Preaching is both a high calling and a nearly impossible task. If you read the literature on preaching, you see that the pastor is somehow supposed to be (at least):
- a biblical scholar—mastering the original languages, exegesis, history, and biblical theology
- a theologian—well versed in both historical and systematic theology as well as the major philosophies and issues of the day
- a cultural anthropologist—exegeting the surrounding culture and the forces pressing on and shaping the church
- a communicator—crafting oral presentations that can present all of this to interested but often distracted listeners and
- a shepherd—knowing the flock well enough to know what they need to near now to continue growing as the people of God.
Good luck with that. Mastering one of those is difficult enough, but all five? And I’m sure we could easily make the list longer if we tried.
In my last post, “Don’t Outsource Your Sermon Prep,” we looked at a quote from Augustine arguing that it might be okay for pastors to let someone else take care of the more academic work of researching and writing sermons, freeing them up to focus on presenting the sermons and other pastoral duties. And I argued that pastors should handle such advice carefully because there are really good reasons for pastors to do their own work.
But I don’t think we should just dismiss Augustine’s advice either. Where did we get the idea that preparing sermons had to be a solo effort? Look again at that list of skills. Does that look like something someone should tackle on their own?
The problem I had with Augustine’s advice in my last post was that it sounded like he was dividing sermon prep into distinct stages, assigning part to one person and another part to someone else. But good sermons can’t be produced on an assembly line. The pastor needs to be involved all along the way.
But that doesn’t mean that others can’t be involved as well.
What if we took Augustine’s advice and used it to create a more collaborative approach to sermon prep, not outsourcing the difficult work of studying and crafting the sermon, but insourcing sermon prep by tapping into the multiple gifts already resident within a given community? Why not make preaching a team sport? Instead of making the quarterback play every position, let’s recruit players skilled in different ways and see what they can do together.
Assuming that the concerns we looked at in the first post are still valid, though, and we have compelling reasons for pastors to be involved here are some principles that would need to be in place for this to work:
- Everyone lives locally. I still don’t think this would work if the people involved in researching/writing the sermon are not connected to the local community of believers. But if we’re talking about people who live and minister with that local community, working in partnership with the one who will be presenting the sermon, then this gets more interesting. (And obviously “local” will mean different things in different contexts.)
- Everyone works together. Remember, this is a collaborative approach to sermon prep, not an assembly line. So this isn’t a “get out of jail free” card for the preacher, who still needs to wrestle with and be shaped by the text. And I think the more academically inclined people should also struggle with how to communicate what the text is saying. Everyone brings their strengths to the game without just dodging the areas where they’re weaker.
- Everyone “owns” the sermon. As we discussed last time, the preacher can’t simply take a completed sermon and present it to the congregation. It takes time to digest and own the sermon so that it can be presented effectively and adapted when necessary. The whole group should do likewise, reflecting together afterward on the sermon and how it shaped them and the church.
- Everyone gets credit. Augustine was well aware that people might be tempted to use other people’s hard work to make themselves look better, and he specifically called for this to be a transparent partnership. Even in Augustine’s day, there was no room in the church for the kind of self-aggrandizement that takes someone else’s work and presents it as your own.
Augustine’s advice could be dangerous if it leads people to think that they can outsource sermon prep. But that same advice could suggest a more collaborative approach to preaching, one that maximizes the unique gifts of a variety of people for the benefit of the church. I realize the logistics of that could get complicated when you have to pump out one or more sermons every week. Done carefully, prayerfully, and openly, though, it might be interesting to see what preaching would look like as a team sport.