The Synergy of a Preaching Team
-Dr. Tom Bartlett, Rockbridge ‘08-
In my early days of preaching I felt very unsure of myself. I listened to other preachers and tried to mimic what they said and how they said it. Looking back, I realize the lack of authenticity I displayed. I wanted to preach well and with impact but still hadn’t found my “preaching voice” so to speak. I think most preachers go through this phase of finding their voice, their style, and moving toward transparency. We learn quickly that preaching is not just giving a speech, it’s far more. It involves information that leads to transformation and the person delivering the message is a part of the message since people must “buy into” the preacher before they buy into his sermon.
The terms ethos, pathos, and logos and the theory of their use can be traced back to ancient Greece to the philosopher Aristotle. The idea of ethos is that of one’s personal aura, the unspoken “believability” and credibility that people perceive of an individual. Character and self-awareness fall under this area. Who a person is, is always part of the message of your sermon. Copying another preacher’s style or even, (I’m sorry to say I’ve heard this), using their personal examples as your own cause a loss of credibility and put off that unspoken ethos of being unethical and not believable. We each have a unique style and a unique voice. If you are not you, who will be? As Phillip Brooks is famously quoted as saying, “Preaching is truth through personality.” When you get to your voice, in your own personality, led by the Holy Spirit, you will experience barrier breakers through what Hadden Robinson calls, “Sincerity, enthusiasm, and deep earnestness”, in preaching. Why? Because when God brings it to you personally, He will bring it through you. That connection fires up the communicator. But this doesn’t mean you should go it alone!
In those early days, still skittish about my outlines, manuscripts, and delivery style, I didn’t want anyone else to see my notes or manuscript before I preached it. I protected them so that no one would get an advanced look. I guess I was thinking somehow it would come across more spiritual this way. My insecurity kept me from the input of others. While I had people who had mentored me, I never dreamed of letting them see my work before I presented it. As I look back now, I can recall much feedback that would have been useful before I preached a sermon and next to useless after I preached that message. Considering that, I certainly never dreamed of preaching my message to other preachers for their input and critique. I have a very different view of this today. The scriptures teach that wise counsel is a strength that leads to victory. I’ve since learned the power of fresh eyes on my outline, my manuscript, and illustrations. I’ve also learned that there’s even a step further when it comes to sermon preparation, a step that our team stumbled upon and have found great advancement in our preaching with; a live critique. In this article I’d like to show you the power of a preaching team by sharing some simple benefits of it. Specifically, by looking at why a live sermon critique gives you more than you could imagine, and then finally, how to make a greater, lasting impact with a preaching team.
A Preaching Team Increases Your Impact
Having a team of preachers looking over your notes and your manuscript gives you input and perspective you alone would not have. How a preacher writes his thoughts does not always translate to the listener. A team looking over your written material will point out those areas of confusion or lack of understanding. A preaching team can ensure necessary components of your message by asking questions such as: Is there balance in the purposes of your preaching? Is the message theologically sound? Do the points make sense on their own or do they need a lot of explaining? (I’m of the conviction that a person should be able to pick up my outline and be able to get the gist of my message because the points are clear without even hearing the message preached). The team can also suggest the best place and timing for a gospel presentation in the message.
A Message Critique Corrects and Sharpens
Robinson suggests rehearsing your message much like an actor, not to recite it but to be familiar with it. I agree, but just speaking without the input of others lacks true feedback. A preaching team can give perspective on anything that might distract the mind of the listeners such as ill-timed comments or culturally inappropriate stories. The team keeps your message laser-focused and better able to drive the “What” and the “So what” of your message because of their input; this increases your impact. By the way, you’ll do the same for them when they’re up for a preaching critique too. “Iron sharpens iron”! (Proverbs 27:17).
I’ve found over the years that I learn so much by being part of the critique side of this because others bring thoughts that I never considered. They point out things that I didn’t see or think of. All of this is helpful in my own personal pursuit to get better as a communicator. In a critique, learning is happening in both directions.
Our critique consists of both format and content. We ask things such as, did the preacher set up his message in a way that people could follow and respond? Was the communicator accurate in their theological teachings and interpretations of the scriptures? Was the gospel presentation clear? We use a simple critique form that helps us look for these key areas of the message. This kind of feedback is priceless before the message and almost useless after.
Raising The Next Generation of Preachers
There’s another component to the team that has an even farther reaching benefit and that is the ability to raise up the next generation of preachers right in your own church. Just like in my early days, younger preachers may not have the experience, outside input, or even the theological training that some have on the team. In the meetings they can learn by observation. Our current team has both seasoned professionals and beginners on it. Those with earned advanced degrees and those with no formal training. Often the beginners sit and listen and offer little to no critique but at times their perspective is profound. We all learn from each other. Spurgeon was once quoted with this idea, “All originality and no plagiarism makes for dull preaching.” The idea is not to steal ideas, but to learn from each other.
We also use this time as a homiletics lab for these young preachers and give them opportunities to preach in the team meetings for live critique. Now, I say young, but people in our team have ranged from their twenties to their sixties. They learn by observing as well as in the teaching sessions we offer in developing and delivering sermons. Our team meets weekly and it’s one of the richest things I’ve ever participated in. As I look back to my early days of preaching I see how a team like this would have helped me tremendously. I may have found my preaching voice and advanced to greater clarity sooner.
I’d like to encourage you to consider raising up a preaching team to share the preaching load and sermon preparation through a live critique.
 Hadden Robinson, Biblical Preaching, Baker Academics: Grand Rapids. 2001 second edition, p. 205.
 Robinson, p. 219