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Becoming a Local Preacher

wesley_preachingMethodism has always relied heavily on its lay preachers. The majority of services every week are taken by these "local preachers", as they are known. But how do you become a local preacher?


First, there is the call, that continual nagging feeling that perhaps this is something God wants you to do. Many preachers will talk of how they did their best to ignore this call, but somehow the niggling doesn't go away. It may come from encouragement and suggestions from others. It may come from taking part in services and finding that you quite enjoy it. It may come from listening to others and thinking "I could do better than that!". It may come from a deep desire to tell others about what God has done for you.


Having experienced that sense of call, and having explored that call with the superintendent minister and through sharing in services with a fully qualified local preacher, prospective preachers then spend a period "on trial". This involves taking services and receiving feedback. It also involves undertaking the main training course known as "Faith & Worship". This involves studying 19 units which cover a wide range of topics, some focussing on theology and matters of faith while others explore issues of worship. So, for example, there are units on "The Teachings of Mark", "Picturing God" (complete with a set of postcards of different images!), "Church History", "Praising God" and "The Work of Christ".


Each unit has an assignment. These cover elements of knowledge acquired during the unit (eg. "Discuss aspects of the Biblical use of the word Messiah") but also may look more specifically at the work of preaching (eg. "Outline two ways you could help a congregation reflect on a situation in the news. What suggestions for action or practical challenges could you offer? And what could you expect a sermon that addresses this situation to achieve?").


preachingAlongside the assignments, occasional exegeses (a study of a biblical passage) have to be submitted. Trainees also have to reflect on worship they take part in, whether as a leader or in the congregation, commenting on what went well and what perhaps could have been done differently.


There is no doubt that this is a huge amount of work. Everyone "on trial" is appointed a tutor to help them through the material and most preachers will meet with their tutors once or twice for each unit, with more time allocated to feedback on written work. Given the course is often being done alongside a full-time job, it can take anything from two to five years to complete. But there are many advantages to this way of study.



Many eons ago, when I was training to be a local preacher, we had four textbooks and four exams. The exams could be passed by taking two days off to revise and then sitting in a minister's study for a couple of hours to regurgitate the acquired knowledge.


Faith & Worship changed all that. The training is now very much dedicated to the leading of worship, so study will always result in questions about how the material might be shared with a congregation. The lack of formal exams means that those who are prepared to think about worship but find their brains do not easily retain knowledge under time pressure are encouraged to study. In addition, preachers are motivated to use not just the academic side of their brains but the creative side: they are encouraged to write meditations, look at the use of music and pictures, and engage their congregations in other non verbal ways.

  Julie Todd (Tutor)

While I had been considering becoming a local preacher for some time before I finally took the plunge, I hadn't thought a great deal about what the training process would actually involve. It was only when I was presented with the set of five blue folders that comprise the course that I began to realize the scale of what I had let myself in for! There's no escaping the fact that doing Faith & Worship involves a lot of work and the amount of writing you need to do can seem a little bit daunting, even to someone who is well used to writing essays and reports.


When I've spoken to friends in the church and other local preachers on trial I have frequently heard the need for such extensive training being questioned and the suggestion made that in fact it can act to stifle a call to preach. I can certainly appreciate this point but, having now finished the course, I do value the breadth of subjects that were covered and feel much better prepared than I did three years ago to preach on a wide range of subjects, particularly given that I have had no other formal theological training. I also find myself referring back to the course material fairly frequently when preparing services. I do think it's important that would-be preachers have to work through the manifold aspects of the Christian faith and, while it was sometimes frustrating to be forced to produce material of a kind that I would almost certainly never use in an actual service (such as narrative sermons and meditations on modern art), I can see the value in exploring these.

  Simon Blainey (A newly qualified Local Preacher)

Of course, no course of study is perfect and Faith and Worship is not without its faults. Some of the material is twenty years out of date in areas where the church's thinking has moved on. Inevitably, some material is sparse and lacks depth and, here, a good tutor can make a real difference. There are also questions about how congregations can best support those in training.



julieOne question that continues to bother me is the relationship between some of the material in Faith & Worship and some of our congregations. The course encourages participants to explore all sorts of ways of presenting the message. But how much do we welcome experimentation in worship? If the training material encourages people to think outside the box, how supported do they feel when trying this in practice? Or do we encourage people to play safe and present the traditional hymn sandwich when visiting unfamiliar churches so as not to upset people? Are congregations able to give constructive feedback without destructive criticism, and to accept that mistakes happen when people are learning?


But overall, Faith & Worship is designed to cater for people from a wide range of abilities and give everyone who takes it a good grounding in the basic issues and a thirst to continue that life-long journey of further exploration. Here it succeeds admirably!



Because of the varying quality of the course material, the limited guidance given for some assignments, and the inherent absence of 'correct' answers to many questions I suspect that having both a good tutor and a good relationship with your tutor makes a great deal of difference to the ease and the enjoyment of completing Faith & Worship. Fortunately, I was very lucky in both respects, and the opportunity this gave to discuss and work through issues connected with the course, and with my faith more generally, was the single most useful aspect of the training process. Overall, I would definitely recommend giving Faith & Worship a go if you have ever felt a call to preach. As long as you go into it with your eyes open as regards the level of commitment involved, I am sure that you will find it both a challenging and rewarding experience.


As a tutor I have enjoyed working alongside those in training of different ages and backgrounds. It continues to make me think about my own faith, about the issues that are important, and about how I communicate with different congregations. Above all, I value the questions that we have shared together.