Preaching The Other Way: The Foreward

When I first heard J.D. Pearring preach, it wasn’t in the most conducive environment to receive the heart of his message. It was just before my wife, Farrah, and I were going to receive our results from a four-day church planter’s assessment called Discovery Center. If you’ve never been assessed, picture The Voice, Survivor, and a dose of American Ninja Warrior thrown in (or that’s what it felt like from an intensity standpoint at least). We were waiting for results that would potentially shape our future (think red light, yellow light, green light—and we really wanted a green light!) and we had to sit through an agonizing message from the guy who might tell you, “You are not cut out to plant a church.” From the moment J.D. began to speak, my attention was captured, and within minutes my heart was moved. By the way, those are critical factors in a great preacher’s ability to move someone; they have to be captivating and motivating, not just educating. JD was both. I’ve heard him give that same message more than twenty times since joining the Discovery Center staff over ten years ago. Every time I hear it, I receive something new. I am captivated again. I am determined to grow in my own preaching as I serve the church we planted, Rivers Crossing Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. J.D. Pearring has the credibility to write a book on preaching because he’s got tenure, yes, but more so because he’s an incredible preacher. I have been preaching for more than two decades, and I’ve seen the Church try to do everything to attract people, often minimizing the importance of preaching in the health and growth of a local church. Some have gone as far to say that preaching is dead. Preaching is ineffective. Preaching has lost its impact on culture. Mark Twain, when he was aging and sick, famously said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Well, I think the reports of preaching’s death are greatly exaggerated. Preaching, and preaching with excellence, is one of the most powerful tools that God has given the church to reach the lost, grow disciples, and equip the saints. In a Pew Research Center’s study1 on why people choose a church, 83% of the people say that the quality of the sermon was the most important factor in choosing a church. More than feeling welcomed. More than the style of services, kid’s programs, and location. Preaching. Without a doubt the quality of your preaching matters. J.D. has discovered what I believe is the missing ingredient in many pulpits: more than one ingredient! Someone needs to say it and I pray that some church boards read this and support their pastor. So many churches are dominated by one burned-out pastor who is preaching forty-eight to fifty Sunday mornings a year, not to mention Sunday nights and a mid-week Bible study. Your preaching will be better when you have a preaching team. A team for feedback. A team for preparation. A team to prevent burnout. A team for fresh perspective. A team to reflect the Scriptures’ example. I love what J.D. says: “Everyone – even preachers – need a push. Why team teaching? Teaching in a team concept gives everyone a push and helps everyone improve. If we are not on a team, we may stifle our own growth.” Don’t stifle your growth. Let J.D. push you to grow as a preacher and push you to develop a team if you don’t have one. At Rivers Crossing, we have greatly benefitted from the principles that J.D. shares in Preaching the Other Way. You will gain insight into the practical how-tos of team teaching as well as fresh ideas if you are already implementing many of these principles in your context. His chapters on the bench, women, and training time are gold. J.D.’s wisdom is priceless, but the case studies at the end of each chapter deliver where it counts: practical application and real-world implementation. I can’t wait to see this book benefit not only your preaching, but the kingdom of God. Start preaching the other way. Today. 

- Paul Taylor

Lead Pastor,  Rivers Crossing Community Church



I have a confession to make.  For several years I actually preached 53 times per year (every Sunday and Christmas Eve.)  My typical pattern was speaking 48-50 Sundays a year.  I was very careful about letting the pulpit go.  Too careful, too controlling. 


I have since repented.  I moved from speaking all the time, to speaking 40 times per year.  Then a few years ago, I reduced my sermons to 26 –or less-times per year.  And when I turned the Lead Pastor position over to my son, and moved to serving as a Teaching Team Coach, I also moved to teaching only about once per month.  No more hoarding the pulpit.  Preaching less has actually been one of the best gifts I could have given to myself—and my church.


Of course I used to have the usual excuses for not letting others speak:


·      “I’m really good at preaching.”  I think I’m a gifted preacher.  That reminds me of the old story of the pastor driving home from church one day.  He asked his wife, who was riding in the passenger seat, “Honey, how many truly great preachers do you think there are these days?”  She responded, “One less than you think, dear.”


In actuality I discovered that when I speak less, I do a better job.  As great as I thought I was at speaking, I’ve become better by not facing the task every single Sunday.


