Mike Stickland writes from England. He is the director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.

An introduction to the role of laity and the place of preaching within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Perhaps you have been preaching for years, or perhaps you have yet to enter the pulpit and you are a complete novice. No matter what your present level of experience is, this article is designed to fake you forward in the "ministry of the Word." We begin by clarifying our thinking about the role, function and significance of the lay preacher in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Preeminent role of the laity

In the context of the dynamic mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the role of the laity is paramount. This is so for a number of pragmatic as well as rational reasons.

1. We believe in the "priesthood" of all church members, 1 whether "laity" or "clergy". 2 We believe that every Christian individual is gifted by the Holy Spirit3 in order that they may serve and benefit the body of the church and its community and simultaneously be fulfilled themselves.

2. This is the principle dynamic of the Adventist modus operand!. Without it, this church could not have reached the numerical size, nor the missionary impact that it has. The mission of the church stands or falls on the principle of active participation by every able body. This idea is distinct from the notion that "the clergy do all the work" while members maintain a merely passive role.

3. We have more churches than we have salaried pastors. If the functions and meetings of each congregation rested upon the direct participation of the clergy, then we would rapidly come to a halt. Although some professional duties are reserved for "clergy",4 many functions of ministry can be fulfilled by duly appointed local laity. 5 Indeed, we rely on "lay preachers" taking the pulpit for most Sabbaths in a quarter because the pastor will be serving in the other churches of his district.

4. However many churches we have, we must ever plant more! The Seventh-day Adventist Church has never willingly accepted a status quo attitude. We accept the commission given by the Lord, 6 and although we wish to always serve and nurture every existing church family, we see the need to plant new churches.

By definition, this requires the active participation of laity in the planting of new and the maintenance of existing churches. The lay ministry we depend upon must include both the pastoral and the evangelistic dimensions.

Primary importance of the sermon

Real worship needs to be active and corporate, not passive and spectator-oriented. For that reason all aspects of the hour should draw the congregation into participation and involvement.

One weakness of the worship service as it has developed in Christian churches over the centuries is that the body of the church is treated as "onlookers" while the priest performs.

Another deficiency is that the clergy have been elevated and the laity diminished. This has reached the point that the father in a Christian household has been spiritually emasculated and expected to relinquish pastoral leadership of his own family to the priest.

This is based on the false assumption that the priest (clergy) has authority but the parent (laity) does not. It is a rebellion against this condition that has been partly responsible for the rise of charismatic churches, in which the whole congregation has a part in the worship hour.

However, in many of those charismatic congregations, the role of preaching has now been relegated almost to oblivion the Word of Cod is seldom preached with the weight and majestic purpose with which it should be endowed.

Seventh-day Adventist worship hours must acknowledge those factors:

  • We must pursue the active involvement of the whole congregation.
  • We must not usurp the pastoral leadership of the parent within his/her own family unit. Having established those factors, we may also say that within the context of the Seventh-day Adventist worship hour, the sermon has primacy. This means:
  • The time allocated for the sermon is still a major portion of the hour.
  • That the content of the sermon should be substantial and well-prepared.
  • That in order to achieve active involvement of the congregation, the sermon must be relevant, coherent, practical, and well-considered.

Vital ministry provided by the lay preacher

We have established the paramount role of the lay person within the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We have also underlined the important place of the sermon within the whole "active" experience of Seventh-day Adventist worship. It should now become clear that the invitation to serve the church as a lay preacher is an invitation to one of the highest and most demanding tasks. The person who takes it lightly does so at great risk. 7 Accepting the work of lay preaching is accepting the work of ministry.

  • It is not about achieving public affirmation or recognition, although it is encouraging to know that your home congregation affirms you by inviting you to take the pulpit.
  • It is not about filling a vacant slot on the preaching schedule for the sake of filling the slot.
  • It is not about providing one with the opportunity to ride a favorite spiritual hobby horse, nor to indulge in talking about what has recently been absorbing your interest unless these subjects are shown to be vitally relevant to the current needs of your congregation.
  • It is not about taking advantage of a captive audience to "put a few things straight."
  • It is about meeting the needs of your congregation as you have identified them during your personal interaction with people in the broad context of church life. It is about revealing the majestic grace of our Cod, the beauty of Christ, the powerful hand of the Holy Spirit. It is about drawing men and women to humble themselves before the throne of God where they may find grace to help in time of need.

For these reasons, and in order that the pulpit may be protected from those who may preach questionable doctrine, we recommend that all Seventh-day Adventist lay preachers shall satisfactorily complete a recognized Certificate Course for Lay Preacher8 and that in due course the local congregation shall affirm the appointment as lay preacher by recommending the name to the conference administration that the candidate may be issued a Lay Preacher License, 9 which becomes renewable at each conference session.

Challenges posed by our life and times

At the time of writing this manuscript, the 21st century has already begun to impose its pattern. In reviewing the first principles of becoming a Seventh-day Adventist lay preacher, we must locate ourselves within our age. Several factors will affect your efforts to provide a meaningful lay ministry:

  • Personal factors
  • Congregational factors
  • Pastoral factors
  • General factors

Personal factors affecting the lay preacher

  • It is not uncommon that people selected to serve as lay preachers already have a heavy commitment which absorbs much of their time. The demands of employment, of family, and of life mean that there is immense competition for our time. Lay preaching takes time if it is to be done effectively. The lay preacher should recognize that he or she will need to devote several hours to each sermon. The old code of "one hour preparation for each minute of delivery" may be a little too generous, but it is not as wide of the mark as you might think.
  • Resources, such as concordances, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, etc., are not cheap. The professional minister accumulates such resources over several years, and it may be difficult for the lay preacher to equip himself overnight. Do not rush out and buy what first meets your eye because a whole lesson is given later to discussing preacher resource tools. But do realize that over time, considerable investment in books and tools will be an asset.
  • Opportunity, in terms of time and space, can sometimes pose a problem for the lay preacher. It is not often that a lay preacher can have a dedicated study or office, and it is more likely that the family living room doubles as your preparation space. This may mean imposing on the family so that there is no distraction from the TV. Some negotiation may be needed so that proper time and space can be given to sermon rehearsal.

