Monday, September 10, 2012

Sharing the Pulpit (Part 1) – The Benefits

For a preacher, preparing and preaching the Sunday sermon is the essence of ministry.  Everything leads up to that single event each week.  To neglect this task is tantamount to a denial of ones calling.  But there is more to being a good pastor than just preaching.  From the beginning of my ministry people have looked to me for more than a sermon.  They wanted counsel, administration, vision, recruitment, shepherding in times of crisis, and a host of other skills that have nothing to do with my pulpit skill.

All that other stuff really does matter.  When it is handled well, a church will flourish.  When handled poorly, a church will struggle.  This is precisely why a pastor must give serious consideration to sharing the pulpit.

Here’s why.  By turning over some of the time spent preparing and preaching sermons, I will be able to give better direction to our overall ministry.  The end result could be a healthier church, and in the long run, my sermons would be more effective, even if less frequent.

Benefits of Sharing the Pulpit

1.  It will make PCC more stable by making it less dependent on me.  Let’s face it: attendance and giving at most churches rises and falls with the presence of the senior pastor. Any prolonged illness or move to another church usually results in a dramatic drop-off.  Sharing the pulpit would mitigate the problem of nose-diving attendance by giving our congregation the chance to buy into another preacher.  As a result, when I left for a mission trip or vacation, our church would hardly miss a beat and never experience an appreciable drop in attendance or giving.  In my preferred scenario, this would mean having a second pastor (or others) preach between 20 and 30 percent of the morning messages each year - about fifteen Sundays.  That's plenty of opportnity for our congregaton to get used to another teacher.

That’s not to say that my long-term absence wouldn’t have an effect.  Of course it would.  As the founding pastor of PCC, I’m still a vital cog in the wheel.  But it wouldn’t hobble our ministry nearly as much as if I were the only “first-string varsity preacher” that our people knew.

Should I be removed from the scene, our congregation wouldn’t be faced with a sudden parade of strangers in the pulpit (or an ill-equipped alternate learning on the job).  They would simply get an extra dose of “the other preacher,” someone they’ve already grown to love and respect.

2.  It would give me a chance to recharge my creative batteries.  Everyone has a limited reservoir of creativity.  For some of us it runs deeper than for others.  But for each of us there’s a bottom.  Unless we’re able to periodically replenish it, sooner or later it runs dry. When that happens, the joy goes out of preaching, for us as well as for our listeners.

In my last church I was responsible to teach four or five different Bible studies every week to the same people.  For a while it was exhilarating.  But after several  years I began to fade.  It was simply exhausting.

Preaching is hard work, and it takes an emotional toll.  It’s no small matter to stand up and presume to speak for God.  No wonder we preachers have to take Sunday afternoon naps.  The actual preaching and preparing of a sermon isn’t the hard part.  I love it.  The hard part is always knowing I’ve got another one due in a couple of days.  I live on a seven-day deadline every week of my life.  That keeps me on the edge and always pushing.

I’ve been at PCC for fifteen years now.  During that time I’ve done most of the preaching on Sunday.  More than I should have.  That means that, no matter where I go or what I do, next week’s sermon is always percolating in the back of my mind.  If I’m fishing, I’m thinking about Sunday’s sermon.  If I’m at a movie, I’m thinking about Sunday’s sermon.  I wake up in the middle of the night to scratch out an outline.  I take note pads on vacation.  If me and Renae take a two-or-three day getaway, I have to disappear for a few hours to hammer out that final point or closing illustration.

The result is a slow and steady drain on my emotional reserves.  As much as I love study and preaching, it turns into too much of a good thing.  Too often, by the time a vacation comes rolling around, preaching has become a chore instead of a privilege.

But with consistent breaks from the pulpit, I would have the opportunity to rekindle my strength, to catch up on non-preparatory reading, to reflect, and mentally rest.  Preaching can hardly become monotonous when it’s periodically taken away.

Sharing the pulpit will also help me to follow through and do a better job on my other responsibilities.  Like most pastors, I have a love/hate relationship with administration.  I love what it accomplishes.  I hate doing it.  I didn’t enter the ministry so I could juggle budgets, monitor expenses, supervise a staff, crank out policy statements, or return phone calls.  But that’s part of the package, and if I want to do a good job, I have to do those things well and in a timely manner.

That’s where my weeks out of the pulpit come in. When I’m not scheduled to preach, I have time to address these duties. Those important-but-not-urgent administrative matters that have been pushed to the side have a chance to rise to the top of my to-do list. And miracle of miracles, they usually get done.

No comments: