It’s been a couple of years since I needed pulpit supply. That’s because members of the congregation have learnt to take services. Reflecting on how we got to this place I was struck by three things.
First, I needed to get over myself.
I have a high view of preaching and believe that quality in worship matters. I spent years studying theology and have decades of experience. How could it be right for people without any of these to effectively lead worship? So, while I encouraged members of the congregation to share in many aspects of ministry, preaching was ring-fenced.
Expressed like this it sounds crass. So I didn’t. I made excuses like, the congregation wouldn’t accept it and people wouldn’t want to do it. I hid from myself my reluctance to surrender the aspect of ministry that gave me my sense of identity. I was the one called to preach.
Slowly, the Holy Spirit chipped away at my insecurity. A few years ago I relented. When the Presbytery announced it was running a course in preaching and leading worship, I advertised it to the congregation.
Second, it’s important to create slip roads.
You don’t join a motorway at a T-junction. There is always a slip road to get you up to speed before joining the traffic. Asking someone with no experience to take a Sunday service is like trying to join a motorway at a T-junction.
It turns out that over the years I had created a slip-road for leading worship. It begins with reading the Bible in Sunday worship. People get used to hearing their voices in church. The next step is leading prayers-for-others during services. People start to write words they will use in worship. Their confidence and competence grows through feedback and practice. Then we have a weekly lay-led 20-minute informal, weekday service – people write a short sermon and create an act of worship.
I’ve discovered that more people than I would have imagined have a desire to use their gifts in serving God. Most need an environment where their gifts can be nurtured. With encouragement and support their competence and confidence develop. It usually takes years rather than months. It requires an investment of a significant amount of my time and effort.
Third, use it or lose it.
I took a week’s holiday after Easter and asked one of the worship leaders to lead Sunday worship. My heart sank when I realised I’d only have a couple of days after I got back to prepare for the next Sunday. So I got over myself and asked another worship leader to preach and said I would lead the service.
Afterwards, she thanked me for giving her the opportunity and said, ‘not many ministers are happy to let others preach.’
Unknowingly I had sent a very positive message to the congregation. Self-interest had prompted me to ask her to preach that Sunday. What the congregation heard, however, was that I am serious about sharing leadership. I’m not just talking about how good it is to involve others, I’m actually doing it. The people who’ve been trained are being used, which means that others are now offering themselves to be trained.
While there is no simple prescription for involving others in ministry, you might find it helpful to ask these questions:
- How can I address my insecurities so that I don’t feel threatened by sharing ministry?
- How can I create slip roads so that people develop in competence and confidence?
- Does my practice demonstrate that my commitment to sharing ministry is more than words?
Rev Dr Neil Dougal
Minister, St. Andrew Blackadder Church North Berwick