Foundational Etiquette for the Preaching Woman
Preaching is hard work. Consider the challenges involved: finding and studying a text, praying and laboring over its revelation, putting the sermon together, delivering it to an eager audience, and afterwards deliberating with oneself as to whether or not it all went well. Sounds familiar? Then you know it's true about preaching, it's hard work indeed. However, being a preacher, especially a woman preacher, is even harder.
For decades, woman preachers have been searching for resources to assist them in developing their gifts and callings in the ministry. This search has been done in a diligent manner because of our desire to execute our God-given abilities with a level of professionalism and excellence. Although some of what has been found is fruitful, some is not. Therefore, the challenge yet remains for women preachers today to become as informed as possible and empower ourselves on what is expected of us as ministers of the Gospel.
Listed below are some helpful tips I'd like to share with you that I have gleaned over the course of two decades in ministry. Since they are tried and true, you might want to incorporate them quickly to further advance your ministry into one of excellence:
1. Starter Items. Every minister, whether licensed or ordained, should seek to have the following items to be prepared for a ministry visit: professional business cards (with name, title, church, telephone number, email and/or p.o. box address), a cardholder, professional picture for advertisements, black portfolio with lined-paper, briefcase, typed biography, garment and tote bag for clergy attire and toiletries, and of course, a good size reference Bible.
2. Attire. Ecclesiastical vestments are a must for liturgical (worship) services and ministers should be adorned in them at the appropriate time. Having at least two cassocks or pulpit gowns, (one in black and the other in white) in your wardrobe should prepare you for the service, in addition to, a clergy shirt and collar with a conservative black suit to wear when necessary. Sisters, when not appropriate, always dress conservatively for ministry, (including hairstyle and shoes), making certain that your skirt or dress is below your knees when sitting. Remember the old rule: "when in doubt, leave it out".
3. Posture. Sitting in front of an audience means that all eyes are upon you. Therefore, make sure your posture is correct by sitting with your feet flat, back straight and legs together or crossed at the ankle. (Legs crossed at the knee can be offensive in some denominations.)
4. Pulpit Seating. Be careful in choosing your seat in a pulpit! As a matter of fact, it is best to wait until one has been appointed for you before sitting. At the same time, show respect to the pastor or Bishop of the church by not sitting in their seat even if it has been designated for you. The pastor's or Bishop's seat (called a cathedra) distinguishes them as the chief authority of that particular church and this chair, which looks distinctively different from the rest, is reserved specifically for them.
5. Sermon Delivery. Any good sermon can fall flat - when it's not relevant! And trust me; nobody (not even preachers) likes to hear a 45 minute sermon on something they can't relate to. Freshen up your sermons by taking a biblical text and relating it to modern times. For example, when Job lost his sheep and camels, could not we say he lost his retail and limousine business? Using relevancy in your sermons will make them much more intriguing and most of all captivate your audience, gain their listening ear, and make them want to hear you even more!
6. Speaking Tips. If you really want to "preach and reach" your audience, connect with them through eye contact when speaking. Never, ever continually look down, turn your back, or close your eyes - it's a sure way to lose your audience. Also, use facial and natural gestures to convey or reinforce thoughts or emotions. If any of this makes you nervous or you experience dry mouth, sip a beverage to relax yourself. In addition, if you're in a large room with a small audience, bring them together; you'll bond better. For new ministers especially, type your sermons out, but don't read it word-for-word. Lastly, avoid using paper clips or staples when speaking. Rather, write the page number, in large print, on the upper right hand side of the page, and move them sideways as you finish each page.
7. Honorariums and Offerings. It is customary to give an honorarium (set price) or offering to a minister at the conclusion of the worship service. Regardless of which one you receive, it should be "fair" on both sides. Meaning, you should not ask for anything extravagant and you should not receive anything demeaning. In cases of ministers with honorariums, discuss this with the pastor before confirming the ministry visit to avoid surprises at the end of the service.
8. Punctuality. Most pastors and churches appreciate when the preacher is on time, especially when there is a processional. Thus, do your best to be punctual on ministry visits and call the church or your contact person if you think you'll be more than a half hour late. Some preachers lose out on future ministry visits because of a reputation of excessive lateness.
9. Travel. For starters, pack light! When flying, try to fit all of your garments into one carry-on bag so that if the flight is delayed or cancelled your luggage is with you! If you don't, and check your luggage, do not be surprised if you arrive to your destination, but without your luggage. Also, save time and avoid lines by printing your boarding pass out before you leave for the airport and jotting the airline's 800 number on top of the itinerary to keep it handy in case of an emergency. When driving, bring a licensed driver with you who can provide meaningful conversation to assist with driving and don't forget to do a routine check up on gas, tires, wipers, and oil, before heading out.
10. Armorbearers/Adjutants. Since ministry can be hectic, most preachers like to travel with an assistant to minister to them as they minister to the church. (See my book for a list of helpful duties.) While this is a good idea, choosing such a person is not an easy task, and if not done with prayer and patience, the results can be devastating. Remember that this individual not only represent you, but your pastor, and your church, so choose wisely and make sure you also have your pastor's permission for them to go and serve.
Making use of these foundational tips will start you off to a prosperous journey in your ministry. Until our next issue, be blessed and remember, "You can't do what you don't know, so know before you go!"
Excerpts of this article have been taken from Dr. Hooper's book: