Friday, April 24, 2009

Preaching Programs and the Dilemma of Giftedness

If you've been on a ministry staff team, you know this dilemma well:

To publish or not to publish the name of the preacher at services.

Myself? I'm not a fan of publishing. Why? Because coming to church is not about hearing your favourite preacher. A mature approach to gathering is about submitting wholeheartedly to God, worshiping and testifying to his grace; it is about Word and Sacrament; expressed in loving community, with an eye to the city in which you live.

Something like that, anyways.

Publishing the preaching program seems to work when each preacher at one church is as gifted as each other. But when one of them has outstanding gifts, it becomes more difficult.

I've been told (yet to verify) that Andy Stanley (Mega-Church in Mega-Christian Atlanta) didn't like the fact that people were showing up just to see and hear him. So he began sharing the 'pulpit', and so they stopped publishing the preaching program. Numbers fell. That, of course, affects giving, and that affects the jobs of many on staff. So back he goes, to the pulpit. And in remote locations. And in Hologram. If that's all true, I do admire Andy for at least trying.

At Mars Hill in Seattle, they just video the gifted guy. Easy. But troubling in some ways.

Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City chose not to go for the video. So Dr Keller, whose gifts are remarkable, preaches 4 out of 5 services, and one of the other pastors preached at the 5th. When I was in NYC, they published the name of the preachers. I see now that they have stopped doing that. Although if you are in NYC, you can be assured of hearing Dr Keller by going to the 6PM East Side Service. See here:
Each Sunday at all worship services, Redeemers Preaching Team will preach from the same Scripture text. Our preaching pastors rotate locations weekly, and our Senior Pastor Tim Keller will always preach at the 6:00PM East Side evening service at Hunter College, unless he is out of town that weekend.

Redeemer does not publish or share the preaching schedule for any of the worship services, so please do not call the offices to to inquire about this information. Instead please take this opportunity to help us utilize the available seating at the 6:00PM worship service.

And here are some questions to get you going:
  • Does your church publish?
  • What is the wise way forward?
  • Would you prefer to know? And for what reason?
  • Does even asking the question trouble you?
Pic on Flickr by Ganotronic.


Andrew said...

Thorny issue.

We don't publish, mainly for the sorts of reasons you mentioned early on.

I only wish we had the same level of challenge as Keller/Stanley/Driscoll - ie. that much quality!

Mikey Lynch said...

For a long time we had that issue in the early days, with David Jones as our main preacher. So we didn't publish.

If the preacher really invests in training very gifted preachers, the problem is massively reduced. Driscoll may be the famous ones, but I'd like to think that 'Seattle's best-kept secret is that actually some campus-pastor is almost as gifted... and some local prefer him!

Mikey Lynch said...

...But what I like about Redeemer always putting Keller @ Hunter is a recognition that some people do come to a church to hear a remarkable preacher. There is a place for that. But that's for the 'tourist', not the regular weekly attender.

Mike said...

I'm not a fan of not publishingThe double negative seems somewhat confusing. Did you mean "I'm a fan of publishing" or "I'm not a fan of publishing".

The reasons you give suggest the latter, but your double negative suggests the former.

Mike Doyle

Jonathan said...

Sounds similar to behaviour observed in older/more "traditional" Anglican settings - more attendance for "Holy Communion" services, less for "Morning Prayer".

The question that needs addressing is one of why people are attending, and how you want to respond to that. I don't pretend to have answers :)

Regarding the giving, convince people to give regularly electronically. Then it doesn't matter if they show up or not ;) (Yeah, I opened another can of worms)

Ruth said...

The preaching program can be published without the preacher's name beside it.

I like it that way. I can read the passage beforehand and have a good old think on the passage, without thinking about who is preaching.

As to whether certain preachers are boring, and should/shouldn't be used on the roster...

I agree with Mikey when he wrote:

If the preacher really invests in training very gifted preachers, the problem is massively reduced. It also seems to me that it is awfully hard to improve at preaching if you don't get a chance to practice. And it's so helpful when another preacher can gently encourage improvement.

