LOUISVILLE—Filling another pastor’s pulpit on Sundays or Wednesdays can be challenging and frustrating work for young preachers. Just ask Paul Chitwood about his inaugural sermon at First Baptist Church of Jellico, Tenn.
Filling in while the church lacked a senior pastor, Chitwood prepared a seven-page, handwritten manuscript. However, the young speaker’s Wednesday-night sermon only lasted six minutes of a 16-minute-long meeting.
“Those in attendance were extremely gracious with their comments,” recalls Chitwood, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “In part, I credit the fact that I later rose to preach a second time to the graciousness of those saints.”
Sometimes those greeting a guest speaker can be more blunt, such as the elderly member who told Jeff Crabtree that he was sorry, but the music director wasn’t there, so “you need to talk to the piano player about what you’re going to sing.”
“To say the least, I’m not musically inclined,” said Crabtree, who was then serving as director of missions for Warren Association of Baptists. He can still laugh at the memory.
Seeking to help seminary students prepare for sermons and similar encounters, the KBC and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently co-sponsored a pulpit supply training workshop.
The event attracted 53 students, said Matt Haste, ministry connections specialist at Southern Seminary. Haste said the seminary wants to serve local churches while providing students with ministry experience.
With an emphasis on the practical, three speakers reviewed suggestions for supply preaching, the state’s unique dynamics, and the need to share the gospel.
“I would have loved to have had practical training when I started out,” said Alan Witham, the KBC’s regional consulting group leader. “I still do pulpit supply preaching at least three out of four Sundays.”
Witham said he approached the training as a way to review basic information that would-be pulpit replacements need to know—things such as attire and a church’s preferred scripture translation.
He presented a series of questions to review in advance, such as sermon length, biographical information, style of closing invitation, and best travel route to the church.
Also central region consultant for the KBC, Witham advised arriving at least 30 minutes early, reviewing the bulletin before the service, getting a microphone from the sound booth, and discussing transitions with the worship leader.
“A lot of the things were common-sense, but we need to be reminded of them,” Witham said. “We preach at a church so we can represent the Lord in the best way possible.”
Now the state convention’s south central region consultant, Crabtree reviewed Kentucky’s cultural make-up. Among the factors: the prevalence of small churches—more than half the 2,400 in the KBC average fewer than 100 in attendance—doctrinal emphasis in different regions, and people’s expectations.
At the start of his session, Crabtree asked how many participants were from Kentucky and was surprised to see only a few hands go up. He said the main point he wanted students to appreciate was the differences they would face in the state.
“I deal with a lot of guys who have been in one church all their life and they think every church is like theirs,” said Crabtree, who fills a pulpit nearly every week.
Two students who attended gave the seminar high marks, saying it will help them in the future.
Although Michael Wellman has been doing guest sermons since June, the Louisa native said presenter Hershael York’s warning to avoid controversial topics helped him almost immediately following the training.
Soon after the talk by York, pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort and a professor at Southern Seminary, a member at the church where Wellman spoke asked about the seminary being “a bunch of Calvinists who don’t believe in evangelism.”
“I remembered what York said,” commented Wellman, the seminary’s new student evangelism coordinator. “I said, ‘No, we do believe in evangelism.’ I quickly went back to the heart of the gospel and what’s important about sharing it.”
Josh Gervacio also found the training helpful, since his only prior speaking appearance was filling in for his pastor at his home church, Covenant Baptist in Valdosta, Ga.
The workshop was well organized and emphasized that students should preach the gospel, not their favorite subject, Gervacio said.
Not only does he want to make a good impression to facilitate sharing the gospel, the first-year student said it helped him see the need to break out of his shell.
“When I’m around new people, I’m not always friendly,” Gervacio said. “But I don’t need to be reserved. After all, I’m there to preach the gospel.”
Story by Ken Walker, KBC Communications