Yesterday, I did not preach.
I’m not alone in making that statement. The Sunday after Easter has routinely been the designated Sunday for pastor sabbaths, which allow for an associate pastor or a guest preacher to do the sermon. After the journey through Lent and the business of Easter, pastors are typically emotionally, spiritually and physically exhausted the week after Easter.
However, Sunday was the first time that I did not preach since appointed to my two churches. We were blessed by the witness of Gerald Lister and Gideon’s International in worship. It was great to hear testimonies from this great organization, but, to be honest, it was also refreshing to be able to “take a week off” from preaching.
In doing that, I was able to recharge and refocus. I also learned some things about preaching and myself. Here are a few of the things that I learned or noticed this week.
It’s easy to say I need to step out of the pulpit from time to time, but it is a lot harder to do it. Throughout seminary and into my first year as a pastor, I have often been reminded of the need for pastors to not preach every week. The reason is that it is draining to both you and the congregation to hear from the same person and it allows the gifts of others to be expressed in worship. I have always agreed and believe pastors should step out from the pulpit, and not just designated “vacation Sundays.” The difficulty comes in actually stepping out. Every pastor has different reasons for this and they are not all selfish. For me, it is hard to step out of the pulpit because it is a place where I feel God’s presence. It is a place where I feel God, especially in corporate worship, so to remove myself from that presence is difficult, which leads to the next point.
It’s hard to worship when you are not preaching. As my wife and I drove home yesterday, I asked her if she felt worship was “awkward.” There was nothing different about the worship, but I felt awkward. What was awkward was my place in the worship. After years of sitting in the congregations, and a couple of years sitting next to my wife, I felt awkward sitting in the pews. It was odd. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I needed to be doing something, anything, and including checking to make sure we were “on time.” What I felt was similar to what many in our congregations feel when someone sits in “our place” in the pews. We can mock people for always wanting to go to the same place in the pew, but that place is a place of comfort and also a place where they experience the presence of God in worship. Please do not get me wrong when I say any of this. The Gideon’s presentation was excellent and Gerald did an amazing job. This is merely about me being uncomfortable with this ministry “first” and being open to what, I suspect, many pastors feel the first time they are out of the pulpit.
Not preaching allows time to focus on planning and visioning. I love to vision and dream. Even in a part-time appointment, it can be difficult to find time to properly vision and dream about different things whether it is a sermon series or an upcoming ministry. By not having to work on a sermon this week I was able to vision and craft an idea that will take our two congregations throughout the upcoming season of Kingdomtide (or Pentecost). We are going to focus entirely on what it means for us to be the kingdom of God and kingdom people from June through the end of October. I am really excited about this and I pray God will be glorified in all of it. My prayer is also that each of us will be inspired to live as people of God’s kingdom, especially as we are in the midst of this election year.
Things that have been ignored gets attention. There are many things that I had ignored during Lent and Holy Week. Some of these were plans that I have had for ministry and others were just general office organization projects. By taking a week off, I was able to do things I’ve been wanting to do in ministry (door-to-door) and some organization projects (clean the office). I hope this is just a beginning, especially with door-to-door, and not a one-time thing.