Three Reasons to Join a Preaching Peer Group
Sermon preparation is a recurring task that can be lonely and draining. A Texas pastor describes how a peer learning group revitalized her preaching.
In this Strengthening Preaching blog series, preachers from a range of Christian traditions and denominations reflect on their growth as preachers through their involvement in the Strengthening Preaching initiative of Lilly Endowment Inc., which is coordinated by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. At the heart of the initiative are preaching peer groups, sponsored by various seminaries, which engage preachers in reading, discussion, preaching, and feedback—all within a collegial circle of support. Kim Long participated in a peer learning group sponsored by Perkins School of Theology.
I recently completed a year of involvement with a preaching peer learning group. I found this experience to be deeply energizing, stretching, and connecting. It’s an experience that I highly recommend for anyone striving to hone their craft of preaching.
I completed my seminary training two years ago. During my years in seminary, I chose to take three homiletics courses. Each course provided much to aid me in developing my preaching skills. During seminary and immediately thereafter, I served a fairly large United Methodist church, where I began and grew a contemporary worship service.
Today I serve as the solo pastor of a two-worship-service United Methodist church. Thus, I have been crafting and delivering weekly sermons for about seven years. While I am still a relative novice in the craft of preaching, I have just enough experience to share my reflections on the benefits of engaging in a preaching peer group.
If you are someone who crafts and delivers sermons regularly, you are familiar with the pace of such an endeavor. Each Monday morning as you look at the scripture passage for the week, you reach for inspiration—something to say that might touch the hearts, minds, and souls of those to whom you have been entrusted.
You pray. You read. You research. You stare at a blank computer screen. Before you know it, it is Sunday morning, and somehow you have another sermon ready to share with those gathered—only to begin the cycle again the next day. I have heard this pace described as telephone poles passing before your eyes as you drive down the highway. Just as you get one pole into focus, it is gone. While this pace can be its own energizing challenge, it can also drain your energy reserves and become monotonous.
I found that my preaching peer group infused energy into the weekly rhythm of sermon crafting. The constant flow of ideas from the books on our reading list and the ideas shared in our monthly peer meetings generated an anticipation within me. I became excited to put new ideas into practice. The group’s activities broke through the monotony of the weekly task and built a curiosity within me to see how these new ideas would work out.
Because I still consider myself a novice in the craft of preaching, I naturally have a bit of anxiety about trying something new in a sermon. I never want to look incompetent or unprepared. I would much prefer to remain in the comfort zone of proven techniques and approaches rather than to risk something new. However, I imagine that novice preachers are not the only ones who feel this way. Stepping away from a tried-and-true toolset may be just as anxiety-provoking for the seasoned preacher as it is for the novice.
Yet, stretching and continually honing a craft is essential for both the preacher and the listener. The sermon experience can become predictable and perhaps even uninspiring for all involved if the preacher doesn’t stretch and grow.
The great news is that a preaching peer group is designed to provide ideas and techniques that will stretch you while also creating an environment that supports and encourages you to try something new. The reading list is likely filled with sources you might not otherwise pick up and read. It includes a wide variety of authors and topics for discussion in the peer group. These lively conversations allow for brainstorming and idea-bouncing. Imaginative thoughts ping around the room, and as this happens, you can begin to envision how something new might fit into an upcoming sermon.
Additionally, the group provides time and space for preachers to report on their experiences with stretching their craft. Hearing others’ stories about taking risks decreases the anxiety of doing it yourself and provides more ideas for how it might look in your own sermons. Once you stretch a time or two during the year, you’ll find you cannot wait to do it again.
Finally, I highly recommend a preaching peer group because of the connections made through the experience. Many pastors serve in churches where they are the only preacher. They have no one in their daily life who can fully relate to the joys and challenges they experience. The preaching group provides peer connection and support.
Group members bring their own unique experiences, gifts, talents, and perspectives. All of this rich diversity, paired with the common call to preach, produces much-needed camaraderie and fellowship. Prayer requests can be shared that cannot be shared with parishioners. Questions can be asked that can be answered only by other preachers. The preaching peer group provides a space for rejuvenating fellowship and authentic support that is often lacking in the preacher’s everyday circle.
At first glance, a preaching peer group can seem like a commitment to spend time and energy you do not have. But if you step out and say yes, you will find, like I did, that it is worth the time and energy invested. As the group melds, you will be enriched by the fellowship while receiving knowledge and wisdom from others’ experiences. As you explore the reading list month by month, you will discover new ideas and gain confirmation of old ideas, motivating you to stretch your craft.
Through the combined experience of connection and stretching, a revitalizing energy will be infused into your preaching. I am thankful for my year in a preaching peer group. You will be, too.
Read So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive, an examination of the impact of pastor peer groups.
Explore preaching and ministry resources from the Center for Excellence in Preaching.