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The Power of Preaching Teams

How to amplify the ministry of your church by raising up other preachers

Having one preaching pastor works well when a church has what I call the overpowering communicator. The overpowering communicator is the person who is such a good communicator that no one else in the church, or maybe even in the geographical locale, can compete in the pulpit.

But given that there are roughly 375,000 Protestant churches in the country and probably no more than several hundred overpowering communicators, I advocate for the use of preaching teams in many, if not most, congregations. Based on my observation and experience, preaching teams are an underutilized strategy for church growth, evangelistic outreach, and pastoral impact.

Two reasons to transition to team-preaching

The first benefit of developing a preaching team is different styles of communication appeal to different people. If the pastor is not an overpowering communicator, chances are he or she is only going to attract a certain type of person. If others in leadership who have a teaching gift are allowed to preach regularly, it's likely that a new demographic will be attracted to the church.

A few years ago I helped lead a church plant in a suburb of Denver. From the outset we had a four-person preaching team. While we always preached from the Scripture, our diverse personalities, styles, and skills brought far more people to the church—and to Christ—than any one of us could have done alone.

Moreover, I've always found it interesting that the church at Antioch had a preaching team (Acts 13:1). While this text is descriptive and not necessarily normative, it seems that the combination of a black man (Simeon of Niger), an upper class Jew (Manaen was a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch), a God-fearing Gentile convert (Lucius of Cyrene), a Levite (Barnabas), and a former Pharisee (Saul) made for a powerful Gospel coalition in the early church.

Second, preaching teams let lead pastors leverage other gifts. Often we buy into the notion that preaching is the essence of pastoral ministry. While it is crucial, there is so much more to being an effective pastor than just preaching. As any seasoned shepherd knows, the various tasks of ministry require significant amounts of time, energy, and attention. Preaching teams free up lead pastors to devote resources to other areas of ministry on the weeks they're out of the pulpit.

Different styles of communication appeal to different people.

In addition, I've observed that preaching may not be the primary area of strength for many who occupy the lead role. I'm good friends with three godly men who are senior pastors, and in each case, teaching is either his second or third area of gifting. One is a superior shepherd, another is a strong evangelist, and the third shines in administration/management. In my opinion, these men could more effectively leverage some of their time and talent for the good of the church and the advance of the gospel by utilizing additional voices in the pulpit.

Some may understandably ask how a unified voice and vision can be maintained if others besides the lead pastor preach on a regular basis. From my observation and experience, the senior leader is responsible to cast the vision and promote the church's mission. This means that during the course of the year, he or she must take a few of their Sundays to do so, as well as bleeding the vision and mission into additional messages throughout the year.

A unified voice can be achieved by having the preaching team work through various books of the Bible. I know some pastors who, in consultation with their staffs, map out a number of sermon series for the year and then assign team members specific passages to preach. If everyone is committed to communicating the truth of Scripture, God's Word will be heard regardless of the particular voice it comes thru.

How to convert to a preaching team

Providing a compelling rationale for using a preaching team is essential. But implementing of such a strategy, especially where it's never been done before, requires some careful planning. Let me offer three guidelines for doing it well.

First, a change of this magnitude requires consensus among the church's leadership. This means the senior pastor must take the time to sell the idea and demonstrate why it's a viable means of advancing God's kingdom.

Often church leaders resist a team approach because they like the lead pastor's preaching and don't want others in the pulpit. In this situation, the senior leader has to make a case for what's best for both the church and the extension of the gospel. On the other hand, some church leaders oppose preaching teams because they believe that, regardless of gifting, "it is the pastor's job to preach!" Here it's going to take some time and prayer to convince them that this model is better for everyone involved, including those the church is trying to reach.

The church's leadership must also be assured that preaching team members will be theologically sound. There certainly will be some variety. But if there are significant differences in key areas of belief and practice, the entire enterprise will be undermined.

In our church plant this never became an issue since our preachers were all graduates from or professors at Denver Seminary. But in a former church where I served for 16 years, there were some strong communicators who weren't aligned with the church's vision. Moreover, they held a theological approach that was markedly different from that of the senior leadership. For these reasons, they were not invited to preach.

Second, sharing the pulpit is only a good idea if the additional teachers are competent. I know a church that uses a preaching team, but one member is a weak communicator. On the Sundays he preaches, it hurts the church's ministry of the Word. It's essential to find people who have a teaching gift. In some cases, especially in smaller churches, these folks may not be on staff. If this is the case, some on-the-job training may be required to help them develop their communication gifts.

In larger churches the best option may be other staff members. Often that means the youth pastor. After almost three decades in ministry, I've noticed that youth pastors who succeed often have a knack for communication. With some time and coaching, they may become tremendous preaching assets.

Third, it's best to ease into the team approach. Unless the additional preachers are seasoned communicators, have them preach every six to ten weeks and provide detailed evaluation after each message. Consider asking one or two qualified lay leaders to provide additional feedback. Then allow more opportunities for new members to preach as their gifts develop.

Finally, preaching teams can work only if the senior pastor is willing to share the pulpit. If he or she plans to preach 40 or more Sundays a year, the team approach won't work. But if the pastor is willing to do whatever is necessary for the church's health, then finding, training, and unleashing new teachers might be just what your church needs.

Scott Wenig is associate professor of applied theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and author of Straightening the Altars.

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