Dear young pastor: May I make a few suggestions?

(All of what follows, young pastor, concerns your pulpit presence.  We’ll be back from time to time discussing other facets of pastoral leadership.  And, I might need to say, this is directed toward no one particular pastor of so many I’ve worked with in 2013.  Each is a winner, a dear brother in Christ, and it’s been a privilege. What follows is a series of impressions which linger long after my visit to your church. I send these with the prayer the Lord will bless your ministry beyond anything you ever dreamed of or asked for.)

You are clearly called to this ministry by the Lord, pastor. Visiting in your church, I saw evidence of His hand upon you, both in the seriousness with which you view your task and the acceptance and trust with which your people hold you.

You did not ask me to critique what you do, and I’m not doing so now. However, knowing how a few well-placed suggestions can tip the scales as we struggle to become more effective in our ministry, I offer these to you.

1)Presentation: May I say a word about your clothing?

I for one could not care less whether you wear jeans and sneakers or a black suit with starched white shirt, conservative tie, and wing-tipped shoes.  Do what works for your congregation.

However.  Try not to look like a slob.

There, I said it.  And I mean it.  I meet pastors occasionally who look like overgrown teenagers and dress worse than the troublemakers in high school. What are they thinking, I wonder.

Dress just a notch better than most of your people.  (By “better,” I most definitely do not mean more expensive, but a touch higher up the “dress” scale.)  If they are all wearing jeans and sneakers, then wear starched and pressed jeans and a starched dress shirt.  You will fit in, but will also inspire them to do better.  If all the men are wearing dress slacks and sports shirts, I suggest you do the same but add the blazer or sports coat over it.

Argue with this all you wish, young friend–and I hope you won’t–but as the leader of the church, how you dress and carry yourself is important to the congregation. No amount of protest from you will change that fact. No matter the generation you minister to and regardless of their economic or cultural level, this is a fact which a wise pastor will observe.

2) Projection: Energize the congregation from the pulpit.

You have a good pulpit presence, you are comfortable in your role as the flock’s shepherd, and you love pastoring. But, speak up.  Be heard. The congregation needs to pick up on your energy.

Speaking quietly and conversationally may work if you have the world’s best audio system in your church. You probably do not.  Even if you do, however, you need to infuse your words with volume, force, and energy. Do not dawdle, do not stutter, but speak up clearly  and forcefully.

Sometimes, when we think we are speaking casually and conversationally with our people, it registers with them as boring and uninspired. That’s one reason taping yourself and listening to the playback is a good idea.  Note that we are not referring to the sermon only here, but every word you speak to the congregation in the service. It all counts.

3) Preparation: Give advance thought to what you are going to say.

Winging it, speaking off the cuff, ad libbing–call it what you may–is necessary from time to time and we all do it. But if all your extra-sermon comments are composed on the spot without advance preparation, eventually, you will wear out the good will your people extend you. (The single exception is if you are the one person in a thousand who is great on your feet without advance preparation. You probably are not, however.)

As a pastor, I tried to have the sermon ready no later than Friday. On Saturday, I would think through the worship service and identify moments when I would be speaking to the congregation: a welcome, the invocation, before the offering, after the invitation and before the benediction, as well as the closing prayer itself.  By anticipating these moments, I was able to prepare and even to rehearse my comments. This kept me from chasing rabbits, from being silly  (a spiritual gift of mine), from excessive verbiage, and from expending my limited energies on lesser things when the sermon would require all I could muster.

4) Promotion:  Some things simply need to be announced, others need promoting.

“The women’s leadership team is meeting this afternoon at two o’clock in the foyer to plan their annual retreat.” That’s an announcement. It requires nothing further.

Now, if you do like many pastors and repeat it two or three times–“So, if you are a leader in the women’s ministry, you will need to be there. That’s the foyer, today at 2 o’clock. I’m sure Mrs. Bradshaw would love to see you there”–you are laboring unnecessarily, squandering valuable time, and undermining your own effectiveness. Don’t do it. Speak the announcement in one sentence, then go on to whatever is next.

“Next Sunday, we’re having a luncheon following the worship service for all of you who have an interest in learning more about Crestview Church and possibly in joining the church.”  Okay, this one will need promoting.  That is to say, you will need to convince some in the congregation that they should sign up and make plans to attend this event. What’s the most effective way to do that? By thinking it through on Saturday, you can decide the answer to that well in advance.

It’s a wise leader who knows which events need only to be announced and which require some promotion.  He’s wiser still if he chooses only one of the latter and works up a great way of presenting it to the congregation.

5) Prayer: Speaking to the Lord with freshness, focus, and faith often requires forethought.

Every minister I know gets called on repeatedly for quick impromptu prayers. We all do it. However, no one has to be caught unawares. As a pastor of the church, you know what prayers will come in the worship service and are responsible for all of them, either to voice them or to ask someone else.

If a wise person spends time before a service planning how to promote an event with his people, imagine the importance of that leader planning what He is going to say to the Heavenly Father on behalf of the congregation.

There is nothing wrong with giving advance thought to one’s prayers.

We have said elsewhere in this blog that “freshness in prayers is probably overrated,” that it is most likely valued more by us than by the Lord. However, this is never more true than in a worship service where you as the minister lead the congregation week in, week out, for years.  Unless you put some advance thought into your public prayers, soon all your prayers will sound alike and for the most part, that means trite and stale and uninspiring.

I suggest you get a copy of “The Book of Common Prayer” and use it for ideas and guidance and inspiration for praying, if you need help.

6) Public reading: Prepare for reading the Scripture in the worship service.

The passage you plan to read in the worship service you should have read in private as many as a dozen times.  Read it aloud, speaking the words carefully. Read it slowly, thoughtfully. Let your mouth get accustomed to forming those words in that order, so you do not stumble in getting them out in the service.

When you stand in the service to read God’s word, give everyone time to find the passage in their Bibles. Or, if they all have numerous translations, suggest either that everyone use the pew Bibles or that they sit back and listen to you read it.

If the passage contains difficult words, learn how to enunciate them and practice until you get it right. If a word of explanation is needed regarding some obscure phrase, think the matter through and decide if you will insert the explanation and what precisely you will say. Advance thought shows a love for the Word and a respect for your people.

In the service, read the text slowly, with feeling. Read it as though this is far more important than anything you will say about it.  It is. Do not rush through the passage.  Pause at the end for a few seconds before speaking.

7) Finally, brethren: How you send the congregation away is more important than you think.

Most worship services end by fizzling out. The preacher has finished his work, the songs have been sung, and everyone is waiting. The pastor makes that final announcement or two, and then he says, “If there is nothing else, let’s stand for the benediction.”  Not good. You can do better than this.

Plan your ending, pastor. Give it thought. Remember the theme that you built this entire service around. Keep in mind what you preached and asked the congregation to do. Now, offer a short–short!!–prayer of blessing to the Lord upon these good people as they go.  However….

Squelch the temptation to repreach your sermon or to harass them at all during the benediction.  They’ve suffered enough; let them go in peace.

Make the final blessing upbeat and the closing prayer positive.  They will leave with a great feeling about the church and you, without ever realizing why. And that’s a good thing.

You’re a terrific minister.  Let’s make you an outstanding one.


7 thoughts on “Dear young pastor: May I make a few suggestions?

  1. Friend Joe, what an excellent article!!! If you don’t mind, I’m going to make copies of this and give them to pastors in our association. Not all of them are young but all of them could profit by reading this.

  2. This is excellent advice for us “older preachers” who may have gotten laxidazical (sp) in these areas. I believe we could all stand to do more preparation, no matter how experienced we are.

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