The following article is an excerpt from my book, Pulpit Supply Handbook: Answering Twelve Frequently Asked Questions. Part 1 of the series is here.
Response Plans for the Unavoidable
Many situations you will face are simply outside your control.
Accidents & Storms
You may find yourself in an unexpected jam because of a motor vehicle accident on the only road you can take. You might even have a vehicle accident yourself. You may experience a downpour that makes it too dangerous to drive.
In these sorts of situations, when it is safe to do so, you should phone the church and/or your contact person to let them know of your situation, and whether it will make you arrive later than expected or if it will be impossible to make the appointment. That way, they can pray for you and carry on as best they know how, under the circumstances.
Sometimes, however, there is simply no way to let people know. I was scheduled to preach at a church in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, a land beyond the signal of the cell phone towers, and was caught in a torrential downpour while traveling there. Although I had been to the church before, I missed a turn amid unusually heavy rains. I realized I had made a wrong judgment, and in my misguided haste to make up for lost time, I took our minivan around the curvy mountain roads a bit faster than my young children could handle, only to have three who had lost their breakfast before we pulled into the church parking lot.
The church folks had been concerned about the absence of the guest preacher, and they were gracious in caring for our family and helping my wife clean up the mess. I was there just in time to preach the sermon. At about 11:30 a.m., with embarrassment, I explained and apologized for my tardiness, and proceeded to try to preach. Those are circumstances I hope I do not have to repeat!
Another thing that is hard to avoid is interruptions. The nature of the interruption and your own personality are factors in how you will handle interruptions.
A baby may cry while you are preaching. The baby may keep crying. And crying. Will you raise your voice and try to speak over the inconsolable child, managing things as best you can, or will you ask the mother to please deal with the little one and return when things are calmer? I don’t recommend defaulting to the second option, but if you choose it, you need to be as gentle and kind about it as you can.
Some folks may chat while you are talking. I had this happen with some teenage boys who had been bused in to a church, and have seen it happen in other services to other preachers. I chose to stop mid-sermon to address the situation, as we were in small quarters and I was afraid that they posed a significant distraction to others who would want to hear the Word.
There are plenty of other possible interruptions. One time I was preaching and my children were in a room within earshot of the platform. While I was preaching, I kept hearing one of my children crying. The crying persisted. I finally thought I would have to either see about it directly or ask someone to do so, so I stopped my sermon and asked if anyone could go check on my wife and children. A lady from the church went to the room and found that one of my children had accidently bloodied a sibling’s nose with a boomerang from the toy box. Then she opened the window because the room was warm, but an angry hornet flew in and stung another child, which resulted in more crying!
You Can’t Plan for Everything
It is a great comfort to believe in the sovereignty of God over His creation, His people, and our circumstances. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, even your own foibles and distractions you may face when supply preaching (Rom 8:28-29).
Although you want to be as prepared for pulpit ministry as you are able, it can remove a lot of pressure when you realize that there is no way to be absolutely certain that you have the answer for every possible situation! Sometimes you just have to experience and enjoy life.
One memory that continues to make me smile occurred while I was waiting my turn to preach in a church service at another church in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. I was a visitor, and had little idea of what to expect. An anonymous lady I will call “Patsy” entered the building and set her stereo boom box on the table at the front of the church building. Later, someone requested that she sing a song. As I recall, Patsy’s response was something like, “Honey, I didn’t come prepared for that.” Shortly afterward, she had her tape playing her musical accompaniment as she sang along, presumably “unprepared.” Now, when you’re a guest preacher, what else can you do with that but smile?
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