In this excerpt from Small Preaching: 25 Little Things You Can Do Now to Make You a Better Preacher, Jonathan Pennington encourages pastors to form strong bonds with fellow pastors to strengthen one another.
On October 25, 1415, Saint Crispin’s Day, English King Henry V stood before his army of roughly 9,000 near the village of Agincourt, intercepted by a French force of 36,000. Shakespeare retells Henry’s famous speech to his men inspiring them to rejoice and bravely go into the day’s battle because they would always be remembered, either by their scars or in their deaths. Henry proclaims that all who did not fight at the battle on Saint Crispin’s Day would be jealous of “we few; we happy few; we band of brothers.”
This speech has continued to inspire, including when it was broadcast across radio sets in England during the dark days of World War II. The speech has also lent its phrase “band of brothers” to many a story, including the account of a company of paratroopers, led by Major Richard Winters, who landed at Normandy and fought all the way to Hitler’s headquarters, the Kehlsteinhaus. The deeply felt camaraderie that comes from living together through trials is one of humanity’s core transformative experiences.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic or triumphalistic, I want to inspire us pastors to think about ourselves as a preaching band of brothers. To preach as a band of brothers means you reorient your preaching life around an intentional interdependence. I am inviting you to recognize that to scale the monumental task of the preaching life, we need a close-knit group of like-missioned people working together. We need more than our respectful congregants and staff. We need a group of other preachers in our lives who are of one company. We need this few, this happy few, this band of brothers, and we need it not just at annual conferences but on a weekly basis.
What I mean is that preachers should develop habits of working together on sermon preparation through sharing illustrations, outlines, and applications. I mean that preachers should cultivate patterns of regular dialogue with other preachers. Band-of-brothers preachers can share resources and plan to preach parallel series at their own churches, thus gaining from the synergy of wrestling with texts together. This means neither independence nor overdependence but a truly banded, interdependent approach to the life of preaching.
Why should we do this? I hope it is immediately apparent that such an approach—as uncommon as it has been in recent decades—is a great source of encouragement, stimulation, accountability, and growth. The sum preaching of the preachers will be stronger than the individual parts.
The bond of the band of brothers is stronger than even the strongest preacher’s gifts and abilities. Certainly, some in such a group may feel intimidated because some will be more talented and have more to offer than others, but this is okay. This is how life always is. If our vision is truly for the advancement of God’s kingdom and not our own self-aggrandizement, such a uniting together to strengthen all is good and beautiful.
For some time, I experienced an ideal version of this with the network of churches in my city. Built into this system was a commitment to preach through the same series and texts each week. We shared commentaries and other resources, and we gathered weekly to discuss our ideas and plans. Each sermon was the work of each preacher—don’t plagiarize, please!—but each sermon benefitted from the group’s collective wisdom, interpretive wrestling, and homiletical moves. I often had a breakthrough at these meetings or got a choice line or quote from my brothers laboring with the same text toward the same looming Sunday morning.
For most preachers, this ideal situation is not a possibility. That’s okay. There is still great potential for gathering together a small band of preachers. First, this can be done in a broader area. Find a group within fifty miles, cast the vision for this, take the lead in organizing it, and make it happen. Many pastors would be very willing to give half a day to gather together with other like-minded people and get help thinking through and improving their sermons. This would require some planning ahead of sermon series, but the effort will more than pay off. If meeting in person does not seem possible, make it happen digitally. Gather together some brothers from far and wide and commit to a weekly video call. With today’s technology, this is very doable.
Pray about it. Try it. Begin dreaming about what this could be and step toward it. No soldier wins a battle by himself. Be the King Henry or the Major Winters who leads a band of brothers toward the humble advancing of God’s kingdom in the world.
This post is adapted from Small Preaching: 25 Little Things You Can Do Now to Make You a Better Preacher by Jonathan T. Pennington (Lexham Press, 2021).
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