I love everything about preaching—planning sermons, studying and research, Sunday delivery, feeling spent on Sunday evening—all of it.
I’d love to do it every Sunday, but I believe that it’s not best for me to do so. It’s also not the best thing for our church community Austin Mustard Seed. As I have written before, we believe that our liturgy is a time for all to participate. We include the role of preaching in that.
In this early season of the church, we’ve worked to establish a rhythm and a grace for people to learn how to preach. While we only started gathering for liturgy about 16 months ago, we’ve already invited seven non-staff members to preach.
We believe there are myriad voices in our congregation that can preach, and we want to develop others who have that vocation. We also desire to start other neighborhood congregations, and we believe a primary obstacle to that will not be a shortage of people or places to gather, but a shortage of developed preachers.
Here are the five keys to how we integrate a potential preacher into our rotation:
The first step, of course, is to identify potential preachers. Of course, I should say that the practical steps for this begin with prayer and discernment. The question then is how do we recognize potential people to pray and discern about.
First, we look for those who already have a giftedness for presenting to others. We’ve had some who have previous experiences in speaking or teaching even if not actual preaching in a Sunday gathering, whether as school teachers or Bible study leaders. They have been able to make a natural transition. Others we can identify as we see the presence they have when they participate in our liturgy in other ways, such as reading prayers or hosting our Prayers of the People time.
Second, we invest time in these would-be preachers to identify the shape of their character and theology. Whether sitting next to them at lunch after liturgy, or finding time to share a beverage with them, we want to have a good sense of where they are coming from before inviting them into so significant a role.
Before someone preaches, we also want them to invest in the process of learning the craft. Last year, we collaborated with two other churches to host a Saturday morning workshop on how to prepare a sermon. It was only a start, but it gave them some core tools to work through a process of how to engage ancient sacred texts to see what they still have to say to us today.
I also get to mix up my life projects here, as I often will request someone listen to one or two particular Sermonsmith interviews that I think will resonate with their style. Having participated in nearly 50 interviews now, I can have a good sense with which ones might be a good fit for the style of our emerging preacher.
Each of these requires a time investment on someone’s part, usually before they are even scheduled to preach. But it’s not at all too much to ask. Preaching requires a great deal of time and attention and working them through some preliminary training makes sure they have the time and attention required to invest in the task.
We partially engage with the church calendar throughout the year, leaning into the lectionary for the high seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. During “Ordinary Time” we will focus on other themes or texts that seem timely or critical to the ongoing formation and calling for our church community.
We’ve found that those liturgical seasons form an ideal time to invite others in as the theme of the season and the texts of the lectionary give a cohesion to the different voices that are preaching. We will also do a focused text study through the summer months Ephesians last year and the Sermon on the Mount this that is a helpful time to invite other voices to speak into the life of our community.
This rhythm also is helpful for my preaching. It allows me some concentrated time near the first months of the year and in the fall to stretch into some new directions we are called as a church, while give me a little extra space to breathe and study for those concentrated season.
We are a church with no place of our own, and certainly no library, so we can’t plunk a would-be preacher in a library with many leatherbound books and smells of rich mahogany. That would be glamorous for sure, and you might have the benefit of such a place. But what we lack in bookshelves we can make up for digitally.
I’m ever an advocate for Bible Software (Logos is my flavor of choice) because of my ability to carry a huge reference library in the smallest of bags. I’ve also found it to be a handy way to “lend” some books as I can pass along screenshots of some key commentaries to those who are preparing to preach. Rather they overwhelm someone with stacks of books, a PDF of some key resources gets them off to a great start.
Depending on comfort level and experience, I’ll meet with each would be a preacher once or twice in the weeks leading up to when they preach. The first will be a good 2-4 weeks before, but after they’ve had a chance to reflect and study the text. I can hear about how the text is speaking to them and help them with ideas on how to further develop it or make it tangible for all.
The second meeting will come in the week before, as I help them refine the sermon they have put together. It can be a tricky thing to help someone craft a sermon in their voice without imposing too much of my style on them, and there have been hit and misses in that, for sure. This time often leads to me helping them tweak their order or offer a suggestion for another illustration that might work.
The one consistent push that has been most helpful for each push them to simplify it down to the one primary thing they have to say. That thesis statement our English teachers pushed on us so long ago, that I for one resisted forms an important guide to sharpening the content and structure of a sermon. And it has been important to each person I’ve worked with to be able to work down to this statement in that first or second meeting.
Perhaps you already invite others from within your church to preach, or perhaps is something you are just considering. Or perhaps you totally disagree with the idea and have been arguing with me in your head all the way through. I hope this is helpful if you fit into any of those categories.
Regardless of where you fit, let me leave you with this thought. Some of our best attended Sundays and some of our most download sermons have come when someone from within our congregation is preaching. The excitement of the one who is preparing to preach spills over into personal invites and social media shares, causing new relational connections for us to be the church we are meant to be in our neighborhoods. And since our hope is to be a church built on loving relationships much more than on the effectiveness of the preaching, that feels like a good thing.
“Learn more at The Praxis Gathering!”
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