My first experience with multiple teachers for the same group of people came in elementary school. I was in 5th grade, as I recall, and one class—larger than the others—had two teachers. We called them “team teachers.” Everyone else has one teacher per class; this was well before the days of para-pros or assistants.
When I was a child, teen, or young adult, no church I ever attended or was ever a member had a teaching team. The pastor/lead/senior pastor preached in more than 90% of the regularly scheduled services. Evangelists came in for revivals once or twice a year. When the pastor took a vacation, the associate pastor would often preach; sometimes the youth pastor was given the opportunity.
But, there was no inclusion other staff pastors in a regular rotation. There was no team approach to the preaching ministry. I am not currently serving as a lead/senior pastor, but if God ever moves in that direction again, I hope to utilize a teaching team.
What is the purpose of a teaching team?
Among many possible purposes, two stand out: it is biblical and it is practical. We can see in the New Testament multiple elders/pastors in individual churches (Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-3). We also see that overseers/pastors should be able teachers (1 Timothy 3:2). Multiple pastor-teachers follows at least one scriptural pattern.
Having a teaching team is also practical. Sermon preparation and delivery is time-consuming, demanding work, even in settings where the church has one primary sermon each week. Daniel Im, of LifeWay’s New Churches initiative and himself a member of a teaching team, said,
Churches that have two or even three preaching times a week will wear out even a full-time pastor. Sharing the preaching burden is in the best interest of the lead pastor.
Are there other benefits to pastors?
In a word, yes. Philip Nation, with whom I served on a teaching team, noted:
Working with a teaching team helped me theologically and practically. Studying alongside others helps everyone to sharpen their understanding of the Bible. Preaching with others helps you to get away from easy “soapbox” issues and deal authentically with everyone’s need for transformation; including yourself.
Daryl Crouch, who leads the teaching team at my church, said via email:
We make disciples of Jesus by sharing ministry, and that includes the teaching and preaching ministry of the church. As the lead pastor, I find great value in inviting other God-called pastors into sermon planning and preparation, and in sharing the preaching responsibilities as well.
Is there a value to the church?
Every church pastor interprets and applies the Bible relying on a community of pastors and scholars who have written commentaries and language resources through the years. A teaching team approach builds on that practice by recognizing the current community of believers God has assembled in the local church for its edification and for the advancement of the Kingdom. And then by regularly and intentionally sharing the preaching ministry, the congregation is not only encouraged by different pastors and their various approaches the work of preaching, but their focus turns to the Bible, and how God speaks, rather than centering around the gifts and personality of the preacher.
Team teaching is a means of discipleship for pastors.
- I am forced to deal with other possible interpretations of a text.
- I grow by hearing how the other team members would preach it.
- I can bounce illustrations, ideas, etc, off the other team members. Better to fall flat in a planning session than during the preaching.
- I can be reminded of specific issues in the body the sermon can address.
- We can call each other out for lazy or bad thinking before some high-school student with a smartphone does it.
- Because I want the team to do well, I try to do better.
Not only can existing pastors be discipled, those who have exhibited teaching potential can be given opportunities to teach and grow from their experiences. Young “preacher boys” when I was a teen were given repeated opportunities to preach both to each other and to the whole body. The learning and encouragement received were as helpful and formative as any seminary preaching lab.
One friend of mine uses a modified approach. He brings a full-draft of his sermon to a team meeting where several staff members read, review, and recommend. Different language is suggested when needed, they decide what has to be left in vs what can be cut, and they give general feedback. He takes all recommendations into the final product.
[After developing a teaching team] I preach 60% of the Sundays and the other 40% are shared with two teaching pastors on staff. For years I felt like the church could not function well without my presence. Now I see some of the greatest movements of God happen when others on the team are preaching. God can use them too, while I’m taking a break. It’s a win-win!