I wish I could answer this from a hypothetical perspective. I cannot. In fact, I have fresh experience from which to write this post. There are significant implications for the pastor and his wife who have a conflict that goes unresolved leading into the Sunday morning service. Ours started on a Saturday night. In a rare moment in our marriage, the hurt and frustration went unresolved and carried over into Sunday morning. We drove to church still struggling. We both chose not to go to Sunday school, but to go off separately to think, pray, and try to figure out how we each contributed to this rare circumstance of lingering conflict. The problem was I was suppose to preach in one hour. What is a pastor to do in that moment?
Do not hide the fact you are struggling. I am not suggesting to walk around and sulk, but when you are broken, it is not a bad thing to let a few folks know it to pray for you. When I was greeted by a few of my leaders that morning, they could tell something was wrong, so when they asked if I was okay is said, “No, just struggling today. Pray for me.” Most conclude the pastor never struggles like they do. Do not miss an opportunity to be broken before your people, even if you do not get into the details with them.
Search your heart for sin. The apostle James tells us (James 4:1-2) we never get to this point without sin being present and waging war in both our hearts. We took that time before the service alone to allow the Spirit to reveal sin that needed to be confessed to the other. Without exception, sin is present in those moments and sin was present in our conflict.
Find her to try and reconcile before the service. If at all possible, find your spouse and try humbly to confess your sin and ask for forgiveness from the other before you go to preach. I once had a pastor friend of mine convicted after his own sermon about the way he spoke to his wife on the way to church. He ended his sermon, walked down to his wife, whispered in her ear a confession of sin, then came back up to serve the Lord’s Supper to the church. That became a great teaching moment for the congregation. We talked before the service, but my sin had stung in a particularly hurtful way that she was not there to reconcile and frankly I was not yet humbled by my sin. At least try.
Depend upon the mercy of Christ to preach. In a perfect world all is reconciled and right with the world when we stand to proclaim God’s Word. That is not always the case. Broken by sin, discouraged by hurting my wife, and it stealing any desire to preach can be what drives us to utterly depend upon the Lord for mercy to speak through you. God is merciful.
As the service began and we sang, God began to break my heart of how I had sinned against my wife and although I could not get to her (she was in the nursery), the forgiveness and grace of Christ was fresh and evident at that moment. With tears in my eyes on the way home from church, a true genuine, heartfelt confession of sin took place and I was immediately forgiven by my gracious wife.
Have a more involved conversation later that afternoon. Once confession and forgiveness has taken place, then you spend the time talking about how things escalated to this place and to learn from them to avoid it reaching this place in the future, especially on a Sunday morning.
Fear not. Today as you read this, I am on a plane with my sweet wife celebrating our 15 year wedding anniversary (early) for a week away without children out of the country. Our marriage is stronger than ever. That does not mean we will not have these kinds of struggles…and occasionally they fall on Sunday.