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Larry Osborne: Rightly Dividing the Preaching Load

When I first entered the pastorate, I considered preparing and preaching Sunday’s sermon the essence of ministry. Everything else was secondary. The notion of sharing my pulpit was unthinkable, tantamount to a denial of my calling.

But it wasn’t long until I discovered that there was much more to being a good preacher than just preaching. From the beginning, people looked to me for far more than a weekly sermon. They wanted from me counsel, administration, vision, recruitment, and a host of other skills that had little or nothing to do with my pulpit prowess.

And to my surprise, all that other stuff really did matter. When it was handled well, our ministry flourished. When handled poorly, we struggled. It was then I first began to think about doing the unthinkable: sharing my pulpit with another preacher. Four years later, I decided to go for it.

Here was my thinking: By turning over some of the time spent preparing and preaching sermons, I would be able to give better direction to our overall ministry. That would result in a healthier church and spiritual environment, and in the long run, my sermons would be more effective, even if less frequent.

I was right.

Now, seven years later, I’m more convinced than ever. I doubt I could ever return to the days of being a one-man show. Sharing the pulpit has been too beneficial. It’s proven to be one of the best things that ever happened to our church and to me.

Here’s why—and what it took to make it work.

What It Did for the Church

One of the most significant things it did for our church was to make it more stable—by making it less dependent on me.

Let’s face it: attendance and giving at most churches rises and falls with the presence of the senior pastor. Any prolonged illness or move to another church usually results in a dramatic drop-off. Sharing the pulpit (which in our case means having a second pastor preach between 20 and 30 percent of the morning messages) has helped mitigate the problem by giving our people the chance to buy into two preachers—and most have.

As a result, when I now leave for a conference, mission trip, or vacation, we hardly miss a beat. There is never an appreciable drop in attendance or giving. Things keep right on going.

That’s not to say that my long-term absence or move to another church wouldn’t have an effect. Of course, it would. As the initiating leader of our ministry and staff, I’m a vital cog in the wheel. But it wouldn’t hobble our ministry nearly as much as if I were the only “first-string varsity preacher” our people knew.

Should I be removed from the scene, our people wouldn’t be faced with a sudden parade of strangers in the pulpit (or an ill-equipped associate, learning on the job). They’d simply get an extra dose of “the other preacher,” someone they’ve already grown to love and respect.

The church has also benefited in other ways. They’ve received a more balanced presentation of Scripture than I could ever give on my own. While Mike (the other preaching pastor) and I share the same core theological perspective, we often approach life and Scripture from different angles. I’m more practical and oriented to the bottom line. He’s more of an intellectual and a scholar. Thus, each of us ends up seeing things and reaching people that the other misses.

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Larry Osborne is a senior pastor at North Coast Church in Vista, California. With 20 weekly services on five campuses, North Coast is known for both its innovation and its small back door. You can learn more about the principles he shared here in his upcoming book, Sticky Church (Zondervan/October 2008) and the Sticky Church Conference. You may also visit the North Coast Training Network at www.NorthCoastChurch.com/Pastors.