The Next Faithful Step

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Preaching When I'm Not in the Pulpit

A Pastor's Reflection

After I began my first call as solo pastor of a small congregation, I quickly learned that preaching was much more pervasive in ministry than I had thought. At first this took the form of feeling like I was always thinking about, preparing for, and writing sermons. Suddenly preaching every week will do that to you. But soon a different and clearly more significant understanding of the pervasiveness of preaching set in. What I came to realize was that, whether he or she realizes it or not, the pastor is continuously proclaiming something.

I always hesitate to mention this because I never want to appear to talk poorly of a colleague in ministry, but a previous pastor at the church I served would prepare his sermons just before church on Sunday mornings. When I began my call, I spoke about and used the scriptures constantly—from planning meetings to the pulpit. I will readily admit that, at first, this was more of a defensive tactic as, in my inexperience in pastoral ministry, I really just didn’t know what else to say or do. I realized quickly that this was having a profound effect on some members of the congregation. For these people, the pervasiveness of scripture in and out of the pulpit was significant. I was unsure why this seemed so new and significant to some until someone told me about this previous pastor’s method of sermon preparation. I know he did not intend this at all—this pervasive proclamation is subtle—but what was being proclaimed was a sort of unserious view of the scriptures. Again, this was not at all intended, but it was effective. This was my first indication that the pastor says (often without saying anything at all) significant proclamatory things outside of proclaiming things from the pulpit.

This all sounds very foreboding. But it doesn’t need to be all warning. I have come to see this pervasive and subtle proclamation as invitation. There is an invitation here to excitedly embrace the reality that so much of what the pastor does can be more significant than it may appear. The way in which we handle grief, celebration, conflict, administration, visitation, and our own schedules (to name just a few) in reality are public statements about what we believe concerning the church, the people of God, the presence of God, the scriptures, and more. And, whether our congregations are able to articulate it or not, this is a proclamation that is heard and effective. In fact, I believe that these extra-pulpit proclamations are often heard more clearly and to greater effect than the proclamation proper on Sunday mornings.

There is another bit of good news here. Preaching proper is a difficult task. Among the difficulties is that one can never say all that could be said. And one cannot be everything in the pulpit. I cannot be pastoral, encouraging, challenging, studious, serious, approachable, exegetically comprehensive, and sensitive to the unique and particular needs of each member of the congregation in any one sermon. But a view of proclamation that encompasses pastoral activity outside of the pulpit relieves this stress of needing to be all of these at any one time. The particular passage for any given Sunday morning may call for pastoral comfort. And a visitation that week may call for serious challenge. The sermon may confront a sin railed against in the scriptures. A conversation later that day may use the same scripture to comfort one wounded by another by that particular sin.

We would all do well to remember that proclamation doesn’t stop when the pulpit is left. Nor does it start when it is entered. This is both a challenge and an invitation. And, ultimately, the preaching that goes on outside of the pulpit lays a foundation for the proclamation that occurs in it. I know I found that when I got this extra-pulpit proclamation right, people heard the proclamation on Sunday mornings much more clearly.

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