Greg Surratt: Why Multisite Churches Don’t Value Teaching Gifts

Pastor teaching
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I thought it might be of interest to address some frequent criticisms of multisite churches. Questions are good because they force us to examine what we do in light of Scripture and culture. 

So, here's one concern we hear often: "Multisite churches don't produce preachers and teachers."  The concern stems from the concept that many multisite churches leverage the teaching gift of one gifted teacher across various geographic locations, thereby not providing opportunities for young or new, emerging teachers and preachers to develop their gifts.

Here are some ways we handle that at Seacoast Church:

1. We have a primary teaching team. Several years ago I decided that the only way for me to keep my sanity (the small portion that remains), stay healthy and keep the church from relying too heavily on one voice was to create a weekend teaching team. We currently have five active members of the team. The way it works for us is this: One person does the teaching at all the services on any given weekend at our Long Point location. That, in turn, is videoed and viewed at our off-site locations the next weekend. For us, this is one of the primary things that ties us together as a church—we are all hearing the same message, discussing it in groups, responding to what God is saying to us as a church. I do between 55-60 percent of the weekends.

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2. We have secondary teaching teams. In addition to the weekends, we have secondary teaching opportunities that include student ministries, young adult ministries, retreats and special events. Each of these have teaching teams that function similar to our weekend experience.  A newer teacher can cut their teeth in an environment smaller than a weekend gathering.

3. We do initial message-planning together. For our weekend experience, we do initial message-planning together every Monday at 10 a.m. Some pastors are schedulers by nature and plan their messages out months in advance (Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, etc). Others are normal, like me, and have little of the organizational gift, work better on a tight deadline (a procrastinator's motivator!) and can only see what is coming in the current week. So I show up Monday morning with a clean sheet of paper, a preacher's hangover and a hope that the Holy Spirit will breathe on the assigned Scriptures that week—and with a faint (actually a very real) fear that I have exhausted all ability to say anything helpful the previous weekend.

We invite our primary teaching team, some of our secondary teams and selected others to the meeting to help whoever is "on" that weekend think through the passage. Occasionally, visiting pastors or interested churchgoers ask if they can be a part of the process—which ratchets up the pressure to produce, but we almost always open the meeting to people who ask, with the requirement that they contribute, not just watch. Actually, it's a lot of fun, and God usually gives us insight that we couldn't get on our own. Just the process helps speakers in training get the hang of how you put a message together.

4. We have our primary teachers do a practice run-through on Thursday afternoon. After the message-planning session, whoever is up to bat that week locks away to prepare the message. Our deadline is Thursday noon (so notes can be printed and bulletins stuffed, and there has to be a deadline, so it might as well be Thursday so we can at least have a couple of days of sanity before the weekend). On Thursday afternoon, the teacher of the week does a practice run-through for the teaching team. This is not fun, but it does make the message better. It's a tough crowd: "What am I supposed to do as a result of that?" "That wasn't funny" "I don't have a clue what you were talking about" "Does the Bible really say that?" Definitely makes you sharpen your delivery before the weekend.

5. We have Starbucks coaching sessions throughout the week. Several times, I have received calls on Saturday morning: "You got time for a coffee? I need help with an idea or two." I love it. I just wish we would have had this type of environment when I was learning to preach! My first attempts to speak were in youth services and nursing homes. The youth services didn't work out too well (I was fired from my first three youth pastor jobs). Nursing homes were great because most of the people couldn't hear, but they were happy I was there.

6. We have feedback sessions after our Saturday night service. Sometimes the Saturday night message is really, really good. Most of the time, not so much, so we gather in the "bullpen" immediately after the service and see what we can salvage. Usually it's just a touch up, sometimes a major overhaul, but it's great to know that the team is fully invested in making the message successful.

7. We intentionally teach prospective teachers weekly. Every week, Mac Lake, one of our guys who loves developing leaders, gathers some of the newer teachers and others that we think may have the gift in embryo form. They listen to and learn from some of the better preachers in the world. Recently, they have listened to and watched Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll and others. Then Mac leads them through a discussion on technique, structure, delivery and what made it work. I walked in recently, and they grilled me on one of my recent messages. (They'll learn over time not to question the supreme leader so harshly!)

8. We give new, emerging teachers an occasional swing at the plate. We have very few outside speakers at Seacoast. I don't know if that is good or bad, but it does allow more opportunities for upcoming, in-house speakers to learn their craft. Our campus pastors have quarterly turns at the plate as well.

I'm not sure multisite has anything to do with whether you do a good job of training teachers and preachers. It all depends on the vision of the house. 

What do you think?

Greg Surratt is the founding pastor of Seacoast Church, one of the early adopters of the multisite model. Located in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Seacoast has been recognized by various media as an innovative and influential thought leader in future strategies for church growth and development.

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