·      “There’s no one else in our church who can speak effectively.”  Sure there is.  We now have a teaching team of five capable speakers.  We call it our pitching rotation.  I’m the lead dog, the ace, if you will.  But we have four others who can start and a couple more in the bullpen.  Once I actually started looking for other teachers, it became clear that they were out there.  I don’t have a monopoly on the speaking gifts in my church.


·      “Other people are not trained in preaching.”  So, train them.  We meet regularly for training in preaching.  Together we’ve gone through Andy Stanley’s “Communicating for a Change” and  Haddon Robinson’s classic, “Biblical Preaching”  and Eugene Lowry’s, “The Homiletical Plot.”  Wediscussed, “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder and “Talk Like Ted” by Carmine Gallo, “Dying to Preach” by Steven Smith “Preaching” by Tim Keller and another book with that same title by Fred Craddock.  “Saving Eutychus” by Gary Millar is up next.  We also meet in between services to tweak the message for the next service.  We open ourselves up to feedback from others who are in the game.  These strategies have really improved all of us in speaking.


·      “The church will suffer if I’m not speaking.”  Really?  We’ve used a couple of approaches in expanding our rotation.  One approach has been to ask potential speakers to do five minutes during a Sunday sermon.  Or one point.  I can open up, do the introduction, set the need, and then have them do their five minutes.  Then I can come back up and tie things together, recover the message, if necessary.  The five minute approach gets someone else exposure. 


Plus, we’ve used “T” Sundays to train our speakers.  I like to rate Sundays or weekends on an A, B, C…grading.  “A” Sundays are the awesome days, like Easter,  Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve, maybe a time or two in the Fall or Spring—those rare, natural high-attendance days.  “B” stands for better days.  The good Fall, Spring or first-of-the-year days when people might be more open to attending church.  “C” stands for crappy.  Let’s face it, there are some down days in ministry—summer, early December—times when church-going isn’t the first thing on people’s minds.  And then “D” stands for disaster.  You know the “D” Sundays—Memorial and Labor Day Sundays, the Sunday after Christmas, the two Sundays sandwiching the 4th of July (I think July 5 is the worst ever day for church because everybody in our culture I up late the night before celebrating.)


A few years ago we made a switch.  We changed “D” to “T” for training Sundays.  We now use those terrible days to get other people experienced in ministry.  So, if only twelve people are coming anyway, let the rookie speak—they will take it seriously, and if it is a disaster, no problem—no one was there to see it!


·      “There’s someone who wants to preach, but isn’t gifted.”  Okay, why not just be honest and tell them they aren’t gifted.  I don’t have to personally reserve the pulpit to keep them happy.  If they get mad and leave, fine.  Let them go mess up another church. 


·      “Preaching is my main job as the Lead Pastor.”  Yes it is important, but leadership development might actually be more important because someday the Lead Pastor won’t be there anymore.  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”—2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)


·      “Guest speakers just don’t get the culture of our church.”  Of course they don’t, so train speakers from within.  Give someone 5 minutes or a “T” Sunday.


·      “I’m just insecure.”  Well, get over it.  See a counselor, deal with it, or simply lighten up.  It’s not about you or me anyway.  Let’s make sure we protect our people—as much as we can—from our own issues as leaders.


So, I’d like to encourage you to join me as a now “Recovering” pulpit-hoarder.  Let’s give the next generation a chance.  And if you are scheduled to speak on Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend (“T” Sundays) there’s plenty of time to ask someone else in your church to join the rotation.




It happens just about every Sunday, just about every time I preach or speak at an event or function.  When I finish presenting, I sneak to the back of the room, right by the exit, and I shake hands with people as they leave.    Most people know the drill.  They are supposed to say, “Nice sermon, Pastor.”  That’s the secret code.  That is the church world’s equivalent to, “The crow flies at midnight!”-- the closest thing to a correct password to get out the door.  Over the years I’ve heard lots of comments from folks on their way out.  I’ve heard a ton of, “Nice sermon, Pastor” comments.  Other comments have been very encouraging, some have been backhanded corrections, and sometimes people are downright nasty. 


