Building a Preaching Team

An Interview with Pastor Ed Litton

Ed Litton is the senior pastor at Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama.  In the second part of his interview with Josh Taylor, he’s telling us how he’s built a preaching team at Redemption, why it’s important, and how it helps make his sermons better.  

Josh: You’re one of the most gifted communicators I know, and I think you probably could preach every Sunday and still knock it out of the park.  So why was building a preaching team important to you?

Ed: There are several reasons: First, it’s important because we’re supposed to replicate ourselves- that’s part of disciple-making.   It’s also about raising up the next generation.  We all have an expiration date, but some of us are a lot closer than others.  And I think this is a serious issue, because it’s very hard for our church to find good personnel.  There are services out there, we’ve used those.  We’ve searched relationally and connectionally, but honestly?  We should raise them up from within so that they have our church’s DNA.  

It also fits into our strategy for planting other campuses or “gospel outposts.”  Gospel outposts are gatherings that would never be self-sufficient or self-supporting, but they need the Word. 

I don’t try to make people preach like me, and what’s really exciting and challenging for me with this younger generation that I work with is that they’re not trying to be like me.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But what’s interesting is that when you invest in people, you will leave a mark.  There’s a reverse mentoring that takes place.  The older you get, the more deeply entrenched you are in your verbiage: There are certain words you use a lot and you’re deeply committed to them because they’re part of your culture and vocabulary.  So when new words are used, or when words change meaning on us and we don’t really catch that, you need a student pastor who’s got the guts to look at you and say, “I wouldn’t use that word.”  Once I was preaching on a very sensitive sexual topic, and my student pastor said to me, “That was great, but watch your tone.”  I said, “Tone?  Really?” but I did.  And I got more written responses to that message than I’ve ever gotten, and every single one of the said, “Thank you for your tone.”

Josh: That’s awesome!  How big is your preaching team?

Ed:  Eight members.  We cover the text by learning how to study the word.  I was one of those guys in seminary who wanted to do the real thing.  The best greek class I had was taught by a professor who said, “Okay, what are you preaching?  Let’s go through that.”  

As we’re planning, sometimes I’ll throw in some preaching experiences that I’ve had- failures, things that I would never do again, but also things that have seemed to resonate or brought about visible change in people’s lives.  I’m sharing with them how to pastor, and how my preaching grows out of my pastoring.  When you know the aches and pains of the people out there, and you love them and you want to encourage them in the Lord, those things come to your mind as you’re putting your sermon points together.  Especially when you have to deal with very hard and difficult passages.  

Josh: And having other people on your team probably helps you have better examples, too, because those leaders are interacting with people you wouldn’t necessarily see on a day-to-day basis.

Ed: Right.  With the size of our church, not everyone knows me- but they know these guys!  So especially when we’re talking about the point of application, having other people is very helpful.  I’ve also learned to listen.  There is a real collaboration- which takes time.  Don’t get discouraged at first, if you feel like you’re doing it all.  Invite them in, ask them questions, and make them study the same text with you.  That’s important because it engages them in the process.  Then, give them opportunities to preach.  

Josh: Redemption has two campuses, and even though both campuses have sermons on the same passage, there’s obviously some collaboration that goes into this because both campuses have live preachers most weeks.  So how does that look?  How does it work?

Ed: Like I said, we study the text together.  I want them to preach from the same text, but to let their personality flow through that.  If they want to expand the outline they can, but we want to try to feed the same campuses the same food.  And that’s a good discipline for all of us.  We looked at the possibility of doing it all video, but I have no interest whatsoever in being that restricted, that bound.  We need to develop the guys for when I’m gone.  

At the same time, they know who the lead is.  They know my role, they know my shepherding, and they know my concerns for this text and what we do with it.  For example, recently we’ve been working through something I think is really important for older pastors to teach: how do you address problems in the church?  I mean, how do you look straight at the congregation and say, “Hey look, we have a problem?”  I’m challenging them to be able to say it, and to give them the authority to say it on the other campus as well.  

Josh: Do you ever disagree on the passage that’s being taught?  How do you handle that?

Ed: We have.  I wouldn’t say there have been monumental disagreements, but there have been disagreements.  One of the guys on my preaching team, who I’ve been friends with for years, has a very different application of the divorce commandments than I do.  So, if we were in a divorce passage, I probably wouldn’t burden him to preach that.  And let me tell you how gracious he is- he knows what I believe, and that it’s different from what he believes, and he wouldn’t preach it.  Or if he did, and this would be acceptable, he would say, “Hey, this is what I believe, and this is what pastor Ed believes.” 

Josh: So there’s a lot of trust in that group, which is obviously important and something you have to build. 

Ed: Absolutely.  And we’ve seen that trust broken, too.  When it happens, you have to deal with that.  It’s not a reason not to build a preaching team.  Sometimes, sure, there’s some immature stuff that comes out, but the mature help the immature and the immature help the mature.  I look at it this way: the older you get, the less energy you have for some things.  But the younger people lack your wisdom.  Still, somehow when those things get together, you can make it happen.  

Josh:  When you first started putting together a preaching team, what was your framework?  How did you get to a place where you could build that trust and community with those pastors so that they were comfortable sharing and pushing back on some of the feedback you give?

Ed: Well, first of all, we start every meeting with an evaluation of the previous Sunday.  We evaluate the week before.  Honestly, if I could get them to evaluate me between services it would help.  

At the same time, I understand that there’s some intimidation here.  So I have to constantly welcome them into giving me feedback.  I have to tell them to tell me the truth.  It’s important that you build that kind of transparency.  My team is trying to outdo each other with their feedback to me, and I have a way of addressing it if they’ve offended me.  And it’s fun and it’s laughable.  But they do honor me, and I honor them and what they bring to the table.  When they bring good thoughts or thoughts that surprise you with their creativity, and this is important for older pastors, you need to affirm it.  Whatever I do, I don’t want to steal their ideas, because everybody needs encouragement.  

But the reality of all of this is that it takes time to build that trust.  But you do have to build it- don’t shy away from difficult subjects.  We’ve covered some deep stuff, and they don’t always agree with me or with each other.  But I remind them that at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to stand before the Lord and say, “This is what we did and why we did it.”

Josh: I think a lot of pastors are hesitant to get started.  Do you have some encouragement for them?  What are some of the benefits you’ve personally experienced because you have a preaching team? 

Ed:  Well, I’ve already mentioned some, but I would say there’s also the benefit of not feeling alone.  This is a legacy.  These guys are going to go out and do great ministry.  I tell them that all the time, that we won’t be together forever, but they’re going to go and pastor some great churches.  That’s a huge benefit for me.  It’s visionary, and it encourages them.  

At the end of the day, it’s not the buildings you’ve built, it’s not the places you’ve been or the opportunities you’ve had to preach that make a difference.  It’s the people that you invest in.  One of the things we say often at Redemption is that we are a sent people, and a sending church.  That’s really what we’re doing: we’re preparing these guys to send them out to the nations.  They’ll need the skills of preaching and discerning the Word of God, wherever they go.

So to any pastor out there who’s hesitant to get started, I would say, start praying about developing a preaching team.  It’s great for accountability.  It’s great for developing thoughts that aren’t just your own and getting new perspectives.  And it’s an amazing way to leave a legacy.