By: Christa Meland
Back in 2004, when Jack Rogers found himself out of work and shackled by a non-compete clause, Rev. Rachel McIver Morey called him up and told him he was going to start preaching at a senior living complex.
At the time, Morey was the pastor at Riverview UMC (which no longer exists), and the Twin Cities church led a worship service for the senior living complex’s residents once a month.
“There’s got to be someone more qualified than me,” Rogers recalls telling Morey, who now serves Northfield UMC. But she insisted that he was up for the task. So after Rogers accompanied her a few times and watched her preach, he reluctantly delivered a sermon himself.
Rogers went through lay speaker training and continued to preach and lead worship, initially at the senior living complex and then at various churches too. Now, 15 years later, he recently completed his 500th lay sermon.
“When I retired, I wanted to serve God,” said Rogers, now a member of Brooklyn UMC in Brooklyn Center. “I give God all the praise that He gives me the ideas for my sermons and helps me find related stories that give it impact.”
In addition to being a lay speaker, Rogers is the Twin Cities District lay leader, a role that involves coordinating direction, training, and motivation for all lay people in the district’s 57 churches.
Rogers, 71, not only preaches in churches and nursing homes; he’s the go-to guy for hospital visitations, spends hours with those in hospice, and has preached at dozens of funerals. He’s even helped new pastors prepare to officiate their first funerals.
“I find great joy serving Christ and being a part of so many lives,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to see and experience the vast gifts and talents of an incredible number of persons from many backgrounds and cultures.”
He estimates that he preaches between 50 and 100 times in a given calendar year.
Rogers insists that the first sermon he ever preached was so bad that he promised God he’d give the same sermon 10 more times to 10 additional groups of people—but delivered well—as restitution. He’s made good on that promise and kept track of his progress, and just one of the 10 recitations remains.
Rogers has all kinds of stories about his preaching experiences. Before he retired from his job as an executive at a copper and metal company, he regularly attended trade shows in Chicago. Several times, when trade show organizers were looking for someone to give an invocation, he volunteered. Others in his industry quickly came to see him as a person of deep faith, so when one man who wasn’t a church-goer died, his wife asked Rogers to officiate the funeral.
Another time, Rogers was asked to lead a worship service in a bar—which he happily did a couple of different times.
“I’ve found lay speaking to be a lifelong opportunity to serve in places that are not a church,” said Rogers. “Sometimes I wonder why we are selling everybody on the church when we should be out selling everyone else on becoming part of the body of Christ.”
Rogers maintains that preaching has not become easier over the years. “I’m terrified every time I stand up in front of people,” he said. “I sometimes shake.”
But he also knows God is there, walking alongside him and guiding him—and that gives him both comfort and confidence.
What would Rogers tell other lay people who are exploring their call but intimidated by lay speaking?
“The more success I have, the better the example Christ is making me for other people,” he said. “I’m not educated, I’m not good-looking, I’m not athletic, I’m not well-spoken, I’m not well-dressed. I’m as plain and ordinary as you can get . . . If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
Rogers doesn’t plan to slow down—and he’s committed to helping more people get into lay servant ministry. He’ll be leading a “Nuts and Bolts of Lay Speaking” session from 9 to 4 p.m. at Holy Trinity UMC in Prior Lake on Saturday, April 27 (learn more and register). Another great opportunity to begin to explore lay servant ministry is a ConneXion Retreat taking place April 5-7 at Northern Pines Camp in Park Rapids (learn more and register).
“I find great joy serving Christ and being a part of so many lives,” said Rogers.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church