A well-known seminary president recently tweeted, “Any consideration of Christian preaching must begin with the realization that preaching is essentially an act of worship—the central act of Christian worship.” Putting the possible overstatement aside, the preached word has been a staple of the church’s theological, doxological, and ethical life together since its very inception. Even today, in most churches, preaching occupies the primary place of emphasis and importance in the weekly worship gathering. However, more often than not, the priority of preaching in today’s churches has to do with the charisma and polish of the preacher rather than the authority of God’s Word. We have created a celebrity culture that platforms the personality of the most proficient speakers among us, so that the local church’s experience of the word of God revolves around the insight and understanding of one man.
However, if we believe that a plurality model is the most biblically consistent model for pastoral leadership in the church, then it necessarily follows that we should apply that model to the ministry of preaching as well. In other words, if the responsibilities and burdens of pastoral ministry are best shared among a band of brothers who are equal in position and authority, then the responsibility and burden of the word of God should be shared also. In the paragraphs that follow, I would like to highlight three ways in which a cooperative approach to preaching can benefit the local church, and then I would like to sketch briefly what this approach might look like practically.
The first way that this approach benefits the local church is that it nourishes the primary preaching pastor(s) by helping him to keep his spiritual tank full and avoid burnout. Week after week, the teaching pastor is responsible for feeding the flock; he is locked away in his study preparing lessons and bible studies and sermons. He is expected to give and give and give of himself, and when this continues without any respite, eventually his spiritual fuel tank will hit zero. Of course, most teaching pastors are glad to do this, but the question remains: who feeds the pastors? Shouldn’t the teaching pastor also be able to find spiritual nourishment within the local body of Christ as God intended, or must he resort to online preaching from pastors he admires but doesn’t know personally? A cooperative approach to teaching in the local church helps us to care for and sustain every part of our body, especially the pastors and teachers who faithfully sustain us.
A second way this approach benefits the local church is that it provides the flock with a diversified diet of spiritual truth. Of course, God’s truth is absolute and unchanging, but it comes to us in vessels that are finite, broken, and incomplete. No one has an exhaustive and complete understanding of everything in the Bible. No matter how much they might prepare and study, on this side of glory, their understanding of its truths will always be incomplete. Moreover, every minister of God’s Word comes to the text with different backgrounds, different experiences, different perspectives, and this is a good thing, because, as the Scriptures remind us, “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27.17). There is nothing wrong with one pastor or elder holding the primary teaching responsibility, but it is good and healthy for the congregation to hear from other faithful voices from time to time, because this gives them a complementary and more holistic understanding of the truth.
And lastly, the third way that a cooperative approach to pulpit ministry benefits the local church is that it accomplishes our commission. The Great Commission is to make disciples, and part of making disciples, as the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy in Second Timothy, chapter 2, verse 2, is committing to faithful men what we have heard who will then be able to teach others also. Local churches are called to train up the next generation of leaders, faithful men who can step into the pulpit and teach the Word of God faithfully. As pastors and elders, we must look forward to our succession. Who have we invested in that will be able to take up the baton of God’s Word when we are gone? A collaborative approach to teaching allows us to train and prepare faithful men, to give them the opportunity to stand before their spiritual family and teach the Word of God in the safety of a community that loves and supports them.
In an ideal plurality situation, the primary preaching pastor should preach between 35 and 40 sermons annually; mathematically, this would come out to about three sermons per month. The remaining 15 or so can be equally shared among the other members of the elder team. However, a cooperative approach to the ministry of preaching goes beyond the allocation of Sundays. It should include discussion and planning of the direction for not only the series overall but of individual texts, and it should also include the opportunity for evaluation and feedback. Of course, this approach does not remove the individual pastor’s responsibility for textual work; every minister of the word must commit themselves to the hard work of plumbing its depths. But it does mean that we are not alone in the process. As a plurality of brothers, we come alongside each other in the ministry of the Word, so that we all can attain unto “maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4.13)
Phillip Powers is an elder at South Caraway Baptist Church in Jonesboro, AR. He blogs periodically at phillippowers.wordpress.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhillipPowers.