[Editor’s Note: This post continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series: posts written by pastors for pastors. Andrew Hopper is Lead Pastor of Mercy Hill Church, a new church plant in Greensboro, N.C. He writes on the topic of training others to preach by team-planning for weekly sermons.]
I am convinced that we often do things well only after having seen them done well. That is certainly what I am finding to be true when it come to teaching men to preach. Discipleship in preaching can happen in countless ways. Different plans and methods abound and I am sure they all have merit. I will spend my time here presenting a simple paradigm that had monumental influence on me. It is also one which I plan to replicate through our church plant (www.MercyHillGSO.com).
The basic concept is a team approach to weekly sermon planning. Under this model a lead pastor designates a certain portion of time each week to present his sermon to a trusted and handpicked team before it is preached for the congregation. During this time the teaching team will have ample opportunities to give their honest opinions, insights, critiques and additions. The team approach to sermon building has two major wins. First, the sermon will be better than it would have been otherwise. Typically, if not universally, more qualified eyes on any given sermon will make that sermon better. More eyes means more commentaries read, more experiences shared to draw upon for illustrations, and more opportunities to see if something has been missed. Second, the team approach gives the lead pastor an unparalleled weekly opportunity to teach selected members of his staff, elder team, and future leadership the mechanics, style, structure, and substance of preaching well.
Looking back, it is amazing how long I had been preaching before anyone actually took the time to invite me in and teach me to preach. I can only surmise that some natural ability in oration and humor masked my ignorance and gave the illusion that knew what I was doing! But when I landed at the Summit Church (www.SummitRDU.com) in 2007 I found myself in a culture of healthy critique and instruction. Eventually as a campus pastor I was invited into Pastor JD Greear’s sermon planning meetings on a weekly basis. The impact they had on my life and preaching cannot be overestimated. After months of listening and watching, the proper categories for sermon building slowly started to form in my mind. And after years of watching and listening my confidence to build a strong, substantive, and Gospel centered sermon grew all the more.
So what does it actually look like? What does it take to do team sermon planning effectively thereby discipling men to preach effectively? I am sure it can work many different ways but I will finish up this post with a few guiding thoughts.
1) The actual sermon planning meeting needs to be a major priority. We, like the Summit Church, place a major emphasis on this meeting as it is one of the most important that go on all week. What could be more important than making our sermons better and teaching younger men to make their sermons better? For us, attendance is an expectation not an option.
2) Look for opportunities to build confidence in your guys by using their material. I cannot tell you the confidence boost it was for me every single time Pastor JD would use something in his sermon that I brought up in the meeting. I would almost say bend over backwards to use ideas from your team! Often you will be in a situation where your example or illustration is even slightly better than the one they brought up. It doesn’t matter, use theirs if you can.
3) Choose the team wisely. Obviously when thinking about building your team there needs to be a base level of ability that everyone brings to the table. After all, you want the sermon to be better after the meeting than it was before. But really take the time to consider who ought to be in the room for the purpose of training and development. I think it best to bring in guys who you know have raw talent and great desire, but need the sculpting that only comes with time.
4) Take strategic opportunities to pause and teach. I think on the whole, more is caught by team sermon planning than actually taught. I mean that most guys will learn by hearing the repetition of thought rather than having a specific point harped on. However, that is not to say there is no value in taking some time to specifically point things out along the way. Routine teaching points will include things like finding resources, systematically gathering sermon material, basic sermon structures, preaching Jesus not only as example and motivation but also as savior, preaching the Gospel for sanctification as well as salvation, etc.
5) Bring a mostly finished sermon, not just a thought you have. Part of the discipline in team planning is thinking about the sermon early and often during the week. In a stressful and fast paced environment this can be daunting. But committing to bring a mostly finished sermon into the meeting is more profitable in teaching your team and improving the sermon. In bringing an actual sermon your team will have the benefit of seeing your entire thought progression and the movements between different sermon elements.