4 Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate (Part 2)
It really is a unique challenge senior pastors have that leaders in other types of organizations don’t face: The need to prepare an excellent, engaging, inspiring talk every single week and deliver it to a live audience.
It’s critical everybody knows the senior pastor needs to have time and energy set aside for the teaching process—study, writing, rehearsing and delivery.
Because that stuff can’t be delegated, you must delegate the things that get in the way of great teaching.
So, senior pastors can’t delegate teaching, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a teaching team. It means they LEAD that team and take ownership over ensuring consistently excellent teaching at the church.
This is part two in a series of four that I’m excited about. The most popular episode of all time on The Unstuck Church Podcast was on the roles a senior pastor can’t delegate. At the time we published that episode, I had identified three. I’ve since added a fourth.
- Vision-Caster (Part 1)
- Spiritual Leader / Teacher (Part 2)
- Leader of Leaders (Part 3)
- Culture Champion (Part 4)
We decided to record a new series of episodes and go much deeper on each of the four.
In this second part of the series, Amy and I discussed:
- Why, as the senior pastor, you can’t delegate teaching—and why you must delegate the things that get in the way of great teaching
- Why consistently great teaching is so critical
- The place (and value!) of developing a teaching team, and the senior pastor’s role in leading it
- How many people you should include on your teaching team to reap the maximum benefits
- How to solve the issue of not having enough message prep time
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Tony: 00:00 This is really what’s distinctive about senior pastor leadership and the leadership of every other CEO and any other organization, marketplace, nonprofit, what have you. This is a core piece of the senior pastor’s responsibility and because of the priority, particularly in that churches ministry life, this role just can’t be delegated.
Narrator: 00:24 Welcome to the UnStuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Today on the podcast, we’re continuing our four-part series on the Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate, focusing on the role of teaching. If you’re a pastor or know a pastor who would benefit from hearing some of the best practices of teaching that we’re learning from unstuck churches, then this podcast is for you. Don’t forget as you listen to grab the show notes and share them with your team – you can find those at theunstuckgroup.com/episode 94. Also, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox each week. You’ll get one email with all of the info including the leader guide, the resources that we mentioned at the bonus resources to go along with the content. You can sign up by going to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast. And now, here’s the conversation on the senior pastor’s role of teaching with Tony and Amy.
Amy: 01:18 Last week we kicked off a series of podcasts on the four things a senior pastor cannot delegate. So Tony, before we dive in, let’s talk just again about the heart behind this four-week series.
Tony: 01:29 Amy, I mean you see this too: I start to engage with churches and then obviously part of that is the relationship we’re developing with the senior pastor. And as I just learned, I’m on the ground working with churches and learning about what senior pastors are involved in. My general assessment is they’re just trying to do too much; They’re too hands-on and they’re hands-on in the wrong things. And so we stepped back and started to ask the question “what really is the primary role of the senior pastor and what distinguishes that position from other staff positions in churches? And through that, I identified these four roles that I really believe the senior pastor has to own and he or she can’t be delegating these roles to anyone else on the team. So last time we talked about vision casting, and I’m really looking forward to today’s topic. I think senior pastors that are listening are interested in this topic and honestly, the people in their churches are interested in their senior pastors being interested in this topic as well.
Amy: 02:38 That is very true. All right, so let’s just jump in. What is the second thing a senior pastor cannot delegate?
Tony: 02:45 That’s right. The second thing senior pastors cannot delegate is the teaching. Most pastors listening right now are saying, “well, of course, I can’t delegate the teaching.” That’s pretty obvious because it’s a huge part of what a senior pastor has to give their time and attention to, but that’s my point: the teaching’s very important. It happens every week. It’s critical. Everybody knows the senior pastor needs to have time and energy set aside for the teaching process, the study, the writing, the rehearsing and of course the delivery of the message itself. This role cannot be delegated in the church. The fact is this is really what’s distinctive about senior pastor leadership and the leadership of every other CEO and any other organization, the marketplace, nonprofit, what have you. The senior pastor in a church, part of their leadership responsibility is preparing a significant message that needs to be delivered on a weekly basis. This is a core piece of the senior pastor’s responsibility, and because of the priority, particularly in that church’s ministry life, this role just can’t be delegated.
Amy: 04:03 That’s such a good point, Tony, because I think for a lot of senior pastors, leadership training just in the world gets overlaid on to senior pastors, but it really isn’t apples to apples because of this one core output. Maybe we should do something on executive pastors in the future because they tend to need to pick up some of those other things. All right. So what I hear you saying is kind of two-fold: You can’t delegate the teaching and you must delegate the things that get in the way of great teaching. Talk to me about that.
