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A Pastor’s Reflections: Preaching Back-Up Plans

May 31, 2016


It has happened to me, and I’ve heard of it happening to other churches, namely, what do you do if at the last minute you can’t preach? In my case, I came down with a really bad cold to the point where I lost my voice. I called one of my elders on Saturday night to alert him to the problem and, at first, he didn’t recognize me on the phone. I’ve seen it happen where a church has a minister lined up for pulpit supply and then, at the last minute, he backs out for one reason or another. Do you and your church have a good back-up plan?

The first thing you should do is assemble a list of possible ministers to fill the pulpit in a pinch. For some churches, this is easy either because they have other ministers in their congregation or they live in the nearby community. If you don’t have other ministers on staff or attending your church, create a contact list of ministers nearby and ask them if they’d be willing to be placed on an emergency contact list. Most preachers have a “sugar stick,” an oldie but a goodie of a sermon they can pull out in a moment’s notice and preach.

In addition to the list of back-up preachers, you should prepare other back-up plans. Two possible options are a written or recorded sermon. I know, I know, such things sound canned and unspiritual, but if you’ve got an emergency, the service was supposed to start 15 minutes ago, and you don’t have any other options, then trust me, having a prepared written or recorded sermon can be useful in an emergency. The written sermon can be one by a well-known preacher. One of my elders, for example, typed up a sermon from Geerhardus Vos’s Grace and Glory—he also read it out loud as he timed himself so he would know precisely how many minutes it would be. He made a few adjustments, and then kept a copy with the church’s equipment. You could do something similar with a previously recorded sermon, though ensure that you have the means to be able to play the sermon so a congregation can hear it. This way, if the pastor is a no-show, you execute your back-up plan, start the worship service, and read or play the sermon. You don’t miss a beat.

The whole point of a back-up plan is preparing for the worst-case scenario—pack your umbrella and hope it doesn’t rain. Don’t hope it doesn’t rain and leave your umbrella at home only to get soaked in a torrential downpour!