How important is preaching to the health, life, and mission of God’s Church in the world today? Is it really all that important? I mean, aren’t there other, more effective ways in which to reach the lost and edify the saints? How essential is preaching to genuine Gospel vitality and potency, both individually and corporately, as believers in this culture?
I would argue that the faithful preaching of God’s Word is perhaps more important to the Church than ever before. As Walter Kaiser writes, “It is no secret that Christ's Church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, ‘junk food;’ all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her.” As a result, Kaiser notes that theological and biblical malnutrition has “afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their bodies.”
While tough to hear, I think Kaiser’s diagnosis is correct. What the Church needs today is not junk food, but the kind of food and drink that can truly satisfy hungry and thirsty souls. What the Church needs today is food and drink that comes through the clear, undiluted preaching of the Word of God.
Of course, this begs the question, “Who will preach God’s Word? Where do we find faithful preachers who rightly handle this Word of truth?” While our seminaries play a vital role in the equipping and training of preachers to serve God’s people, I am convinced the best place to raise up and develop preachers is in our local churches. In churches just like yours! So, what might this look like? How can your congregation begin to intentionally raise up preachers? Let me offer a simple pathway you and your church may want to consider.
Developing A Preaching Cohort
One of the most effective ways your congregation can begin to develop preachers is by launching a preaching cohort. A preaching cohort is simply a small group of individuals committed to meeting regularly for the purpose of helping one another grow as preachers of God’s Word. In this group, individuals will learn with one another, encourage one another and give helpful feedback to one another as they journey toward becoming more effective preachers of the Word. Ideally this group will be made up of anywhere from two to five committed individuals, alongside the leader of the group, which in most cases is a pastor. It is recommended that this cohort meet at least once a month together for six to twelve months. Each cohort gathering should last between two to three hours in length.
Most preaching cohorts are made up of individuals with various levels of preaching experience. Whether someone has never preached a sermon before, or they have preached on a weekly basis, a preaching cohort is a great environment to sharpen skills and help those in the group mature in their preaching. Let me briefly paint a picture of what a preaching cohort might look like in your church. This is a model that has worked well for many churches launching a cohort for the first time. There are three primary components to the cohort: Personal Study, Group Preaching, and Mentor Coaching.
Component #1: Personal Study
Personal study is one of the keys to helping those in the cohort get the most out of this experience. The commitment to learning outside of the monthly cohort preaching gathering will help to stretch and equip individuals both in their intellectual understanding, as well as practice of biblical preaching. While there are many excellent preaching resources available that you might choose to use with your group, let me recommend a combination of reading and listening. In other words, pick a book for your group to read and study together, along with a preaching podcast or two that will help provide additional instruction to your group.
First of all, I would encourage you to have your group read through an introductory book on preaching that can help them develop and deliver biblical sermons. There are many excellent introductory preaching books out there. I would recommend one of the following:
Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chappell
The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida
Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson
Power in the Pulpit by Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix
Along with reading one of the above texts, have your group listen to one or two preaching podcasts on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This is a great way for those in your group to be learning from experienced preachers as they share some of the nuts and bolts learned over the years of preaching. Three podcasts I have found to be incredibly helpful to this end are:
On Preaching with H.B. Charles Jr.
Expositor with Dr. Steven Lawson
Preaching and Preachers with Dr. Jason Allen
Component #2: Group Preaching
Once a month the preaching cohort group will meet together for two to three hours (depending on your group size) for the purpose of instruction and preaching. Typically, a portion of this meeting will be given to discussing some of the reading and listening the group is doing together. It can also provide an opportunity for the group leader to do some intentional teaching on some aspect of preaching with the group. However, the majority of this meeting time will be spent having group members actually preach. This is where things get really fun! This meeting will allow individuals to preach in a context where they will be given honest and helpful feedback from others. Along with the group itself, I would recommend inviting other church leaders, as well as members of the congregation to come listen to the group preach each month.
Again, depending on the size of the group, each preacher in the cohort will preach a 20-25 minute sermon, followed by 10-15 minutes of evaluation and discussion. During this time, those present have the opportunity to offer words of encouragement and also share thoughts and observations that will help those in the cohort identify areas for growth in their preaching. I recommend having each observer fill out a simple preaching evaluation sheet that can help guide them in giving helpful critique in different areas.
Let me just reiterate what is probably very obvious. The evaluation and feedback given to the preachers in this context should be marked by much grace and kindness! Having your sermon critiqued? Are you kidding me? This can be an incredibly intimidating (even scary) experience for even the most seasoned preacher! This is why you want to go over the top in creating an environment marked by extravagant love and encouragement! This experience should be a joy not drudgery. Do all that you can to make sure it is just that.
Component #3: Mentor Coaching
A mentor coach is an individual those in your group can meet with on a regular basis to receive helpful feedback and practical coaching for their growth as a preacher. The hope would be that this coach can commit to two things: 1) Be present to hear the preacher’s sermon each month and then 2) find an additional time to grab lunch or coffee to talk about the sermon and any other issues related specifically to the area of preaching.
With the help of the cohort leader, each preacher in the group is responsible for finding their own mentor coach. This coach may be your pastor, another leader in the church, or perhaps a pastor from a different congregation in the area. The bottom line is that having a preaching coach who can serve as a friend and mentor through this cohort experience will be a great encouragement to those in the group, helping them to get the most out of the cohort experience.
Your Church Can Do This!
Our world needs the faithful preaching of God’s Word perhaps more than ever. But for this to happen, we must develop preachers of this Word. Local churches, just like yours, are desperately needed to help in the raising up and training of these preachers. Sadly, very few congregations have an intentional and carefully crafted strategy to see this kind of equipping become reality in the lives of those exploring the call to preach the Gospel.
My prayer is that through the launching of a preaching cohort, your congregation can become a place that is proactively raising up preachers who can take the truth of the Gospel to the ends of the earth! Preachers who will rightly and joyfully feed God’s Word to God’s people. Preachers who will proclaim the truth and goodness of God to those who have yet to know Christ as Lord and Savior. Preachers who will bring hope to the hopeless and healing to the broken. Preachers who will lift high the Gospel in such a way that lives, communities, and the world are transformed by the Spirit of God for the glory of God.
If you are interested in learning more about how to start a preaching cohort in your church, let me recommend THIS short book I wrote on the topic. Hopefully it will be helpful for you!
 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 1981), 7-8.