Tony: 04:33 That’s right Amy, and here’s why. First of all, the teaching has to be great. That means we need to put in the time, we just can’t wait until Friday and expect a great message to be developed, written, rehearsed and then prepared for delivery. The weekend is the front door of the church still is the case. The church in America, the very first time people connect with your church, it may be that someone might connect to a group first or someone might serve first, but the data we’re seeing is the vast majority of people that connect to our church for the first time are still walking through the front doors of our churches on Sunday morning. That means the message in addition to the rest of the surface, is the core part of that service experience. And it has to be great.
Amy: 05:23 Obviously you just said everything needs to be great when people come on the weekend, but certain things do carry a little bit more weight in a person’s experience that determines did they really engage and will they come back? And so while we want great guest services, we want simple branding things like that. What we really have to have at the foundation is great teaching.
Tony: 05:45 That’s very true, that’s very true. And we have to remember sometimes we’re only going to get one shot with the new guest. This may be a little harsh for the listeners, but you might actually want to invite somebody new to your church so that you can experience this because Emily and I just had some new friends join us just a couple of weeks ago. It’s amazing how you look at the service experience when it’s your friends that are visiting from the very first time. So, especially for the teachers, I hope you’re still inviting folks to your church. And in that, I think it’s going to help you look at your teaching from a completely different perspective. So this weekend, the crowd is gathered, you have the opportunity, you have the responsibility to teach God’s truth to hundreds, thousands of people, and because of that, if you’re going to be a great teacher, you just can’t wing it.
Amy: 06:49 Right? Isn’t it surprising how many pastors still can’t get to their message until Thursday or Friday?
Tony: 06:54 It really is, but Amy, it goes back to what I just mentioned earlier, senior pastors, it’s your unique leadership responsibility because you have all of the leadership responsibilities of other large growing healthy organizations, but on top of that, a significant amount of your time has to be invested in the message itself. So it’s, it’s a really unique challenge. So secondly, the teaching has to be consistently great. I have found the only way that churches can deliver this, that senior pastors can deliver this, is if they develop the teaching team. So if you’re attendees are going to invite their friends and their family to church, you need to have a culture of reliably excellent messages regardless of who’s teaching. And so what that means is not only do you need to be investing in your teaching and all that is involved in making your messages great, you also have the responsibility of developing the team of teachers around you. This is an opportunity again for leaders, senior pastors to go to the next level, not just thinking about my responsibility to deliver great messages, but my responsibility to raise up other leaders around me. Amy, any thoughts you have on this?
Amy: 08:16 Well, it’s such a great point. I just remember actually when I started working at my church and our senior pastor is such a gifted communicator and he makes God’s word so applicable – applicable, one of those words to life. We didn’t have a teaching team when I first started there and people would actually call the church to find out who’s teaching because he would have to have some time off now and again, but we didn’t have a culture of consistently great teaching. They’d call if they showed up on a weekend and they could see on our program or bulletin that it was a different teacher, people would actually get up and leave. That’s not easily an inevitable product or experience. I can’t invite my friend if I don’t have the confidence that we’re going to have this guy teaching or that gal teaching. So that’s a really good point. Say more about the concept of a teaching team though, Tony. In some regards, it seems to be contradictory to say that the senior pastors can’t delegate the teaching because we’re kind of saying delegate some of it.
Tony: 09:16 So, backing up, of course, a pastor’s spiritual leadership is most often manifest in their function as a cheap teacher. However, this doesn’t mean a church shouldn’t have a teaching team, it’s just that the senior pastor should be the leader of that team. In other words, the senior pastor should be the driver of teaching in the church. In other words, this is part of their spiritual leadership in the church: they’re developing other teachers. So if you have other people that teach, they may not have the senior pastor title and they may not be teaching on a regular basis. And because of that, they haven’t developed as a teacher. Not only is that a problem, but honestly, I think that’s your problem as the senior pastor because you are responsible for developing that gifting, that wiring, and ultimately the delivery of the teaching to the church as a whole, even if you’re not the one doing the teaching.
Amy: 10:17 So what you’re saying is if a senior pastor has a weekend off and he just says, “Joe is going to teach”, but it has complete hands off on what he’s going to teach or helping him prepare for that, that’s a problem. Right?
Tony: 10:30 Even if that’s the Sunday after thanksgiving.
Amy: 10:35 Yes, yes. I’ve been to that Church.
