Monday, August 07, 2006

Lessons learned, part two

Here are the rest of my lessons learned about the ministry of pulpit supply:
  1. Be prepared to lead worship. Think about it-- the churches that are likely to call you for pulpit supply are not the ones likely to have another pastor on staff to lead worship. Sometimes there will be an Elder who does it, and occasionally a music director that takes a strong part. Most of the time, it will be up to you. It's a good idea to be ready for it: have some scripture ready for a call to worship, assurance of pardon, and other readings that are appropriate for your sermon topic (or at least appropriate for those functions); maybe even have some hymns picked out that you could suggest if they're needed (be sure to pick hymns that are familiar to most people AND that you know, since you'll probably be leading them). If you've never done this before, pay attention to the way your pastor does it at your church. Note the way that he has something to say between the elements of worship, how he gives a brief explanation of some parts, etc.
  2. Let one of their Elders/leaders pray for the congregation. I rarely will lead the congregational prayers, because they need to be very personal and familiar prayers-- and I can't offer those for a congregation I don't know very well. In fact, there is only one church that I've preached at where I'm comfortable leading these prayers, and that's partly because I've been there more than 10 times. You may end up leading them anyway, but ask their leadership to take them if they will; most will quickly understand why this is a good idea.
  3. Show your gratitude to the musician(s). If you've ever led worship without accompaniment, you'll understand why this is so important. But it goes beyond that; if you are open in your appreciation of how they share their gifts, you are acknowledging that it's not all about you. You can be sure that the musician(s) will not be the only ones who notice this, and it underscores the value of your ministry to them tremendously.
  4. Be ready to stay for lunch. Or at least be ready to stay for a while. You shouldn't just take off right after the service; if you want to minister to them, you'll talk with them for a few minutes after worship. Often there will be some sort of fellowship time, with coffee and doughnuts or other food. Sometimes there will be a potluck dinner afterward. Now and then someone will invite you out. Don't deny them their opportunity for hospitality; if you do, you're communicating that you don't really care about them, but only about the preaching opportunity. At very least, have a good reason why you can't stay; "I'm tired" won't do, but "I have to pick up my family at our regular church" will. I would say that "we have to get the kids home for their naps" is iffy.
  5. Thank them on the way out. Be sure to seek out one or more of the leaders and tell them how much you appreciate the invitation to preach. You should feel honored and privileged that you were given that blessing, and you should also feel obligated to communicate to them that you feel that way. I thank everyone I speak to after the worship service for having me there, but I make sure to give a particular word of appreciation to the leaders.
  6. Don't make a big deal about the money. Most churches will hand you a check at some point while you're there. By all means, don't make this exchange any more awkward by drawing attention to it. If they give you a check, smile, quietly thank them, then tuck it in your Bible or your pocket. Definitely do not open it up and check how much it was for. If they don't have the check ready, there will probably be someone who is very uncomfortable and apologetic about it; assure them that it is no big deal, and they can send it in the mail later. Again, if you're there just for the money, you shouldn't be there. I always approach pulpit supply as something I am willing to do for free; I've never refused an honorarium, but if a church couldn't pay me I would still go when they asked me to peach.
If you take these lessons into consideration, you'll probably find the ministry of pulpit supply to be even better. Your preaching will improve, your confidence will improve, and you'll probably get more invitations back to churches you've preached at before.

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