Friday, April 30, 2010

Team Preaching

How Good and Pleasant When Pastors Preach Together

Pastor Bob: “As pastors of large churches, not only do Grant and I deal with many of the same issues, we deal with many of the same people! A lot of you are ‘double dippers,’ going back and forth between our two churches.”

Pastor Grant: “Bob and I asked ourselves a while ago, how can we send the message that our churches are not in competition with one other?”

Pastor Bob: “And we decided you can do ‘double dipping’ as long as you do double tithing!”

Pastor Grant: “Preach it!”

Pastor Bob: “I will, since you can’t fire me! I can say whatever I want in your church!”

Pastor Grant: “Hey, Bob, that’s not in my notes … but that’s good!”

One weekend a year Grant Fishbook, Senior Pastor of Christ the King (non-denominational), and Bob Marvel, Senior Pastor of Cornwall Church (Church of God, Anderson, Indiana) located less than three miles away, spend a weekend on each other’s stage . . . at the same time. Sitting side-by-side they team preach on an agreed upon topic. Staff pastors fill in at the home church while their senior pastor is preaching at the host church.

Whether taking turns covering specific sermon points, or engaging in humorous banter, Pastors Grant Fishbook (38) and Bob Marvel (42) model a serious truth—there’s no room for competition in the body of Christ. Being the two largest evangelical churches in Whatcom County (population 175,550) in Bellingham, Washington, with attendance in each church over 2,800, both pastors are keenly aware of the evangelistic work yet to be done.

As far as Grant and I are concerned,” says Bob, “there’s no room for jealousy or competition. We’re committed to getting rid of those things because folks are going to an eternity without Christ. Look at how many folks aren’t in an evangelical church.”

Grant adds, “Our state is the 49th least churched state in America and our county is one of the least churched counties in the state. There’s too much work to be done to worry about being in competition.”

The concept of guest preachers addressing a congregation is as old as Paul’s missionary journeys. But two preachers at the same time from two different churches with a reputation of being in competition with one another? These were the challenges facing Bob and Grant.

The idea for team teaching was birthed from our friendship,” recalls Bob. “Grant and I have traveled together, run a marathon together, we eat, pray and meet together. We often talk about the revolving door between Christ the King and Cornwall, and the perception that there is competition between us. Team preaching seemed to be a great way to defuse some of the ideas that were circulating.”

Sharing the stage is a better picture of unity than mere words,” says Grant. “When we sit shoulder to shoulder, sharing our hearts people believe that we really do care about the whole kingdom and not just our little territory.”

Team preaching affords another benefit, emphasis on “hard” truths. While neither pastor shies away from preaching truth, they both report advantages of their congregations hearing the same truth from different frequencies. It speaks volumes when the message is sent by one perceived as the competition.

Pastor Bob (addressing Christ the King): “Somewhere along the line you’ve got to land in a church and get committed. If Christ the King Church isn’t for you, or Cornwall isn’t for you, then find a Bible-believing church that is and get involved. At Cornwall I sometimes say, ‘If you’re here to heal, then heal. We want this to be a healing place. But some of you are coming as consumers and not contributors.”

Pastor Grant: “At Christ the King we say, ’If you’re just sitting here drinking our coffee and taking up a parking spot there’s someone who’s eternal soul is hanging in the balance who needs your seat.’”

Pastor Bob: “First time I told the consumers at Cornwall, ‘Go back to your own church,’ we lost 100 people. I’m not going be asked to speak at church growth events! But like Doug Murren, former pastor of Eastside Foursquare Church, says, ‘Every healthy body occasionally needs a good bowel movement.’”

Pastor Grant (to his congregation): “If you’re going to write a letter, write it to his church!”

We get to say tough things to the other person’s congregation,” Grant says. “When boldly stating truth, we have nothing to gain or lose in the other person’s environment.”

Bob adds, “Knowing that when I speak at Christ the King I don’t have to worry about how an elder, staff member, founding member or big contributor will respond to what I say is truly freeing. If my boldness blazes the trail for Grant to be more bold or vice versa there is an added benefit. Plus, there are people on the ‘conveyor belt’ between Christ the King and Cornwall and for them to hear the same hard truths at both churches let’s them know that there is no escaping it.”

Bob tells the congregation of Christ the King, “We hear complaints of those who leave our churches, ‘I’m just not growing, you’re not deep enough, it’s all about outreach.’ Instead of whining that your needs aren’t being met, why not grab someone new to the faith and help them grow? Get in the race and bring some brothers and sisters along with you!”

Grant tells the congregation of Cornwall, “I’m going to say this because your tithes don’t pay my salary! Every once in a while people will come to us and say, ‘You aren’t feeding me.” To quote a favorite author John Ortberg, “If that’s your stance, take off your bib, crawl out of your high chair, come to the big people table, pick up a fork and feed yourself.”

A familiar truth told by a guest pastor has impact, especially when congregants watch their own pastor listen attentively and nod enthusiastically. He models openness to hard truth. Territorial rivalry is demolished before the congregation’s eyes.

Team teaching can’t be forced or contrived. The success Bob and Grant enjoy is due in large part to their respect for each other. Without it they’d never get away with the self deprecating humor (“If I fail at running a marathon I’ll become a sermon illustration at Cornwall,” says Grant) or the kidding (“I don’t like back seat drivers,” Bob tells each congregation, “so when Grant ran a stop sign I didn’t say a thing. I figured we’re both ready to go to heaven and besides, our churches could use a change”).

Grant says, “The most amazing outcome of this homiletic strategy is the impact our preaching has had on the unsaved community. It has become water-cooler conversation in the county and the thing that seems to intrigue people is the novelty of churches being on the same page and removing the competition card. It makes me proud to be a part God’s redefining of what church is!”

Bob summarizes the outcome of team preaching, “We send a message loud and clear that unity between our churches is not just the ‘party line’ but reality. Team preaching helps our congregations feel more unified. It’s like they are actually beginning to believe we are on the same team.”

And they are.

Listen to Bob and Grant team preach at these sites. (with video)

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