"It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!" Tony Campolo's iconic line brings hope to many people, but anxiety to preachers. You have 48 hours until you're expected to say something life changing—again—and the seed thoughts you had on Monday morning still haven't sprouted into a sermon. You are afraid that it's going to be another week of having to say something instead of having something to say.
You want to preach messages that transform lives. You want to shepherd the flock under your care. And you want to maintain healthy boundaries. But, "It's Friday, and Sunday's coming!" You feel forced to choose between personal vitality, pastoral duties, and life-changing preaching. But what if that could change?
"It's Friday, and Sunday's coming!" And there is hope because any minute they will walk through your door—a team of collaborators. No, they aren't paid staff. They are volunteers who love God's Word, love the local church, love creativity, and love you—the pastor-teacher. They are people filled with the Spirit of God who long to hear life-transforming preaching on Sunday. And they'll do almost anything—including meeting regularly with the pastor—to contribute to better preaching.
If you want to hear God's voice more clearly on Sunday, then invite more voices into your study on Friday. It's not the day of the week that's important. Friday just happens to be the day that our team meets. I've served at the same church for ten years—the first half as associate pastor, and the second half as senior pastor. One of the biggest joys of ministry during the past decade has been our collaborative teaching team.
It started when our former senior pastor gave me a copy of Dave Ferguson's book The Big Idea: Focus the Message—Multiply the Impact. One of the concepts in the book was the idea of preparing to preach as a team. So we gave it a shot. We learned by trial and error.
Our current team consists of five important voices. Brad is a full-time Christian counselor who loves to craft moving stories. Barb has influenced multiple generations of Christians as an energetic and creative leader with a love of words. Melissa has extensive experience as an editor and grew up in a pastor's home. Kevin is a seminary student with a passion for exegesis and a calling to pastoral ministry. None of them are paid for showing up on Friday morning. Their reward is witnessing the impact of improved preaching. And they have told me this is among the most rewarding and sustainable ministries they have ever participated in.
More voices at the table means more perspectives considered, more blind-spots removed, more experiences mined, more motives revealed, more commentaries read, more problems considered, more solutions explored, more learning styles considered, and more fun in the sermon crafting process. This is about more than pragmatics; it is theological. Many of us talk a good "priesthood of all believers" game. Then we hide away in our studies, practicing Moses-on-the-mountaintop theology. If you want God's voice to be heard loud and clear on Sunday, then it's time to invite some new voices into your study earlier in the week.
Last fall we were preparing to preach through 1 Peter. We had outlined the book, selected graphics, and titled the sermons. Yet I felt unsettled. I had taken a course on narrative preaching the previous summer at Asbury Theological Seminary with Dr. Jeff Frymire. The bar had been raised. And I wasn't satisfied with the status quo. But what did narrative preaching have to do with Peter's epistle?
I shared my frustration with my team. Brad and Barb look at each other—look at me—and they say, "That's easy!" I'm thinking to myself, "What did I miss?" They go on to suggest that we open the series from the perspective of an exile—someone who was displaced now living in northern Asia Minor—reading Peter's letter for the first time. Talk about a light bulb moment! We adjourned the meeting and I wrote a narrative for the first Sunday.
After some more collaboration I told the story of Antony, a fictional teen whose father was a wealthy landowner outside Rome. The father's conversion to Christianity eventually leads to forced relocation for his family. Antony's dream of inheriting his father's estate is destroyed, but a new dream of an imperishable inheritance emerges as he discovers faith in Christ.
As the series unfolded, we stayed with Antony. His story almost wrote itself as we looked at passages through the eyes of a teen adjusting to a new home, wrestling with faith, and eventually making an all-out commitment to Christ as an "exile." People often leaned forward for these 5-7 minute vignettes in the sermon. There was a loud quiet in the room as we experienced the text through the eyes of a person with a name. This experiment of using a narrative approach for an epistle would have never happened unless I had a team who listened and then said, "That's easy."
Most of the people in your congregation are already evaluating your preaching. The question is whether you want to hear what they have to say. Why not ask the most trusted and gifted among them to share their insights with you? It doesn't mean that you need to act on every comment. It does mean that you will take advantage of the resources God has already given you to grow as a communicator of God's Word.
Do you want to grow? Do you love the truth enough to seek it out? Are you willing to find out what it's like to be on the other side of you on Sunday mornings? Are you willing to receive specific feedback about what was heard and experienced when you were speaking? If you want to be a better preacher, become a better listener. And start with a few people who long for better preaching.
