Monday, September 10, 2012

Sharing the Pulpit (Part 2) – How to Make it Work

As valuable as sharing the pulpit can be, it can also be a disaster if done poorly or naively. We’ve all heard horror stories of an idealistic co-pastor gone bad or a trusted associate who turned into an Absalom at the gate.  It’s painful.  That’s probably why so many pastors don’t try it or move very slowly.

However, it can work as long as I pay careful attention to these key factors:

1.  Mutual Respect and Trust.  The first thing I would look for in a person to share the pulpit with is someone I can respect and trust. The second thing I look for is someone who respects and trusts me.

The power and prestige of the pulpit is too great to give to someone I’m not sure about. Once they have the platform, it’s hard to take it back.

This mutual respect and trust can only be built over time.  As we work together in a church environment, a persons loyalty and integrity can be tested by time and through actual disagreements.  Once proven, I know that I will be installing a Jonathan in the pulpit, not an Absalom.

Brining in an outsider is a lot trickier.  No amount of interviewing can guarantee that two people will work well together once they’re actually on the job.  Only time will tell.  That’s why I have to move slow before sharing the pulpit with someone I don’t know very well: I want to confirm that the person I ask is actually the person I get.

Make no mistake, sharing the pulpit can be tough on a shaky relationship.  That’s because people in the congregation choose sides – even when there isn’t a contest.  I have found that when people compliment me, they're suggesting a subtle criticism of the other person.  “Ron, your sermons are so insightful.”  The same is true when the other speaker is complemented, “I’ll be glad when you get back in the pulpit.”  It’s not that they are trying to be malicious or drive a wedge between me and another person; it’s just their way of saying, “I like you best.”

That’s no big deal as long and me and the other preacher understand what’s happening and share a genuine respect for each other.  But if either of us lacks that respect or we begin seeing ourselves as competitors instead of co-laborers, those kind of comments would widen the rift, serving as encouragement and confirmation of the ugly things we’re already thinking.

This is kind of stuff from which church splits are made.  And that’s why I’ll always wait until I am certain of the relationship before sharing the pulpit with anybody.

2.  Good Preaching.  The second thing I would look for is someone who’ll do a good job in the pulpit.  I realize that something as subjective as “good preaching” is hard to define.  But for now, let’s define it as someone who the congregation thinks is worth listening to.

A pedestrian communicator, no matter how warm-hearted and greatly loved, will only cause attendance to nose dive.

The best candidates for the pulpit aren’t always those next in line in the church hierarchy.  They might not even be on staff.  It could be a lay preacher from within the congregation, a gifted Sunday School teacher, or men in the church.

The key is to find someone the members feel good about and who can help them grow.  If I do that, people won’t care where that person fits into the hierarchy.

3.  Meet Congregational Expectations.  Every congregation has expectations (mostly unwritten), tampered with at great peril.  For instance, I think our people would expect me to be in the pulpit on Christmas and Easter.  I could probably give away any other Sunday without complaint.  But let me fail to preach on either of those Sundays and plenty of people will be disappointed.

4.  Raise Up Preachers from Among Us.  Home grown.  Farm raised.  Whatever you call it, I need to dig them up.  Such people exist in our church.  Only those who show the highest levels of character, conduct, and conviction will be considered.  Competency and skill can be taught, character cannot.

So there you have it.  This is what I’m doing.  Although I have failed in the past, I will succeed in the future.  My purpose is not only for the reasons mentioned above, but for succession planning.  I’m thinking in terms on long-range planning. 

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