But there is one comment I’ve heard that is by far the best remark ever to come my way.  There is one top comment and no other comment even comes in as a close second.  I’ve heard this comment twice in my two-plus decades of speaking--once a few years ago and once this past month.  There is one comment that has been the best comment I ever heard after speaking.


Here it is:  “Are you Tricia’s Dad?  Tricia is awesome!”


That’s the best comment I’ve ever heard after speaking.


Why is that comment so meaningful to me?


1.  Because it’s not about me.  Both times I heard the comment about Tricia I was startled to be brought back to reality.  It is not about me.  A while back Max Lucado wrote a book titled, “It’s Not About Me.”  I didn’t read it, because, well, it’s not about me! 


It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that it is about us.  As preachers, presenters, we’re artists and each talk is a part of us, we’re putting ourselves out there and we take each comment pretty personally.  But when I was asked about Tricia, I was reminded to take myself less seriously. 


I have received similar comments about my boys when they have preached at church or led worship.  I’d stand at the back and hear a lot of, “You must be so proud” remarks.  But I expected those.  When I was asked if I was Tricia’s Dad, I was unexpectedly startled back to reality.


2.  Because it’s not about somebody else either.  Tricia really is awesome.  She’s awesome in large part because she has an awesome mother.  Tricia is awesome because as iron sharpens iron she has allowed her brothers to sharpen her.  Tricia is awesome because she has some great friends who have helped to awesome-her-up.  Tricia is awesome because she has had many mentors and coaches and teachers and church families that have helped shape her life. 


But the “Tricia is awesome” line wasn’t about them.


3.  Because it’s not even about Tricia.    One man made this “Tricia” comment to me a few years ago and he talked about how Tricia had been a big influence with his daughter.  The more recent comment came from a college-aged girl who talked about how Tricia had spent many late nights talking and counseling with her, and how her life was now changed.  I remember them talking initially about Tricia, but they went on to talk more about how God was working and the Kingdom was spreading and something powerful was at work.


4.  Because it’s about God.  When I heard, “Are you Tricia’s Dad?  Tricia is awesome!” I sensed the awesomeness of God.  He is alive and working in ways we may never know, in people we may never meet and in places we may never see.  It was amazingly encouraging to me to get a glimpse of multiplication, to get a sense of reproduction, and to experience the Kingdom of God expanding.


 “How awesome is the Lord Most High!”--Psalm 47:2. 


God really is awesome!


By the way, you’re pretty awesome too.  You are working hard and touching lives that you may never hear about.  God is expanding His Kingdom through you and your family and your church and your ministry.  I hope one day real soon you hear an unexpectedly surprising positive comment that reminds you that God continues to be at work--He really is awesome.



Tweet used to be what birds did.  Text is now a verb.  Gay once suggested light-hearted.  Cell  had to do with prison.  Awful indicated inspiring wonderment.  Artificial described skillful art.  Husband stood for home-ownership, and nice implied foolishness. 


Selfie, unlike, fauxhawk, buzzworthy and babymoon are now actual words in the Oxford dictionary.  (Text me a selfie of your fauxhawk on your babymoon.  I’ll retweet it and hopefully it’ll be buzzworthy enough to go viral!)


Language can be pretty confusing.  Words can change their meaning. Does bad mean good now?  Does sick mean good now?  And what am I supposed to call the professional football team that plays in the nation’s capitol?


Words can change their meaning or stop working.  So I need to be careful with my speech. 


The Apostle Paul put it this way:  “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”—Colossians 4:6 (NLT)


Here are a few words that don’t seem to work in my context anymore:




I get it, in Biblical times elders were men who valued for their wisdom based on their age and experience.  They were like the typical city council of our day.  And the Bible used several words like “presbuteros” (presbyter) and “espiskopas” and “poimen” (often translated as pastor) that can be interpreted as “elder” to denote church leadership positions.


Maybe it is different in your setting, but too often where I live if someone becomes an “elder” they turn into Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell’s character in the Anchorman movies:  “Do you know who I am? I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.  People know me.  I’m very important.  I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany…”


So I’ve stopped using the term, “elder.”  It seems to raise more questions than it answers.  The fact that the Bible uses several different words to describe leadership might just give me permission to use different words that make sense in my environment.  So what do we use?  Sometimes we simply refer to our “leadership team members.”  Others use terms like overseer, tribal-council member, and servant leader.  Some have used “shepherd” but in Northern California, where I live, there’s not a big sheep industry, so we try to keep it simple.




