A Simple Liturgy for When the Pastor Isn’t at Church

What do you do when the pastor isn’t at church to preach and lead worship on Sunday?

This happened to Covenant last Sunday.

About two hours before I was supposed to be at church, I had some severe pain and ended up in the emergency room. I was hoping I could get out quickly and still get to church on time, but when I learned the estimated wait times on lab results—and the pain hadn’t abated—I realized that wasn’t going to happen.

I’m feeling fine now, but there are other times in the life of the church when a pastor can’t be present, like during his vacation or study leave, or during a pastoral search process. And mission works without a church planter often face this probelm. So what’s a church to do? Especially, when there is no associate minister or nearby pastor in another church to help.

One option is to have ready-to-use liturgies on hand that don’t require preaching. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a bad option at all. I put one of these together at the beginning of the year, and an elder used it one of our two services last Sunday. It went well, but we quickly realized that having more of these on hand would be a good idea.

What follows is the (slightly revised) email and liturgy I sent to my elders ten months ago. Feel free to copy and adapt it for your own needs. And if you write one of these, please share!


Subject: A Simple Liturgy, In Case I’m Not There

Dear brothers,

I thought it might be useful for you to have a ready-to-use liturgy in case I am unable to lead worship for some reason. So, I put one together for you. If you like, you could print out a copy and keep it at church somewhere you can find it. I suggest a locked glass case with a hammer hanging on a hook nearby. Just for fun.

For the King, Christopher

Invocation and Prayer: “Our Heavenly Father, you are holy, wise, and powerful above all things. By your grace we are forgiven our sins and made alive in Christ. We pray that as we meet with you now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you would make alive those who are dead in sin, and that those who are already born again would be built up in the true Christian faith. O Holy Spirit, transform all you hear your Word, so that we may not just be hearers of the Word, but doers of the word as well. We pray in the name of our only mediator, Jesus Christ our glorious Lord. Amen.”

Hymn: To God Be the Glory (THR, 55; TPH, 236)

Expository Reading: John 12:1-19

Hymn: Psalm 110 (THR, 313; TPH 110B)

Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Hymn: Jesus! What a Friend for Sinner! (THR, 498; TPH 456)

Expository Reading: John 12:20-36a, 13:1-28, 18:1-19:30

Hymn: Lift High the Cross (THR, 263; TPH 287)

Prayer for God’s Blessing: “Almighty God, we praise you for revealing your glorious grace to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Teach us to believe it and follow after him. And we ask that you would keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of your glory with great joy. And to you, the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever more. Amen.”

Notes:

  • THR = Trinity Hymnal Revised; TPH = Trinity Psalter-Hymnal.
  • In “expository reading,” one reads the text with the goal of communicating the meaning of the text, though without additional comment. So, no sermon, just good reading. I learned this term from Daniel I. Block in his book, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, 191. (The liturgy above is modified from one he recounts in fn. 54 on that page.) Block says, “Expository reading means reading the Scriptures so that their literary qualities are appreciated, their message understood, and their transformative power experienced.”
Christopher Chelpka @christopherchelpka