Why We Have Multiple Preachers In Our Regular Rotation

 

Visitors to The Parkway Church may be surprised to find a rotation of men regularly preaching in our weekly gathering with no one person preaching the majority of the time. While this is neither the evangelical norm nor an explicit biblical mandate, we believe this rhythm provides us a better opportunity to minister to our people. Other churches may faithfully steward other preaching patterns, but our approach is most appealing to us for the following theological, missional, philosophical, and logistical reasons.

Theological

There is a distinct pattern of plurality that runs throughout the New Testament. Jesus ministered with his twelve disciples. When He sent them out, He did so in teams of two (Mark 6:7, et al). Likewise, Paul consistently traveled with at least one other ministry companion such as Barnabas or Silas (see in particular Acts 13:1-5). Furthermore, when elders were appointed in a city, it was always a plurality of elders (Titus 1:5).

But what of the pattern of the Old Testament in which Israel was led by a singular leader? Does that not argue for a solitary leader? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that the church does have a solitary leader. No in the sense of this being an elder or pastor. Rather, this pattern points us to the reality that there already is one Chief Shepherd. Rather than arguing against plurality, the patterns of the Old Testament make a compelling argument for it. Since we already have a singular leader in Christ, all others are merely undershepherds.

The assumption throughout the New Testament is that there will be a plurality of church leaders and thus a plurality of teachers. After all, the ability to teach is a distinguishing mark of an elder (1 Timothy 3:2) and the role of shepherd is linked to teaching (most commentators link “pastor and teacher” as one role in Ephesians 4:11). Though this does not necessitate that all elders “preach” during the Sunday gathering, it does suggest that plurality is a good and wise virtue to pursue not only in governance in general, but teaching in particular. Elders teach in community groups, counseling, conversations and various other contexts, but we also want to cultivate plurality in preaching as one of the main venues for teaching in our body.

We practice plurality not only in our preaching schedule, but in our theological equipping classes as well. Even in our sermon preparation and feedback, plurality is our method. For example, each week in our staff meeting, we give constructive criticism regarding the previous week’s sermon and class. Additionally, we collectively consider the upcoming passage in order to corporately work through various exegetical issues that arise to avoid overlooking or otherwise misinterpreting the details of the text.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

Missional

The human heart naturally inclines toward preference. While there is nothing inherently wrong with preferences - preferences can become precarious when members of a church tether themselves to a particular or preferred preacher rather than that which is preached. We want to fight against the pull of any potential cult of personality that would even unintentionally promote the messenger over the message.

While the single preacher model is certainly not necessarily wrong, it can cultivate unique challenges for a congregation. For example, what happens if that single preacher is no longer able to preach due to disease, death, disqualification, or some other circumstance? Church history is littered with the stories of churches that could not survive the loss of a particular pastor.

Additionally, single preacher models often (though certainly not always) struggle with planting churches as members become anchored to one pastor and thus unwilling to follow the leadership of another. A shared approach to preaching will hopefully allow us an opportunity to be missional as we attempt to create a context to train and send men interested in church planting. Therefore, we believe that having a regular rotation in preaching and teaching cultivates a greater opportunity to shepherd Parkway toward the healthy work of planting other churches.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10–12)

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:1–2)

Philosophical

What defines a good sermon? Is it marked by the use of humor or the degree of entertainment? Is it the preponderance of big theological words or the avoidance of them? Is it manifest in yelling and hand motions and sweat?

While all of these might very well be elements of a good sermon, they are not the essence. After all, Paul was accused of being a weak speaker with less than ideal rhetorical skill (2 Corinthians 10:10). We maintain that a good sermon is one that rightly handles the word of God by faithful exegesis and exposition. Therefore, we want to teach and train our people to understand how to assess the value of a sermon by how well it engages the text, not just entertains the audience. By giving opportunities for various speakers with various styles, we hope to cultivate a greater focus on the theological content rather than the oratorical form.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Logistical

Lastly, there are certain logistical concerns. First, we are attempting to establish the importance of rhythms of rest within our congregation. Though we are no longer under the Sabbath law, there still remains a wise principle of practicing patterns of interplay between work and rest. This is why we take July and December off from classes and community groups so that our people can enter into and be formed by these rhythms of rest. In light of that, it is good and wise to give preachers occasional breaks from the heavy burden of proclaiming the Word.

In addition, this also frees up our pastors to pursue other pastoral duties. Preparing a truly exegetical and expositional sermon is a very time consuming task if you are digging into the original languages, cultural and literary context, and wrestling with commentaries. Spending some twenty-five to thirty hours on a sermon leaves little time for other pastoral duties. Having intentional breaks from preaching allows our men a consistent rhythm of weeks where they have more time to engage our members, study other topics, and pray.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:6–8)

Conclusion

Most of my life has been spent under the care of churches that lean more toward a single preacher model and I have benefited immensely from that experience. In fact, I think most of my theological and pastoral heroes have practiced a different method than Parkway. Having a regular preaching rotation is not the only way to faithfully lead a church, cultivate rest, pursue theological fidelity and humility, and encourage missions. Thousands of churches pursue these responsibilities through many other methods. However, we believe that having a plurality of preachers best stewards our opportunity to be intentional and purposeful as we seek to glorify God by making disciples.

 
Geoff Ashley