The most controversial thing about my preaching, as far as my lovely congregation at West is concerned, isn’t that I mention chocolate or facebook in most sermons or that I’m too short for the pulpit, but how often I preach. Or don’t.
Some background: I’m the pastor at West Baptist Church in New Plymouth, a church full of warm, down-to-earth people, planted 20 years ago in the poorest part of town, to build community here and be a place of ‘shelter, faith and laughter.’ We average about 65 people on a Sunday, from a wide range of backgrounds. I’m the only paid staff member, and leadership and responsibility are well devolved, with almost every adult and teenager in the church actively contributing to our life together.
So in this church, I aim to preach about 75% of Sundays, though I usually do more like four out of five.
I’ll outline my reasons below, and then I’m keen to hear what you all think – sole and team ministers, ‘lay’ preachers, listening members of congregations. What would you do? What would you like your minister to do? What’s a wise pattern of preaching in a church like ours? What about in a church like yours?
Here’s why I think 75% is a good number for us:
- It’s important that the community hears other voices than mine. Other preachers bring different emphases, experiences, and styles that give our congregation a richer, more varied diet.
- There are currently five other people in our preaching team, none of whom preach for a living. That’s five people who would never get a chance to develop their gift for preaching if I preached every week.
- This may not reflect well on me, but it also lifts my game to be training and developing other preachers. My first narrative sermon after I’d led a workshop on narratives was my best in ages as I was spurred on by their enthusiasm (and knew they would be listening critically!).
- Having more than seven days between sermons helps my freshness and creativity, so my congregation gets better sermons than they would if I were preaching every week.
- I’m the sole pastor with pastoral responsibility for about 120 people in the church, and another few thousand in our suburb. I can do an awful lot more pastoral care, community building, planning, chatting, reading, writing, praying, insert-activity-here-ing in a non-preaching week.
Over the last year or so, we have been focusing at West on developing ‘7 day faith‘, where Sunday fuels Monday-Saturday living and vice versa – not revolutionary, but foundational.
How often the pastor preaches feels like a test of how serious we are about this. If we think the Sunday service is the point of church life, then it makes sense for our ‘professionals’ to be always on duty in the pulpit. If we think that Sunday is our opportunity to worship together, equip and encourage each other to build the kingdom of God in our patch of earth, 7 days a week, and that’s the point of church, then we’ll want our ‘professionals’ to have plenty of time to spend shaping our Monday-Saturday life, and we’ll be glad to have other people sharing the preaching.
There’s a balance to be found in here somewhere. What’s the magic number?
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Thalia Kehoe Rowden is an awesome parallel parker and the pastor of New Plymouth West Baptist Church, a place of shelter, faith and laughter.