I love church planters. Most people who plant churches do so because of a driving vision that planting is the most effective way to reach the unchurched. Their passion is to be admired.
The reality, though, is that church planting is hard; planters struggle. Many challenges are par for the course and should be expected. In my observation and experience, however, I believe there are some kinds of difficulties that could be lessened with the right preparation.
There is some popular thought in church planting circles minimizing the importance of congregational worship in general and preaching specifically. Though I would agree that a church planter’s strategy cannot be overly dependent on starting worship services in lieu of relational evangelism and missional outreach, I also believe that a significant reason some church plants struggle can be attributed to their preaching ministry. (Caveat: I am writing in the context of church plant strategies with a high value on corporate worship gatherings. Some of this may not be as relevant to deeply incarnational ministry approaches or house church models, for example.)
This is not to bash church planters and their preaching. Considering that for many of these planters this is the first real opportunity they’ve ever had to preach consistently, some of these struggles are natural. The church plant, then, becomes the primary training ground to develop as a preacher. This can often impact a church negatively, especially in the critical early days.
I believe that the most effective church planters are usually sent out from healthy churches led by healthy pastors. On that thought, one of the best ways a pastor can benefit aspiring church planters in their congregations is by training them to preach well.
Our earliest development as preachers comes from observation of others. There is much value to modeling good preaching for others to learn from. Eventually, though, the primary way to learn is through practice. Simply, the more sermons preached before a church planter starts a church, the more effective the pulpit ministry will be.
For some churches, this means providing opportunities to preach in corporate services or other gatherings. This may feel like a challenge, especially if you have strong gifts as a preacher which your congregation affirms. However, you can make a significant long-term investment in the Kingdom of God by providing space for young preachers. The experience of diligently preparing to preach and then actually delivering a sermon in a live setting before a living, breathing congregation will prove to be more valuable than the many hours one could spend reading books on how to preach.
Some congregations may experience frustration at having to listen to sermons from those who are learning how to preach. This isn’t good, but it is reality. Intentional communication to your church explaining why you do this can be helpful. Having different voices in the pulpit is also an effective way to train your people against a consumeristic approach to the preaching.
Putting aspiring preachers in your pulpit might not be realistic in every church, especially if they are very young in their development. If so, homiletical training may take the form of intentional approaches like preaching labs where you provide a space to learn how to prepare and practice with your guidance. It could mean teaching on the art of proper sermon preparation with instruction on how to faithfully exegete a passage. Your experience as a seasoned preacher is invaluable as you share about things like cultural contextualization, delivery skills, appropriate use of illustrations and humor, etc.
I ask preachers in training to write out full manuscripts. Though we teach how to preach the actual sermon without reading it, I have found this practice to be beneficial in encouraging preachers to be well thought-out in their preparation. As a mentor challenged me many years ago in my own development, “Most young preachers love to preach but not as many love sermon preparation.”
Once there has been preparation, you can provide a lab setting where they actually deliver their sermon and afterwards you provide feedback. Encourage them but also give constructive criticism. I have found feedback to be one of the most beneficial tools in training preachers.
Your experience as a preacher is one of the best gifts you can give to a future church plant as you purposely work to develop church planters who are trained to preach. Your investment for the sake of the Kingdom can bear lasting fruit well beyond any sermon you actually preach yourself as you bless aspiring church planters and their future congregations in this way.
Featured image credit, edited.