I spent five years in my first associate pastor role…
During that time, I was able to speak weekly and frequently to the youth group, on missions trips, and in men’s meetings, but never once spoke to the entire congregation. In retrospect, that’s crazy! But it’s also a very common pattern in most churches. Think about your own church. Do you invite others to share the pulpit? Or do you hold onto it with a white knuckle grip, worried that something might go wrong if you let others preach?
If it’s the latter, you’re in good company.
We deep down know that members of our team are more than capable of delivering a compelling, heartfelt, and biblically accurate sermon. But I believe there are times that one also fears that their absence from the pulpit might make church members think they’re not as involved as they once were, or not working as hard. And although we may not want to admit this, there’s usually a very real concern that guest speakers may be more favorably received by the congregation than we are. It can seem like a threat, and it can leave us feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable.
Where’s your heart?
If you struggle with this issue, as almost all of us have, I encourage you to check in with your heart. I preach 45 Sundays per year, and if I’m doing it in order to have people applaud me and say, “good job” affirming me- Frankly, I’m doing it for the wrong reasons.
We have to be comfortable in ourselves as humans and as ministers. If we’re not making disciples, there are other core issues that must be addressed immediately. Your favorite thing in the world as a pastor should be when someone gets up in your pulpit and makes an impact on your people. Let’s stop letting fear prevent us from making that happen, and keep the main goal of influencing people for Christ the main goal.
If you’re still not sure, here are some more benefits of having others speak:
Attention spans are decreasing every day. By giving others a chance to share their hearts, you also give your congregation a breath of fresh air. That doesn’t mean they don’t love your preaching style; it just means that people love the variety and it makes them more likely to stay engaged. Think about eating your favorite meal (mine is chicken teriyaki) every single week, year after year. You still love it, but sometimes it’s nice to try something else, you know?
Different perspectives are key to growth. My 22-year-old female intern recently preached a sermon about the sinful woman who came to Jesus and poured perfume on his feet. The way in which she spoke about this story was riveting. She offered insights I never would have been able to, and really reached the hearts of so many of our church members.
Consider Acts 2:42-44. This is one of the verses that speaks to me most about this topic. This verse talks about how the members in the early church had everything in common. They were dedicated to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. This tells me the church was not designed to be centered on one giant figurehead who takes on a God-like position. There were 11 apostles who spoke back after Jesus ascended into heaven and our disciples should speak today too.
We need to get out of the mindset that others are untrained and unskilled because guess what? The disciples were too. But they still impacted people – greatly. Of course, we need some level of professionalism in our speakers, but let’s give up the excuse that our team is “not quite ready” to preach. That’s fear getting in the way again.
So, if you’re ready to share your pulpit, here are three ways to do it well.
Prepare speakers for success. Last October, I was on stage with another person doing two-point sermons for the entire month. I was sharing it with our youth pastor, then our worship leader, the women’s director and finally our missions leader. But that doesn’t mean I’m just fading to the background and giving them total control. Anytime someone else preaches from our pulpit, I am completely hands-on in preparing them for it. We have three sermon preps together, where we talk about their chosen topic and explore how to deliver it for maximum impact.
Work together. Even when I give someone the bulk of our sermon time, which is around 40 minutes, to speak – I always intro them and conclude the sermon. This helps the congregation to see that the speaker and their topic has my blessing and that I’m excited to receive their words. It keeps all of us connected. It also allows me to prepare a challenge for our congregation so I can invite them into a time of heart reflection after the sermon ends.
Review to improve. Lastly, we film all of our sermons. And even though most speakers don’t want to watch themselves speaking, I always bring them into the church within a week after they speak to do just that. We review their sermon, and we talk about what went well and what could be improved. We talk about everything from body language to pacing to voice inflection to transitions to content. The only way they will get better as a speaker is by practice and by receiving honest, constructive feedback.
Next week, I have our incredible Brazilian pastor speaking to our congregation. She has a major accent, but her heart is huge. She loves the Lord so much. She believes she has a word from the Lord for the congregation now. My church family would be missing out if I didn’t get out of the way and give her a chance to share her heart with them.
I cannot be possessive of the pulpit – and neither should you. Is it time to challenge yourself to invite others into this sacred space? I encourage you to do just that.