Church Leadership

The Economics of Preaching

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Have you ever thought about the economics of preaching?

Probably not. 

If you were to take a moment to think about the value we ascribe to the action of preaching in the American church, you may start to wonder if we’ve overvalued it.

Think about it from an organizational economics perspective.

  • The Sunday morning sermon is seen as the single most important activity in the action of the American Protestant week.
  • Take away the sermon and you wouldn’t call it a worship service.
  • If you don’t have anyone to preach you may think about canceling church. You couldn’t say that about any other element of the standard worship service. (Music, public reading of the Bible, receiving offerings, testimonials, etc.)
  • Ask anyone in the pews what the most important qualification for a senior leader is? Preaching.
  • In many contexts the title “preacher” is a suitable substitute for the more proper title of pastor, elder, or overseer. But the connotation is clear, the main value in the senior leader is his/her ability to preach. I’ve never heard a pastor’s title swapped out to “host” or “Mr. Gentle.”
  • If a person isn’t a good preacher, even if they are good at a lot of other things, they don’t have a reasonably good chance of a career as a senior leader.
  • When a church grows, most often it’s because people say the church has a great preacher.
  • When a church dies most people blame the preaching.
  • People will put up with a lot from a pastor if that same person delivers good sermons.
  • Organizationally, you could argue that the Sunday morning message is the fulcrum for the whole organization.
  • Want to launch a new initiative? You better preach about it.
  • Want to address an issue in the congregation? You guessed it, the sermon is the best way.

Think about it from a monetary economics perspective.

  • The senior pastor makes the most money in most churches.
  • The one activity the senior pastor works the most consistently on? Preaching.
  • The highest employed staff person’s most important task, the one task costing the most amount of money per hour to the church? Preaching.
  • 30 minutes of speaking costs the church at about 25% of their highest paid employees time.
  • You’ll pay the drummer $75. But the pastor? We don’t disclose that. 

A hermeneutics problem.

You cannot argue, hermeneutically, that the New Testament values preaching to the level the American church places on it. When Paul gave Timothy qualifications for overseers he didn’t give special attention to preaching. “Able to teach” is one of 14 the qualifications listed. Preaching, specifically, is not mentioned. (Able to teach could mean a lot of things.)

If anything is emphasized by Paul it is matters of personal character. You cannot argue by Paul’s emphasis or in his order that we should value an overseer purely by his/her ability to preach. “Able to teach” is buried in the middle. If it were first on the list you could say Paul was emphasizing it. If it were mentioned twice, likewise. But stuck in the middle of a phrase like that? It’s just one of the regular qualifications.

Yet, in America we value preaching above all else. Think about it from an governance perspective. Your church could have 6 elders and 1 of them is the senior pastor. The primary difference in that person’s organizational responsibilities compared to the rest? Preaching. In most cases, the other 5 elders wouldn’t even consider payment for their service. But the preaching elder? You have to pay that person.

Here’s what we know. (We could each point to specific examples) If a person is a good preacher we will choose to overlook obvious character flaws. Even flaws that clearly disqualify a person from the role of overseer. 

The over-valuation of preaching in the American Protestant church is a classic example of syncretism.

And this one syncretism is a primary feeder for our denial of the priesthood of all believers. When you over-value preaching… you’ve created a new priesthood.

Question 1: What does it reveal about our view of God to over-emphasize the role of preaching in the local church?

Question 2: If we didn’t have regular weekly preaching what would our gatherings look like? 

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Church Leadership

Rejecting the priesthood of the staff

And Reaffirming the priesthood of all believers.

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom,” and Revelation [5:10], “Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.”

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nobility, 1520

Most people on church staff have no idea how to turn the reigns of their ministry over to the church. It seems counter-productive to lead without holding the reigns. The attitude is generally that church staff are the experts, seminary trained, denominationally ordained and battle-experienced to do the work. And the people in the pews won’t do anything even if you asked them to. On most church staff’s the concept of the priesthood of all believers is taken figuratively, dismissed as impossible in the literal sense.


There is an inverse relationship in the church today between the increase in church staffing/overall spending and the decrease in the number of people we reach per capita.

The Vortex We Created

Somewhere along the line we, as church staff, started to think that we could do ministry better than people who don’t work at the church. We bought the lie that because people are busy that they can’t be functional body parts described in 1 Corinthians 12. Instead of leaning on Scripture to correct, rebuke, and train in righteousness to call believers to their responsibilities– we assigned them books on Christian leadership which affirmed that we were the ones called to do the work and they were called to write checks.

Worse yet, we started to believe that being a pastor was a vocation of leadership and not a holy calling.

We turned saints into spectators. Then we handed them literature that told them to pursue excellence in leadership and got mad when they left our hard-working church of 500 for a megachurch of 10,000.

Many Luthers Wanted!

We need brave men and women to publicly state the obvious– the current strategy isn’t working. It’s not a liberal thing. It’s not a conservative thing. It’s not an emergent thing. It’s not an old-fashioned thing. It’s no modern. It’s not post-modern.

It is the church, universally failing to reach more than 10% of the population on any given Sunday.

There is no hope that a staff-led church can reach your community much less the world. (My pastor has only been to my house once, he doesn’t know the names of any of my neighbors.) It is not mathematically possible because it is outside of the design. The hope of the world is not that we flock to bigger and bigger megachurches with more refined experts. It is the opposite.

The hope of the world lies in individuals and families embracing a simple strategy of neighbors loving neighbors. As we, the body of Christ– messy, broken, and dependent– embrace our role as the God-ordained priests on our block, the church can get back to the designed multiplication strategy.

Thought questions

  1. How is the identity of your pastoral calling tied to the responsibilities of being church staff? If you weren’t on staff would you still feel like a pastor?
  2. I make the argument that there is an inverse relationship between increased spending/staffing/programs and reaching people. Looking back at the last 30 years of history in your congregation, do you find that to be the case? Why or why not?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 12. What are spiritual gifts lacking on your staff team? What are ways your current staff structure may be handicapping your church?
  4. What are ways that your staff’s ecclesiology or even church polity are getting in the way of the priesthood of all believers?
  5. What are practical ways you and your staff team can reaffirm the priesthood of all believers in 2011?
  6. Do you know the names of all the neighbors whose property touches or is adjacent to your own residence? What are ways you can love your neighbors better in the next 14 days?