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Lay Preacher

Could this be you?

  1. The Church needs Lay Preachers
  2. Is God Calling You?
  3. From a Pulpit Supply Secretary
  4. What the United Reformed Church expects of Lay Preacher
  5. The Call to be a Lay Preacher
  6. PERSONAL STORIES: Does one seem to fit you?
  7. Assembly Accreditation
  8. TLS from a student’s perspective
  9. Training of Lay Preachers


1     The Church needs Lay Preachers

LAY PREACHERS are an integral part of the United Reformed Church. Along with the other recognised Ministries in the United Reformed Church, Lay Preaching affirms that Ministry is the work of the WHOLE PEOPLE OF GOD.

"The Lord Jesus Christ continues his ministry in and through the Church, the whole people of God called and committed to his service. For the equipment of his people for this total ministry the Lord Jesus Christ gives particular gifts, and calls some of his servants to exercise them in offices duly recognised within his Church."

Among the offices so recognised by the United Reformed Church is that of lay preacher.

"The worship of the local church is an expression of the worship of the whole people of God. In order that this may be clearly seen the United Reformed Church shall provide for the training of suitable men and women (from among its members) to be accredited by District Councils as lay preachers"  [Extracts from the Manual of the United Reformed Church]

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2     Is God Calling You?

Lay preachers in the United Reformed Church are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, situations, and ages. Some of them belonged to the church for many years before becoming a lay preacher; others were more recent members. Some felt a specific 'call' to lay preaching; others 'drifted into it' because of a need in their local congregation.

About one third of the services held throughout the United Reformed Church each Sunday are led by lay preachers. In part this is due to the fact that there are fewer ministers than there are churches but lay preachers are also a valued resource and play an important role in the public ministry of the Church. The lay person is in a unique position alongside the 'person in the pew' to reflect the needs of members of the congregation. Often their daily work is outside the church, mixing with people who are not associated with the church, and because of this the lay preacher can bring a different perspective to worship and has a rich source of experience to use for illustration. When Jesus taught people about God he used incidents from everyday work situations to make the message REAL for his listeners.

Together the minister of Word and Sacrament and the lay preacher bring their varied experiences into their conduct of worship to give praise to God and to build up and encourage their fellow Christians. In the same way that the church needs ministers, the church needs lay preachers of all ages to offer themselves to serve in this way.

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3     From a Pulpit Supply Secretary

Lay preachers are invaluable to churches like ours that have had long vacancies or a shared ministry.

Lay preachers have a very important and valuable role in our church life, not only because they ‘fill the pulpit’, but many of them bring a freshness to the scriptures. In our experience, they can bring a new insight and different outlook and understanding to many of the familiar Bible stories.

Because they live in the same environment as the congregation, lay preachers are able to relate to the lives of our people. We experience similar pressures - though these differ from the pressures of a full time stipendiary minister.

For a lay preacher, it is a calling to preach the Word of God, and not just ‘part of the job.’ A lay preacher, like a non-stipendiary minister, may have to prepare services after doing a full time job. The congregation knows this and appreciates the dedication and the love which makes them come out to lead the services on Sundays for different churches - thus not only preaching the Word of God, but also showing God’s love to others.

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4     What the United Reformed Church expects of Lay Preachers

To have a real sense of calling and a commitment to preach the Word of God.
To have a good grasp of the Gospel to be proclaimed.
To be in sympathy with the Basis of Union and the ethos of the United Reformed Church.
To show a willingness not only to make use of the opportunities for initial training, but also of continuing that training throughout their lay-preaching ministry.
To show a willingness to lead worship with reasonable regularity as far as the demands of the other areas of their lives allow, whilst bearing in mind the need to take an active part in the life and work of their own church.
To have the ability to be able to reflect, in worship, the experiences of their own world of work and leisure.
To show a willingness to become involved in forms of ‘team ministry’ as churches group together in teams or clusters etc. This ability will become more important as the proportion of stipendiary ministers to churches falls.

The Future of Lay Preaching in the United Reformed Church

The United Reformed Church. is constantly evolving and adapting to meet change. This is especially true as it seeks to recognise new forms of ministry and seeks new styles of leadership, which ENABLE the WHOLE people of God to function more effectively.

People who commit themselves as lay preachers in this overall task must expect the style of their ministry to evolve alongside changes in the wider Church as we accept new or renewed insights into the nature of worship, the role of leadership and patterns of ministry.

The lay preacher’s work is always a challenge; and as we are receptive to God so we receive strength to live up to our calling.

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5     The Call to be a Lay Preacher


So you have been encouraged to become a lay preacher!
Perhaps the suggestion has come from your minister or a church member whose opinion you respect and who may have seen you taking part in the leading of worship.

