Written by: Joel Brooks
This article was originally published on the Sojourn Network.
Pastoral plurality in the local church is not just the biblical norm, it is a practical and spiritual necessity. But plurality can’t simply be pastoral nomenclature — terms we commonly use that make little claim upon us. If plurality is real, it brings men under submission and guides their service. This means sacred cows occasionally get slaughtered so that the pastor’s soul moves even closer to Christ-like service. .
One of the cows pluralities are reluctant to touch is the sacred area of lead-pastor preaching. Now we believe in lead-pastors, and we maintain that one of the best ways they serve the local church is through their communication gifts. But guys, this should never mean that the lead pastor owns the deed to the pulpit and refuses to loan it out others. What other gift in the church assumes that their unique endowment bestows both exclusivity and tenure over their service!
If plurality means anything, it means the leadership for the church is shared. This doesn’t mean every leader gets equal pulpit time; it just means collaboration and cooperation in the area of preaching and teaching are an important expression of plurality. Again, we’re not advocating that we move away from gifted lead pastors doing a good bit of the preaching. But honestly, some young guys just don’t understand how their pride finds opportunity in their pulpit rhythm. Their motivation feels unassailable because, ‘hey, they have the role’. But brothers, the seeds of celebrity are sown in the hearts of preachers who are consistently reluctant to have other men speak.
Show me a preacher whose pulpit protection is feeding his ego and I’ll show you a leader who is slow to honor others when they preach, slow to see the emerging gifts of gifted guys, sparing in his encouragement to others in their gifts, and absent in educating the church on why multiple voices feeding a congregation (under, of course, the predominant voice of the lead pastor) can serve the church and display a beautiful sign of true plurality.
Recently I was writing an email to some fellow pastors in the city where I live. In the moment, a few reasons occurred to me as to why preachers should make it a priority to let others preach from time to time. My friends at Sojourn Network insisted on creating a resource from it.
9 Reasons Why You Should Allow Other Elders to Preach
- If you don’t, then you are consciously or unconsciously setting yourself up to be a “celebrity preacher,” or at the very least becoming a personality-driven church. Show your church that the success of your mission does not rise or fall with you. The best preachers are not solo artists, but work hard to create a band of teachers and preachers.
- It is an incredible encouragement for the church when they see “one of their own” get up and proclaim the word of God. Your congregation knows that you can preach with seeming effortlessness (even though we know it takes incredible effort!), but to see and experience the Holy Spirit move and speak through someone less gifted speaks volumes about the power of God being able to use weakness for his glory.
- It attacks the consumer mentality. In other words, your church will give extra grace to your elders when they preach. I have seen this time and time again when our elders preach at Redeemer. The people readily recognize the time and effort these men have made preparing their sermons and are sympathetic to their sacrifice. Extra grace is extended to them as they preach – a grace rarely extended to you since you are the “professional” preacher. Take advantage of that! Even disjointed, bad sermons preached by your elders can become incredibly beneficial to the church because of the listening grace the church gives. They will learn that God speaks through many vessels, not just through the ones they may prefer.
- You might very well be surprised by just how good your elders might do! Their sermons might not be bad at all. And the more they preach, the more their gifting of preaching/teaching develops. Without hesitation I can say that I always learn from my elders when they preach.
- It is good for your congregation to see you learning from others. Don’t just get an elder to preach while you are away. Let your church see you sitting in the front row, listening and taking notes. In fact, introduce him to the church and explain why he is preaching. Use these times to celebrate pluraltiy! This gives them a confidence in their elders. These guys are not just “fill ins,” but are valuable shepherds and teachers.
- It’s biblical. Both 1 Timothy and Titus tell us that an elder “must be able to teach.” Are you giving them the opportunity to fulfill their calling? This doesn’t have to be on Sunday morning. But if you’re the only guy on Sunday morning, you need to raise up some others.
- Your elders gain an appreciation of what you are called to do week in and week out. If they ever used to think that preaching was easy, they never will again.
- Your wife will thank you. Not only will she be appreciative of you being more relaxed and available during the week, but she will likely treasure the opportunity of actually getting to sit next to her husband during the service.
- And finally, as you all know, lead pastors carry a unique burden. This burden combined with weekly preaching, becomes quite a heavy load. Now I know that it’s a joyful burden, but it is a burden none the less, and taking time to regularly rest and pray is a way for us to help shoulder this burden for the long haul.
I was recently struck once again by the unique weight a lead pastor carries as I was reading through 1 and 2 Timothy. Have you ever compared Paul’s first letter to Timothy with his letter to the church at Ephesus? Both his letter to Timothy and to the Ephesians are written to exhort and instruct the churches at Ephesus, but they could not be more different in tone or content. When Paul writes to the church at large, he is extraordinarily positive—possibly the most positive in the New Testament. He goes on and on gushing about Christ and His church and trying to broaden the church’s vision of Jesus. It’s a glorious letter and grand in its scope. However, when he later writes to Timothy, the lead pastor at Ephesus, you get a glimpse into everything going on behind the scenes.
There is a weight to the letter. He warns against false teachers and reminds Timothy to hold fast to the faith even while others have shipwrecked theirs. He warns against busybodies, gossips, dissenters, those who crave controversy, and a variety of other sins. And of course, Timothy needs to quickly raise up new elders and deacons to help with the tasks! Paul even instructs Timothy on how to care for his body (he possibly suffered from an ulcer). In his second letter to Timothy, he will continue these same themes and reminds him to show incredible patience with those who oppose him (imagine that—people within the church opposing their pastor!). That is a LOT of weight to carry! And without regular rhythms of rest, any pastor will begin to break down under it.
So, if I could be so bold, I’d like to encourage you to begin preaching a little less. One suggestion is to perhaps begin taking a solid month or more off of preaching every summer. Or maybe have an elder preach every few weeks during the year. Once again, this is good for you and for your church!
For similar reflections, check out the following resources:
Why Pastors Should Share the Pulpit by Kevin Larson
Pastor, You Should Share The Pulpit by Steve Rahn