Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lessons learned about pulpit supply

I've gotten more than my share of preaching, teaching, and speaking opportunities since I began seminary studies (last count is 92 times, and I have more scheduled for the rest of the summer). A lot of these have been repeat visits-- those 92 times were in only 23 different places. So I've been blessed to get some invitations to go back to places I've preached before.

[An aside: I always appreciate the invitation back-- it means that I didn't totally stink the last time I was there!]

Along the way, I've learned a few things about having a fruitful ministry through pulpit supply. Here are some of the lessons learned:

  1. Approach it as a ministry. If you're doing this just for the experience-- or worse, just for the money-- then you shouldn't be doing it. I've tried to see myself as the minister of the flock that I'm preaching to for that day. Attend to their needs, pray for them and with them, and generally make yourself available, heart and soul, for their spiritual needs for that time.
  2. Be willing to preach. How much notice will you require to accept a preaching invitation? Here's my policy: if they call me, even last-minute, because of some sort of emergency, I'll go unless I'm preaching elsewhere. This policy has meant that, on a handful of occasions, I've had to preach with only a day or two of notice. But it has also meant the world to those congregations-- and I promise you, it didn't matter to them if my sermons were a little rough.
  3. Be considerate of the church you're preaching in. If you're a Presbyterian and you're preaching in a non-denominational church, it's probably not the time to pull out your sermon on predestination. Sure, it's what you believe the Bible teaches, but there's no need to ram it down their throats. Tone down your language if you're talking about a topic of difference; if you have to discuss predestination, use "election" instead. You're there to love them, not tell them everything they're doing wrong or that you disagree with. If you want to have a lasting, long-term ministry to them of any sort, be considerate.
  4. Be considerate of the context of your sermon. Here I mean historical context. If something huge has happened, be sensitive to that in your sermon. I spent all of Saturday, Sept. 3rd, 2005 writing a new sermon, even though I had plenty of sermons I could preach. Why? Because Hurricane Katrina had hit Louisiana and Mississippi the week before, and the people I was preaching to needed to hear God's word speak to them about tragedy and disaster. I've also written a sermon for a church whose pastor's wife had a heart-attack the Wednesday before-- they called me on Thursday to preach.
  5. Show up 10-15 minutes earlier than they told you. Chances are, they won't tell you what time to arrive-- just what time the service starts. But the chances are also good that the Elders or other leadership will want to pray with you before worship. If nothing else, being there early will give you a chance to look over the order of worship and note any changes you should be aware of. Or, if you have trouble with the directions it will allow you a few minutes to find your way without being late.
  6. Take a partner. Whenever I can, I like to take someone with me when I go to preach. Often this is Marcie, and she is a great partner to me. But a number of times she hasn't gone with me for one reason or another, and I almost always try to take someone else. Why? For starters, it's easier if you're not alone; if you have a companion, then you know that you have one supporter. (But don't believe the lies of your own heart here: everyone else there is for you, too.) It's also good to have someone to help you evaluate the sermon-- what worked, where you could improve, how well you did on that one part you weren't sure of. I know it's easy to hate the evaluations in the cold, sterile Homiletics class environment, but you long for some kind of honest feedback when it's live and in front of regular people.
There are more; I'll post "part two" in the next couple of days.

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