Dear Church Planter,
You should preach less! I know that sounds bizarre, but it is nonetheless true. Just a few months ago, I spoke with a church planter who told me that he preached fifty out of fifty-two Sundays a year. That is far too much!
The first year of our plant, I preached almost every Sunday. That’s not a bad thing. When a church is first born, nothing is familiar, so at least the preaching should be. Still, I would argue that as a church plant begins to mature, the church planter should preach less by sharing the pulpit more. And by sharing the pulpit, I mean with biblically qualified men, not just those who want to or can stand up and talk in front of a crowd.
Disclaimer (for pastors): Biblically qualified men are those who you think should be in your leadership pipeline and who are striving to meet the qualifications of an elder as described in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Those whose theological hermeneutic is in line with your own and that of your other elders (e.g., if you are Christo-centric and you allow a man to preach who isn’t, it will confuse your people and you will have much cleanup to do).
Disclaimer (for church members): Do not print off this post and take it to your pastor as proof you should preach this Sunday. In fact, if you are even tempted to do so, you should not preach. Instead, be motivated to ask your pastor for ways you can help him or help the church as you learn from him and his study rhythms and sermon preparation habits.
Annually, our leadership team makes a preaching calendar. I’m preaching thirty-eight of next year’s fifty-two sermons. I’m not sure if that is the “right” number for your church but it is the number that is right for us. I know that many readers will immediately dismiss this notion, finding it odd and unhelpful.
Here are some bad reasons to resist this:
1. Fear: About two years ago, I suggested to a church planter that he allow others in leadership, and on his team, to preach. He told me he thought that was a bad idea and then listed off all the reasons why the guys on his team shouldn’t preach. I called his bluff and so he leaned in and looked me in the eyes and said something like this, “Okay, fine! Listen, man, this is my job. What would I do if people in the church like some other guy’s preaching more than mine?” I leaned right back and told him, “A lot of people probably will like his preaching more than yours and that’s exactly why you have to do it!” You and I need to be humbled.
2. Arrogance: I was attending a conference on preaching when during a panel discussion, one of the panelists was asked how many Sundays a year he allows other men on his team to preach. I don’t remember the number he responded with, but I do remember that it was shockingly low. The moderator questioned as to why the number was so low, to which this pastor replied, “Because the other guys simply cannot preach as well as me!” Wow! Pastor, if that is your attitude, then thank goodness for the humility of the pastor that first gave you a shot in the pulpit. The truth is that at one point, you were the guy that a pastor thought wasn’t very good at preaching but had potential. You were not born a good preacher.
Here are the benefits of having others preach:
You might die: Actually, you will die! The question is just when will you die. If your church plant is solely dependent upon you for their preaching and teaching, then what happens if you die or are seriously injured and are unable to preach? If you’ve built the entire teaching ministry around you and your teaching, then devastation will come to the church you shepherd. If other men are part of a teaching rotation, the church will likely be fine as these men pick up your mantle after you're gone or hold things together while you recover. Moreover, one of the signs of a church’s health is that it is not built upon any one man. The only hero of the church is Jesus.
You repeat yourself, a lot: I work really hard to diversify my words and I still fail (just read this post a few times, I’m sure you will notice patterns in my communication). The truth is that all our brains are slammed with information and our calendars are very full. As result, we default to cliché or common phrases that we are comfortable with. By diversifying your teaching rotation, you are inherently diversifying the language, illustrations, and application of Scripture that your church is hearing. They need this! On our own preaching team, we all approach Scripture with the same hermeneutic but we are noticeably distinct in our communication styles and application of God’s Word. That is a good thing!
You need to disciple future church planters: We are in the midst of a crisis. We are not planting churches fast enough to offset the number of churches that close annually or fast enough to keep up with population growth. We need more church planters. Period! By sharing the pulpit and providing coaching, feedback, constructive criticism and encouragement to other preachers in your congregation, you are either raising up other elders for your own church or church planters that you could one day send out. We need this! Desperately!
You are tired: Preaching is exhausting. I love it and yet I’m exhausted by it all at the same time. Preaching God’s Word is an incredible responsibility. It is also emotionally, spiritually, and physically taxing. You need more breaks than you realize. And there are two really good reasons for this. First, you preach better after you’ve had a break (trust me, it’s true). Second, you need to sit under the preaching of other men in your congregation.
Wait, you don’t know my church…
Each church should apply this differently. For instance, in some congregations, there are no biblically qualified men to bring into the preaching rotation. I get that this is a reality. However, pastor, it’s your job to equip and disciple men to be biblically qualified. If there are no other biblically qualified preachers in your congregation, then certainly do not do what I am proposing. Instead, begin investing in those that you believe could one day join a teaching team.
Additionally, you should not go from preaching fifty-plus Sundays a year to thirty-eight all at once. Approach this model with a multi-year trajectory of slowly increasing the preaching load on other team members. As you do this, cast a vision for why such an approach is healthy for the life of a church. The first year of this process, expect lots of questions. After all, about half of your congregation still assumes you work for just a few hours each Sunday, so why do you need so many Sundays out of the pulpit. Don’t be frustrated by the questions. Instead, make a choice now that you will patiently over-explain this transition in your preaching calendar. Moreover, be present when you are not preaching and make sure you affirm them, publicly, for their preaching.
Church planter, week-in-and-week-out you labor for the good of God’s people. Thank you! But hear me, it’s time to share the load. For your sake, your family’s sake, and for the sake of God’s people.