Congregational factors affecting the lay preacher

  • We live in a video age, in which minds have been educated to concentrate for only short bursts. On the screen there is constant movement and change. Yet when you stand to preach, there is little apparent movement or variation for 20 to 30 minutes. Some thinking and planning is needed in order to pull those two irreconcilables toward each other.
  • You will be addressing people of varying spiritual temperature and maturity. As you look across your congregation, you will see as many variations as there are faces. Some are children, some are elderly. Some are novices to the faith, and others are "old hands." Some will be satisfied with mere entertainment, while others crave substantial spiritual food. Serious planning is needed to overcome these variables and carry the majority toward your goal.
  • Familiarity breeds contempt. Even the Master recognized that a prophet is not acknowledged in his own town. Your people know you. Therefore you must be genuine and they must know you speak with integrity. It may take a while before they credit your sermons with the weight they deserve.

Pastoral factors affecting the lay preacher

  • You are not ministering in a vacuum. It is for your pastor to set the pastoral tone and the pulpit menu because he has responsibility to oversee the whole ministry to the church. You are not in competition with him but should see your appointments as opportunities to complement or supplement his program. Talk with him about the spiritual needs of your congregation and let his counsel influence your preparation.
  • At times you may feel you are ministering in a vacuum because your pastor seems to be so preoccupied with his other duties perhaps for a while he must give his time to an evangelistic series in his other church. Recognize that every pastor has gifts and skills and that these are not standard to all ministers. Some will relish a preaching ministry, while others will emphasize a visiting ministry and appear to spend little time on sermons. If you find yourself affected by such a vacuum, do not respond negatively. Make it a matter of positive prayer and avoid the inclination to feel you are making up for his deficiencies. Together, as a team, you are ministering to the Lord's people, and you are one component of that team.

General factors affecting the lay preacher

  • Preaching has reached a low ebb in the minds of people. People make jokes about preachers and sermons. The sermon is to be "endured." It is often perceived as empty moralizing. It heaps guilt on people who want to escape from guilt. It is boring and irrelevant. It responds to questions no one is asking. It is an old-fashioned and outdated mode of communication. Some work has to be done if your preaching is to help change that perception.
  • Worship facilities and the physical arrangement of churches are not always conducive to helping the preacher. Many Seventh-day Adventist congregations meet in rented buildings whose primary use is not for worship. Even in our own dedicated buildings, people are constantly moving, or there is distraction from the outside world. Part of your training as a lay preacher will include suggestions on how these factors may be reduced.

Never underestimate what God can make of your dedicated skills and effort

God uses preaching to change lives, to teach and feed the faithful, to comfort, encourage, strengthen the saints. On those grounds, the preacher should remain aware of his awful privilege and open himself/herself continually to the endowments of God. Preaching deserves our very best because it bears such potential as an instrument of the Lord. It is this premise which provides the foundation for this course.

Be encouraged to know how much the Lord can make of you if you will surrender to Him, no matter how humble you may feel your abilities to be.

"He who begins with a little knowledge, in a humble way, and tells what he knows, while seeking diligently for further knowledge, will find the whole heavenly treasure awaiting his demand. The more he seeks to impart light, the more light he will receive. The more one tries to explain the Word of God to others with a love for souls, the plainer it becomes to himself. The more we use our knowledge and exercise our powers, the more knowledge and power we shall have." 10

"God takes men as they are, and educates them for His service, if they will yield themselves to Him. The Spirit of God, received into the soul, quickens its faculties. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the mind that is devoted unreservedly to God, develops harmoniously, and is strengthened to comprehend and fulfill the requirements of God." 11

"The secret of success is the union of divine power with human effort." 12

"There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God." 13

Two points to remember

  • The message of the true preacher is from God.
  • This message comes through a man or woman who is totally committed to Him.

Clearly this calls for much more than a quick dip to look for a text from which to preach. It requires an immersion a continual saturation in the Word of God and a practicing of the presence of God in one's life, with time and opportunity for quiet, purposeful reflection.

Mike Stickland works as director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.


1 1 Peter 2: 9.

2 In this definition, "clergy" refers to men and women employed and salaried by the denomination to provide full-time professional ministry, and "laity" refers to the general body of church members, many of whom provide ministry and service to the church and its community on a voluntary basis.

3 1 Corinthians 12:4-31.

4 i.e. weddings, funerals, baptisms.

5 Men and women ordained as "elders," who have been appointed locally to serve in the current year, may take responsibility for the quarterly preacher's plan, will be expected to stand in when an appointed preacher does not arrive, and may be called upon to serve the Lord's Supper. In exceptional circumstances and with conference approval, a local elder may perform a baptism.

6 Matthew 28:18-20.

7 Ezekiel 34:7-10.

8 This is a Recognized Certificate Course, that is offered under the responsibility of the Ministerial Association of the local conference or mission.

9 The "Lay Preacher License" is the official credential issued to authorized Seventh-day Adventist lay preachers. They are granted by controlling committees (i.e. the conference or mission) for limited periods (usually for the triennium). These do not imply a right to preach, but the authority to accept an invitation to preach in any Seventh-day Adventist Church within that specified territory

10 Ellen C. White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 354.

11 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 285.

12 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 509.

13 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 250.

Mike Stickland writes from England. He is the director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.