Who would you love to spend more time with? Who are lifelong learners and readers? Who has some theological education? Who can tell a good story? Who will speak the truth in love to you? Who's willing to contribute without shutting down when you don't take their suggestion? Who has a passion to see your church grow in their love of God through passionate preaching?
Are any names coming to you? OK. Don't tell them what you have in mind—at least not yet. Start by asking them for feedback. Ask them to evaluate this Sunday's sermon. Don't use a complex tool. Just ask them to respond to the basics: What was the big idea? At what point in the sermon were people most engaged and least engaged? What were the strengths? What needs to be improved? Ask them to share their feedback within 24 hours of the sermon.
Did they never get back to you? Did they miss the point? Were their comments simplistic? Did they blast you unfairly? Now aren't you glad you didn't invite them onto your teaching team yet?
Did they thank you for the opportunity? Were they gracious with their insights? Did they hit upon important truth? Did you say, "I wish I would have thought of that!"? Then it's time to invite them to the table.
It's funny how the guy who heard God's voice, alone, on the mountaintop wished it wasn't that way. Moses was the man God spoke with as a man speaks to a friend. He is the quintessential preacher who spent time in the presence of God then spoke to the people of God. Yet he longed for all of God's people to hear from God and speak for God. When Joshua discovered that two elders were prophesying in the camp of Israel, he was jealous for Moses. Apparently he didn't want unauthorized prophets competing with Moses' authority. I'm reading between the lines, but I can hear Joshua say, "Moses, you're the one who goes up the mountain and comes down with a message from God. Make these rivals stop!" Moses responded, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them" (Numbers 11:29).
How ironic in our post-Pentecost era so many pastors view preaching like Joshua instead of Moses. Which are you? How does your way of preparing, delivering, and evaluating messages reveal what you really believe? "It's Friday, and Sunday's coming!" If you want God's voice to be heard loud and clear on Sunday, then it's time to invite some new voices into your study earlier in the week.
Are there challenges to working with a teaching team? Yes, of course. They are likely to give you constructive criticism that is hard to hear. It may even sting a bit. At other times a team member will feel unappreciated or overlooked. Yet God can use all of these challenges to grow character and deepen friendships.
The benefits that come with collaboration are immense:
For the preacher who gathers with a team, these words can once again bring hope and joy. "It's Friday, and Sunday is coming!"
By the way, many voices contributed to this article. Thank you Brad, Melissa, Barb, and Kevin. Listening to you helps our church hear from God.
Eric Flood is the senior pastor of South Park Church in Park Ridge, Illinois.
It's Friday morning, and you're looking at each other. Now what? The possibilities are endless. But start by building relationships. That happens as you share about your life and pray with one another. Invite the Spirit's leadership over what's about to happen.
We use Google Drive. Each team member has the same document open on their laptop or tablet. This allows everyone to see what's going on. You can choose a scribe or let everyone contribute. A few headings help organize your thoughts: title, text, main point, structure, illustrations, supportive material, tough questions, etc. Google Drive also allows collaboration throughout the week as ideas surface.
I'm a fan of series preaching whether we are doing a book of the Bible or a topic. A story arc is often discernible in a series that gives greater focus to each sermon. Then select a text and look at it together. What's going on? What questions does it raise? What answers does it offer? And how might it be communicated? This can go on for as long as you want, but at some point someone needs to suggest a big idea. What's the one unifying thought? Someone has to put it out there and be willing to receive doubting stares, clarifying questions, or high fives. Until you get this, all other work is potentially a waste of time. Once the main point is clarified, everything else starts to flow.
Will this sermon be deductive, inductive, narrative, problem/solution, contrasts, first-person narrative, etc.? You may not want to settle on this right away. Consider more than one option. Once you have the structure, you can start filling it in. Start making suggestions. It can be beneficial to let the brainstorming happen. Your first thought doesn't have to be the best one. Once you get the pump primed, you'll have many good options to choose from.
Someone may have an idea that they think is absolutely amazing. And they may try to convince you to use it. But if you can't own it, if you can't say it with conviction, kindly say, "No thanks." Look for team members mature enough to hear "no" without taking it personally. You're the one who has to stand in front of the congregation, before God, and in front of the mirror. While you can be grateful for all contributions, many good ones will be left on the cutting room floor.
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