It's also good to remember that not all listeners are the same. I went to conference recently where lots of friends were complaining that the main speaker was boring, some were complaining that there was nothing new to learn, but I found his talks fascinating, challenging and full of new insight into the passages...but I'm sure there are other speakers that I find not as challenging and harder to listen to that others gain a lot from.

.....then of course you find the exceptional orators who distort God's word...but that's a whole other problem isn't it.

Justin said...

Mike -- fixed. Thanks mate.
Andrew -- where are you serving?

Mikey -- I assume that the reason that Redeemer published the preaching program in the first place was the amount of tourists who were keen to hear Tim only. And that makes sense.

And I'm assuming (safely, given the quote I posted) that the 6PM is the least attended. So having Dr Keller there may solve two problems: Tourists can hear Keller, and the 6PM gets a boost.

But I guess.

Justin said...

@Jonathon -- Good insight vis-a-vis Holy Communion. And you are right to ask the deeper questions. Training needs to exist -- of course -- beyond the simple question of choosing whether to print the preaching roster (names I mean). In part, not producing the names is about education. I assume that is what is happening in Redeemer.

And I'm also assuming that money goes down cos people leave, and go back to their 'ordinary' church. Not just that they are not there that Sunday.

@Ruth -- Yes! By Preaching Program, I specifically mean the preacher's name. Good thoughts.

psychodougie said...

communication styles is another thing to think about - there are some whom i find torturous, whilst others are in raptures, and vice-versa.

"this week the phlegmatic melancholic will be preaching from Mark 2" would thus be more appealing to me than "the sanguine choleric". for example.

but i don't know - maybe the whole question's moot - church is also about fellowship and community (hence 'Gemeinde').

it doesn't answer the question of where there are dodgy preachers who are inexplicably part of the preaching team and a boycott of that preacher seems the only answer. but that's a different question.

David Ould said...

We don't really publish (I think, out of grace, otherwise no-one would turn up when I was preaching) but you can find out by looking at a roster.

I think it's generally a bad idea for the reasons you've listen. We're coming to church to hear from God, not someone else.

Clifford Swartz said...

Hi Justin -- my impression about Redeemer in NYC is that they have the same problem as the other big churches -- wanting under God to diminish the cult of personality, but also needing to appeal to it at some level because the culture is one that brings the "American Idol" mentality to Sunday worship, as well as the money and numbers game you mentioned.

I am ambivalent about publishing preachers. Emmanuel Wimbledon, St Andrew the Great in Cambridge and St Ebbe's in Oxford all publish there preachers and texts. The good part is that you get to see the whole program mapped out and since all of the preachers are excellent, you can see when a special visitor is in town.

So I'm not sure about publishing -- is it a sell out to consumerism in church or a sense of the whole program being really well prepped ahead of time?

by the way, I have a photo of you I spotted in the American Bible Society headquarters!

onlinesoph said...

Haven't read the other comments, but maybe these impure motives aren't necessarily what drives every church when publishing names.

At my old old church, they published names simply because it was nice to know who was coming to preach to you next week. It breeds a sense of familiarity, and puts a "face" to the message you are about to hear. It also allows you to pray for the speaker coming up. People also feel comfortable knowing what to expect next week. Which I think is nice.

Or maybe the reason why it wasn't an issue is because we just didn't have any stand-out speakers! (I don't think so, but anyways...)

Anyway, all I'm trying to say is I like knowing who is preaching next sunday. And not because I only want to hear the superstars.

Anthony Douglas said...

I'll join the ranks of those who instantly assumed 'preaching program' referred to the sermon topics, rather than the preacher. I wonder if the Yanks have got to you, that you intended otherwise?! ;-)

It's never even occurred to me to publish who's preaching, though it's never a secret. I publish the sermon series in advance, and work hard on good titles that catch the eye and work on a few levels, along with some text to raise issues in advance. I get excited about that, at least, and hope others do too.

Heather said...

