By Jonathan Walter
“Because these men share the burden of teaching the Word to us, there has been a marked freshness. Their varying personalities give an added breadth to Bible studies.”
“We like hearing the different styles and backgrounds of the team. Everyone brings something fresh.”
These were responses to an anonymous survey on speaking teams conducted at the Winona Lake (Ind.) Grace Brethren Church in May 2007. A few months before, the congregation had adopted a team teaching style of pulpit ministry.
“If you place a value on using the giftedness of the people in your congregation, you’ll consider the formation of a speaking team,” says Tom Abbitt, executive pastor of the Community Grace Brethren Church, Warsaw, Ind., who has also adopted a similar approach.
A speaking team is comprised of at least two people who share the responsibility of preaching on Sunday mornings. They meet frequently and collaborate on the preparation of messages. This allows each man more time to do his own ministry as well as time for the Holy Spirit to sift a sermon through the preacher’s life before it is preached.
Kip Cone, pastor of proclamation at the Winona Lake church, watched as a speaking team concept grew out of a pastoral transition in 2006.
“Although people were not sure of it at first, it was up and running at full steam by June 2006,” he says.
The paradigm of one man doing most of the preaching in a church is quickly being eroded by today’s fast paced lifestyle. “As churches are getting larger, they’re recognizing that it’s much more difficult to find a ‘one person’ that can do everything,” says Ed Lewis, director of CE National. “He’s supposed to shepherd, to do small groups, do counseling, do funerals and weddings as well as do messages. People today want more detail and they want more challenge in their message than just normal study provides. Most (pastors) just don’t have time for that.”
The speaking team at the Winona Lake church consists of three speakers, Cone, lead pastor Bruce Barlow, and Dr. Jeff Gill (dean at Grace Theological Seminary and a former pastor). They meet every other Friday for at least an hour and a half to review previous messages and discuss upcoming ones.
Motivation to do Well
According to Cone, “the person who is scheduled to speak bounces ideas off the rest of us and we share our thoughts with him. When a very good sermon was preached the week before, it provides motivation for all of us to do well. Comparison can be very helpful in learning and developing as a speaker,” he adds. “My ideas rubbed through the rubric of other people produce something better.”
The team also plans sermon series, assigning texts and discussing the titles of their sermons and “the big idea.” Each meeting includes a time of prayer and fellowship.
At the Warsaw church, there also is a team whose mission is to come alongside and help. They meet with the speaking team two or three times a month and organize dramas, special music, and testimonies based on the upcoming sermons. They help incorporate the other 45 minutes of the service to the theme of the sermon.
R Greene, pastor of the Grace Community Church in Frederick, Md., has used speaking teams for six years. Greene says, “Speaking teams are the wave of the future. Once you go to them, you’ll never go back.”
The Frederick church has six elders who help Pastor Greene present the sermons, since he believes in “punctuated segments.” Rarely does one man do all the speaking. Rather, a sermon is broken into 10 minute sections.
“Given television’s eight minute segments, people can’t take a 35 minute message and absorb it,” says Greene. The church also has a “sermon preparation team.” It is this group’s job to help the speaker research a passage.
Is there a downside to having a speaking team? Abbitt says that the cost may be in confusion that visitors or new attenders may have. The people in the pews may wonder “just who is the pastor” of this church, he notes.
A Visible Lead Pastor
As a result, Abbitt, who shares the pulpit with Grace Brethren International Missions’ Dave Guiles and Mike Taylor, has a visible presence in every service, whether interviewing people, opening or closing the service, or vision casting.
Across town at Winona Lake, Cone adds that there is more time spent in communication. “Teamwork in general takes more time which is less efficient,” he says. “However, in this case, the inefficiency results in greater effectiveness. It makes you better as a preacher.”
What are the steps to installing a speaking team in a church? Cone has two suggestions:
If you are a pastor, don’t be jealous of your pulpit. “Guarding your pulpit can cause you to disregard the gifts God has given the church and to miss out on His blessing through these people,” he stresses.
Ask your pastor to be on the lookout for a young man with the gift of proclamation and mentor him. “I may be 40 and I may have been a missionary for ten years, but I still rely on my mentor’s advice,” Cone admits. He is mentored by Jeff Gill, a seasoned pastor on his speaking team.
“There was hesitancy on the part of some in the church because all most of us had ever experienced was one man doing most, if not all, of the preaching,” says Barlow, who has been lead pastor at Winona Lake since 2006. “But after more than a year, the feedback has been resoundingly positive. Even those who were hesitant enjoy the variety of speakers.”
Jonathan Walter is a member of the Winona Lake (Ind.) Grace Brethren Church.