The most important thing is DO NOT PANIC. Give it some thought. It may surprise you to know that only a small proportion of those who serve God as lay preachers in our churches actually welcomed the initial suggestion, and caution in seeking the way forward is a good thing.

The first step is to talk with your minister, or Interim Moderator. They can be most supportive and can give you opportunities to explore your gifts, without taking things too quickly. They could also put you in touch with the Lay Preaching Commissioner.

ENQUIRER'S CONFERENCES take place locally on a regular basis. These conferences (1 or 2 day) are times of exploration. There will be people present and information available representing a wide range of ways in which God has called women and men to serve Him. You will have an opportunity to hear about the work of each and to talk to them, and to others who, like yourself, may be unsure of their next step. The United Reformed Church rightly expects a very high standard from those who lead our worship Sunday by Sunday, and offers training to those who serve our congregations as lay preachers. Training begins as soon as the person recognises that they are being called to lead worship on a regular basis and should continue throughout one’s service.

It is right that this is so, for it is God whom we serve and to whom we offer our gifts. Ongoing training is also important to help us to grow in our faith and learn to share our faith with others.

"Anyone feeling a call from God to lead Worship and to Preach his Word will want to go further than following good technique. They will want to do so from their heart. They will be committed to pour out God’s love and care into the worship."

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6     PERSONAL STORIES: Does one seem to fit you?

How I recognised and responded to a call to lead worship

My first experiences of preaching were as a student at university where the local United Reformed Church invited us to take the services once a term. A couple of us would produce mini-sermons as part of the worship and I agreed to ‘have a go’ at this daunting task. On finishing university I was keen to continue some part time study and considered theology. Then my minister raised the possibility of TLS. I was immediately attracted by the concept of merging theological reflection with a structured programme of practical work, but what practical project to undertake? The more I thought about it, the more I felt that my call was to lay preaching. TLS is hard work. However its impact on me, both spiritually and practically, has been significant and I look back with gratitude for the help and inspiration the course offered me. I recently became a Nationally Accredited Lay Preacher and those close to me tell me that I am much better as a result of my training. I find preaching a challenging and rewarding task and pray that God will continue to stimulate me and other lay preachers as we seek to proclaim his Word in the years to come.
Andrew. Northern

I began by 'doing the address' in youth-weekend services as no one else fancied the job. I felt the call to become a lay preacher in my early 20s, but rejected it when I became involved in a 'fundamental' group at college. I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment. It wasn't nice and I realised God was telling me I had made the wrong decision. I feel my call confirmed every time I preach. My particular passion is trying to reawaken some of the mystery and excitement in bored, jaded Christians (most of us at some time or other!)
Janice. Mersey

Preaching was the very last thing I ever imagined myself doing. I had never taken part in any form of public performance and had a horror of doing so. I have an active Methodist Church background from childhood, but came to feel my spiritual life was stagnating. I prayed about it, asking for God's guidance. I expected Spiritual Renewal, perhaps speaking in tongues, but the result was a strong feeling I should offer myself for training as a Local Preacher. Even when I started the course in 1991 I half hoped I would be thrown off, but it was not meant to be that way and I finished in 1994. Since then I have preached regularly in local Methodist and United Reformed Churches. I find it a joy and a privilege, but also a great deal of hard work. I much appreciate the Methodist Local Preachers Meetings and annual training days and have also attended preaching conferences, which have been an inspiration.
Chris. Thames North

I have no idea how I became a lay preacher. I just slipped into it with the help of our minister. I studied the course current at the time and became accredited. I am an 11plus failure from an ordinary working class London family but did finally get a degree. Now retired I am proud still to serve my Lord and humbled by the opportunity to do so. I am blessed with a great sense of fun and hope that the joy I find in my faith is shared with others.
Kathleen. Eastern

I am a young accredited lay preacher. At 26 I would imagine that I am the youngest to undertake TLS in England and Wales. I have been leading worship in our group of Churches for 5 years and I have just been Nationally Accredited after three years on the TLS course. The first time I led worship was at a morning service when our minister was on sabbatical. On reflection I probably did not lead the service very well - we were finished within 50 minutes and at that time I realised I had a lot to learn. I am sure that my preaching and my understanding of God have developed as I have studied. I believe that we have to take seriously the importance of preaching and leading worship and the best way to do so is to be trained for the task. I hope my preaching and leading of worship enables the congregations in which I serve to catch a glimpse of God. I still have a lot to learn but, through prayer and dedication, I pray I might be able to share something that is helpful in the churches I am called to serve.
Andrew. Eastern

