Nearly every church I’ve ever been part of (which admittedly have all been some flavor of Evangelical) has approached the Sunday morning worship gathering with the same way: a welcome, a few songs, collect an offering (probably with another song) and then THE SERMON, which occupies at least as much space as the previous elements, and then probably a closing prayer and song. Ignoring for the sake of this post the bad assumptions about the nature of humans and our spirituality that format for our worship takes, I want instead to focus on a more subtle problem:
Most churches have one main speaker, usually the senior pastor. Here are (at least) three reasons having only one main speaker is bad worship and bad theology.
1. The One Speaker model demonstrates a poor understanding of Spiritual Gifts
No other job in the Church is restricted to one person. Worship is led by multiple musicians. Many individuals lead small groups or teach Sunday School. All sorts of volunteers work with teens and kids, serve as elders, deacons, ushers and sound technicians.
But not the preaching. Only one person can preach.
We’ve become convinced, somehow, that in every congregation, the Spirit has only gifted one person to teach and preach in the worship context. And this simply isn’t true.
Nowhere does any author in the Bible elevate teaching or preaching as a gift that’s exceedingly rare, or restricted to one person in the Church.
That means that – unless your church is comprised of only 10 persons or so – the Spirit has gifted others there to teach and preach. That also means that if you Church only uses one preacher, you’ve created a context where others in your congregation – specifically those also gifted to teach and preach – are actively dissuaded from using what the Holy Spirit has given them to serve their church body.
Our preaching should embody a biblical attitude toward the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Identifying, training and engaging those in the congregation who’ve been gifted to teach and preach is a challenging but vital step in that journey.
2. One Speaker reinforces the Cult of Celebrity
Pastoral transition is so painful these days it’s become its own punchline. The senior pastor leaves, and the next guy or gal who takes over is doomed to fail. Or said pastor has some sort of messy, public moral failing and the church falls apart. Or the congregation gets wrapped up in the pastor’s personality and talents rather than in the work of becoming faithful pictures of Jesus in their community.
I don’t know any Christians who think the cult of celebrity is good. But when we consistently place only one voice in front of a congregation, we reinforce the wrong belief that this person is more spiritual or holy than everyone else. And that’s the beginning of the short fall into celebrity.
Our preaching should embody the priesthood of all believers.
Regularly using multiple speakers shows that we believe no one person is more spiritual than everyone else. It undercuts the very American tendency toward hero-worship.
3. One Speaker stifles what the Spirit can teach the congregation
There’s no such thing as a perfect preacher. We’re all human. We’re all on the journey to being like Jesus, walking away from Sin and toward God just like everyone else. That means when you hear my sermons, you hear what God is teaching me, how I’m learning to overcome my own tendency to Sin. What I’m reading, what I’m learning through my small group, my marriage. But it’s all coming from me, and from the Spirit’s work in my life.
It’s hard to practice what we preach because what we preach is often a projection of the unreconciled issues within us
What I have to offer my church is good. But I’m not the only person the Spirit is teaching. And if I’m the only speaker, I’ve robbed the larger congregation of learning the lessons God is teaching someone else as well.
In other words, we all have issues. So make sure others have the chance to air theirs, too.
There you have my 3 reasons churches should regularly engage multiple speakers. Of course a multiple-speaker system has its own challenges and drawbacks, but that’s a whole separate post.
In the interest of full-disclosure: At Catalyst, I preach approximately 35 Sundays out of 52, which is 2/3. My co-pastor Sprang preaches about 1 week in six, which is 8 weeks per year. The remaining 9 Sundays are filled by lay persons who are part of our preaching team. Our long-term goal is to train and develop more lay preachers. So we aren’t where we want to be yet, but we’re moving that way. Stay tuned!