My first preaching experiences were in nursing homes and rescue shelters. I learned to preach with proper volume preaching to people with hearing aids, and to preach with proper conviction for life change preaching to what were often drunken men.
One evening, I actually experienced a plainly inebriated man stand up in the middle of my sermon to argue my interpretation of the text. Thankfully, a very large man who enjoyed my weekly visits to the rescue shelter stood, towering over him, and “asked” him to sit down and be quiet. He did. I continued.
Many denominations and associations of churches have a level of ministerial licensure specifically for the lay preacher. While I never pursued it in those days, that’s exactly what I was. Unfortunately, in my experience, very little emphasis is placed on the lay preacher in the life of most local churches.
This is unfortunate because when we neglect to develop and maintain active lay ministry in the life of the local church, our churches miss out on at least these blessings:
1. Lay preachers are an excellent resource to preach and lead the worship service when the pastor is ill, unavailable or on vacation. In the last church I shepherded, I had just such a man who normally preached and led worship in my absences.
Besides the base benefits, like saving the church or pastor the trouble of finding someone to fill the pulpit, it offered internal support that I valued very much. I knew I could count on this man to preach the truth, and it was very helpful.
2. Lay preachers offer something that many pastors struggle with. Because the lay preacher normally has a secular job, secular friends and so on, he is not insulated from the day to day concerns of people in the pews the way that many pastors are. All preachers should war against irrelevancy in this way, but the lay preacher has less of this battle to fight. People probably don’t change their conversation as much when he walks in a room. Older ladies don’t dote on his children and bring him canned sweet pickles as often. And he is generally not as insulated as the pastor.
3. Lay preachers can become—and usually do become—vital leaders in the life of a local church. The man I’m referring to at my last pastoral charge served routinely as the chairman of the board of deacons and as moderator of the church executive committee. Because we were active in leadership matters of the church, his preaching was more reflective of the direction God was leading the church. Lay preachers become vital to the overall leadership of the church.
4. Lay preachers go where the pastor often cannot go. When I preached in nursing homes on Sunday mornings, my pastor was busy leading a worship service. In a very real sense, I and the other lay preachers whom I worked with on a rotation in local nursing homes were a force multiplier for the local church.
We ministered at times when the pastor couldn’t possibly be available, in ways that greatly enhanced the ministry of the local church. “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields.” (Luke 10:2 NLT)
5. The professional clergy mentality robs many people in the pew of the joy of doing the Lord’s work. Too many people in the pews have the attitude that the pastor was hired to do ministry on their behalf.
When we neglect to tap into the potential gifts and talents of the people in the pews, we rob people of their blessing to be a blessing in the work of the proclamation of the Gospel.