Coming from a low church background I had very little pastoral training for conducting baptisms. Also, in spite of my denomination’s acceptance of infant baptism, it was never practiced in the portions of the country where I grew up or ministered – everywhere I served people wanted to get wet all over and that’s what happened. Because of that, I’ll focus in on baptism services for youth and adults – and, for the sake of this article, I’m more thinking of in-church baptisms rather than I am those that take place at a lake or river (although most of my suggestions work either way).
- Be sure people are prepared for baptism. Pastor, that’s your job. Don’t leave it to the youth pastor or Sunday School teacher or a parent. Be ready to sit down with a candidate and, in an age appropriate way, work through what it means to be a Christian and why we baptize. Of course, that means you have to understand it. In our tradition we baptize as a means of grace. That means, to us, it’s more than an outward witness. It’s a sacrament – can you explain what that means to a 12 year old? That’s exactly what you have to do if you are going to officiate at their baptism.
- Write your own version of the baptism ritual. I don’t mean that you have the freedom to make it say something it doesn’t already say, but if your candidates’ (and your congregations’) eyes glaze over as you read the ritual you are just saying meaningless words. Say it in such a way that they will understand what you are saying to them.
- Have the candidates write out (or video) their testimony and have it read by a spiritual mentor just prior to their baptism.
- Have everyone say the Apostle’s Creed together. Don’t read the creed to the candidates – have them and the congregation say it and affirm it together. After all, you are, by baptizing the candidates, uniting them with the congregation at a whole new level. By the way, you and your congregation ought to be familiar with the Creed…maybe not memorized, but used to saying it. This is who we are and what we believe. Work it into Communion services or just include it in a service once a month.
- If you are using some kind of hybrid baptistery where people sit down, etc. then practice! Let them get into the baptistery when it is dry and see what you expect of them (and yourself). This is a big deal! We rehearse weddings, why shouldn’t we rehearse baptisms?
- Be prepared to help people in and out of the baptistery – they are nervous and distracted, and then wet! Have someone ready to lend them a hand and hand them a towel.
- Depending on how your baptistery is set up, invite family and guests to come to the platform to serve as witnesses (and take photos). Beyond that, if you can, have the children and teens of the congregation to come up front to see it all.
- Have everyone ready to cheer after each one – this is a big deal and a time of celebration. Don’t let people just sit there watching the candidates get wet.
- Once in a while, maybe once a year, prior to the baptismal service, preach on baptism. Tell the congregation why it is a means of grace – have some of the senior saints ready to share the story of their baptism. Then, with everyone freshly reminded of how wonderful it is, bring the candidates up! Wow – what a great time you will have!
- Once you are finished with the baptisms, and depending on your setup, take a bowl of the water from the baptismal and walk through the congregation inviting people to touch the water and “remember your baptism.” If your sanctuary is set up to allow it, you might even have all who will to come forward and touch the water in the baptismal.
- Even as you conclude the service, announce that you are ready to meet with others who would like to prepare for baptism. You might just end up keeping the water for use next Sunday!
These are my thoughts…what are yours?
In my early ministry I remember seeing a grandmother allowing her grandkids to gather around the communion ware and drink all the left over grape juice from the tiny cups. I think that was the first time I ever thought about the remnants of the communion sacrament. At the time, I hadn’t thought much about it but there was something about that approach that was disturbing to me.
Coming from a non-liturgical background as I had I’d given little thought to what to do with left over bread and wine (grape juice for us) after the service. Our Roman Catholic friends, meanwhile, have it down to a fine art but, then, they believe in transubstantiation too – that is that the elements become the actual body and blood of our Lord. After the mass they are left with consecrated elements that must be handled with utmost reverence. For Protestants and especially for non-liturgical groups the status of left over elements is something less. As we celebrate the sacrament concerning the bread and wine we pray: “Make them by the power of your Spirit to be for us the body and blood of Christ.” Having just prayed that prayer a short time earlier, just tossing these things into the trash or down the drain is something akin to handling the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way. So what to do?
Fortunately, there are godly people who have thought about this. After some reading I directed those in our church who prepare the sacrament to this approach; maybe it will help you too.
If we are using the little squares of unleavened bread we return it to the container and put it back in the freezer to be used again. If we are using baked bread, the portion left over from the actual communion is taken outside to a little used area (like a flower garden) and left for the birds, etc. to consume. The person taking it out offers a short prayer, thanking the Lord for his sacrifice for us.
Grape juice that has been offered is similarly returned to the earth. That which was never offered in the service can be drunk as a beverage.
