Let your congregation preach the sermon next Sunday.

Smiling Group of Professionals --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

“Teaching” is NOT the same as “learning”. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into your sermon – if people aren’t listening, engaged and paying attention, they will leave the building without remembering or applying anything. They may be sitting still and trying to look attentive, but if it’s going in one ear and out the other, you’re wasting their time and your own.

Instead of blaming them for their short attention spans and lack of commitment, why don’t you try something completely “out of the box” – and let the congregation preach the sermon next Sunday? After all, they’ve set aside 30-40 minutes of their time to learn from God’s Word, and you have the skills and background knowledge to help facilitate them to be involved in the process. What long-term good does it do them to sit passively and watch you do all the work? Why not take the risk of letting them listen to God’s Word, to the Holy Spirit and to each other, and let God speak to His gathered people?

So, how do you do it? How would you go about helping the people in the pews preach God’s Word to one another? Try these simple steps, and see how it goes…

Let them choose the title: Get them to look up the Scripture passage on their phones or in their Bibles, and come up with a good title. Let them discuss ideas with their neighbors before calling out suggestions. Give out small prizes, and encourage everyone who speaks up!

Give them the tools: This is your chance to give them everything they need to explore and interpret God’s Word. Take a few minutes to tell them any background information and context which will help them understand what they are reading. Use visuals and symbols if needed. Give them the clues they need to do their own detective work – give them enough, but no more.

Ask the right questions: Let them discuss the passage in small groups, using open questions such as “What stands out to you?”, “What do you learn about God?”, “What do you think this meant to the original hearers?”, “Is there something here for us to apply?” etc. Let them feed back to the larger group with a roving mic. Affirm their answers, and get excited about their insights.

Apply it: God’s Word is most potent when we live it, not just listen to it. Ask people to consider whether there is anything they have learned or are going to act on. Let them share their commitments with one another and pray for one another.

Listen well: Pastors have been trained to talk, not to listen – so it’s very easy to fall in the trap of arguing with people, or showing off your superior ideas and insights. Instead, listen to God’s people with respect and love, encourage them for their contributions, and invite the “least of these” to have a voice, a value and an impact. Let God “use the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong”. You’ll be surprised at the insights shared by the most unlikely people.

God designed us to learn best when we explore, discuss, think about and problem-solve concepts, than when we listen to people talking at us. If we allow God’s people to get their hands on God’s Word, they are more likely to understand it, remember it, apply it and get comfortable having spiritual conversations. It may feel like an enormous risk to move from monologue preaching to letting God’s people have a voice – but it’s a risk worth taking.


5 thoughts on “Let your congregation preach the sermon next Sunday.

  1. Kathleen I’ve encountered your writing on ChurchLeaders.com and found your blog from there. I appreciate your passion for sharing the Gospel and empathize with your frustration concerning traditional church. The danger I see is we can make extrapolations from such feelings that end up hindering the ministry of the Gospel.

    I have several issues with your article, but especially this: “Pastors have been trained to talk, not to listen – so it’s very easy to fall in the trap of arguing with people, or showing off your superior ideas and insights.”

    First let me confess I am not a seminary trained pastor. I pastor a small congregation and have been there for 3 years. I have been involved in jail ministry for about 7 years. My education has come from hands on learning, some extension classes, and being mentored by an outstanding Chaplain. Let me assure you, in no case at all was I ever trained/taught to “talk, not listen.” In fact, the opposite is true. My chaplain mentor is one of the greatest listeners I’ve ever met, and often the most powerful part of his ministry is simply listening. I encourage responses from the church where God has called me, and on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings have a much more open dialogue kind of study instead of straight preaching. However, even on Sunday mornings I encourage audience responses. In Bible studies I lead, especially in jail and juvenile detention, I encourage input and do a whole lot of listening.

    I also promise you my goal, and the goal of the pastors and chaplains I have had the opportunity to work with, is not to show off my “superior ideas and insights.” I learn from the people God has called me to shepherd. I have even told them before that the ordination certificate on my wall does not give me any greater spiritual superiority or insight than they have. In fact, many of the wonderful folks I minister to have an amazing amount of godly wisdom that I admire and desire.

    As I’ve read your articles over time I feel like you have turned your back on traditional church, preaching and pastors. I have seen the bad side of it all as well. I’ve seen spiritual bullies and even been on the receiving end and it hurts worse than any physical pain. I worry that more pastors abuse or neglect their position more than living it out the way Christ intended. I guess what I’m really wanting to say is some of us are out here trying our best to do it the right way. I pray you will consider the importance of a pastor and his preaching when it is done in the right, biblical way.

    Your methods can work great for some groups, but I do not believe it should replace preaching. The other important thing to remember is that we deal with several different types of learners – I have always been one that learns better in a lecture style situation than in group interaction. That is why I try to offer several opportunities for people to approach Scripture in the church God called me to.

    I believe pastoral leadership and preaching are firmly supported by the Bible. I was an atheist until I was 32 years old, and I am thankful for the preacher that presented a clear cut presentation of the Gospel that cut me to the quick of my heart. I am thankful for the preaching that has helped me grow as a disciple. I am thankful for the men, women and children God has called into his Kingdom by the power of preaching his Gospel that he has given me the privilege to experience.

    May God bless you and your family richly.

    • Dear Randy,

      I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and interact. I love reading about how you trained for ministry, and your commitment to listening and to interaction. Your church family are blessed to have someone who brings these characteristics to leadership.

      I get why you would assume I have turned my back on traditional church, pastors and preaching. In my writing, I choose to present an argument for interactive learning techniques, as the majority of churches do not use them at all. It is hard for me to strike a balance between presenting my message firmly, and crossing the line to sound quite aggressive and one-sided. On churchleaders.com, the editors have also changed the titles and pictures that go with my posts, giving them an even more aggressive tone than my original articles. I am sorry for sounding offensive making blanket statements about pastors which are simply not true in every case.

      I actually love traditional church. We’ve been attending traditional church for the past 5 years, with our 4 kids, and our pastor (who reads our blogs regularly) has recently begun trying our techniques within Sunday morning services, and inviting us to “mix it up” a little by introducing interactive techniques once a month. We’ll see how it goes in the long run!

      Thanks for bearing with me and reading my posts, and I hope we can continue to dialogue,


      – Kathleen

      • I bet we’d find we agree on many issues. I have been pastor at my current church for three years. One of my goals going in was to have more interaction with the congregation during preaching and teaching. It was actually pretty funny – at first they didn’t know how to react. “Is he really asking us a question? Does he really want us to answer?” It took about a year for everybody to get acclimated to actually participating. The cool thing is, it has helped all of them grow – they offer valuable input during Bible studies, but especially the ones that are teaching themselves, it has made them better teachers as well. All of this is not because I’m so great, but because our God is so great and he wants his people to be more than mere spectators.
        I’ve only been in ministry 7 years, but I’ve been a sales person for 23 years in the secular world. I’ve learned much from working with people in that venue – it’s much better to listen and allow others to be active participants in a sales process – they are more satisfied customers that way. Thanks for the response and may God bless you in your church and your ministry!

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