Here’s a controversial word that has simply lost it’s meaning in my context.  The Greek word used in the Bible, “hypotasso” meant “to voluntarily place yourself under.”    And Paul says we’re to:  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”—Ephesians 5:21 (ESV)  The idea was to yield, or stop trying to fight or resist.


But my culture has taken the word to such an extreme that it’s an overly emotive word that actually gets in the way of communicating.  Many take it to mean doormat, spineless second-class citizens.


But submitting is something we take the initiative to do.  If someone demands that we submit to them, they don’t really understand the concept. 


So what term do we use instead?  How about, “put the other person first”?  We can always suggest, “voluntarily place yourself, your rights, your needs in second place to someone else.”   Let’s take the needless emotion and over-reaction out of the word and communicate that as believers, we’re called to put others first.




Actually, I believe the vast majority of denominational labels are confusing in my NoCal (this denotes Northern California these days) setting, but I didn’t want to offend many in my tribe so I didn’t label this section by using the term, “Baptist!”


Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Brethren, and Adventist just might (or might not) be Biblical terms.  But they are confusing classifications that often take so long to download, decipher and describe that in many ways they have lost their meaning—at least they have in my culture.


Maybe they work for you.  One pastor friend recently told me that he purposely did not change the name of his church from “First Baptist” because, “That brand played well in our city.”  


That is precisely the point.  Does the word play well in your city?  If it does, keep it.  If it doesn’t, set it aside and use a term that does play well!


What do we use to describe our church?  We’ve found the term, “Inter-denominational” to work best where we are.  “Non-denom” seems to imply someone is against denominations.  “Inter” indicates we all may have different backgrounds, but we can come together.  This “plays well” with the vast number of folks in our region who have some sort of Catholic background.


We’ve also discovered that in our area the word, “Network” is more palatable than “Denomination.”




We were calling our regular gathering of church planters or pastors “clusters.”  That seemed to make sense to me.  Webster defines the word as:  “A group of similar things or people positioned or occurring closely together.”


Unfortunately, today’s Urban Dictionary states that cluster is a shorter version of something vulgar that means disaster, incompetence, or a situation where everything has gone wrong.  It’s a military term that has been gaining steam and it is not “playing well” in my culture.


I recently posted on Facebook that “We had a great cluster in Arizona this week.”  The only comment was from some well-meaning minister who wrote, “Great and ‘cluster’ usually don't go together.”


So, we’ve changed our church planter gatherings to the term, “Connection Events”.  It’s a more positive term and I don’t want people thinking disaster when they get an invitation to meet with me! 


Maybe you’re part of a Baptist Church that asks people to submit to your elders and come to cluster meetings.  And perhaps those words work just fine for you and your people. But I suspect that there might be other words that don’t work so well.  The point is, if we’re trying to communicate the love of Jesus to people, we need to work on communicating in a way they can understand. 


Let’s work to keep our communication clear, even in a world where language changes swiftly and dramatically.  And if you have other terms on your own list of words that don’t work, I’d love to hear from you.


I hesitate to write about preaching.  It is such a sensitive, emotion-prone topic.  And most of us feel like we’re already great at it.  Just about everyone thinks they are a good driver, a good kisser and a good preacher.

I love the story of the pastor who was driving home from church after a Sunday when he really thought he’d hit a homerun with his sermon.  “How many truly great preachers do you think are out there, honey?” he confidently asked his wife.  She responded, “One less than you think, dear.”

I don’t like to broach this preaching subject with preachers, but a couple recent incidents spurred me to bring up this topic.

1.  Recently, we had several families move away from our area, and I suggested they attend some church plants we had started in their new areas.  When they were back in town for a visit, I asked how their church involvement was going, and each family responded similarly:  “Well, we don’t go to that church anymore.  We really liked the planter, they have a nice family, but the preaching…”  When I probed I heard, “We just can’t follow the sermons…”  “It doesn’t seem like he puts in the time…”  “The messages are boring.”  Ouch.

2.  I asked a church planter, Albert Tate, to share his thoughts on preaching at a church planter cluster not too long ago.  Albert is an especially gifted speaker, and I expected him to share about his natural gift for communicating.  But he did an amazing job talking about the mechanics of preaching, of story-telling, and of holding an audience.  I was pleasantly surprised about how serious this great preacher takes his craft.