While we don’t accept the concept of transubstantiation we do want to be aware that these elements (that we said are symbols of our Lord’s broken body and shed blood) should be handled in a respectful, reverent way. You might say that this is a fitting conclusion to a sacrament that emphasizes how common place things can take on uncommon meaning.
Once again we’re in October, the month set aside in many churches for pastor appreciation. This is my first October in many years to not be appreciated! The reason is that I retired last May. I think this gives me a unique perspective on pastor appreciation month.
Through the years I’ve been blessed in so many wonderful and undeserved ways by the congregations I’ve led. One of my favorite honors was being given tickets to very good seats at a ball game. Another year we were given a DVD filled with words of appreciation by members of our congregation. Of course gift cards and cash are always welcome gifts.
I think pastors with children are especially blessed by being given a night out, including babysitting and the cost of a nice meal together.
Thinking in more general ways about pastoral care I think many pastors need to be encouraged to take some time off. These days most pastors have spouses who work outside the home. That means that their household seldom, if ever, gets time off together. Say the spouse works a Monday-Friday job. However, the pastor’s busiest days are Saturday and Sunday. That means they never get a morning to sleep in or enjoy some “us time” around the house. One way to bless your pastor is to arrange for your parsonage family to enjoy a long weekend once in a while.
Finally, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most pastors put a great deal of work into their sermons, Bible studies, etc. They may not openly admit it, but a lack of interest by their laypeople in this element of their ministry is rather painful. Pastors notice when ushers receive the offering and then disappear out to the church foyer for the rest of the service (specifically, for the sermon). They notice when people skip other services, like prayer meetings and Bible studies. It’s one thing to give the pastor an appreciation card during the month of October and something much better to allow the pastor to minister to you, fulfilling the calling of God on their life. One of the best ways to show appreciation for your pastor is to show an interest in their ministry. Stated rather bluntly, if you appreciate the pastor, stop hurting him or her by displaying a lack of interest in their preaching and teaching ministry.
An old preacher’s line is “saying ‘amen’ to a preacher is like saying sik’em to a dog.” In the context of pastor appreciation I’d say that letting your pastor minister to you and then, after the service, shaking his or her hand and telling them that you appreciated their sermon is where pastor appreciation starts.
One thing we’ve noticed in our months on the road is that church entrances aren’t especially well marked. I know that people who attend every Sunday don’t think much about it but it’s not always as apparent as they might think.
In one place we managed to walk into the sanctuary but there was no foyer and we found ourselves interrupting a Sunday School class in progress. The locals who don’t attend SS know to enter via the fellowship hall for coffee till church time. Instead, we blundered into the middle of a class. The teacher stopped teaching, everyone turned around, and someone pointed us down the hallway to the official “waiting” area.
In another place we sat out in the parking lot hoping someone would arrive so we could follow them in. There were literally 5 entrances to pick from. Then, once we gave up and guessed (correctly) and were inside, we found that most people parked on the opposite side of the church and used an entrance we hadn’t even seen. I would have sure liked to have used that entrance because it was to a proper foyer. As it was I had to walk across the back of the sanctuary as the service was already underway to go find the men’s room. Everyone seated near the back of the sanctuary watched me as I looked around to spot the proper door to exit to find the hallway most people used when coming and going.
In another place we parked in the first parking lot we saw, walked clear around the building to find some double glass doors and enter. Once inside we saw that the doors we had parked near provided perfectly acceptable entrance to the opposite side of the foyer. However, there were no signs or other indication of that.
Sometimes the entrance is obvious to anyone. Otherwise, I think every church should at least have signs posted on the main sidewalks pointing to the entrance people are expected to use.
In my Zion, the Church of the Nazarene, there’s a required annual church meeting in which the business of the church is conducted. I’m writing with my own denomination in mind but I wouldn’t be surprised if this approach is applicable for other groups as well.
There are several reports to be heard in this meeting: youth, missions, stewards, trustees, treasurer, secretary, and others. The old way to do it was to set aside a Sunday night for reports and voting. Frankly, it wasn’t an inspiring event and a lot of folks opted to do something else that night.
It’s really too bad. Some of our finest people serve faithfully through the year and the church really does need to hear them tell what they’ve done. Hearing them report reminds the congregation of the many things that happen in the church that don’t take place on the platform on Sunday mornings.
So, here’s the solution. During the weeks leading up to the voting, take time each Sunday morning to hear three or so reports. Ask those reporting to take three or four minutes for their reports. Following each report, have everyone clap and cheer.
This approach will allow the congregation to focus on each report and not get saturated from hearing one report after another. It also puts the church leaders up front on a Sunday morning — giving honor to those to whom honor is due.
Pastors, of all people, understand the importance of highlighting the efforts of dedicated laypeople in the church and this is an excellent way to do it.
