We are primarily middle and lower middle class economically. At this point we are mostly white but with some Black and Hispanic folk in our congregation. Catalyst is 11 years old and started as a house church. It was eventually renamed Catalyst when full time staff was hired. When I interviewed with the board I told them that I believed in a lay preaching team and would be working on building that up and implementing that from day one. This was the model I had begun to work with in my previous assignment at the Beavercreek Nazarene Church in Dayton OH. I told the Catalyst board that I wanted this to become the DNA of the church. Thankfully, they were excited about the idea of collaborative preaching from the get-go.
CPL: Tell us more about collaborative preaching. What compelled and inspired you to go that route?
A few things. One of my favorite preachers is John Ortberg. He talks about each of us having a ‘shadow mission’ – a dark bent toward sin that impacts our calling in life and ministry. My ‘shadow mission’ is acclaim and power. When I was called to ministry I was afraid. I was afraid of this position of power and influence because a dark part of my soul craves that. I recognized from the start that there was a lot of potential for sin long-term in my ministry so I began to think about ways that I could protect myself from that as I moved into the pastorate. For a long time I just told people that I wouldn’t become a senior pastor and I pursued youth pastoring and associate roles instead. But then I became more aware of the biblical understanding of power as modeled by Jesus. He was constantly giving it away – to the disciples, to the 70. I also had a great example of this biblical model in Keven Wentworth who was the senior pastor in Beavercreek. I watched how he gave away power in his lead pastor role and was inspired.
I was also drawn to this model of collaborative preaching as I looked at the megachurches that tend to be so personality driven and where power is located with just one or a few individuals. I began to wonder how to de-centralize the pulpit so power doesn’t become an issue. I began to dream about how to return power to the people, so to speak.
You know, preaching is just one spiritual gift among many listed in the New Testament texts. It is not singled out. It is not at the top of the list. The assumption in the NT seems to be that there are multiple people in a congregation who have all of these gifts – including preaching – to benefit the body. But in our Church we have had this model that says only one (or two) persons can fulfill this role. But I see my role as pastor as primarily insuring that this gift of preaching is being delivered! I see my role primarily as equipping and overseeing those with the gift. I see my role as helping others who don’t have my educational background to utilize their preaching gifts nonetheless.
CPL: Tell us about the joys and challenges of using a collaborative lay preaching team model.
Well, let’s start with the joys. One of my favorite things is when someone comes up to me after another person has preached and says: No offense, but I really liked what that person said and it spoke to me in a way that you never have. Take Sue, for example. She serves on our preaching team. We did a summer series and she was the last to speak in a series of 10. In her sermon, she talked about being a mom and the insecurities she felt in that role. It was a very feminine sermon. Honestly, I was concerned about how all the ’good old Texan boys’ in our church might receive it. I was anxious about how that sermon would communicate. But 2-3 weeks later, I was talking to one of those ‘good old boys’ and he told me that Sue’s sermon was the best one that had been preached all summer! He said it had hit him ‘between the eyes’ specifically because Sue had shared from her perspective. So, Sue shared something that I never could have shared from a place very different from my own context. And it connected! It was a huge joy for me to hear that. It is beautiful to see how people like Sue are living into their call.
Now regarding the challenges. On the Sundays I am not preaching, a lot of my folks will joke with me: ‘you have the week off!’. But actually the work load is much heavier on the weeks I don’t preach. There is a whole layer of administration – scheduling, recruiting, study, prepping – that goes into the collaborative process and I oversee it all. This is not like a guest speaker coming in. This is about the rhythm of my congregation being fundamentally transformed. It is about re-educating the whole church. Many of them have come from this tradition that sees my primary role as pastor to preach rather than equip. Constant theological reforming is needed and takes time, especially with those who’ve been in church a long time.
Further, you have to work really hard at this because preaching is one of the main reasons folks come to church. It needs to be a good experience regardless of who is in the pulpit. It will be hard to get a friend to come back if they hear a weak sermon on their first visit so every sermon has to be coherent and theologically rich no matter who is preaching. Ensuring that the end product is good is my job. I want my preachers to be able to get up and speak with confidence. This is all part of the process. Honestly, it would be much easier for me to preach all the time.
CPL: So in light of your unique approach to preaching, what are your go to resources?
I give my lay preaching team access to the Feasting on the Word Commentaries. We follow the lectionary from Advent to Pentecost so this is a good, all-in-one commentary resource for the team. Feasting gives them a jumping off point. Its concise.
For me personally, some books that have made me a better preacher include Resonate by Nancy Duarte. She is a believer but in the business world. Her book talks more about how you organize your content (rather than being a theological treatise). I like Made to Stick as well by Chip and Dan Heath. This book basically tells you how to make an idea more memorable so your people don’t forget the message as soon as they leave the building. I am a firm believer that how we say what we say needs to be memorable and portable. This book is more about the shape of the message than the content. It has been helpful to me at all levels of ministry really, not just preaching.
Lastly, I would say read fiction. I lean towards sermon as storytelling rather than lecture (about facts). But often pastors with biblical training don’t know how to tell a story. We end up telling just the facts in a way that doesn’t matter. Some of my favorites from this past year include Moonglow by Michael Chabon and Silence by Shusaku Endo. The latter wrestles with deep questions of faith. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad really impacted me too. It captures the state of people in our contemporary culture without faith and without hope so well. I carried that spirit into the pulpit while I was reading it and for a long time after. I believe it helped me to connect at a much deeper level with some of the newer folks coming thru my doors – folks with no church background. I was writing/speaking sermons to the post-Christian person and those stories, fiction, helped me inhabit that different place in our culture (that I couldn’t access on