Lessons from an Empty Pulpit

Photo my own.

A few weeks ago my friend Stephanie shared a beautifully honest story on her blog about stepping away from the pulpit for a time. You can read it here.

Her story resonated with me in part because I’ve been away from the pulpit for a season, too. My preaching and pastoring break came as part of a much appreciated and desperately needed maternity leave. (Recovering from birth ain’t easy, friends! It took a solid two weeks before I could comfortably sit in a chair again. TMI? TMI. But still.)

The leave has been essential, and I’m grateful for it. Still, after eight years as a pastor, sitting out a few months was a challenge. Who am I if I’m not leading worship?

The title of this blog post is a bit misleading. Our church’s pulpit wasn’t empty; far from it. Our senior pastor preached regularly, my husband–an associate pastor–took on my preaching schedule in addition to his own. We’ve had some fantastic guest preachers here and there, including a dear friend from college who finished a PhD in New Testament.

“That guy?” someone told me after worship. “I really like that guy.”

Holding boundaries is difficult, and I had to turn down more than one request to attend just one meeting, to solve just one problem, to make just one phone call. But if the preceding months of morning sickness taught me anything, it’s that God gives us limits we cannot exceed. We are finite; that is okay. We were created to need to stop and rest, especially after physical trauma like birth.

As Anne Lamott so sagely put it, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

For me to give our newborn daughter the start she needs in this world, for me to care for my postpartum self and allow my body to heal, for me to shepherd our little family over the hump of adjusting to an entire new human being in our midst, my place in the pulpit needed to remain empty for a season.

Part of Daryl and my prayer when we entered the ministry was that God would teach us how to be pastors and parents, without one coming at the expense of the other. These weeks of family cocoon helped lay the groundwork for a continuing, flourishing ministry, without sacrificing our tiniest member on the altar of productivity.

As one friend told me, “Nothing in nature can produce forever. Everything God created has a fallow season.”

Despite the exhaustion of newbornlandia, this quieter season had its own gifts to give. Even preachers–I’d argue, especially preachers–need to sit in the pews for a season now and again, to receive the Word given to them by the voice of another and the sacrament by the hand of another, to listen and learn and come under the teaching and wisdom of a new voice.

This Thursday I’ll be back in the saddle again, and in the pulpit the Sunday after that. I’m excited and nervous and feeling a whole cocktail of Big Feelings, but rising above them all is this:


Gratitude for a season of receiving, of healing, of learning, of growing, of adapting, of resting. Gratitude for the new little person who smiles easily and cuddles closely. Gratitude that she’s sleeping in slightly longer chunks now. (Serious, serious, SERIOUS gratitude for that.) Gratitude for the leaders of this church who shepherded, led, preached, and prayed while I was on the sidelines.

And gratitude for the God who is over all.

What are you thankful for today?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.