Preachers love preaching, but they shouldn’t love it too much. A potential idol for preachers is the act of preaching. You can crave the pulpit too much. And while we preachers can talk to the sheep about not finding their identity in their work but in Christ, this is a word we need to preach to ourselves.
We are not our preaching. We are not our sermons. We are disciples before we are pastors.
While I am the main preacher at Redeemer Church, I try to get out of the pulpit twelve Sundays a year for this reason. Now, it isn’t the only reason, but it is a helpful reminder. Handing the pulpit to my fellow pastors and leaders—and friends outside of our church like Jared Wilson, Don Whitney, Jim Hamilton—is a healthy practice for me and for our church. It’s good for you and your church, too.
Good For You
You can rest and recharge. The mental work of preaching is exhausting. The emotional work of preaching is draining. The physical aspect—especially with multiple services—is taxing. There is an exponential exhaustion-factor when these elements collide. Study during the week, wrestling with prepositions, outlining a herd of thoughts, and then writing and delivering your words on God’s holy word is daunting. Help yourself avoid burnout by taking scheduled Sundays out of the pulpit. I’ve gotten to a point in the past where I didn’t want to open a book for a couple of days. I was on the edge. Don’t wait till you are sick or cynical. Rest, recharge, and revive that zeal and itch to proclaim the risen Christ.
Family Time. When you are preaching, your wife has a Sunday experience unlike most of her friends. Her husband is occupied, people are talking to him, he can’t help with the kids, etc. Pastor’s wives are background heroes of gospel ministry. When you aren’t preaching, you get more family time. No last minute prep on Saturday. You get to ride to the service together, check the kids in, sit with your wife. It’s wonderful.
Attention to other matters. There are a dozen squeaky wheels in every church. When preaching is one of your weekly responsibilities, it’s difficult to give attention to all the parts in the church calling for WD-40. But when you have no sermon to prep, you can give your time and attention to all the squeaks.
You aren’t the key. Taking my hands off the pulpit reminds me I’m not the key, the X-factor, or the cornerstone of our church. It’s still Jesus. Gospel ministry still goes forward in power when faithful brothers are preaching God’s word. The Spirit still shows up. Vacating the pulpit is a way to pursue humility. And by doing so, you get to sit under the preaching of God’s word, which brings up a critical point: When you aren’t preaching, go to the service. If you are on vacation or sick, that’s another thing. But if you don’t show up when you aren’t preaching, what do you think church members are learning from you?
Good For The Church
Align allegiances. When the church hears her other pastors and leaders preaching the word, they are being reminded that their allegiance isn’t to you, but to Christ and his word. Opening the pulpit helps dismantle a local church celebrity culture. While you may not be a famous preacher gesturing on mega-stages, local church cultures can still don their preachers with a hint of celebritas. Fight the power.
Hear the same word from another. There’s just something about a fresh voice. When a guest preacher comes to town, or the Worship Pastor takes a Sunday to preach, the church may hear from them what you’ve been trying to say all along. Hallelujah. Jealously shouldn’t rise to the surface in these moments. Remember the point of the preaching: It’s not so they can hear you, but to behold the glory of Jesus and be transformed more and more into his image.
Good For Other Leaders
Opportunity to shepherd via preaching. Preaching is a super-unique shepherding moment. All pastors are shepherds and should be able to teach, but not all shepherds preach. And when a fellow elder can proclaim the word of truth to the gathered church, let him rock. Let others labor in preaching and teaching with you. As an added bonus, your fellow elders may grow in their sympathy of what you do almost every week!
Developing others. No brainer here. When you step back from the pulpit, you are giving others the opportunity to grow in their gifts. You are giving others space to flex and roam. There is no supplement for preaching to the gathered the church. You can simulate it in a preaching lab or some other environment, but there is nothing like local church gathered for worship. Train church planters by taking your feet out of the pulpit. Maybe you don't have anyone who seems ready for the task. Disciple them. Entrust it to them. Equip them for the work of this ministry.
If you feel a resistance in your heart and mind to the thought of handing the keys over for a Sunday, maybe an idol is riled up. Knock it down by stepping down from the stage for a week. Brothers, get out of the pulpit.
It's good for you. It's good for the church.