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On reading the signs…

In my previous church my Church Secretary used to say that he could see my “spiritual antennae” twitching on a Sunday as I picked up rumblings from the congregation, as well as pastoral needs here or there. The ability to ‘ read the signs’ is a key skill whether in established or itinerant ministry.

I’m preaching ‘away’ this weekend (which makes it sound rather like I ought to be wearing a special coloured shirt) and this brings its own problems of preparation. As is often the case for a visiting preacher, I have been left to select my own subject for  the preaching. This means that some of the ‘sermon recipe’ steps discussed in an earlier post cannot take place. I cannot write it ‘for’ this group of people, because I do not know them. I cannot read it ‘for’ them either – as I am unaware of their particular needs and situations. What am I to do?

This is a question I am often asked when training new preachers – who frequently find themselves preaching in different churches rather than one familiar one. In such a situation, how do you go about finding the right message, and articulating it appropriately for a group of people you have never met? Apart from the obvious need to pray, and pray deeply – how else do you go about finding your message?


None of this is an exact science, of course. We cannot know, for sure, exactly what the needs are in a given church on a given Sunday, even with the best research in the world. In the end in comes down to using plenty of prayer to polish those antennae – and then trusting God to send the right signals!

Richard Littledale

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