So you’ve been asked to “fill in” for the pastor on Sunday. Maybe it’s the church you attend or the one down the road but the invitation has come – what do you do?
Early on in my Bible college days I had the opportunity to do pulpit supply. For several years, I enjoyed preaching in different churches – week-to-week and month-to-month. Each one had a specific culture and of course each had their challenges. Some had just lost their pastor while others had been without a preacher for years. Maybe the pastor was out just for one Sunday or maybe he was sitting on the front row. In any case, I loved it. But honestly I was simply, “winging it.” No one told me how do it, how to prepare, or what to do when a church called me to preach for them. From my experience I want to provide you some things to consider when a church calls you to do pulpit supply.
If Your Schedule Allows, Always Say “Yes.”
So the call comes on a Tuesday from a pastor or a deacon asking you to preach at the “Backwoods Baptist Church” this coming Sunday morning and evening. It’s a small independent church off of Po-Dunk County Road with about 30 people on Sunday morning, if it isn’t raining. You check your calendar and you’re free – so say yes. The reality is it doesn’t matter the size of the church as long as you’re faithful to preach the Word. I believe if God has called you to preach, He will open up the doors for you to preach. When God places this call upon your life, you have that burning desire to preach the Bible. So when that door opens, walk through it. The more we preach, the better we preach. Surrender to His will and say “yes.”
Ask About the Culture of the Church
What is the attire on Sunday mornings? What translation does the pastor typically use? Is the pastor currently preaching through a series? Is there anything in the congregation that needs to be addressed? These questions are important as they give you an idea about the church. When it comes to attire, many millennial preachers scoff. However, in many established churches the dress is still important. When it comes to translation, be attentive to what version the congregation uses. If the congregation is KJV only, then out of respect, preach from it. Don’t be a jerk and give them a copy of the King James Only Controversy. If you feel called to preach, then you’ll preach from the Baptist hymnal if you have to. When it comes down to preaching, at least in my experience, you’ll hear “just preach what the Lord lays on your heart.” But it is better to ask than to re-preach what was preached the week before. Be sensitive to the needs of the congregation and seek to be an encouragement.
Remember The Essentials
The morning of be sure to remember the essentials: Bible, Breath Mints, and Blazer. Ok, this sounds strange but I know guys who have been asked to preach but forgot their Bibles. Whatever you do, bring your Bible. Also bring a breath mint…or five because you last thing you want to do is preach a good sermon and then saturate church members with your funky breath while you’re greeting folks at the door. This will help your voice before and after you preach. Lastly, err on the side of respect and bring a blazer (or sport coat) to wear. Again in many established churches the dress is still important. In many of the churches I did pulpit supply in it wasn’t necessary but out of respect I didn’t show up as if I had just rolled out of bed. You don’t have to put on a fashion show but you want to present yourself nicely. It’s important to ask about this before arriving.
Be Considerate of Time
This should go without saying but if you are invited to preach, please show up to preach on time. I’ve heard horror stories of pulpit supply preachers showing up 5 minutes before the service started, causing Deacon Don to sweat about preaching a sermon. Get the church’s information (website, phone, etc) and make sure you know where you’re going. Find out who the contact person is in case there is an issue getting there. Don’t make my mistake by taking the wrong turn only to wind up in the cemetery that was 10 minutes away from the church (I assumed the church was next to the cemetery). Arrive at least 30 minutes before the service starts. Also always ask when the service is typically over. If the service ends at noon, then if possible land the plane before that time. Most folks will forgive a bad short sermon but many want forgive a bad long sermon.
Be a Blessing and Preach Faithfully
Don’t be cute. Don’t be a theologian. Don’t try to impress with your novice Greek skills. Just be faithful. I would advocate preaching a simple text from an epistle or a well-known narrative. Simplicity is the key to effective text-driven preaching. Call your text and preach it. Make it clear! Regardless, whatever text you preach, just be sure to preach the gospel. You have been invited to declare Jesus so be sure to tell the old, old story. You aren’t invited to “wow” people with your amazing delivery; you are simply called to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). Go, be a blessing, preach the Bible, give them Jesus. As a side note, ask about the invitation. Does the pastor typically give an invitation? If so, ask about the process.
Pulpit supply is an exciting part of ministry. I enjoyed driving to that one church out in the middle of the county just to preach to 20 people – they asked me back the next two Sundays. That church 3 hours away for one Sunday night, what a blessing. The larger First Baptist a few miles away, they made me feel like family. Pulpit supply created a love for the local church and a greater desire to preach the Bible. I look back and rejoice at how God shaped my preaching. Mostly importantly I am thankful that the Lord forgive my mistakes (and the churches as well). I pray that the Lord will open up the door for you to do effective pulpit supply.
Michael Cooper is the Pastor of Grace Community Church in Mabank Texas. He has preached in various churches throughout East Texas for 10 years. Michael has earned a B.A. in Biblical Studies and a M.A. in Theological Studies from Criswell College. He is the recipient of the Paige Patterson Expository Preaching Award for the class graduating class of 2016. He and his wife Kailie have been married since June 2012 and they are the proud parents of two little girls, Sophia Grace and Lydia Joy.