In most churches the preaching pastor spends a significant amount of time studying alone and crafting the sermon each week in preparation for Sunday. It's hard work and a great labor of love. At RHC we have taken a slightly different approach. We study together every week. Before Redemption Hill Church, I had never experienced this approach. Now, I would never choose to do it any other way. Here are some of the benefits of a collaborative approach to sermon study:
1. Sharpened Thinking
You could make the argument that collaborative study is less efficient. You are almost certainly right. It may take more time, but it also sharpens my thinking. We are all better off studying God's Word in the context of community. That's the beauty of the church. The others in the room ask questions I would never think of, see things in the text I might miss, and force me to be clearer as I defend the overall direction I see things heading. If the team doesn't get it, I can be sure that the church won't be able to track with me come Sunday.
2. Pastoral Care
Each week I have the fantastic opportunity to pastor RHC's ministry team by walking through God's Word with them. Most of our preaching is walking straight through books of the Bible, so we get to do that and study together. As we open God's Word together and pray for each other, a cohesiveness, unity, and love naturally develops among us. Our weekly study time ensures that we get beyond the hectic calendar and operations issues that always seem urgent and inescapable.
3. Training Opportunity
It is is a massive responsibility to rightly handle God's Word in preaching. Studying together allows me to train those present in how to approach the text. We work hard each week to discern the meaning of a text, not just as it stands, but in the context of all of Scripture that builds from verse to the immediate paragraph or thought block,to the larger context and themes of the book in which its found, to the covenantal context, and finally to the larger scope of all of redemptive history. All of this shapes the singular "big idea" that we preach on Sunday.
It is a discipline and an art to break down a text well. It is always a challenge to move from a basic outline to clear gospel ties. On top of this, we want to develop things in such a way that are compelling, winsome, and convicting. This is where the 4 Questions can be very helpful, not just in review but also in preparation. The chance to walk through this preparation with others on the team, interns, and residents is immeasurably valuable.
4. Church Unity
From our study time together on Tuesday mornings, everyone moves ahead to work on their specific area of ministry focus. For us right now, that means Pastor Jon writes material for our Community Groups that is in alignment with what will be preached on Sunday. Will builds a service that reflects the tone of the text and flows out of response to the Word that will be preached because most of our worship is backloaded after the sermon. I take the skeleton developed in our study time and flesh it out to a full sermon by the time Sunday rolls around. Studying together ensures that we are on the same page as we carry out our responsibilities throughout the week. We truly are co-laborers. The cohesiveness across ministries breeds unity in the church.
The Christian walk was never designed to be experienced in a vacuum. It's hard to see how pastoral ministry and study should be removed from community, when we would never dream of encouraging others to do the same. The diversity in perspectives and burdens expose a beauty and richness from God's Word that we won't find alone.
If you're a pastor, give collaborative study a shot. If you don't have a staff or other elders around you, find a couple of men who will meet you for breakfast once a week to hear your thoughts for the coming Sunday. Through that time you can even start to train them toward eldership and pastoral ministry. You will also benefit as you are sharpened. It's not worth it to try to do it alone.