Scheduled to Preach: Have Backup Plan? Here’s 3 Steps to Creating One

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preaching backup plan

Today I’m honored to have Tim Coressel providing a guest post. Tim is the Youth & Community Life Pastor at Cross Current Church in Northern Virginia, and has been working with students and families for nearly a decade.  He is passionate about sharing life with his community and pointing people to Jesus Christ.

You might think that you’ll never actually need to use one.  Neither did I.  But, when I found myself in an unforeseen (and rather unfortunate) situation on Christmas Eve this year, boy, am I glad I had one!  I’m talking about a backup plan for preaching.

I was really pumped for the Christmas Eve service at my church this year.  Months of planning, organizing, discussing, and coordinating went in to making our family service a meaningful and purposeful experience for all ages.  I had ideas for the sermon brewing in my mind for weeks, and after some serious prayer and preparation I was genuinely excited about the message I’d be giving.  Unfortunately, I’d never get the chance.

The day before Christmas Eve a cruel and unforgiving stomach bug established a stronghold in my family.  While I drove off to church on Christmas Eve to prepare for the service, my wife and daughter were — to put it delicately — incapacitated.  Although I felt (mostly) okay as I pulled into the church, things took a turn for the worse about forty-five minutes prior to “show time”.  I just found a quiet place to sit, praying that I could just hold it off for a couple more hours.  No such luck.  Things got worse.  Much worse.  Only minutes before the service began, people excitedly poured into the auditorium with their families as I puked my guts out behind the church building.

I kept telling myself that I’d somehow pull though, but there was one problem.  I couldn’t stand, my head wouldn’t stop spinning, and I couldn’t stop throwing up.  My queue to go on stage was in ten minutes, but I couldn’t preach!  So, what happened to our Christmas Eve service?  It went off without a hitch.

How?  Well, we had a backup plan.  While I was being shuttled home by my mortified father-in-law (still throwing up I might add), an elder from my church gave a wonderful message to a delightfully oblivious audience.

What if you get hopelessly sick on Sunday, have tragedy pull you away from the pulpit unexpectedly, or maybe even miss the alarm clock (I know someone who fell victim to this one)?  You might think it won’t happen, but it could.  And what then?  It’s important to have some sort of “emergency protocol” in place, so that the church service doesn’t fall apart if you suddenly can’t be there to preach.

Here’s 3 steps to creating a preaching backup plan:

1)  Have backup preachers ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Only a few weeks prior to my unfortunate incident, the elders at my church felt like it would be a good idea to create a backup plan for an occasion just like this.  What timing!  Each elder would take turns preparing a sermon to bring with them to each church service for the month.  So, the elder who was up for December was prepared and had what he needed when I made the ask.

It would be wise to have a team of backup preachers who can rotate each week or month to make sure every week is covered.  It could be your elders, an associate or youth pastor, your teaching team if you have one, or a group of people you recruit that are gifted communicators.

The key is for them to be ready to go even if they get the call the morning of.

2)  Plan your topics in advance.

If you can plan each teaching series, topic or even general outlines well in advance, it’ll give your backup preachers a chance to prepare a message that doesn’t disrupt the continuity of what you’re doing in your church at that time.  It might be a teaching series, special worship set designed to fit a particular message, or some other element of the service that has been planned in advanced.

Personally, I like to map out all of my teaching topics/series a year ahead.  At the end of each summer I pray and plan for the upcoming September through August, and pencil them into the calendar.  Now, I keep it open to change throughout the year in case God should put something different on my heart or a specific need arises in the church.  But, it helps me plan ahead, and it makes it much easier for a back up preacher to plan as well.

3)  Prepare your message early, and make it available.

Your backup preachers may not have the chance to prepare their own message ahead of time.  Or, you may just want a particular message given on a particular day.  If you’re wrapping up your message on the Saturday before and have to call in a backup, you’ll be sending them in blind.  Not a very good idea… for the preacher or the audience.

One discipline I’ve decided to develop in my own preaching recently is to prepare my messages two weeks out.  This not only benefits me in my own preaching, but can also give a back up preacher ample time to absorb the message and really make it their own.

We’ve just begun developing an emergency protocol for preaching at my church.  I’d love to hear what you are doing!

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