My Preaching Journey and the Power of Peer Learning
A certified lay minister, hesitant to preach, finds her voice with the support of a preaching peer group.
In this Strengthening Preaching blog series, preachers from a range of Christian traditions and denominations reflect on their growth as preachers through their involvement in the Strengthening Preaching initiative of Lilly Endowment Inc., which is coordinated by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. At the heart of the initiative are preaching peer groups, sponsored by various seminaries, which engage preachers in reading, discussion, preaching, and feedback—all within a collegial circle of support.
I am Jeanie Leeper, daughter of the one true King. I didn’t always think of myself in that way, though. I grew up unchurched. God was never on my mind, and being a church leader was far from how I pictured my career path.
My journey of receiving and growing in God’s love and grace began in the late 1980s, when our daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. I went through a very hard time, and that is when God began to become real in my life.
Sensing God’s call
My husband said yes to the call to ministry in 1999, but at that time I felt no call other than to support him. In 2002, through a series of events, our ministry became a partnership. I surrendered to Jesus Christ’s leading and healing. I began to sense a call on my life but did not know exactly what it was.
The call became loud and clear during an ordination service at my denomination’s annual regional conference in 2005. The congregation sang “Here I Am, Lord,” with an invitation for anyone who felt the call to ministry to go forward in prayer. Tears began to flow, and I was shocked. I refused to move my feet. The only one I shared this experience with was my husband.
Over the next few years, God put many people in my life who encouraged me to attend lay speaking classes. They knew nothing of my annual conference experience. Still, my fear of microphones and public speaking helped me maintain a steadfast attitude of “I will never stand behind a pulpit and preach.”
However, God had different plans. The final affirmation to say yes to the call included Matthew West’s song “Hello, My Name Is.” I realized that God equips us for the call; we do not come in equipped, and the past does not define our future! So, with zeal I set out on a new path to become a certified lay minister.
In 2016 I was appointed to serve a small church part time. In 2017 I was reappointed to serve two small churches as their certified lay minister. I am now responsible for all pastoral care duties, including preaching.
Preaching peer group
My peer preaching group experience began in 2017, when my district superintendent referred me to the Great Plains (United Methodist) preaching peer group. I learned that I was welcome to participate as a certified lay minister as long as I was comfortable knowing I would be the least experienced and least educated member of the group. It did not take me long to discern that, yes, I wanted to participate. My desire to grow and to learn to preach was stronger than my fear.
I walked into the class and was immediately welcomed by the convener and the others who made up the group—elders, a deacon, and a licensed local pastor. The first class covered introductions, class information, and class expectations. At first, the once-a-month meetings and assignments seemed daunting. Doing this for a full year while juggling an assignment in two churches felt like an impossible task.
However, knowing what I could gain from this experience, I was hopeful not only that I would learn, but that the churches would also benefit from the knowledge and growth I would gain from participating.
No journey is worth it unless we are willing to put in the time and effort, and gathering together each month has proven beneficial for us all. As peers we share the joys, struggles, and insights that come from serving in our respective mission fields.
We share what we are learning from the class materials, and when we deliver sermons in class we put into practice what we have learned. We are also learning to critique each other in ways that help us grow our strengths and tend to our weaknesses.
I am a processor, so our class materials not only help me today but will be go-to resources for future gleaning. The way the materials are distributed has been wonderful: They come in bite-size pieces through Dropbox, an online file-sharing service. The assignments are easy to read and digest each month, and some of them have made me hungry enough to purchase the full book so I can enjoy the rest of the meal and keep it as a resource.
Over the months, I have realized that no matter the level of ministry certification my peers and I have attained, we all have similar questions and some sense of anxiety. Each of us knows that God has put an important call on our lives and that we have a responsibility to participate in learning opportunities to equip us in our calling and help us keep the preaching rubric fresh.
We are all on this journey together. Even though our peer group will be done meeting in October 2018, the journey will not end. I will come out of this experience with resources that will empower me to do what God has called me to do.
I am becoming better equipped to preach in ways that will help the congregations I serve hear the gospel message and God’s invitation to receive and grow in his love and grace.
Read So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive, an examination of the impact of pastor peer groups.
Explore preaching and ministry resources from the Center for Excellence in Preaching.