Crash and Burn

Last night was one of those nights when I wonder why I ever took up this preaching thing. I was speaking at the church we are attending here in Denver. It was the fourth service of the day and the crowd was pretty small. (We could have all shared a bus to the airport.) Everyone looked a little tired and hungry, and it took all the energy I had to keep rolling. (If you speak you know what I’m talking about) The message was on miracles and the climax was a moving video testimony produced by my friends at Seacoast. In the previous three services the video had hit the mark, making the point of the sermon much better than I possibly could. All I had to do after the video was invite people bring their needs to God and let the Holy Spirit go to work.

So I’m finishing my fourth time through the message. My delivery wasn’t great (or even good); I was struggling to make it to the end. But I knew that the video was money. Finally The Cue, “Let me share one more story. Let’s watch this.” Nothing. Silence. Scattered coughing. Crickets. More crickets. A small child began to weep. I eventually realized the video wasn’t going to play. It was up to me to land the plane and I didn’t have a pilot’s license. I tried to retell the story of the video, but I just stumbled through the facts. No emotion. No conclusion. No point. At last decided it was time to park the boat and let the people off. I would hand my disaster over to the band and they would end the misery.

If only the band would come on stage. Soon. Hello? Anyone? Anyone? Crickets. More crickets. I began to weep.

The band was waiting for the video; that was their cue to come on stage. No video, no band. No band, no way out.

Finally my wife mercifully found the worship leader and asked if he might be able to put me out of my misery. Rather than an emotional encounter with an almighty God the audience just looked stunned and confused. The best I can say is that I don’t think anyone was harmed in the process. Except me.

So what do you do with experiences like that? I’d love to hear your Crash and Burn experience and how you recovered. Here are my takeaways:

  1. It happens to everyone. Even the Apostle Paul struggled on occasion. I’ve been speaking publicly for almost 30 years and I still have nights like last night.
  2. Technology will fail. It is important to have a backup plan. Always. Even during the 4th service in front of a handful of people.
  3. It is really up the Holy Spirit to change people’s lives. As soon as I (and my videos) can do the job its time for a big ole slice of humble pie. (I got a double serving last night)
  4.  The best thing to do is to feel sorry for yourself for a little while (that’s what I did last night), learn some lessons and take another run at it. There’s nothing like failing miserably in front of strangers to make you a better speaker. And after last night I should be spectacular.

So how about you? What’s your best public speaking debacle? (Let’s share the pain)


25 Responses to “Crash and Burn”

  1. Mark Howell April 16, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Right there with you, dude. I was filling in for a friend and using a clip from Jerry Maguire back in the days of vhs. I had queued up the video for the specific scene I needed and handed it to the guy running the board. I went backstage to check a few details and a few minutes later heard a different scene playing as the video was tested preservice. At least it was preservice…but it was “that” scene! Dohhhh!

  2. Mike Andrews April 16, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Speaking for four sessions at a youth conference this last weekend, about three words into the first message, I reached into the cover of my Bible to grab my notes – and realized they were in the cover of my iPad instead (which was back in the sound booth)! Everyone was pretty engaged at that point and I didn’t want to break that connection, so I just kept going. Everyone survived, the message came through, and the tone was set for a great weekend.

    I’m so glad I get to talk about a God who’s larger than my ineptitude.

  3. Steve Cuss April 16, 2012 at 9:18 am #


    Man, we’ve all been there! Also, your story makes your tweet feed on the right even better!

    tweet 1: “looking forward to speaking one more time….”

    tweet 2: “last night I had a crash and burn….”

    BTW, I got to be at the Breakthrough Leaders Network when you spoke, No crickets there – 100% solid content


  4. Tim Spivey April 16, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Geoff, dude…thanks for sharing this, and for processing it the way you did. I’ve been there before and it’s really tough. I think we preachers ought to share like this more often. Thanks for the authenticity and the reminders.

  5. Wren April 16, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    I spoke once two days after skin cancer surgery. The meds made me really loopy but there wasn’t another option of a sub-preacher this day at the point I realized “Oh no.” I was so dizzy during it that I had to have someone bring me a stool and some sweet tea. To top things off, I had a huge bandage on my nose, so I looked like Rocky.

    If ever there was the antithetical to the faux hawked affliction T-Shirt preacher, it was me that day, bald, clutching for balance to a pulpit and trying to keep it all coherent.

  6. Jesse Giglio April 16, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Classic. After services this weekend and what I thought was an inspiring message I found a note, no, a 5-point essay in my box on how terrible my message was and that I needed to join toastmasters…As much as I tell myself it’s one person, one time….it still hurts like hell.

    • Angel Flores April 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

      Hang in there Jesse. We all have “those” people who think what we do looks so easy. Babe Ruth said “The loudest boos come from the cheapest seats.” That’s true in church too. This was obviously the enemy using someone to take a shot at you. Just put it behind you and move forward and remember “those with us far outnumber those against us.” (2 Kings 6:16)

      • Jesse Giglio April 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

        Thank you so much for that Angel!

  7. Ron Sheveland April 16, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Sure, I’ve had my crash & burn moments. But… what is frustrating is the number of nightmares I have where everything goes wrong with a sermon. I am curious if most preachers are plagued with those bad dreams?

    • Ed Taylor April 16, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      I dream that about once every three months. I wake in a sweat.

    • Geoff Surratt April 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

      Normally my dream is me arriving at church with a sermon and realizing I’m on that day. That’s about once a week.

  8. Cody Davidson April 16, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Well, one of the first times I was speaking was at the student ministries weekend service at my home church. I thought I was well prepared and ready to go for the Saturday night service. Wrong. Ten minutes of awkward stumbling and fumbling and I apologized to the students (who were few) and invited them to Sunday’s services. Spent the whole night re-writing the message. Thankfully the next two services went way better.

