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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Also Known As Preaching

Main Idea: Equipping and giving voice to Lay people is HUGE


In preparing to finish a job contract in Toronto, I'm making sure the congregation will be able to take over many things that I do. I am putting even more effort than usual into empowering and equipping the members of this church.

Some tasks are technological, others are mildly administrative, and still others require mountains of planning. Each of these types of tasks is relatively easy for the particular personality type who enjoys that sort of thing, but none of them really make the church tick. They don't absolutely need to be done. And therefore, I don't expect a line of volunteers out the door to do them.

One of my favorite tasks is preaching. I started preaching a few years back when I was discerning a call to ordained ministry, and I took to it like a duck to water. I was not admitted to postulancy, so I never got to go to seminary and take a class in preaching.

But I didn't let that stop me from learning everything I could to follow God's calling. The first thing I noticed as I tried to improve was that there are few resources, less encouragement and training, and even less opportunity for preachers who are not ordained or on the path towards ordination.

Again, I didn't let that stop me. I refused to let one person's decision rob me of my seminary education. I spoke with clergy and scoured their libraries, making a list of books to read. I now have my very own course of study in theology, church history, pastoral care, and homiletics. I plow through it as quickly as I can for someone who commonly works two full-time jobs.

Many clergy are impressed that I understand what I read. But most of these are folks who went to seminary as relatively young people and rarely had any other academic training. I, on the other hand, have multiple advanced degrees and regularly engaged with theory from first principles.

My history and habits are unusual for your ordinary parishioner. I'm an overachiever and committed to living out my calling with or without ordination. Stubborn and too big for my britches, my grandmother would call me. Your average churchgoer isn't like me.

So when I prepared to hand off my preaching duties by teaching a basic class for lay people, I didn't expect much. I thought there would be one or two of the "usual suspects" who commonly show up for whatever is on offer. This particular congregation is not big on jumping into new things, even classes. Four people at a preaching class would have been remarkable, and I would have happily taught two people.

Imagine my surprise when six people signed up. Imagine my shock when a new person showed up out of the blue from another parish because he'd seen my post on Facebook.

On a whim, I recently decided to offer the class to a broader audience.

People. Are. Flooding. In.

I've discovered both lay and clergy are hungry to build up a preaching cadre within congregations. And here I thought I was the only one!

Here are some of the things I've learned:

  1. Learning about preaching from a lay person is "heard" differently than it is from the clergy. In a certain way, it's taken more seriously.

  2. Learning about preaching creates grateful listeners on a Sunday morning, who appreciate how much time and effort goes into a sermon. They know what they're listening for, as well. 

  3. Learning about preaching generates a felt need for further education. When we write a sermon for the first time, we realize how little we know about exegesis and history and theology and heresy. Your average Bible Study does not fulfill these needs. We need knowledgeable guidance leading to reputable sources. We need to bridge the gap between the two. Thankfully, there are survey courses and materials designed to educate lay people so they can gain entry into the world of primary theological sources. And more are being created every day. 

  4. Clergy not only benefit from preachers within the congregation in terms of freed-up time, but they also gain valuable insight about the congregation they serve when voices within it are allowed to open up the gospel to each other. 

  5. Clergy also benefit from parishioners who thirst anew for more profound knowledge about the faith and seek guidance clergy can provide from their seminary education. As a bonus, this creates more people for clergy to "geek out" with. Who doesn't love that? 

  6. Our adult education efforts that lean heavily on introductory or "hip" subjects are missing a significant mark. Practical, leadership, voice-validating training is wanted, leading to further "meaty" education that empowers and provides further leadership and voice-validation within the church community. 

  7. Finally, as we learn in Lesson One of my class, there is another word for "Lay Preaching." It's called "Preaching." We don't call it "Ordained Preaching," do we? Preaching by a lay person is not "less than." The laity is not "less than." We say this a million ways, but our behavior screams the message that lay people, and their ministries are "less than." And it's just not true. The survival of our churches depends on empowering, encouraging, and giving up actual power to the laity.

  • Are you interested in a 4-session basic course on preaching from one un-ordained person to another? 

  • Are you interested in a carefully designed seminary-type remote education for lay people without a huge cost?

  • Are you called but can't find a place in the church? Do you feel called to this effort?

If you answered "yes" to any of these, contact me now.

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