“Can you preach for me this Sunday?”
My heart skipped a beat as I heard those words. I had just announced to my church family that God had called me to vocational ministry. My wife and I would soon be relocating to Louisville to attend seminary to prepare for this calling. When I received this phone call from a seasoned pastor of a neighboring church, I had never preached a sermon in a local church.
Sure, I had practiced sermons in my bedroom. I had taught Sunday School and led discussions in other small group settings. I had even shared a devotional in the hospital chapel during Holy Week services. But I had never preached in a local church before.
When Sunday arrived, I was terrified. The church was small, and the people were kind. I don’t remember what I preached, but I’m sure it left much to be desired. Still, the congregation encouraged me to keep working at it.
More than fifteen years later, I look back on that experience, and I’m so thankful for that pastor who picked up the phone and was willing to “share his pulpit” with a 27-year-old kid who had never preached before in his life. It was a risky move on his part, but it propelled me on an incredible journey in which I have preached in dozens of church settings in multiple states. But it all started in that little church and with that seasoned pastor who offered to share his pulpit.
What Does It Mean to “Share the Pulpit?”
The practice of “sharing the pulpit” is simple. The church’s pastor voluntarily invites someone to preach in his place. It often happens when the pastor takes a vacation or needs to be away during a worship service. The pastor will still be in attendance at other times, but he invites another individual to preach. This person may be another member of the church or a guest from outside the church.
7 Reasons Pastors Should Share the Pulpit
While nearly all pastors will share the pulpit during their vacation time, some pastors are reluctant to do so when they plan to be in attendance. If they’re present, they’re preaching. However, I believe there are several reasons why pastors should be proactive in sharing their pulpit with others. If you are a pastor or you hope to be so in the future, here are seven reasons why you should share your pulpit:
- #1: It gives the pastor a break. Regardless of the size of the church, most pastors preach 2-3 sermons per week. In addition to the time spent preparing those messages, pastors have many other responsibilities, including counseling, administration, pastoral care visits, outreach, preparing for ministry events, strategic planning, community engagement, and much more. Suffice it to say that pastors usually don’t run out of things to do! That’s why ministry burnout is a reality for many. Pastor, if you’ll invite someone to preach in your place from time to time, that’s one less sermon you’ll need to prepare. Use that time to catch up in other areas or just to take a well-deserved break.
- #2: It provides the congregation with some variety. Let’s face it; every pastor has their own “style” of preaching. Some pastors preach systematically through books of the Bible. Others preach thematically about different topics. Some pastors love to alliterate; others loathe the practice. Some pastors use humor regularly; others avoid humor at all costs. Some pastors always provide three points and a poem; others may never follow a discernible outline of any kind. Given this reality, the congregation will grow accustomed to the style of their pastor over time. Their familiarity with the way he preaches may inadvertently cause them to tune him out on occasion. Inviting a different preacher with a different style now and then will mix things up.
- #3: It allows aspiring ministers to gain valuable experience. Every minister of the gospel had to preach their first sermon at some time in some place. Just as I preached my first sermon at the invitation of a much older and wiser pastor, pastors today have the opportunity to share their pulpit with the next generation of ministers as well. While it’s best not to ask them to preach their first sermon during a Sunday morning worship service, wise pastors will use the Sunday evening service or a midweek Prayer Meeting to allow these aspiring ministers to get their feet wet. The pastor(s) can also follow up with them and provide invaluable feedback each time they preach. In other words, pastors should share the pulpit as they mentor future ministers.
- #4: It improves the quality of the pastor’s sermons. Pastors who share their pulpit regularly understand why it’s sometimes better to preach less and prepare more. Instead of preparing 2-3 half-baked sermons per week, pastors who share their pulpit regularly can invest more time preparing fewer sermons. This shift usually results in a higher-quality sermon. While this may not be possible in some churches, many churches have at least a few men who could help the pastor share the preaching load and thus improve the quality of the sermons he preaches. It also provides these men the opportunity to gain valuable preaching experience under the watchful eye of their pastor (see Reason #3).
- #5: It promotes a kingdom vision. When pastors invite others from outside the church to share the pulpit, it provides church members a glimpse into what God is doing beyond their local church context. Whether it be a pastor of another church, a missionary, or a denominational representative, these guest sermons remind the congregation that God’s mission is a global mission. It helps them see how they play a part – but only a part – in advancing God’s kingdom. It helps them understand that they are not competing with other churches but in cooperation to fulfill the Great Commission. It helps them to appreciate the kingdom ministry of others and often provides opportunities to partner with them.
- #6: It combats narcissistic tendencies. While recent podcasts have highlighted the narcissistic tendencies of some “celebrity pastors,” the reality is that the unhealthy desire for attention and affirmation is not limited to those with a significant platform. Some pastors love being in the spotlight – no matter how big or small it is. Therefore, they are often unwilling to share their pulpit because they don’t want anyone else to receive the compliments and affirmation they are accustomed to receiving. However, pastors must recognize this selfish craving for what it is. Instead of seeking glory for themselves, they must seek to glorify God in all things, including when He is at work through the preaching ministry of others. One of the best ways to do so is to regularly share the pulpit. Let others get a pat on the back from time to time and let God get the glory for it all. Always.
- #7: It allows another voice to speak on certain topics. Perhaps you’ve heard the joke that “an expert is anyone with a briefcase who lives at least 50 miles away.” Sadly, there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Jesus said the same thing, but in a different way: “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). In other words, sometimes it takes an outside voice to get a message across. For example, a pastor may spend months trying to convince the church to begin a new outreach ministry with little to show for his efforts. That same pastor invites someone from another church to preach. During his message, the guest preacher tells the church that they need to begin a new outreach ministry, and suddenly everyone is on board! Similarly, a guest speaker may address certain topics that may be uncomfortable or unwise for the pastor to do so. Sometimes, it would serve the pastor well to share his pulpit to get a needed message across.
In Ephesians 4:12, Paul states that God gave pastors and teachers to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Indeed, pastors are a wonderful gift to the local church. Still, the church can also benefit from other voices at times. Pastor, if you have been reluctant to share your pulpit in the past, I hope that you’ll see there are several reasons why sharing your pulpit will help you and your church and can ultimately make a greater kingdom impact in the world!
Photo by Mitchell Leach on Unsplash