How important is preaching to the health, life and mission of God’s church in the world today? Is it really all that important? I mean, aren’t there other, more effective ways in which to reach the lost and edify the saints? How essential is preaching to genuine Gospel vitality and potency, both individually and corporately, as believers in this culture?
Raise Up Faithful Preachers
I would argue that the faithful preaching of God’s Word is perhaps more important to the church than ever before. As Walter Kaiser writes, “It is no secret that Christ’s church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, ‘junk food’; all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her.” As a result, Kaiser notes that theological and biblical malnutrition has “afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their bodies.”
While tough to hear, I think Kaiser’s diagnosis is correct. What the church needs today is not junk food, but the kind of food and drink that can truly satisfy hungry and thirsty souls. What the church needs today is food and drink that comes through the clear, undiluted preaching of the Word of God.
Of course, this begs the question, “Who will preach God’s Word? Where do we find faithful preachers who rightly handle this Word of truth?” While our seminaries play a vital role in the equipping and training of preachers to serve God’s people, I am convinced the best place to raise up and develop preachers is in our local churches. In churches just like yours! So, what might this look like? How can your congregation begin to intentionally raise up preachers? Let me offer a simple pathway you and your church may want to consider.
Developing a Preaching Cohort
One of the most effective ways your congregation can begin to develop preachers is by launching a preaching cohort. A preaching cohort is simply a small group of individuals committed to meeting regularly for the purpose of helping one another grow as preachers of God’s Word. In this group, individuals will learn with one another, encourage one another and give helpful feedback to one another as they journey toward becoming more effective preachers of the Word. Ideally this group will be made up of anywhere from two to five committed individuals, alongside the leader of the group, which in most cases is a pastor. It is recommended that this cohort meet at least once a month together for six to 12 months. Each cohort gathering should last between two to three hours in length.
Most preaching cohorts are made up of individuals with various levels of preaching experience. Whether someone has never preached a sermon before, or they have preached on a weekly basis, a preaching cohort is a great environment to sharpen skills and help those in the group mature in their preaching. Let me briefly paint a picture of what a preaching cohort might look like in your church. This is a model that has worked well for many churches launching a cohort for the first time. There are three primary components to the cohort: Personal Study, Group Preaching and Mentor Coaching.
Component #1: Personal Study
Personal study is one of the keys to helping those in the cohort get the most out of this experience. The commitment to learning outside of the monthly cohort preaching gathering will help to stretch and equip individuals both in their intellectual understanding, as well as practice of biblical preaching. While there are many excellent preaching resources available that you might choose to use with your group, let me recommend a combination of reading and listening. In other words, pick a book for your group to read and study together, along with a preaching podcast or two that will help provide additional instruction to your group.
First of all, I would encourage you to have your group read through an introductory book on preaching that can help them develop and deliver biblical sermons. There are many excellent introductory preaching books out there. I would recommend one of the following:
- Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chappell
- The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida
- Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson
- Power in the Pulpit by Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix
Along with reading one of the above texts, have your group listen to one or two preaching podcasts on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This is a great way for those in your group to be learning from experienced preachers as they share some of the nuts and bolts learned over the years of preaching. Three podcasts I have found to be incredibly helpful to this end are:
- “On Preaching” with H.B. Charles Jr.
- “Expositor” with Dr. Steven Lawson
- “Preaching and Preachers” with Dr. Jason Allen
Component #2: Group Preaching
Once a month the preaching cohort group will meet together for two to three hours (depending on your group size) for the purpose of instruction and preaching. Typically, a portion of this meeting will be given to discussing some of the reading and listening the group is doing together. It can also provide an opportunity for the group leader to do some intentional teaching on some aspect of preaching with the group. However, the majority of this meeting time will be spent having group members actually preach. This is where things get really fun! This meeting will allow individuals to preach in a context where they will be given honest and helpful feedback from others. Along with the group itself, I would recommend inviting other church leaders, as well as members of the congregation to come listen to the group preach each month.
Again, depending on the size of the group, each preacher in the cohort will preach a 20- to 25-minute sermon, followed by 10-15 minutes of evaluation and discussion. During this time, those present have the opportunity to offer words of encouragement and also share thoughts and observations that will help those in the cohort identify areas for growth in their preaching. I recommend having each observer fill out a simple preaching evaluation sheet that can help guide them in giving helpful critique in different areas.
Let me just reiterate what is probably very obvious. The evaluation and feedback given to the preachers in this context should be marked by much grace and kindness! Having your sermon critiqued? Are you kidding me? This can be an incredibly intimidating (even scary) experience for even the most seasoned preacher! This is why you want to go over the top in creating an environment marked by extravagant love and encouragement! This experience should be a joy not drudgery. Do all that you can to make sure it is just that.