service. It could be a bathroom break. It could be that a person received an emergency text from a family member. Or it could be that you hate what I’m preaching. At any point during a sermon, someone is moving around. Unless you’re doing jumping jacks in a leotard, it’s not likely to bother me.

Second, I’ve always got something on my mind, even when I’m mid-sentence. Like the people listening, I’m fighting a spiritual battle to stay focused. Have I ever thought about what I’m going to do on Sunday afternoon while preaching? Yes. Have I ever had stray, random, and distracting thoughts compete for my mind during a sermon? Yes. Sometimes, I say a concise prayer, asking God to keep me on task.

Third, I don’t always see your face with the way our lights are situated. So, it’s not often that I notice someone sleeping. However, when your wife violently jabs you in the side with her elbow while you’re snoring, and you jar awake quickly, I do notice it. And like everyone around you, I chuckle inside.

Fourth, I probably heard your child crying, but it doesn’t anger me. In fact, I believe it’s a beautiful sound. A church with no children is dead. The sound of a baby is as powerful as a choir anthem. It means the church is alive.

Fifth, every week I think while I’m preaching how much I love the people who are sitting and listening. It’s a privilege to preach. I don’t take it lightly. I come prepared after much time in God’s Word, prayer, and research. I know you prepare your heart to listen. I will admit to having nightmares of showing up to preach and no one being in the room. But that’s never happened and never will. The fact that people care about God’s Word keeps me going.

So I’ll gladly hear your apologies about taking a phone call, getting sick and needing to leave, or quickly sliding out of a pew to take a wailing child into the lobby. But there’s no need to apologize. I’m just glad you care about God’s Word. However, if your kid does light his hair on fire during the Christmas Eve candlelight service, please tell me about it. I love hearing those stories. They make me smile.

Posted on December 6, 2023

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
More from Sam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • David Toscano says on

    I remember one Sunday I was preaching, and mid-message, I thought to myself – “Man, this message is boring, and I’m the one preaching it! I feel sorry for you having to listen to me, today.”
    So you pick yourself up after a shocker. Dust yourself off, and try to do better next time.

  • I try, like yourself, to concentrate on what I’m preaching, but my mind does zero in on what goes on, especially from the front as staff and leaders participate before it is my turn to get up. I once had a newly appointed lead pastor share with me that it is a whole new ballgame being in that position compared to when he was the student minister. How well the service is moving, whether those speaking are prepared or are stumbling through their part, are thoughts that haunt me throughout the early part of the services.

  • Don Herron says on

    Speaking of folks sleeping. Preaching on Wednesday. Night we had a dear lady who sat in the second row and would doze and snore so loud that everyone would hear. It didn’t bother or distract me as I was impressed that someone so small could make that kind of noise.

  • John Little says on

    My most memorable is having an ambulance have to come mid sermon for a medical emergency for one of our older deacons. That did put a stop to things.
    Generally I don’t notice much. In fact many times I have to ask my wife if certain people were there.
    My bigger issue is people complaining to me about things they were distracted by…especially young children. Those kids don’t bother me a bit. They are our “bus kids” that don’t have parents attending.

    • After covid, we went a good long time without very many children. Last week we had a Christmas outreach event, and one older man said to me, “Wasn’t it great having all those kids being disruptive?” He wasn’t being sarcastic; disruption over absence every time!

  • Do any of you who preach actually think about what you’re saying and if it will look like you are trying to score points with one group of people at the expense of another group?

  • I’ve been a pastor for 30 years and never fail to be encouraged from your words. Thanks!

  • Roy Vargas says on

    Yes, I smiled while reding your article.
    Once in the same sermon I saw two people with very different reactions at the same time. One was smiling and nodding perhaps ascenting and agreeing and the other person was shaking his head as in communicating not in agreement. It was confusing and at the end of the sermon the person nodding told me: “You were right on the money”.
    Good reading!

  • Pete Pharis says on

    Our service included a baby. She was unhappy and her mother didn’t know what to do. I was distracted and so was everyone else. I commented “I would rather have a baby crying on the front row rather than a deacon sleeping on the back one.
    Guess which one visited me Monday morning? I had no idea that the chairman of deacons was “taking medicine” that made him sleepy.
    I immediately apologized and told the deacon I would apologize to the congregation the next week. He turned me down; saying he didn’t want to bring any more attention to the subject.
    Sometimes it is completely OK to recognize the distraction without shaming the one causing the distraction. I wish I could say that an experienced mother helped the baby and mom to to crying room. It didn’t happen that way. I also wished that another deacon or an usher led that deacon out to freshen up.

  • Andrew Doubleday says on

    ‘A church with no children is dead. ‘ Wow! Never saw that coming. One of the most damaging things you could say. Because it’s not true. I’ve grown churches of exclusively older people (youngest 65). Older people can and do come to faith. Oldest person I baptised was 82. Older people need to be a priority for ministry – their time is short! Are we not concerned about what happens next for them? Is their soul worth less than a 3 year old, a 16 year old, a 30 year old? Does God love them less? Our obsession with children in church is close to idolatrous. Statistically most young people who come to faith in their teens will have walked away by the time they’re 30. Who’s there to pick them up later on, at the end?
    As you can tell Sam you’ve touched a raw one here. I appreciate most of your posts. This one, not so much.
    I’m not expecting you to publish this, Sam. I just want you to give some thought to it.
    Cheers, Andrew

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Thanks for adding your thoughts. And I understand your perspective. Of course, I celebrate anyone who comes to faith at any age. However, most churches are not reaching the next generation. A church of only elderly people with a focus of only reaching other elderly people simply will not survive.

      • Rev. Jean Coleman says on

        While I don’t disagree with your thought that a growing church is usually made of all ages, I would have to disagree that a congregation made up of predominantly older people are incapable of reaching the next generation. For members who are in their 70’s and 80’s, reaching out to those in their 50’s and 60’s, well past their childbearing age, can be a thriving congregation. I have seen it happen; I have seen faith flourish in the lives of those who come to Christ in their “golden years” and serve Him faithfully and effectively.

    • William A. Secrest says on

      A church that is not multigenerational is not going to last. Unless you are pastoring in a retirement resort in Florida where you constantly have new faces, that church is not going to last. Sam is spot on here. If you live in a community where you have multiple generations and the younger ones are not represented in your church, you are eventually going to die.

  • Larry Webb says on

    I believe every time I preach, there is someone asleep. It’s a small church so they are fairly noticeable. My favorite is an older ladies cell phone started ringing, she answered, had a conversation and hung up 2 or 3 minutes later.

  • Great article!

    Once, when asked what went on in my mind while I preached, I gave this list:

    1. Making sure I was focused on God’s glory.
    2. Staying absolutely true to the biblical text.
    3. Guarding against being distracting in voice or motions.
    4. Monitoring the time I was spending on any one point or idea and thinking about what I needed to adjust accordingly.
    5. Paying attention to responses or facial cues of those in the service.
    6. Remembering that it was possible, if not likely, for my sermon to be the last sermon that someone would ever hear.