For fourteen of the last sixteen years, I preached nearly every Sunday. Let me be clear: I love to preach. I love the Word of God and I love talking about Jesus. I love watching lives get transformed by the Living Word. But as much as I love it, there are weeks when there simply aren’t enough hours to get it all done. The tyranny of the urgent often steals my time, leaving me scrambling to prepare messages in the nooks and crannies of my week.
And preaching is by nature a solitary task, but I am not naturally the kind who likes to sit and focus. My preparation for preaching, if mapped out on a page, would probably look a lot less like “as the crow flies” and a lot more like the Israelites’ journey through the desert. My studying and writing includes a lot of circling, dawdling and complaining.
A year or so ago, I was in complaint mode as I began yet another time of sermon prep. I found myself sitting at home one Friday, confessing my jealousy to God. I knew several big-church pastors who were blessed with staff teams to help shoulder the load. I was “discussing” this with God when the Holy Spirit said, “Just because you don’t pay them doesn’t mean you don’t have preachers in your church.” And then, almost immediately, he gave me the names of three adults in our church who possess both the gift and desire to preach. These weren’t folks on the way to seminary or even folks with a pastoral gift. They were lay people with day jobs who happen to also have a gift and passion for interpreting scripture. As the Lord brought their names to mind, he seemed to say something much like his word to Elijah on the mountain: “You’re not alone. There are people in the valley waiting to join you in the work.”
The next day, I began to pray about what a team of lay/ volunteer preachers might look like. I decided that if these three other preachers would consent to preparing four sermons a year, I could preach three out of four Sundays every month, resulting in a net gain of 10-15 extra hours per month to devote to other ministry needs, or to simply think more deeply about the sermons for which I’m responsible. I could also schedule more Sundays to preach elsewhere when invited, extending our church’s reach by using my gift more widely. The more I prayed about this, the more convinced I became that this was God’s provision.
When invited to form a team, each of my three parishioners agreed — immediately. They were thrilled to be asked and eager to learn. My commitment to them was to train them in the art of sermon prep and coach them after each sermon so they could develop their gift. Their commitment to me (and to our church) was to meet monthly as a team, develop series ideas together, hold each other accountable for spiritual health and receive my coaching with an open spirit.
We met together monthly for six months before setting a schedule for them to begin preaching. We read seminary-level texts on preaching by Fred Craddock, Thomas Long and Leonard Sweet. We found articles online about things like the difference between preaching and teaching, and creating meaningful invitations. We’ve talked a good deal about developing a strong, positive theology of preaching, and I hope we all have a better appreciation of the gift we’ve been given because of our discussions. We developed a covenant that includes things like the centrality of spiritual disciplines in our personal lives. We recognize together that this privilege we have been given is a trust, not a platform. No one has permission to head off in a direction that isn’t in line with the teaching of our tradition. There is a good deal of accountability among us.
As my team was getting prepared, I began to prepare my congregation. I introduced the idea of hearing from other voices by talking about the critical role of teams throughout our congregation. We talk constantly about the value teams. We say that there are no lone rangers in ministry. As I shared with my congregation, it makes absolutely no sense that we should believe this about every other ministry gift and passion except preaching. How is it possible that God would only give one person in each congregation this gift? I confessed the arrogance of that and told my folks that if I’ve asked them to form teams for ministry then I should follow my own advice and have a team, also.
On the Sunday that each of our team members first preached, I invited the congregation to pray for them, calling on God to fan into flame the gifts he’d given. My congregation has been marvelously supportive of this transition and they should be. Our folks have heard me preach for eleven years. It is time for another voice, another style, another approach to the Word. And our team is remarkably gifted. Every time they preach, I get half a dozen compliments almost immediately (if I’m preaching elsewhere, I’ll have half a dozen texts on my phone before I get in the car to go home!). Their perspective resonates. By diversifying, we are able to appeal to a broader audience.
Developing a preaching team might not be the first thing you do as a church planter, but it ought to be on your radar from the beginning. As God brings others into the fold who have the gift, ask Him to reveal them to you so you’ll be able to begin cultivating them.
Yes, you should jealously guard the integrity of the preached Word, but there is no reason to assume you are the only one in your faith community who can interpret the Word with power. And there is absolutely no reason for you to burn out while others with a gift and passion are left untapped.
I love Paul’s word to the Philippians, who were partners with him in ministry. He was grateful to them for contributing to his ministry and said that as they continued, he was confident that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). This is true, whether the supply is financial or spiritual. We don’t have to flame out in the pursuit of building the Kingdom. God will supply every need. Ours is to come with open palms, ready to receive.
May God grant you grace to share the work of the Kingdom with the people He sends your way.