Preachers want to preach. From the time I surrendered to preach the Gospel over 16 years ago, down to this very day, I have a burning in my bones to preach God’s Word. Nothing invigorates me more. There is no place I am more at home than in a pulpit. I anticipate I’ll most likely someday die in a pulpit.
If you’ve been called to preach the Word of God, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Like Paul, we can say, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16b)! Indeed, for a lead/senior pastor, preaching is and should be primary. The reason many of our pulpits have been historically at the center of the platform is to signify the very fact that preaching is central in our churches and in our gatherings. Likewise, preaching pastors should allow ample time each week to study and pray for the preaching of God’s Word. While we are not apostles, we should undoubtedly model the apostolic conviction of “devoting ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4), and allow these elements to take precedent over so many other ministerial activities that compete for our time. I am fully persuaded that there is nothing more important that a pastor will do all week than to stand in the pulpit and proclaim the Word of God to the people of God.
However, the purpose of this post is not to address the preacher’s commitment to preaching, but to challenge the preacher’s unwillingness to step away from the pulpit. I do not mean “step away from the pulpit” in terms of retiring or quitting; I simply mean in terms of sharing the pulpit on a more regular basis.
I fully understand that upon simply reading that statement, a number of preachers cringe on the inside. In most cases, it’s not because we think we’re such gifted preachers. We struggle with this suggestion because we love to preach. Not only that, it’s what the church is paying us to do (in most cases). After all, many church members believe that preachers only work for 45 minutes each week; if we’re not preaching, what in the world are they paying us to do:)? Yet even more importantly than the perception of our congregation, preaching is what God has primarily called us to do. For these reasons and so many more, the idea of sharing the pulpit more often may not be an easy pill to swallow. However, I am convinced that prayerfully considering the suggestions below will lead to more healthy preachers and more healthy churches.
Over a series of two posts, I want to list six reasons as to why preaching pastors should consider sharing the pulpit more frequently. These are not necessarily in order in terms of importance. Today, we will look at the first three.
1) Sharing the pulpit more is good for the pastor’s humility.
When we stand in the pulpit every single week with hardly any exceptions, it’s very easy to start to believe that the church’s health and “success” depends on us. We are the glue that holds everything together (or so we think). It becomes incredible easy for a lead pastor to think quite highly of himself, even if he doesn’t even realize it’s happening. For these reasons and more, it’s good for a lead pastor to have frequent Sundays where not all eyes are on him. It helps him see the church doesn’t revolve around him. It reminds him that the Word of God can faithfully go forward with or without him. It reminds him it’s not his church, it’s Jesus’ church. It reminds him the church doesn’t really need him; what the church needs is the Word of God.
A few years ago, our pastoral team and congregation sent me away on a sabbatical. I was out of the pulpit for 8 weeks straight (the longest I had been out of the pulpit since I was 18 years old). I was dying on the inside. First, because I was being pulled away from the thing I loved to do more than anything else. But more than that, I had the thought, “Will the church be okay without me? What if things fall apart?” The fact is, it was a wonderful 8 weeks for our church. For one, they actually got out of the services on time for most of those Sundays. But for those 8 weeks, they didn’t miss a beat. Souls were still saved. Disciples were still being made. The Word still went forth. The Holy Spirit still came. People were still baptized. Conviction of sin still happened. And it all happened without me. It was 8 of the most humbling weeks of my life. The Lord reminded me that while He was using me, I wasn’t necessary. His church and His kingdom will move along just fine with or without me. It reminded me that if I dropped dead tomorrow, Pleasant Valley Community Church would march on. It reminded me that I wasn’t really the senior pastor; Jesus was.
2) Sharing the pulpit more frees up time for lead pastors to focus on other important areas of their ministries that often go neglected.
On the weeks that I am preaching, convictionally, I revolve my schedule around sermon prep time. For a lead pastor, because preaching is primary to our calling, and because doing it well takes much time in prayer and study, we are often limited in the time we have available to focus on other essential matters in the church. This may include investing in our leaders or staff, caring for members, or developing a new ministry or system in our church. It’s beneficial to have days and weeks of time away from the pulpit where we can pour into these crucial areas apart from distraction or the guilt that we should be spending more time in sermon prep. While we have primarily been called to preach, that’s not the only thing we’ve been called to do. Other important areas of our churches may be neglected and wrongly suffer if we do not intentionally carve out time to think and pray through them.
Yet for me, one of the biggest advantages I have found in stepping away from the pulpit more regularly is that it allows me the opportunity to create space in my schedule to simply seek God and His vision for our church. When was the last time we had multiple days or weeks in a row where our time was primarily spent simply seeking God as to His will for our church? Many lead pastors need more time to dream. We need more space to strategize with the Holy Spirit. We need more time where we can simply be still and say: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” When we are preaching every single week with few if any breaks, it’s very difficult to create this kind of space in our schedules and souls. As they should, sermon prep weeks dominate and capture the largest majority of our souls and minds. Yet the kind of seeking God that we need doesn’t happen best in a few random hours scattered throughout the week; it happens most powerfully in entire days and large chunks of time where we are able to lay ourselves undistracted and unhindered before the Lord.
3) Sharing the pulpit more gives pastors much needed time for spiritual and physical rest.
Preaching is exhausting. Preaching is not simply giving a speech for 30-45 minutes; it is the pouring out of one’s heart and soul. It is delivering the Word of God to the people of God, all while waging war against the principalities and powers. Preaching is pleading with men and women for the sake of their souls. Heaven and hell are on the line every single time we step into the pulpit.
Preaching is the giving away of one’s self, and many pastors do it week after week after week after week, with little or no rest. Many pastors do it multiple times each Sunday, including Sunday evenings. Many do it again on Wednesday nights. It is beautiful; it is powerful; it is exhilarating, but when done faithfully, it drains the body and soul.
Every preacher needs a break, and I don’t just mean a Sunday or two a year. Preachers need consistent days and weeks of rest from that task which takes more of a toll on them than any other. I want to die in the pulpit someday, but I don’t want it to be next Sunday. In order for us to be effective for the long-haul and have lasting and thriving ministries, frequent periods of rest from the preaching task are essential. My suspicion is that most preachers have no idea how truly exhausted they actually are. God’s grace sustains us, but even Jesus knew when to take a break.
In tomorrow’s post, we will look at 3 more reasons preaching pastors should share the pulpit more. They will be as follows:
- Sharing the pulpit gives other gifted brothers in the congregation the chance to utilize and cultivate their gifts.
- Sharing the pulpit is good for the congregation and helps them not be overly dependent upon one personality and preaching style.
- Sharing the pulpit is wise because it’s healthy for preachers to be preached to.