Teamwork in the Pulpit
Tony Cooke

One of the issues that every church staff must address pertains to partnership and teamwork in the pulpit. There are situations where various ministers blend well together and provide well-rounded ministry to the congregation. In other situations, jealousy and competition among staff creates problems in the congregation.

Because some pastors have experienced significant difficulties in this area, they allow no one from that staff to have any pulpit duties at all. If the pastor is going to be gone, he has an outside speaker fill the pulpit. It is unfortunate, but one pastor expressed that he had been “burnt” so many times after having entrusted the pulpit to his assistants that he just didn’t want to take that kind of risk any longer. It’s understandable that this pastor didn’t want to continue to be taken advantage of, but I do believe that God desires that teams learn to work together in positive ways.

Some pastors have expressed that they believe part of their responsibility is to help their assistants develop in a wide variety of areas, including pulpit ministry. For this to occur, though, staff members who minister from the pulpit need to carry themselves in a way that promotes unity and health for the entire church. What are the guidelines that make for a healthy staff environment and positive teamwork when it comes to pulpit responsibilities?

1. Staff members vary in their expectations and desires regarding teaching and preaching responsibilities.

It is rare when a church staff member is hired primarily for pulpit ministry. For church staff, pulpit ministry is usually a secondary and occasional responsibility. It is not unusual on a staff for some to have occasional pulpit responsibilities, while other staff members do not engage in pulpit duties at all.

2. If a staff member is significantly dissatisfied with the amount of pulpit ministry he or she is receiving, the following options could be considered:

  • Be patient. There may be many reasons why the pastor doesn’t want certain staff members in the pulpit or involved extensively in teaching duties. It may not be their gifting, or there may be timing issues.
  • Teaching a class or a small group within the church can be a healthy outlet. However, when this is done, it should not become a “church within a church” or function as an entity unto itself. It is problematic if it appears that a staff member is (intentionally or unintentionally) building his or her own following.
  • Transitioning to a senior pastor position in another location or to an itinerant ministry is another option for staff members who feel that they need to have more speaking time than what is afforded to an individual in a supportive role. If such a transition occurs, it hopefully will not be done out of impatience, pride, or immaturity, and it should certainly be done in such a way as to bring no damage to the home church.

3. When a staff member does receive pulpit time, there are many guidelines that should be kept in mind to ensure that the ministry provided is helpful to the congregation and that it promotes the teamwork concept of ministry:

  • As a general rule, correction for the church and direction for the church should come from the senior pastor. It is understood that some Scriptures are corrective in nature, but it should not be a staff member’s intent to “straighten out the church.” In the home, correction usually comes from a parent, and in the church it should typically come from the senior pastor.
  • What a staff member teaches from the pulpit should generally reinforce and support what the senior pastor has taught or has been teaching.
  • Ministry from staff members should be basic, simple, and practical. It should not be material that is designed to “impress” the congregation with the staff member’s in-depth knowledge, or an attempt to razzle-dazzle the people. Staff members should avoid sensationalism and flamboyance.

4. It can be a temptation to always preach something “new,” something the people have never heard. This should be avoided. 1 Timothy 4:6 says, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.”

5. Ministry in the church is not a talent show or a popularity contest. A staff member is not to seek to “out-do” the senior pastor or other staff members.

6. Controversial and divisive issues should be avoided.

If there is any question about the appropriateness of a topic, it should be presented to the senior pastor well in advance and in writing. No senior pastor is going to appreciate unnecessary messes being created, especially ones that can alienate church members and force the pastor to play “clean up.”

7. Never put the pastor on the spot by asking him publicly if you can “obey God” or continue preaching beyond an appropriate time limit. Stay within the parameters of normal service times.

8. Always preach from “common ground.” Probably no two human beings agree on every minute issue of doctrine, but as a staff member, you need to stay with the areas you and the pastor agree on. If you disagree on something, simply leave it alone. Don’t sow division or discord in the church.

9. As a staff member, it is important to understand some human dynamics. This is especially important if people begin to praise you and tell you how great you are when you preach.

  • People tend to devalue what they are most familiar with. At the same time, some people may find your ministry very refreshing since they don’t hear you a lot.
  • Because of this, some people may tell you that they like your preaching better than the senior pastor. Don’t let this get you into pride or cause you to think that you need to preach more or that you’re supposed to take over the senior pastor’s position.
  • Keep in mind that some people simply prefer one style to another. Your style may be different than that of the pastor. The fact that someone prefers your style means nothing more than that.
  • If those same people who are telling you how great you are had been listening to you eight times a month for several years, and someone new began to minister, they might find that other person’s style more refreshing than yours also.
  • Also keep in mind that as a staff member, you probably have far more time to invest in preparing your messages than the senior pastor does (because you probably preach less frequently). If you had to prepare eight messages a month for years on end, you wouldn’t have as much time to prepare as you do when you may only be preaching once or twice a month.
  • None of this is shared to devalue what you do as a staff member, but to be a reminder to be on guard against what the enemy likes to whisper into the ears of some staff members. He may tell an assistant, “You’re better than the pastor… you’re more anointed than the pastor… he’s holding you back …you should be the pastor instead of him, etc.”

10. The senior pastor is a bit like a coach on a team. If the coach asks you to go into the game, there may be a certain “role” that he desires you to play.

  • Ask the pastor if he has any do’s and don’ts he wants you to observe.
  • Find out if there are any sensitive areas he wants you to stay away from.
  • Ask him if there’s any certain directions he wants you to go, to avoid, etc.
  • Be open to your pastor’s suggestions and corrective comments. Ask for his feedback, and listen respectfully. Let him help you become better.
  • Communicate with your coach, and fill the role he wants you to fill on the team.
  • It is vital that the pastor be able to trust his staff members in the pulpit. Earn that trust by having a submissive and compliant attitude.

11. If you are a staff member who is prone to moving in certain gifts of the Spirit, a word of caution might be in order. Some people in the congregation may pull on that in an inappropriate fashion. In other words, they may want you to give personal words all the time, and consider such ministry far superior to that of teaching. Spirit-filled pastors have no desire to quench the Spirit, but at the same time, they desire to see well-balanced ministry being provided to the people. Problems can occur in a couple of areas in this regard:

  • There can be so much emphasis on the supernatural that people in the church begin to “despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
  • At the other end of the spectrum is that people can get euphoric over such manifestations when a staff member ministers. Some in the church may then begin to devalue the ministry of the pastor who may primarily teach, even though he is actually providing a very balanced spiritual diet to the congregation.
  • Above all, follow Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:3 – “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Promote the whole team and the leadership of the pastor don’t promote yourself or build a following around yourself.