The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The joy of supply preaching

As a retired pastor I am available for pulpit supply in an area where one who is willing might preach every Sunday. Fortunately, I enjoy preparing sermons and preaching.

A pew sitter for two years after “hanging it up,” I decided that studying, reading and writing sermons were things I enjoyed, missed and needed. So I now supply preach — and feel that what I say from the pulpit is sounder and more appreciated than when I was in a parish.

Supply preaching has proven different from preaching as a called parish pastor. I enjoy it more and am encouraged by the impression that people in the pews enjoy and benefit from what they see and hear coming from me. I’ve tried to discern why those things may be true.

At this point in life there is greater scriptural familiarity and insight, plus an ability to connect those more easily to life. Being more sincere, candid, daring and frank when preaching and in one-on-one discussion, and being more open to differing views than when serving a congregation is a godsend.

It’s tempting to attribute the changes to erudition, but that is not all of it. It may be as simple as freedom from worry over health insurance, a salary package to match my years of experience, and not living in a house owned and/or paid for, in part or whole, by a congregation.

And perhaps it’s being able to do what a friend said to the question, “Why do you think one would enjoy supply preaching more than resident, parish preaching?” Answer: “To thine own self be true!” Being true to one’s self means greater freedom and greater responsibility.

Paul was freed after his conversion, and explained Old Testament texts in a new way. In one bold move he argued that Abraham was the father of all who believe. Paul was freer to engage with the text in new ways. Perhaps in part because he was also a “kind-of” supply preacher. It also says something about his congregations: they knew he cared for them even when he wasn’t with them and when he was saying things that challenged them.

Paul’s attitude was: “For freedom, Christ has set you free.” Yes, it must be freedom. Freedom from worry over student debt, people’s anger, criticisms, untruthfulness. Freedom from such things as those, to more freedom in Christ.

I urge upon newly ordained and recently called pastors this feeling of freedom. Being able to proclaim God’s word clearly and strongly makes preparation and preaching more enjoyable and more appreciated by hearers. And that is good for all concerned.


Linda Worden

Linda Worden

Posted at 3:42 pm (U.S. Eastern) 6/11/2013

Sincerity, candor, frankness and some desire to be daring are always welcome in a pastor, regardless of the stage of his or her career.  As a pew-sitter, I appreciate a fresh perspective from a visiting pastor, so I say, preach on!

Ralph Stilwell

Ralph Stilwell

Posted at 9:57 pm (U.S. Eastern) 6/11/2013

Melvin G Swoyer

Melvin G Swoyer

Posted at 8:13 am (U.S. Eastern) 6/13/2013

Freedom in Christ helps us affirm one another, not judge each other. As a retired pastor I serve a congregation on a yearly contractual basis. The congregation, the bishop, and I can renew it each year. It is a mutual gift of helping the congregation's members and myself define roles, exercise spiritual gifts, and develop good stewardship. Thank you for the supply preachers, contractual pastors, and interns who help the ELCA grow in ministry. You are a valuable resource to congregations who cannot afford to call a pastor.  

   The Rev. Mel Swoyer, St. John Lutheran Church, Thorndale, Texas.

Note: Melvin G Swoyer edited this post at 4:12 pm on 6/13/2013.

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