Preaching together

Attention-keeping is just one benefit of pastor-spouse team sermons.

Marvin Whitney pastors the Harlingen English Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Texas Conference. Corrie Whitney owns and operates Crossroads Communications, an editing/public relations business.

The organ plays softly. You step onto the platform—and the audience emits an almost audible gasp. Your spouse is with you! Members check their bulletins, then settle back with a "so-that's-what's-going-on" look on their faces.

As you begin to preach together, you recognize an unusual level of attention. Every face seems upturned; every eye follows you.

The two of us experienced this the first time we preached together. One parishioner of retirement age told us afterward, "This is the first time I've listened to every word of a sermon without getting bored. Time went by so fast!"

Of course, we would like to think that our topic compelled such attention. Logic requires, however, that we consider that the change of voices, from masculine to feminine, back and forth, helped rivet the congregation's concentration.

Attention-keeping is not the only benefit of team sermons. While the two of us don't have a genuine "team ministry" (Corrie must hold another job), we certainly have a cooperative one. Corrie contributes in many ways to our church program. Many a pastor's spouse makes a substantial investment while the congregation scarcely realizes it. Team preaching testifies visibly that "we are in this ministry together."

Another benefit from team sermons is that blending the feminine and masculine thought processes tends to bring more balance to our sermons. Our illustrations come from different perspectives, which elicits a more diverse response than one perspective alone. Together we touch more lives than either of us could separately.

Team preaching also says something important about our relationship. It boldly states that our togetherness goes more than surface deep, that our marriage stands sound enough to take risks.

Our maiden voyage

With some trepidation we launched our "maiden voyage" into the unknown sea of team preaching. At that time we served a conservative congregation in which the idea of a woman in the pulpit for any reason sparked some serious misgivings. We decided to test the waters anyway.

The response exceeded our wildest hopes. The people loved it! We received favorable comments from almost every person present. Even members opposed to women speakers seemed mollified by the fact that we stood there together; Corrie wasn't in the pulpit alone.

The idea of preaching together didn't spring up overnight. It started with a sermon at camp meeting years ago by Elder and Mrs. Delmer Holbrook. We looked at each other and thought, We could do that!

Getting around to "doing that" wasn't easy, however. We could never find uninterrupted hours together to develop our sermon. Finally we just decided to take the time. We chose a topic we both had researched thoroughly before. After formulating our outline, we divided it up like this: "You take the introductory story. Then I'll take this part, and you take that section." It didn't take forever to do after all!

While preaching that first sermon, we discovered that some of the shorter sections of the outline weren't as short when given verbally. To compensate for this, we made impromptu changes as we went—without anyone knowing the difference.

Our first experience was so exhilarating that we were eager to try again. We have since delivered quite a number of team sermons. Members have requested that we do it once a month! Actually, it happens about once every six weeks. Each experience is nearly as thrilling as our first.

Team preaching adds variety to our services and also contributes to the members' interest. Changes in the old routine make people want to attend every Sabbath.

Team preaching has also added new zest to our marriage. Corrie feels more needed and appreciated, more a part of our ministry, even though she can't be involved full-time. Now she can use her talents in up-front ministry, not just be hind the scenes. Marvin is able to share his pulpit without feeling threatened, deriving satisfaction from the joint venture. In tandem our abilities truly complement each other's, without competition. That to us is the essence of team ministry.

Before preaching together

1. Obviously, your spouse must have a genuine desire to participate! (No coercion here!)

2. Be sure your marriage is healthy. Prattling piously together from the pulpit while your congregation knows you are fighting at home is counterproductive. There are stresses involved in both preparation and delivery. There are bound to be differences of opinion on how a facet of the sermon should be presented. And if one of you "goofs up," the other must be able to be supportive, not critical.

3. Choose a topic that interests you both. If you decide on a subject well in advance, you can each gather materials for your preparation sessions.

4. Plan signals for changes that may need to be made while you are speaking. Experience will give you confidence.

5. Vary the length of material you each present. What works well for us is to have quite short sections with one long one for each (toward the middle of the sermon).

6. Team preaching isn't for everyone, but many more pastors and their spouses could do it. Try it! If it works, you have a new tool to enhance your ministry.

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Marvin Whitney pastors the Harlingen English Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Texas Conference. Corrie Whitney owns and operates Crossroads Communications, an editing/public relations business.

September 1992

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