I love talking “shop” with other pastors, and lately, I’ve had the pleasure to interact with many. Preaching seems to always surface as a topic of conversation. Every pastor feels the pressure to preach great messages—not just true, but engaging and helpful content presented in an engaging way.
The most common question I’ve received in the past month or so revolves around the number of times in a calendar year a typical senior pastor should preach. The questions do not always start there, but that question tends to be the core issue. The last time this issue was presented to me by another pastor, it sounded something like this: “I know you preach without notes. How can I do that when I’m preaching 51 weeks a year?”
My answer was simple—“STOP PREACHING 51 WEEKS A YEAR!” I said it a little nicer than that. … Actually, I didn’t. I said it just like that.
Trying to preach every week at a high level is not sustainable. If you are preaching every week intentionally, you are not serving your church or the next generation of leaders intentionally. I should address all the issues I see with this approach later. For now, here are a few things you can do today to create some preaching margin:
1. Set a target.
First things first—you must decide that you cannot nor should not preach every Sunday. If you can’t make that decision, you and the church will suffer. Here’s the question you need to ask first: How many weeks can you preach effectively? I know you CAN preach every week, because that’s what you have been doing every week. But how many weeks can you really do it with excellence? How many messages can you write and deliver from a place of rest and revelation? Can you internalize 51 burdens?
Right now as a campus pastor, I communicate roughly 15 times a year at my church. Add a handful of other opportunities in other churches and I’m around 20 a year. I am growing as a communicator, but I promise you I am WAY better 15–20 times a year than I would be 51 times a year. I bet you would be, as well.
2. Ask me to preach.
I’m not kidding. You should ask me. Or you should ask someone else if you don’t like me. Just ask another pastor to step in for a week or two (or four). I know you are worried they will not be as good, will not know your audience, blah, blah, blah. … Maybe you’re worried they will be BETTER! That’s another problem for another post. You need to acknowledge YOU will be better 35 times a year than 51 times. So ask another pastor to step in your place.
Before you push back (as if you aren’t already), this is much easier than you might imagine. If you are a large church, see the next option below. If you are a small church, I bet you can think of several churches with larger staffs in your community or network. Every large church has up-and-coming communicators who are looking for reps—all they need is to be ASKED.
3. Allow a younger leader to preach.
If you are not providing opportunities for the next generation of preachers, you are doing the next generation a disservice. Yes, initially they will not be as good as you. Yes, they will make some mistakes. Yes, some of your people will not attend when they preach. If your church only attends to hear from you, there’s a bigger problem happening inside your house, anyway.
I think every preacher forgets they were once young and learning, too. Every great preacher began as a young, growing, aspiring preacher. As a senior pastor, you have the opportunity to shape the future of the church by allowing the younger guys opportunities to preach.
4. Show a video message.
Now I’ve lost you, right? Seriously, it works. If you’re not sure, just come to my church where we have over 2,500 adults listening to video preaching 35-ish times a year. (That’s how many times Andy Stanley preaches each year—and that should teach us something). My goal as a lead pastor is not to preach, but to ensure our church gets the best content—engaging and helpful—every week. I’m the lead pastor, not the lead preacher. There’s a difference. If that is me, great. If it’s Andy, even better. If it’s something or someone else, I’m fine with that. All I want is for our church to hear something helpful and applicable each week. And with that as the goal, the person or the medium is secondary to the content.
So for all us pastors, how are you going to preach less for more?