At the beginning of your ministry in your new assignment (even better, as a part of your considering becoming pastor of the church and the church considering you as a potential pastor) lay out your philosophy of ministry in a sermon. Talk about the kind of pastor you aspire to be and the kind of church you want to pastor. Make it a Biblical, scripture-based sermon, but at the same time, share your heart with the congregation.
A year after you arrive, on your anniversary Sunday, preach that same sermon again. Let it remind you and them of what your ministry is all about.
Then, as years pass, you probably won’t preach that sermon annually, but every two or three years get it out, update it, and preach it again. It will be good for you to restate your hopes as a pastor. It will also be good for your congregation to be reminded of what you told them you would do (or not do) as their pastor. It will help new people get on board as they better understand what you and the church are about. Also, over time, it will create a sense of celebration of your partnership in ministry.
Random pastor/funeral thoughts:
- Spend an hour or so with the family early on – during that time, plan the service, but also let them tell you things – take notes – use some of what they said in the sermon.
- Always open the service yourself. Introduce yourself even in your own church – this isn’t your Sunday crowd. Welcome people and on behalf of the family and your congregation thank them for coming.
- Be in charge. Do an order of service and give a copy to everyone. The Funeral Director will appreciate it too.
- If you have guest clergy assisting, invite him or her to read the obituary and then offer personal remarks.
- Take a text and preach a real sermon as described in the previous post.
- In a traditional funeral, stand at the head of the casket as mourners pass by.
- At the cemetery, walk ahead of the casket to the graveside. In some places, the pastor is expected to ride in the hearse. Otherwise, drive behind it to the cemetery. You are, in a sense, the “spiritual guardian” – no, I can’t explain it, but people are equating you with Jesus, walking with their loved one to the grave.
- Make the committal short, thank people for traveling this last mile – then, if you have a boutonniere, remove it and place it on the casket. Then, go to each primary family member and assure them of your prayers for them and their family.
- If you are offered an honorarium, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just say thank you and that it was an honor to serve.
Here’s my advice to young pastors concerning funeral sermons:
- You need to develop at least five different sermons…although some can be just variations of another
- A sermon for a saint who lived long and well
- A sermon for a younger person who lived for the Lord but died too young
- A sermon for a person who had no testimony
- A sermon for a person you never knew personally
- A sermon for a person who died tragically
- Those sermons, though, basically use just two approaches
- We celebrate the victory we have in Christ over even death and our hope of resurrection
- We point people to the comfort that is ours in Christ
- Not all funeral sermons can operate at the celebration level but all should offer comfort
- Don’t make the person’s life your text. If you can preach about our victory in Christ – make the sermon about Jesus. If you emphasize comfort in grief – make the sermon about the Lord’s willingness to comfort even in times of loss.
- Do use the person’s life in illustrations – include some heartwarming memory or some conversation or something that connects them to your sermon. Caution: don’t make the sermon about your relationship with the person. That does more to impress people that you’re a wonderful person than it causes them to remember that we have a wonderful Lord.
- Remember that a funeral sermon is an opportunity to minister to people who are thinking about life and death – and often they are people who don’t hear many sermons. If you can point them to Jesus as our hope and comfort you might move them a step closer to coming to Christ.
Over the years I’ve preached my share of funeral sermons. Funerals are unique on the church calendar because they trump everything else. One time I left on vacation following the Sunday morning worship service and drove 300 miles to a commercial campground. I had just gotten settled in when someone from the office knocked on the door to inform me that I had an emergency phone call. The next day I ended my vacation and drove 300 miles home to officiate at the funeral of a dear lady who had called me “pastor.” I wouldn’t have had it any other way; still, it’s an example of how funerals trump everything else. They offer the pastor an unprecedented opportunity to minister at a level and to individuals who the pastor would have little opportunity to impact with the gospel.
I know I’m risking becoming the target of mothers everywhere, but I’ve got to say it: pastors shouldn’t preach about mothers on Mother’s Day. Take time early in the service. Give ’em flowers or bookmarks or some other nice gift. Pray a fervent prayer, thanking God for moms and asking his blessings on them.
Then…get on with the service. Don’t sing “My Mother’s Old Bible is True” and “When Mama Prayed Heaven Paid Attention.” Preach whatever you would have preached otherwise. Stick to the schedule…stay in your series, etc. After all, while “honoring mother and father” are certainly Biblical concepts, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day aren’t actually Biblical holidays. Change the schedule for Pentecost and Easter and maybe Ascension Day but stay the course for “Hallmark holidays.”
Moms, we love you and appreciate you, but we hope you’re okay with us not building the entire service around you.