This past Sunday as I was sitting in church, my wife leaned over and noted, “there are three ministers, an M.Div. and a Diaconal minister sitting in the pews and none of them are in the pulpit.” She was right.
At the beginning of 2022 our minister came down with long Covid. At the beginning of this year she went on long term disability. I was named as the Interim Moderator. In our denomination I am the one that ensures that the pulpit is filled and that pastoral care takes place. If your situation is like ours, you already know how hard it is to find supply preachers these days and that the ones that are available are stretched very thin. This is the case in our presbytery as well. To address this issue in our congregation, elders have also been leading worship. Sometimes they preach themselves, but other times they use videoed sermons from a website called ‘A Sermon for Every Sunday’. This website was originally created as a paid service for congregations in need of a minister. However, a generous gift means that their sermons following the Revised Common Lectionary are available to all for free. Our sermon this past Sunday was projected on our screen while also being streamed through YouTube to our wider worshipping community.
A second resource that our elders use is the worship helps from our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in Canada. This downloadable resource provides a Call to Worship, hymn suggestions, prayers and other resources. Usually the elder adapts those resources to suit our own context.
What we had on Sunday was an excellent sermon preached by an excellent preacher as well as a liturgy provided by a dedicated and gifted elder. It was not second rate in any way and was as meaningful as any other worship service. It was a rare treat for me to be able to sit in the pews and worship.
As we continue to understand the implications of our new reality as the church, this model of worship is a very viable option for congregations seeking preachers. It is cost effective, theologically appropriate, and does not require an undo amount of preparation. This is not just a convenient substitute for a ‘real’ minister; it is a valid worship option and a way to raise the profile and expand the ministry of elders and other lay people. Incidentally, we pay our elders the same pulpit supply as ministers would receive.
This week I finished the book Part Time Is Plenty by G. Jeffrey MacDonald. MacDonald recognizes that in many contexts part-time ministry is sufficient. However, he is adamant that part-time ministry is only viable if the members of the congregation step up to take a meaningful role in the ministry of the congregation. Sunday’s worship was meaningful leadership by an elder of our congregation.
What opportunities do your lay leaders have? Our new ministry context requires flexibility, adaptability and imagination. What opportunities do you have in your midst?
A Sermon for Every Sunday: https://asermonforeverysunday.com/
The Presbyterian Church in Canada worship resources: https://presbyterian.ca/worship/
Part Time is Plenty
G. Jeffery MacDonald, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville KY, 2020.