3.  I was reading “8-15” by Tom Mercer—a book on how we can each reach our “household”—the 8-15 people God has strategically placed in our lives.  It’s a great book.  But towards the end Mercer says his book isn’t a way to grow a big church.  He said if you want your church to get bigger, ask your church to fire you and hire a better preacher!

So, let’s talk about becoming better preachers, I mean, becoming even better preachers.  Here are a few ways:



As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.—Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

I suspect that many preachers finish their last preaching class, and never really get help the rest of their preaching lives.  No wonder they struggle.

At the church where I currently serve, our preaching team meets for instruction every month.  But the best thing we do is gather in between our services (we have three services, so we meet twice each Sunday) for a quick, honest debriefing.  Whoever is speaking that day gets the others together and asks, “Okay, let me have it.  What do I need to change?  Did that video work?  How about that personal illustration, was it too long?  Help me out.”  That simple meeting has improved all of us on the team by at least a full letter grade!

Recently I gave what I considered one of my best messages.  Seriously, I thought it was a winner.  When I asked my team members for input, one said, “Why can’t my messages come together like that?”  Another said, “Perfect!”  Then another (my son) started in, “First, you need to start by telling people you are sick…”  I realized that I hadn’t even considered how my cold was effecting my delivery.  I really needed the help.

Maybe you don’t have a teaching team, but find some folks—other than your spouse!—to give honest feedback.


There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies  and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.—Proverbs 6:16-19 (NIV)

Solomon knew how to create tension.  There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him…Okay, I’m hooked!  What are they? 

I spent a year working with Haddon Robinson on preaching and there was one thing that stood out as they key to speaking.  One element that is often overlooked but is crucial to communication.  One primary component that sets great preachers above average ones…Do you get it?  It’s creating tension. 

O’Neil’s Law for writers says:  “Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, sink your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tag line.” 

As preachers we need to give the listener a reason to listen.  We have to raise the right questions so people must listen.  This is a huge key in effective communication.


Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.

- Proverbs 13:4 (NLT)

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5 (NLT)

 Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at a particular task, so let’s put in the time.

I know there are many demands on our time—especially if we are planting a church.  But we can’t neglect preaching. 

 Gene Appel says every six months he comes up with six strategic goals he must concentrate on as a pastor.  But each time, “Preach well!” is on his list.


Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.—Proverbs 3:13 (NLT)

For years I have spent Monday-Wednesday working on administration, small groups, personal meetings and church business.  I take Thursdays off.  Then I devote all of Friday to message prep, and a good chunk of Saturday to putting together the visuals, Powerpoints, videos and such for my sermons.  That’s my rhythm.  It just is.  I get PMS (Pre-Message Syndrome) every Friday.  It works for me.  It probably won’t work for you, so find your own rhythm and go with that. 

My style is weird.  I start with a Top Ten List.  I tell a ton of jokes, use a lot of quotes, quips, and visual slides.  Anyone who would try to copy me would get confused and eventually quit.  So find your own style.  It will take some time to find your rhythm and style, but keep at it and embrace how God made you.


Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

—Proverbs 6:6-8 (NIV)

Haddon Robinson made me collect illustrations.  My grade(s) depended on it.  So, I stopped collecting baseball cards and started collecting jokes, stories, cartoons, book excerpts, top ten lists, sermon ideas and series starters…I have filing cabinets after filing cabinets of old illustrations I’ve collected.   I’ve got three-by-five cards and four-by-six cards…Now I collect electronically.


Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.—Proverbs 23:12 (NIV)

If the message doesn’t move me, how can I expect it to move others?  That’s one of the reasons I work best later in the week, I want it to “hit” me fresh before I speak.


There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.   The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.—Proverbs 21:30-31 (NIV)

Albert Tate’s talk on preaching included these tips:

Think yourself empty

Read yourself full

Write yourself clear

Pray yourself hot

Be yourself but don't preach yourself

Great stuff!  The message has to hit me, but the primary goal is to let God speak through us to the folks he has put in front of us.

Help me turn this list into a Top Ten List!  I’d love your input—fee free to send your suggestion on improving our preaching to

You’re a great preacher!  Let’s become even better…