8 Principles of Faithful Pulpit Supply
Pulpit supply is providing preaching for a church you do not regularly attend. It’s common among men aspiring to ministry because it’s typically pitched as a win-win scenario: the church wins by having a preacher, and the young man wins by getting a “rep.”
But this “win-win scenario” shouldn’t be the only way we view pulpit supply. If we’re doing it only for the “reps,” then we miss out on the deeper joy of preaching to a church in need.
Pulpit supply is one means through which Christ Jesus builds his church. Here are eight ways to act like it.
1. Prepare with prayer.
If the pastor who prepares a meal for the same family every week needs to pray that his preaching will be digestible, then you probably do too—especially if you've never met the church before.
2. Pick the right sermon.
What do you do if you haven’t been assigned a particular passage? Select a text that doesn’t require too much background in order to understand the context and meaning.
Some preachers have a “back pocket” sermon that they use when preaching to a new church. That’s great. Others write a new sermon every time. Either way, prepare a sermon for that occasion and those Christians.
3. Arrive early.
The time before you preach is an opportunity to make a good first impression. If you pull up to the church ten minutes before the service starts, walk in focused on only who is going to mic you up, sneak off to the bathroom because you’ve had a long drive, and then sit quietly alone until it’s time for you to preach, you miss out on valuable time.
4. Know your audience.
The reason to arrive twenty-five minutes early is to engage with the people. Meet them. Ask them about the church and her history. Ask them about their lives.
Before you even get there, try to do some basic research on the church and the town. Adjust applications and encouragements to fit these specific people. Avoid obvious misapplications, like telling a church full of senior saints about how college will test their faith.
5. Be gentle.
Substitute preachers are often sent to struggling, hurting churches. I’ve preached at several churches on the brink of closing their doors. Some were unhealthy and unbiblical. On more than one occasion, I was ready to bring down the hammer. There is a time and place for hard sermons, and this usually isn’t it. Though a church may have many flaws, do not break the bruised reed. Gently allow the Word to work in your one Sunday with them.
6. Give them the gospel.
This isn’t groundbreaking counsel. But hurting churches perhaps especially need to be reminded of the gospel. Thriving churches need the gospel too. No matter where you are—whether the building is empty or full—there will be unbelievers present who need to be called to repentance. There will also be believers present too; they need to be called to remembrance. Wherever you preach, give people the gospel.
7. Stay late.
Though it may seem natural to end your sermon, sing one final song, and shake a few hands as you exit, let me encourage you to stay late and continue to care for the church. Pastors often stand at the back of the church as members leave because each interaction doubles as a shepherding opportunity. By staying around, you get a chance to meet and care for more people than you did before your sermon.
8. Continue to pray for them.
After you leave, it’s likely you will never see those saints again. But still, you can pray for them. Pray for those you met. Pray for the next preacher coming to see them. Pray for their pastor search. Pray that you would get another chance to see them and preach to them. Pray for their future and that the Lord would use their church to glorify his name.
The Lord instructs and equips his church through the preaching of his Word. Pulpit supply is no exception. May we preach like it.