Tony: 10:38 So here’s the deal. We’ve, we’ve seen strength in the teaching at churches when the senior pastor has identified a few key teachers who teach on a regular basis. That’s what a true team looks like. So, a teaching team is not the senior pastor teaches 50 times a year and two weeks out of the year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, the Memorial Day weekend, 4th of July weekend, they bring in the student pastor to teach. That’s not a teaching team. A teaching team is a group of people, we’ll talk more specifics here in a moment, but a group of people that all of them are developing their leadership gifting and have the capacity in their own unique ways, reflective of their personality to bring the truth from scripture and to teach effectively; to connect that truth with life application.
Amy: 11:34 So it’s probably also true to say that a senior pastor with 14 people who teach throughout the year is also not a teaching team, correct?
Tony: 11:42 No, I’ve not seen that work either, but here’s the deal. There are some benefits when you approach teaching as a team. First of all, it adds diversity to the teaching, and that’s good because then you’re increasing relatability to a broader segment of people in your congregation. It also communicates that more than one person can hear the voice of God, which is true, so we should model that. It gives each teacher more time to prepare their message. My good friend Jeff Henderson has suggested that, by the way, he’s the lead pastor at Gwinnett church here in the Atlanta area, but he has suggested that really a good senior pastor probably at the most can deliver 20 phenomenal messages throughout the scope of one year.
Amy: 12:36 That’s encouraging to all our listeners.
Tony: 12:38 Yeah. That should be, which again points to the need for a team to be developed, but would suggest then too if it’s 20, I think we can do more than that, but if it’s 20, you can invest more time then. The fewer messages that you’re delivering, the more investment at a time you can make in each message, which lifts the quality of that message overall. It creates more potential for creative moments, and then teachers that team together can sharpen one another as well. They can provide pre-weekend feedback even before you deliver the message. And then that post feedback, post weekend evaluation as well. That will continue to improve how we teach and how we effectively communicate the biblical truth we want our congregations to hear.
Amy: 13:28 Those are great benefits. You alluded to it, but what makes up a good teaching team? So we said not, not two weekends a year and we said not 14 teachers, but how many teachers do you recommend and how often would different team members speak?
Tony: 13:42 Ideally at least three, possibly four. Some of this obviously is going to depend on the size of the church as well, but there ought to be enough ups, if you will, enough opportunities to teach, to build the relationship with the congregation. It’s just the fact too that Amy, in any area of our leadership, if we don’t have the opportunity to practice whatever it is and this case communicating teaching, if we don’t have enough opportunities, we get rusty and we’re just not as effective at whatever that function is. So again, there needs to be enough ups to build that relationship with the congregation. It will also help the teachers build confidence on the platform, but the team has to be small enough that the senior pastor can be intentional in developing the teachers on the team. There needs to be enough time so that the senior pastor can really invest with just a handful of teachers to develop that gifting in the rest of the team. There also has to be enough frequency. So there just needs to be enough opportunities for people to learn what it is to prepare, to study, to prepare, to create, to rehearse, to deliver an effective message; there need to be enough reps to be able to do that. And for you to then to grow in that capacity.
Amy: 15:10 So how often would you say the senior pastor should be teaching and how many weekends should be delegated to the team?
Tony: 15:15 I think it’s going to be different depending on the circumstances. By the way, the closer a senior pastor gets to succession, to transitioning senior leadership, the fewer times that senior pastor should be teaching. But I think a good healthy number for senior pastors, not only for them to be the primary teacher for the church, but also to give opportunities for other teachers on the team is maybe 35 to 40 weekends every year, which then creates plenty of opportunities to develop two or three other teachers on the team.
Amy: 15:54 Tony, can you give an example where you’ve seen this play out effectively in a church? Great teaching?
Tony: 16:00 So going back to my time when I was at Granger Community Church, and Gosh, this has been years ago now, but one of the things I really appreciated about Mark Beason, the senior pastor there, is he’s one of the most gifted teacher communicators I’ve ever run into anywhere. Not just in the church, but more broadly. He has a way of connecting stories to truth and scripture like no one else I’ve ever seen. So if really, if there were anybody that would say, why in the world would I give up the platform on any given Sunday to anybody else, that probably should have been marked because this is just a strong area of giftedness for him. I watched him very intentionally create opportunities and then provide coaching to Rob and Mark and several other people on the team.
Tony: 16:55 And at one point there were probably four different teachers and yes, they all brought a different personality. They approached teaching communication a little bit differently. Obviously, the stories and experiences in their lives are completely unique. But the quality of the teaching, it didn’t drop off. In fact, I remember Mark was in my office one day and one of the previous weekends, Rob had taught and the attendance went up. I said, “Mark, how does that make you feel?” Of course, Mark being the gifted leader teacher he is, and just wanting the church to thrive, for him, that was a win. When Rob first started teaching, I’m just telling you it was not; Rob needed to be refined as a teacher, let’s put it way. I mean it’s just when that team was developed and thriving, I just think that’s when the church can be at its healthiest because it really, it’s not just one voice. It’s a team-based approach to ministry even from the teaching platform.