I had been involved in Junior Church in several Churches for over 20 years and was comfortable there. Because of my involvement also with Christian Aid, I was asked to 'DO' the sermon for Christian Aid Week. I chickened out, involving another man, and then manoeuvring things so he did the lion's share! Several years later I had to do the whole service for the Sunday before Christmas. This time there was no way out. After the service a lady, whose opinion I respect, said that I should recognise my Call and train as a lay preacher. I didn’t respect her opinion THAT much! For the next two years I had to take a few services in my own church (with the lady 'encouraging me' after each occasion). I finally recognised that either I would have to accept God's call and undertake the training or defy Him for the rest of my life. Only God could get a dyslexic through a two-year written course with good marks - and He did. I still get nervous every time I lead Worship and need the Vestry Prayer for His support and the prayer is always answered. Every Service is a confirmation to me of my call.
Robert. Mersey

Two years ago I celebrated 65 years as a lay preacher and am still conducting services of worship. As a lad of 15 my minister persuaded me to conduct a couple of evening services. From then on I have been kept busy in local Congregational (now United Reformed), Baptist and Methodist churches, although there was no formal training then so I am still not an accredited lay preacher.
Jack. East Midlands

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7     Assembly Accreditation

What is Assembly Accreditation?

Accreditation is a significant mark of recognition for a lay preacher for his or her work in the wider church. It is a substantial and worthwhile goal towards which those new to preaching may aim.

The United Reformed Church's Accreditation Sub-Committee (through Studies Panel) may give Assembly Accreditation to lay preachers who are members of the United Reformed Church and who have undertaken an approved practical and theoretical training including experience of leading public worship. The person will have been commended by their own church meeting to their Synod as a lay preacher. The Synod will commend them to the Accreditation Sub-Committee. The Synod will formally affirm this Assembly Accreditation at a Commissioning Service, normally at public worship in the lay preacher's own church as well as acknowledging it at a Synod meeting.

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8     TLS from a student’s perspective

It takes three years to complete studies on Training for Learning and Serving to the point where the student may qualify for National Accreditation as a lay preacher within the United Reformed Church.

In my experience these are three years of strict self-discipline, hard work, but above all of satisfaction and fun! The course material is excellent and, although sitting oneself down to write the required essays is a bit of a chore, - there is always something more urgent or more interesting to do - the local group meetings (tutorials) and the residential weekends are always events to look forward to.

Each student is supported by a local Support Group, by their local tutor and, hopefully, by their local church. For a lot of us though, other support is absolutely essential - namely from one’s spouse or partner and family, where appropriate, - for without this the demands of the course will lie much heavier on the student.

The course is part academic and part practical, particularly for those using the full three years as preparation for National Lay Preaching Accreditation. This is one of the benefits of the TLS Worship & Preaching module - you really can put into practice the theory you have gained from the course material and additional reading matter.

In terms of benefits to be gained from the two years of the TLS Foundation course followed by the third year Worship & Preaching Course, I suggest these include:
Personal spiritual growth and development.
Increased knowledge, and the confidence to impart this to others.
A wonderful sense of fellowship with other students & course tutors at local group meetings and at the residential weekends.
A lot of satisfaction and enjoyment.
This, of course, is only a personal list, but I think I can speak for the majority of TLS students by saying that the whole learning process is very much worth the effort we put in.

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9     Training of Lay Preachers

Training is always seen as part of the individual’s continuous learning about their faith and deepening their experience of God. We strongly encourage those who are asked to lead worship to undertake a training programme so that they may be able to give of their best as they offer worship to God.

How do I go about it?  Initially some people may be invited by their District Commissioner to join with others in local informal training sessions. In other areas, however, there are fewer opportunities for preliminary training unless people are able to enrol on a formal course of study.

Initial Training for National Accreditation.   At present Training for Learning and Serving, (TLS), is the preferred training programme used by the United Reformed Church. It is designed for a wide range of people wishing to explore their faith more deeply and, particularly, to examine the direction of their call for further service in the Church in the safety of a small and friendly group. Those who are training to be Nationally Accredited lay preachers need to complete a two-year foundation course including an essay option, followed by a one-year Worship and Preaching Course.

How does TLS work?  TLS is an integrated course, where working together and in the context of the real world are important. It includes fortnightly Home Study units. This study, and associated reading, prepares questions for the local study group discussion. Local study groups include a tutor and up to six students and meet about once a fortnight in term to share Bible study, to follow up home study and to reflect on areas of service. Course members also attend regional residential weekends four times a year to share worship, study, and teaching and to compare findings from local groups.

Further details may be obtained from the Secretary for Education and Learning, United Reformed Church, 86 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RT.

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