The pastor not preaching on a Sunday is weird for everyone. The congregation wonders what the pastor is getting paid for and a dozen or so people won’t show up because the pastor isn’t there to “take attendance” (if the pastor gets a break, they should too.) For me personally, it’s not only strange because I’m not the one up front on a Sunday morning, but because my whole week is thrown out of whack. So much of my day-to-day is sermon prep, and when that gets cut out, I have no idea what to do. So here’s what generally happens.
Still recuperating from Sunday.
I open my bible (app) to begin reading the passage for next Sunday. I realize I’m not preaching Sunday so I close it. I feel guilty about not reading the bible, so I play Bible Russian Roulette. That’s where you just open up to a random passage and live out whatever it says… scary stuff.
If I am not out-of-town yet, then I have some church stuff, so that distracts me. My creativity level hits an 11, because my brain is not being used for anything else. Everyone is a little freaked-out because we’re not sitting in a circle like always, and I have crafts for an object lesson, so be careful.
I get with the guest preacher. We pray, we review, we talk about anything weird in the passage. All I’m really doing is making sure I am not going to get a phone call at 12:15pm on Sunday with someone “venting.” The last thing I want is someone saying something heretical, because then I have to do an awkward correction the next Sunday even though 98% of the people didn’t even catch it. Or, if what was said was against one of the church’s principles, then I have to decide whether or not I’m going to scrap what I was doing the following Sunday and instead preach a message which re-highlights our core principles without seeming too attacking of the previous week’s preacher. On second thought, I’m just going to cancel my vacation and just preach this week. (The wife just vetoed that idea.)
Date Night. This is nice. I’m not behind on my sermon prep so that means dinner and a double-feature at Movie World. Where is Movie World you might ask? Movie World is every single movie theater in America. When you go to Disney World, you pay the ridiculous entrance fee at the front gate and then you ride all the rides for free. Movie World is the same.
I usually have thoughts of PowerPoints, YouTube clips, and invitation music dancing in my head. But not this day. I have no sermon to prepare for. What do I do? The answer is simple, I turn on the seemingly never-ending abyss which is my Netflix account. Movies, Documentaries, entire TV Series are right at my figure tips. I can watch 3 seasons in a single night. This night is the epitome of freedom. For years this night has been etched-out, untouchable, unavoidable, and totally devoted to the next morning’s message. No matter how prepared I am, Saturday nights are always filled with last minute tweaks and rearrangements. But tonight… I am free!
I wake-up suddenly in a cold sweat. I’ve over slept! Oh wait, I’m not preaching this morning, I’m on vacation. Then why do I have this queasy feeling? Oh no, what if the guest preacher is sick or gets in a car accident or forgets to set his alarm… I’ll text him. Then I stare at the phone. The twelve seconds seem like an eternity. He’s fine and ready to go. I lay back down. Do I want to sleep-in? Or do I want breakfast? Not like a Pop-tart and fruit snack kind of breakfast, but like bacon and something that needs syrup kind of breakfast. But then my kids leap on me and I’m awake. All throughout my morning, I can’t shake that feeling that I’m missing something; but all I can do is pray, stare at Facebook, and wait for the service to get out.
12:01pm hits, and not a single post or tweet or even instagram prayer selfie. Oh no, how long is this guy going to preach? I’m the one that has to deal with the sarcastic remarks if people miss their lunch reservations. Why oh why did I not drop the 3 grand necessary to be able to Live-Stream! Wait a second. There… there it is! Something about the Spirit moving! Yes! There’s another! And another! Phew. In a few minutes I can call my substitute preacher, tell him thank-you, and that everyone loved it (even though there is no way I’m going to talk to other people while on vacation.) Finally I can enjoy the last few hours of vacation before things are back to normal on Monday. At last (sigh.)
In All Seriousness
I actually think there are several reasons why it’s important for a pastor to only preach around 40-45 Sundays a year. Here’s my Top 10 list.
10) Pastors need to learn to sit and listen to live preaching.
9) It’s valuable for the congregation to get some variety.
8) When a pastor doesn’t have sermon prep, they can get all the other little things done.
7) Pastors need to rest more than they realize.
6) Everyone needs to know that the church is bigger than just one man.
5) It gives opportunity to those gifted in the area of preaching but who haven’t been called to pastor.
4) It’s not good for the congregation to look at the pastor as the “sole keeper of truth.”
3) Pastors can start believing their own hype if they don’t hear other preachers getting praised as well.
2) Notice that all the really good TV shows only have like 13 episodes. Less sermons means more quality.
1) Pastors need to disciple their replacements. They need to give opportunities for the future pastors to preach.