Amy: 18:10 That’s good. All right. So Tony, for the senior pastors that are out there who don’t feel like they have the time they need to make teaching the priority focus, what would be a few next steps that they could take to get this into a more priority spot in their schedule?
Tony: 18:25 So the first step I think is to actually make it the priority focus. In other words, this needs to be the first thing that goes on your calendar each week and only you can solve your calendar issue. So this is, I mean, you’ve heard it put first things first, this is it. This needs to be the priority on your calendar. So if for you it’s 15 hours a week, 20 hours a week, get that plugged in and then map out the rest of your leadership responsibilities around that.
Amy: 18:56 Can I jump in there? You know, I do a lot of staffing and structure reviews and one of the things that I try to cast a vision with when the senior leaders are there is to say that the senior pastor schedule and rhythm need to drive the rest of the churches schedule and rhythm. Meaning we shouldn’t make a senior pastor who does have this final exam every Sunday, fit into the management schedules of the rest of the team, but the rest of the team needs to adapt to what the senior pastor needs to do in order to do this, this teaching thing really well.
Tony: 19:28 That’s right. That’s right. A second step is you need to invite your leaders around the table to help solve how other things on your plate can get shifted to someone else. So, whether that’s through delegation or empowering somebody to take on other responsibilities that you hold, if you’re in the day to day notice of ministry, you need to get out of that. You need to give that leadership responsibility away so that you can focus again on the things that are most important to the overall health of your church, and primarily that does include this teaching responsibility. The third step then is to get a small team around you each week to help you actually work through the development of messages. So those of us on the outside looking in think well they just show up on Sunday morning, in fact, they probably don’t work during the week.
Tony: 20:21 They just show up on Sunday morning and they deliver this message to the church. Well, those of you that are teaching, no, that’s just, that’s just a very small, small percentage of what’s involved in delivering a message. There’s, there is research and study and brainstorming and crafting and storytelling and creativity and uh, how do we make a visual element to help engage your audience? There’s life application that needs to be done. You need to rehearse this message. Then you need to get feedback from the message that you’re delivering so that you can improve it going forward. And the mistake, I think a lot of senior pastors teachers make is that they have to do all of that, all of those aspects of what it is to deliver a message. They have to do all that on their own. And what I’ve seen is it’s really not possible for one person to be gifted in all the aspects of what it takes to deliver a great message.
Tony: 21:20 So for example, some, some great senior pastor-teacher communicators have learned that the study part, they do that, but they need to have others helping them with the study and the research in order to deliver great messages. Other pastors have learned they’re good at that aspect, but when it comes to creatively communicating and connecting with the audience, even thinking about the stories that could be told to bring the truth to life, that’s not their gift and they need a team of people around them to develop that. Other pastors, in fact, many great communicators have learned they can create a message, but when they actually deliver the message, there’s a disconnect that happens. So what they’ve learned is they need a small team of people around them to actually rehearse the message and learn how can I move from this point to this point more effectively?
Tony: 22:18 Where do I need to insert a story to drive that point home? They need a team around them for that aspect. So, my encouragement is pulling a team together. And these may not be other teachers, they could be other people that are gifted in other aspects of what it takes to deliver a great message.
Amy: 22:37 That’s really good. Any closing thoughts you’ve got, Tony, on this?
Tony: 22:42 Yes. So, this has to do with developing the teaching team again, and again I want to refer to something that I saw Mark Beason do at Granger; with Rob, Mark and all the other teachers that he developed through the years. When one of the other teachers was teaching that weekend, Mark didn’t take the weekend off necessarily. I mean, he did, he had vacation time, but there were many weekends that he was still on.
Tony: 23:13 He just wasn’t on the platform and what I loved about what Mark did which helped our church be open to other teachers is when somebody else was teaching, he was on the front row engaging with the message, taking notes, actively listening to what was being taught. What that modeled for the rest of the church was, “oh, we, we can hear from God through other teachers, not just Martin.” So when you’re thinking about developing other teachers, think about how you can model for your church, how important it is to hear from the voice of other teachers, not just yourself.
Narrator: 23:56 Well, thanks for joining us this week. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast, help us get the content out by subscribing, giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast. And as always, if you’d like to learn more about how we’re helping churches get unstuck, you can visit us at theunstuckgroup.com next week, we’re back with part three of our series on the Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate. We’ll see you then.