Quite a few people have spoken to me about how they have noticed that the preaching calendar has changed at BBC this year. I have even had some chirps (well meaning I am sure) asking me if I have retired, or if I am being disciplined, as people aren’t seeing as much of me in the pulpit as they used to. I thought it would be helpful to be explicit on what we are trying to accomplish through the changes.
Over the past few years God has done some amazing stuff in the congregation known as Bryanston Bible Church. This has resulted in a steady numerical growth leading us to launch new services (we have added two more to the two we already had) and plant another church in Midrand (something we hope to keep doing).
On any given Sunday then there are five services across the two churches, and up until December last year, the preacher who preached in Bryanston would have to preach all four services on a Sunday at that location. As we assessed the fruit of this late last year we thought it was becoming unhealthy for a few reasons – that will be outlined below – and so the Teaching Team, together with our Operations Director and Elders sat down to come up with what we think is a healthier and more sustainable plan. I am really appreciative that this team recognized this and bought the new way forward.
Here are the three reasons we thought the preaching plan became unhealthy and unhelpful:
The Cult of Personality Is Strong in Churches and We Were Just Feeding That
The “celebrity pastor” trend isn’t a new one – Paul even had to deal with it in the church in Corinth – but I do feel that it does inhibit the work of making disciples that the church is supposed to be engaged in. It leads inevitably to bigger buildings which are typically only well used for one generation (big buildings aren’t necessarily wrong, but church history is filled with empty auditoriums after the one really dynamic guy left, fell into public sin or died). It leads to gifted communicators getting book deals and security details that remove them from face to face contact with the people they are supposed to shepherd, which inevitably tests their true character and often finds them wanting in this area. It leads to the celebrating of one gift over the value of others in the body. We celebrate the one who has a gift of teaching and often ignore the many with gifts of faith, administration, service, hospitality and evangelism etc.
The way this played out at BBC is that I would preach the vast majority of the time and would fill the pulpit with someone else when I needed a rest or had to be somewhere else due to traveling or leave. This is a dangerously addictive cycle that results in inevitable and predictable attendance patterns which only continue to fuel the problem. When I preached, we had high numbers, and when I didn’t, well then we didn’t. It is a great way to make someone feel needed, but it is a terrible sign of Christian maturity and so should be seen as a failure in a congregation and not as a success for a primary preaching voice.
We Lacked Opportunity for Development of Other Voices
What inevitably happens when one person preaches 40 something Sundays a year (over 160 services) is that he gets much better due to experience. The rest of the team who are preaching only a few services a year end up staying kind of the same due to lack of reps. We wanted to open up more opportunities to preach for the other voices, creating avenues of experience for them and driving out the clear need to prepare together and critique together. I would far rather have a legacy that leaves lots of other gifted communicators of God’s truth to serve the church, than one that simply saw me preach a lot because people liked it.
The Load on the Lead Preacher Was Unhealthy and Unsustainable
Maybe I am just soft and I know many will quote stories of Wesley and Spurgeon and even modern day multi-service communicators like Chandler, Groeschel and Warren, but I just found that preaching four times on a Sunday – most Sundays in the year – wasn’t sustainable. My voice took strain, my health took strain, my mood took strain, and because it would take me a couple of days to recover from Sundays and a couple of days to prep myself for the next one, my family took strain. Something had to give, and I didn’t want my walk with Jesus or my family environment to be one of the options that could potentially give way.
So here is what we have done, and how we see it playing out over the next year or so.
- We have split the morning and evening congregations at BBC in terms of the preaching calendar. What this means is that when we plan the calendar we essentially have three congregations that we have to plan for i.e. BBC AM; BBC PM and MBC.
- I have drastically dialed back the number of times when I would preach both AM and PM at BBC. I will do it approximately 30% of the time, but the other weeks will have different preaching voices in the AM and PM, although they preach the same message. I have split out my presence at AM, PM and MBC. This means that I will preach the exact same number of weeks that I did before, but significantly fewer services. My service percentage has gone from north of 75% to just over 50%.
- We have developed a proper preaching and teaching team who prep every message together (I will write more about this process if it interests anyone), and who will review and constructively critique together so that we all grow as communicators.
- We are cycling between BBC and MBC more so that the Midrand congregation gets to feel more connected to BBC and so that BBC gets more frequent contact from MBC. We are a family of churches after all.
- We won’t publish who will be preaching at what gatherings ahead of time. We are confident that the word will be faithfully preached and so you should be comfortable to come to whatever Sunday service you usually come to.
I honestly believe that this is a healthier and more sustainable system and I believe we will see the fruit of it in the future. I am hugely grateful for the love and faith of the people of the BBC family of churches. My hope and prayer is that this will serve you better in your pursuit of Christ.
Keep on following him.