As a preacher regularly stirred by reading and interpreting the Bible collaboratively with church members, I began exploring an entirely collaborative sermon journey with a member of the congregation. Occasionally sharing the preaching journey with a lay partner has yielded spiritual treasure for the congregation, my preaching partners, and for me.
Collaborative sermons leverage the power of partnership in interpretation, craft, and delivery in a manner faithful to the gospel. Sharing the entire sermon journey allows each step of the preaching process to benefit from relationship and mutual discernment. Preaching partners also can share in the illumination that each step of the process reveals.
Collaborative preaching has also shed light, for me, on how the medium of a sermon’s delivery — traditionally exclusive and individual — can serve to undermine the gospel in unintended ways. While a sermon proclaims the gospel, its medium speaks in ways that accompany the words.1 The traditional individual sermon is a limited medium for the proclamation of the gospel that is a pronouncement and calling for all, summoning all to change, faith, relationship, and community.
An occasional practice of collaborative preaching helps communicate the gospel as given to all of us, for all of us to share. Preaching collaboratively allows the sermon medium to complement the collective qualities of the gospel message, like mutual relationship and the priesthood of all believers. One congregation member commented on the value of partnered proclamation, “I loved this, and I had no idea someone like me could preach with someone like you.” An occasional alternative mode of collaborative preaching with a member of the congregation can overcome the limitations of exclusive individual preaching and better align the sermon medium with the gospel message.
Many worship traditions practice occasional collaboration in other elements of liturgy, but unnecessarily limit preaching to a single individual. Scriptures, songs and prayers are commonly given together, in tandem, or responsively. Worship texts and songs offered in multiple voices carry a powerful message in the diversity of bodies, mannerisms, and sounds they carry in unified fashion. Sharing the preparation and delivery of worship liturgy invites and includes laypeople into the responsibility and experience of leading worship, and helps worship reflect a plurality of voices. I believe the same occasional practice of collaboration, with careful pastoral leadership, can be applied to sermons (see, for example, this sermon preached with Barbara Douglass).
The field of homiletics has shifted attention, in recent generations, to the dynamics of power and the function of preaching, inviting collaboration in some of the ways sermons are developed and delivered.2 Some homileticians, such as John McClure and O. Wesley Allen, have explored collaborative methods for interpreting scripture.3 Others — including David Lose, Doug Pagitt, and Lucy Atkinson Rose — have explored the spirit of conversation and collaboration in the event of preaching in worship.4 For mostly practical reasons, though, these explorations have focused on a part or parts of the sermon journey being conversational, collaborative, or communal, and stopped short of an entirely and consistently collaborative sermon journey.
Collaborative preaching has precedent, but most typically as a preaching partnership between ordained pastors. “Tag-team preaching” is a common practice in certain African American worship traditions, typically involving two or more ordained preachers preaching in a back-and-forth style of delivery.5 But I believe the medium of partnership between an ordained pastor and a layperson has important spiritual value as well, as an explicit practice of the priesthood of all believers.
I recommend trying a model of sermon development and proclamation that is entirely collaborative, within a consistent partnership, from first encounter with the scripture to delivery of the sermon.
Important considerations in developing an occasional practice of collaborative preaching include:
- Deciding if collaborative preaching is for you
- Clearly communicating the practice and rationale to the congregation
- Selecting preaching partners with care
- Selecting texts with good potential for the partnership
- Initiating the partnership with covenant, relationship, and expectations
- Adapting to the movements of the Spirit in the collaboration
- Identifying an appropriate form for the sermon as the witness of the partnership to the scripture
- Setting the collaborative proclamation appropriately in your worship space
- Rehearsing the collaborative sermon together in the worship space, and
- Refining the process iteratively with the benefit of feedback from partners and parishioners.
Attention to these considerations will help establish healthy collaborations for fruitful sermon journeys.
I recommend this particular collaborative practice that has brought fresh energy, perspective, and meaning to the congregation I serve and to my own preaching life. Collaborating on a sermon is more difficult and laborious, commanding a pastor’s time, careful discernment, sensitivity, humility, accountability, creativity, and trust.
But these are virtues worth cultivating in all preaching we pastors do. Collaboration has helped highlight the limits of my own perspective and ideas. I am now better formed to ask questions of a text from a different perspective, and to think about where other insights to a text might lead me. I am becoming a more faithful and more versatile preacher because I now practice collaborative preaching occasionally.
I continue to explore the power and possibilities of collaborative preaching in my own preaching life. To pastors open to entirely collaborative preaching, I commend the practice as faithful, inspired, and worth the investment.
1 Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media: Extensions of Man (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964), 7. McLuhan claims the way we receive communication influences the message in ways that may go unnoticed. Marshall McLuhan argues that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, even becoming essential to the substance of the message.
2 Dietrich Ritschl, A Theology of Proclamation (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1960), 22. Ritschl was one of the first in the field to identify the structural flaw of the traditional preaching medium, which isolates the preacher and makes preaching a “dispensing of power.”
3 See John S. McClure, The Roundtable Pulpit: Where Leadership and Preaching Meet (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 24. Also see O. Wesley Allen, Jr., The Homiletic of All Believers: A Conversational Approach (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 39.
4 See David J. Lose, Preaching at the Crossroads: How the Word — and Our Preaching — is Changing (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 103. Also see Doug Pagitt, Preaching Re-Imagined: The Role of the Sermon in Communities of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 229. Also see Lucy Atkinson Rose, Sharing the Word: Preaching in the Roundtable Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 39.
5 See, for example, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., and Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, “Prophetic Grief” (video of sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL, June 24, 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqImk7g2RD0.