All Souls in London published who was preaching at each service(and the topic etc) when we were there. I appreciated it. We were committed to a particular service and went almost every week but it was helpful to me to know who to expect both in preparing myself for church and in praying well for the preacher. [It also allowed us to take our tourist visitors to hear John Stott.]
I have asked to know the preacher in advance at churches here without success. I have non-Christian friends and rellies that I would like to invite to church. They each have particular hang-ups and expectations about church that particular preaching styles or personalities will either aggravate or cut through. One in particular is far more likely to hear what is said by a gentle speaker and preferably a woman. For others, the reverse is the case.
For myself, it is the style and manner more than the quality that causes me to prefer one preacher over another. Ideally, advance warning of my dis-preferred preacher would not be a reason to be absent, rather, it would enable me to listen to them. It would give me time to (prayerfully) get over the "oh yuk" response and hopefully hear and process what God is saying to me through them. I would advocate a little more trust in parishioners by roster producers!

David Ould said...

Heather, that's really helpful.

We were at All Souls from 1995-2002 and the wonderful preaching we heard there has had a profound impact upon my own preaching ministry.

You're right, I don't recall ever ditching a service because of the preacher. Nevertheless, the place always seemed fuller when Uncle John was on the roster...

Martin Kemp said...

We publish, but only on the day.

I'm not sure a lot of thought has been given to it.

Christopher Braga said...

We don't publish the preacher but put a lot of effort into letting people know the preaching program. We let people know if we have a guest preacher (the real-life variety, not a video).

Nathan said...

1. Publishing what:

a) The Sermon Title or Topic can be as much as an incentive/disincentive as the preacher: Regardless, think it should always be published-- although I can see certain topics which if known in advance may discourage or encourage attendance--so long as publishing serves the person who is honestly seeking. For example, a sermon on sin could be a huge turnoff to Christian or non-Christian alike. However, for the person who is weary of his/her sin looking to hear teaching on it, then it would be great if that information could be published ahead of time so that person can find the teaching he/she is seeking.

b) publishing the preacher name: One of Redeemer's stated goals is to create a space where attending Christians will be inspired to invite non-Christian friends and family to, especially if they have some of the more common "intellectual / rationalistic" objections to Christianity that Western Europeans and New Yorkers tend to have (forgive the horrendous grammar). I think so long as publishing Keller's name could assist believers in bringing their loved ones to faith in Christ, carry on--although this might facilitate a consumerism among those who see the teaching as mere elocution or mental titillation. I think this must be one of the reasons why he is fixed on 6 pm which has "jazz" musicians and a more contemporary sound, and an auditorium instead of cathedral architecture...a lot of it challenges deeply held prejudices and stereotypes (i.e. "strongholds?") believers and non-belieers might have of what church ought and ought not to be, but could be less intimidating to the unchurched.
c) finally training should be training...not cloning...i think the worst thing that can happen is to force all preachers to use the same formats as Driscoll/Stanley/Keller, etc. All CEOs after MBA training can tend to sound alike, but as we see in Scripture, prophets and apostles hailed from varied walks of life...I would think the Church with greater diversity in its preaching (in styles not doctrine) would be the more long as the sermon dependably and invariably connected back to the the cross...this is the case for all of Redeemer's preachers....although the now expected 3 points and drawing extensively from pop culture and media is cookie cutter.

Nathan said...

2 more thoughts I wanted to share:

1. A preacher with the initials C.M. (not giving the whole name because he has some controversial views on how politics and eschatology intersect) said that sectionalism is a very big temptation for preachers. He said something to the effect that if you want to stir up dissenssion (envy?) among preachers all you need to do is effusively compliment the sermon of one preacher in the presence of many others. (e.g. Philippians 1:16-18?)

2. I remember a sermon Justin preached once of an experiment where a violin virtuosos received a very different ovation playing in the underground from what he customarily receives in the concert hall.

Really interesting to consider how context, location and situation determines "outward" giftedness.

Consider Isaiah, one of the earliest preachers of the Gospel...He is one of the less than handful of prophets Jesus Himself quotes from! However, Is 6:9-10 foretells an outcome we wouldnt associate with a truly "gifted" preacher.