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can the show pony become a horse whisperer? – jonathan robinson

We’ve just moved to a new church. After 6 years of being the “main preacher” it’s been interesting to enter a church as the new family, and not the new pastor. Firstly, that has meant I can now take my turn in the creche, meaning I hear half as many sermons as are preached. Secondly, that has meant a change of gear. I am no longer responsible for the preaching team and their messages.

Our new church home is interesting in this regard. They have been without a pastor for a number of years and now have a large roster of “lay” preachers who take turns (after 6 weeks we haven’t had a repeat). There seems to be some attempt at planning, but the overriding impression is that each preacher is expected to pray and gain inspiration as to what message to bring. Usually a theme or thought is presented with a number of Bible passages mixed in. Each preacher’s idiosyncrasies and personality can come shining through. There have been some really interesting messages and it is clear those who are preaching take their responsibility seriously and put a lot of effort into bringing someone to edify and bless the congregation. The congregation seems to really appreciate that the preachers are not “professionals” and are encouraging, supportive and, dare I say, tolerant.

Of course, it hasn’t taken long for some people to sniff out that I am a “professional”, a trained and experienced preacher. Some have even told me that I am the answer to their prayers. Clearly not everyone thinks the current situation is ideal. There is something missing, the authoritative voice of God speaking through the scriptures. It is tempting for me to jump into the role of “anointed preacher” and show them how it is done. If I dug out some of my greatest hits from 16 years of preaching I’m sure I could knock their socks off.

But I am reluctant. One of my ministry regrets so far is that I have spent too much time doing, showing how it is done, and not enough time helping, teaching, and encouraging others to do it. (Don’t get me wrong, I have done some.) Because I learned to preach by imitating the preachers around me I’ve always assumed the best way to teach is to do, and do it well. But I’ve had to realise that I am unusual, and most people do not pick things up like that but need it broken down and explained, usually more than twice. So, my forming dream now, for this church, is not for me to be a great preacher, but to work out if and how I can help this church’s preaching team to grow in Biblical preaching.

There comes a point as a preacher when by being the show pony, you are really minimising your impact. If you are the main one who demonstrates and performs the preaching you quickly enter the myth of the “anointed preacher” where only you have the special gift and ability to minister God’s word to people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying some people aren’t more gifted than others, nor am I saying a church shouldn’t have a main preacher, but isn’t it better to see many people ministering the word well than one who does it spectacularly but then leaves a big hole when they (inevitably) go?

And there’s the rub. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the situation in my new church is rapidly becoming the norm for New Zealand. Professional preachers are getting harder to come by, and anyway churches are finding them harder (read: too expensive) to support. I love the work of Langham Preaching in teaching Biblical preaching in the developing world. But I think increasingly we need something similar here in NZ. Maybe the best way to serve God now is to focus my time on seeing others become Biblical preachers who can faithfully minister in their own churches, or maybe I should just start with this one and see how it goes, not that anyone’s asked me yet. And come to think of it we could do with some better biscuits in creche . . .

One Comment

  1. Steve Worsley says:

    I could send you One Step Ahead Preaching kit. Raises all the key questions about preaching (including team preaching) and has video of paul windsor mich duncan geoff new and others nailing the finer points. Works well as an upskilling tool whenever you’re gathering the preachers together. Let’s know if you want it.

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