  9. Ed Taylor April 16, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    This is actually a worship leading story, but very similar in many respects.

    I was leading worship for the community Good Friday Service a couple years back. Our church was hosting. There was a pretty good turnout from many local churches. Things were going great. My worship team was knocking it out of the park (notice the personal pronouns are already getting out of whack), and I am thinking, “Man, I wonder if my church realizes how lucky they are to have me? We are really making a great impression on the community, and it is largely due to this awesome worship.” This is when God smiled, but not for the reason I suspected he was smiling.

    We got to the very end of the service. The lights were very low, and things were quite solemn. I was to close the entire service with a stirring acoustic guitar rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross,” a song I had sung literally HUNDREDS of times. I was pretty swept away by the moment and was feeling all warm and fuzzy because God was smiling down on me and the show that I was putting on for him. Then I began to play…

    …except the melody, the chord progressions, everything had completely left me for greener pastures. I was a worship leader who could not remember “The Old Rugged Cross.” So I started singing anyway. I figured, “If I launch out, it will come to me.” But it did not. It was a dreadful, meandering, confusing massacre of the classic hymn. It took me fully two verses and a chorus before the melody finally returned to me. I had never felt so deeply humiliated in my life. I finished respectfully and skulked away.

    Afterward, I was talking with my team and they were like, “What an interesting new arrangement of “The Old Rugged Cross,” and one visitor told me it was “very moving,” and I was thinking, “What? You’ve got to be kidding.”

    So this is my favorite tale of God humbling me – reminding me that it is NOT about me AT ALL but about him – and that even if I am completely incompetent and fumble my way through everything, God can still use that for his good. Not I but Christ that lives within me…amen?

    • Geoff Surratt April 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      Awesome story! One of my new favorite worship leader FAILs :)

  10. Ryan May April 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    4 months after launching in a movie theater, Jim Miles came in to speak for me. We had already rearranged the auditorium schedule so the early show wouldn’t overstep our service. But, what we failed to monitor were the ads that preceed the previews. So… As Jim was setting up a very moving response time… Pamela Anderson trivia (voluptuous pic and all) graced the silver screen! Jim had no idea what had happened and later recalled, “It was strange… Everyone was tracking with me so well, then all of sudden their eyes drifted upward and no one seemed to be paying attention anymore…”

    • Geoff Surratt April 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

      “Listen to Jim or stare at Pamela? Hmmm….”)

  11. Chris Messerer April 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Seems like technology always ruins my sermons/teaching opportunities. The last time was just a few weeks ago… I was teaching a class that my boss was going to evaluate, since he heard I do a decent job teaching.

    Well… where to start lol…

    First, I ordered 11 pizzas for the class, and intended to pick it up at the pizza shop a few blocks away from church… but that’s not what happened… somehow the online ordering sent it to the store 15 minutes away! After that panic with me picking up the pizzas for the class, I arrived 20 minutes late to class…

    Then, the technology team was supposed to have everything set up for me, all the laptops on, the projector/screen working properly, and the website I was teaching on properly signed in. Well, nothing was set up, and I had to scramble to try to get everything going. Well, nothing was working. The Projector decided to not turn on at all, the websites wouldn’t let me sign in, and, let’s just say, my boss wasn’t too pleased.

    I pulled through after getting the technology team back up to the room to at least sign us into the website, and I was able to teach without a screen (try teaching computer related stuff without showing them on a projector/screen).

    Thankfully, after the class, my supervisor was graceful and offered me some tips for next time. I know for sure NEXT TIME I will send someone else to get the pizza!


  12. Heath Hiatt April 16, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    I got up to speak one time several years ago and was doing great. everything was flowing. a little too much flowing actually. my pants were very unzipped. so, i did what any holy ghost preacher like myself should do. i did an impromptu altar call. Yup, i literally told them “every head bowed and every eye closed.” I did get my zipper zipped up, but no one committed their lives to Christ that day. I wonder why?


    • Geoff Surratt April 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      I miss pulpits. Pulpits were great for fly checking.

  13. Angel Flores April 16, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    I was in Cuba speaking in a church and I tried to say (in Spanish) “I’m excited to be here” but I used the wrong word and instead I said “I’m really sexually turned on to be here!”

    It was pretty tough to try and recover from that one.

    • Geoff Surratt April 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

      That’s awesome! Wait, isn’t Spanish like your native tongue? :)

  14. Dusty Smith April 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    In my first youth ministry position, I allowed my barely filtered humor to create an awkward slightly offensive situation.

    During a pre-camp meeting with students and parents, I was asked a sarcastic question by one of my more silly student leaders. He asked if “spooning” was against the rules. I responded without thinking. I said spooning was allowed but forking was strictly prohibited. This was met with a mix of shock and nervous laughter. (both coming fom my wife)

    It was a regrettable statement. Now I use it as a teaching point when speaking with younger leaders.

  15. mike meeks April 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I was given the opportunity to speak at the church i was on staff at and told the story of my wrestling days as a 98 pound freshman… I was the only one with a baggy uniform… I said that my opponent was a burley lift;e guy w/ a five o’clock shadow while was several years away from any pubic hair… I meant to say “facial hair.” for years i had people asking how the pubic hair was coming along…

  16. Dave April 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    Geoff…thanks for sharing. I’ve had many speaker fails! Once was speaking to a small youth retreat, thought I was killing it until 3 middle school girls began loudly snoring from the front row! Distracted me the whole time and reminded me of how important I was to God working.