Pastors do much more than just preach — there’s planning, mentoring, writing, praying, and all sorts of shepherding to be done. Pastors can experience burnout, too.
Many churches have seen their staff stretched before, amid crises and staff transitions, and the leaders of Tabernacle Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, wanted to have a plan in place in the event of their own. For Tabernacle, it was an opportunity to address two firm priorities at once — the occasional relief of a church staff member’s Sunday and the integration of faith and the everyday work of the congregation. This is now woven into the liturgy of the church’s meetings, not only in the occasional sermon series about work or in testimonies from the workplace, but in calling its congregants to preach.
Tabernacle’s leaders and members see a team-teaching model not only as a proactive way to train up church leaders but also as a sign of the congregation’s overall health, creating an environment where congregants can share the load of the church’s teachers and the church can encourage marketplace workers to live integrated lives, outside the church and inside, too.
Certainly, the place of preaching, and the person who preaches, varies in degree across Christian denominations and structures. And in most traditions, churches to some level rotate teaching among their staff. But the congregation at Tabernacle rotates among non-staff leaders, even as the size of its staff has grown to nearly 10 members. A lay leader preaches once a month. The church has seen benefits for both staff and congregants since it began sharing the load.
For Artie Lindsay, the pastor of Tabernacle Community Church, this rotation has several benefits. First, multiple voices allow the congregation to see that God speaks in community. In other words, God can speak through someone who isn’t an Old Testament scholar, or someone who holds a biblical studies degree. God can speak through those who are willing.
Second, Lindsay noted, “Pastors should know their people and encourage the use of their gifts, including the gift of teaching.”
Third, pastors often have multiple passions and gifts, and being able to share the teaching load allows the pastoral staff to pursue those additional joys — “like mentoring and discipling relationships, community engagement and partnerships,” Lindsay said. Lastly, it establishes healthy Sabbath breaks to sustain the church’s pastors and teachers for the long term.
For Kevin Heyne, one of the non-staff teachers at Tabernacle, this rotation includes additional blessings. Previously, he often felt torn between his work in the marketplace and his desire to lead in the church. Was the only option for exercising his teaching gift to plant a church or quit his job and join a pastoral staff? He was open to the possibility but regularly discerned God calling him to bloom where he was planted in the marketplace.
When Pastor Marvin Williams asked him to join the preaching rotation even though he wasn’t on staff, it allowed him to serve and lead in a new way. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary offered evening classes, and Kevin spread out his master’s degree over 10 years.
This model has served Tabernacle well through transitions, too. When Marvin Williams took another role in Lansing, both Lindsay and Heyne were already in the teaching rotation and could provide continuity for the congregation. At the time of my interview with Lindsay, he was about to take his first extended sabbatical, and again, there was confidence that the work of the ministry would continue, rather than be temporarily on hold.
Team teaching is not the only healthy model for preaching in a local church, but it is an indicator of health within a congregation — to enable pastoral staff opportunities outside of the church and to enable gifted men and women who are not on staff to lead within the church.
“Leadership in the church and in business tends toward more control. Sharing power, or teaching, is rare,” Heyne said, acknowledging that the team-teaching model isn’t something that many churches adopt, “but when you do it in a discerning way, you'd be amazed how God will use it to further his kingdom.”