Empty Pulpits

At Grace, one of the things we are blessed to have is a few men who are called by God to preach. I tend to believe most churches should have a growing number of people like this. When I am out of town, these are the guys who step up and bring the congregation God's word. But we have changed this so that when I finish a series (this means I'm done preaching through a book or a thematic series like The Ordo Salutis) one of these men preaches even when I'm there. I get to hear the word, which is always a good thing, these preachers get to develop their gift, and the body is fed in a greater variety of ways. This Sunday one of our elders preached. Great stuff from Matthew 18. This is important to us, especially in a day when many good churches are piping in satellite feeds of preachers. If the pastor has to leave early on Sunday, just record his earliest AM message and replay it for the second or third services. Want to plant a church? No need to develop more preachers, just gather the new body around a large screen and pipe in a feed of the parent church's service.

I still do not understand this practice - especially in large congregations. Are these churches admitting they do not have the leadership necessary to preach? Is no one called in the bodies to be preachers of the word besides one man? Are these churches really just personality cults who are about one leader rather than The Person of God? I am not trying to be overly dramatic, it just all seems anything but biblical. It doesn't surprise me when some churches do this. Innovation for it's own sake and all that. But I have seen other, more strongly theologically oriented churches begin to do the same.

What's the big deal? It can lead to a personality cult which Paul clearly speaks against. It does not give those who are called to preach by God a chance to exercise that calling. The virtual preacher cannot know the needs of the satellite congregation, nor adjust his message on the spot to better connect with his audience. And there is more, but I will leave it at that.

I recently met Mark Pirrie, one of the pastors from Moody Memorial Church in downtown Chicago where Erwin Lutzer is Senior Pastor. They are modeling something better than the virtual pastor. While Lutzer is the Senior Pastor who regularly preaches, they are also rotating in all the leadership called to preach as well. Hearing this from Mark was a big encouragement. This can be done in small and large churches alike (Grace would certainly qualify as a "small" church). But getting to the place where this is a reality requires humility and risk and an investment in discipleship and leadership development beyond management technique.

For those who want to see healthy churches, able leadership, real revival, church planting movements, and better preaching in our pulpits across the country - we had better fill our pulpits with real people who are called by God and give them opportunity to be faithful to him and his church.