[On a side note: it has also advanced my progress toward a milestone: one of the churches I've been preaching for has indicated that they wish to sponsor me for licensure in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Licensure requires about 1/3 of the work toward ordination, and in many cases can replace that first 1/3 in the ordination process.]
Preaching this frequently has also taught me a lot about the work of regular and consistent preaching. In a sense, it is a taste of what it would be like to serve a church as the primary or only preaching pastor (probably in the sense that the smell of cookies baking is like a taste of eating a plateful).
Here are a few things I have learned from this experience:
- The more knowledgeable you are of the Bible, the better. Preaching regularly doesn't just make you more familiar with your text-- it also requires that you be more familiar with it, because otherwise you won't have time to adequately prepare your sermons! But consistent time in study for preaching has the cumulative effect of deepening your knowledge and understanding of the Bible as a whole.
- Study done for other occasions can (and should) pay dividends for future occasions. Since I've preached a good bit, I was able to rely on previous preaching opportunities for some of the sermons I delivered over the past 10 weeks. Once you've served a church for awhile, you'll exhaust all of the sermons you wrote in seminary or for another ministry (depending on how diligent you were at pursuing preaching opportunities in seminary, this may be after the first couple of weeks!). But you should find creative ways to maximize the work already done-- be it exegetical work for papers in seminary, a Bible study you led during your pastoral internship, or a set of concepts you memorized for class or ordination. Dip into those wells for another drink.
- Preaching opens the hearts and minds of a congregation. I've had a high view of preaching for over six years, but it was primarily abstract; I believed preaching is important because God's people need to hear His word, and preaching is the primary vehicle He has ordained for them to hear it. But being with a couple of congregations for several worship services consecutively has given me a fresh perspective on how important preaching is. It really does matter-- the pastor who is effective from the pulpit will be more effective out of it (and the converse is just as true).
- Frequency of preaching makes you a better preacher. Or at least it makes me more comfortable in my mediocrity. Whichever, it is easier to preach when you're doing it regularly, not harder-- at least from the perspective of the confidence and comfort of the preacher. And from what I know of speaking, communication, and rhetoric, those count for a lot in terms of the net impact.
- God is faithful to those He has called to be ministers. As I mentioned before, I've been greatly encouraged in my sense of calling to be a pastor through this experience. Because I graduated from Covenant Seminary in December, the spring '06 semester was the last time I was allowed to submit my name to the seminary's "pulpit supply list"-- what they provide to churches that inquire about who is available to fill vacant pulpits. Therefore, Marcie and I were uncomfortable assuming that we might receive much income from preaching opportunities for the next fiscal year (we budget from June to May)-- and we only budgeted for three or four preaching opportunities. Yet, since June I've preached 17 times, and there are indicators that I will get a few more invitations over the coming months.