Ask a Supply Preacher: What's it Like to Preach in a Different Context Each Week

Photo by  Colin Maynard  on  Unsplash

Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash

(Guest post by Cathie Caimano. Lisa is traveling back from teaching and preaching at the Fontaine Sermon Event at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, MN.)


My ministry is that of a Free Range Priest.

Rather than work at a single church, I teach, coach, write, and lead worship in different locations and contexts, and my one vocation is the sum of many tasks.

One of those tasks is preaching.

I regularly preach and celebrate the Eucharist at one congregation a couple times of month. On other Sundays, I could be anywhere: at a large church or a small one, urban or rural, in my own Diocese or in another region or state, in a place I've been often or somewhere I've never been before.

People often ask me what it's like to preach in a different context each week.

Is it hard to offer a sermon in a place where I don’t know anyone in the pews?

Are there things I have to do differently because I am not the regular pastor in the place I preach?

It might surprise you, but the answer is "No."


The Universal Reality of Preaching

Preaching is proclamation.

It is the craft and the practice of listening for God’s word through Scripture and offering it to others through our own thoughts and experiences.

In this way, much of the work of preaching happens between the preacher and God. And of course, the rest of it happens between God and the people who receive the sermon.

As preachers, we are standing in the juncture of these two relationships.

Because of this position, there are some ways that it matters to preachers who those people are and where they are from, and some ways it does not.

Every preacher is familiar with the phenomenon of having someone come up to them after a service and say, “I love when you said ‘X’ in the sermon." 

But we never said "X"!

Somehow our words, the Holy Spirit, and the ears of the listeners created an alchemy where something was shared and translated, even if it wasn’t exact. This can be a holy experience, when what is heard transcends even the words of our sermons and brings the listener closer to God.

It can also be a frustrating experience, especially if the listener thinks they heard us say something we didn’t and they find it hurtful or possibly even the antithesis of Good News ("I agree with you pastor—we should call out those sinners in our midst!’).

Either way, it reminds us God is powerfully present in the preaching process. We cannot control what our listeners hear, even with our own direct words, and that’s a good thing.

God’s word will find its way to the listener, whether we know the congregation or not, which is both a relief and a challenge for the preacher.

Our role is to discern and offer the Good News to the best of our ability, and after that, it is up to God to guide us and our listeners to receive it.


The Role of Relationship in Preaching

Now, I don’t mean to imply that we have no pastoral relationship with our congregation if we are the full or part-time clergy there.

Of course we do, and the relationship is deepened and strengthened by our words from the pulpit, and from the careful listening and receiving of them by those in the pews. Over time, this is a very rich source of sharing our spiritual lives together.

However, this familiarity can also put fear in our hearts when we are called on to preach in certain situations.

There may be moments when we feel I can’t say that, even when we feel led to, because we know—or think we know—how certain parishioners might react if they heard it. We understand our flock and what filters they might have on sensitive subjects.

In this case, our pastoral relationship may stand in the way of what we hear from God AND what our congregation hears from us about God.


The Good News

No matter how well we know, or don’t know, the congregation where we are offering our sermon, we cannot control how the Holy Spirit is present or how others experience it.

It is crucial for us to remember this, whether we are the regular preacher and pastor of a congregation or not.

Which is why I think, in the best sense, it doesn’t matter who our congregation is.

It could be people we have known all our lives, it could be people we are just meeting for the first time, it could be anyone in between.

The craft of preaching is the craft of hearing God’s word, offering God’s word, and getting out of the way of the congregation experiencing God’s word.

Whether we have ever met one another or not, we are all deeply known by God. Preaching helps remind us of this connection.




Have You Considered BsP's Mentorship Program?

If you're interested in exploring how the work of preaching happens between the preacher and God, our Mentorship program is designed to dive deeply into this connection.

Over the course of a year—with spiritual direction from a mentor and support from a group of peers—you'll dive deeply into your backstory to establish a sermon prep process that connects you to God each week. At the same time, you'll develop skills to hone your preaching craft so you can share that connection effectively.

The deadline for application is this Wednesday, 11/15.

This will be your last opportunity to participate until 2019.