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Don’t preachers have a drawer full of sermons?

I am your “pulpit supply”—a term that ranks with “vacant church” for strange ecclesiastical language. I’m a semi-retired Christian Reformed minister who fills in for ministers who have a Sunday off. I enjoy getting around to various congregations and keeping my preaching skills sharpened.

I receive an average of around $80 for preaching at a church, though I’ve been paid anywhere from $50 to $250 (once) over the past few years. For what, exactly, you ask? After all, don’t preachers have a drawer full of sermons? Don’t I just need to pick one on Sunday morning and go with it?

Here’s my routine—and I bet it’s not far from the norm.

I begin a week or two before the preaching date, when the church asks for my text, sermon topic, and title. They usually also ask for a hymn to follow the sermon. I often lead at least part of the worship service, so I need to look over the order of worship, which the church emails to me.

I have lots of sermons on file. But I don’t have a “traveling sermon” that I preach wherever I go. Instead, I consider the liturgical season, the congregation, and what’s happening in the world, and then I choose an appropriate sermon for that occasion.

The week before the preaching engagement I go over the sermon. Typically I see ways that illustrations or applications don’t work because they were intended for their original context or are out of date. Sometimes I discover that my thinking has changed on a particular text. These developments usually lead me to make substantial changes.

The Saturday night before preaching, I spend a couple of hours going over the sermon. I do the same for another couple of hours early Sunday morning. Then there’s the drive to the church, about two hours spent there, and the drive home.

All told, there is an absolute minimum of eight hours of work involved, but usually more like 12 or 15. So the average payment of $80 works out to about $10 an hour—more likely $5 to $7. Contrast this with what, say, a plumber might get for eight hours, and on a weekend.

I preach at my home church three or four times a year for free. I think of it as sharing my gifts and experience with my congregation, just like the Sunday school teacher or youth group volunteer. But when I’m asked to go to another church to preach, it’s not charity. I don’t depend on the income, but it’s the kind of work for which a “worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7).

Do you know what your church pays for pulpit supply? Is it fair? Some churches have not changed the “pulpit supply” budget line for years or even decades. Maybe it’s time to take a look.

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