To Set a Bigger Table, Make Your Preaching Multivocal

Someone I grabbed coffee with recently told me: “When I first came to City Church Long Beach, I thought it seemed pretty normal, like any other church. I mean, there was a welcome table, there were chairs, there was music. But then you started to preach, you and Bill. And the way you shared the sermon, the way you invited other people up to share, the free way everyone responded and engaged… That was different. That moved me.”

Sharing the sermon, or co-preaching, is something we do about 90% of the time at our church. It’s one way we embrace multivocal preaching, intentionally including more voices.

You can watch one of our recent co-teaching sessions here, if you’re not exactly sure what that might look like. It’s been chosen for its awkward reality, and not because it’s any kind of “best-ever” example! The wind was blowing like crazy, so we were helping each other adjust, plus “dancing” around to make our small outdoor space work, teasing each other a bit, helping to clarify a few points when one of us misspoke (like Brenna saying “knotty” and everyone hearing it as “naughty”)… Just a normal Sunday morning of co-preaching.

Why multivocal preaching?

Why include more voices? Why de-center the single story, the solo preacher, on Sunday mornings?

We’re seeing so much fresh imagination around how we do church, how we are the church–things like how we meet and how we lead. So many of us want to set a bigger, more inclusive table. Can we really do that without a wider pulpit as well, a more inclusive vision for how we gather around Scripture?

Consider these wise voices:

“Who we are matters when we read.” ~ Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D., womanist biblical scholar

And it matters no less when we preach. Our lived experiences shape the questions we bring to the text and the stories we choose to tell.

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they aren’t true, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story,” 2009 TED Talk

“… in Scripture, no two people encounter Jesus in exactly the same way. Not once does anyone pray the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ or ask Jesus into their heart. The good news is good for the whole world, certainly, but what makes it good varies from person to person and community to community. Liberation from sin looks different for the rich young ruler than it does for the woman caught in adultery… The gospel is like a mosaic of stories, each one part of a larger story, yet beautiful and truthful on its own.” ~ Rachel Held Evans, Inspired

“…if we all read the biblical text assuming that God is able to speak a coherent word to us through it, then we can discuss the meanings our varied cultures have gleaned from the Scriptures. What I have in mind then is a unified mission in which our varied cultures turn to the text in dialogue with one another to discern the mind of Christ.” ~ Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black

We need each other. We need each other’s voices so that together we can discover the immense, gorgeously kaleidoscopic story of Love we’re all wrapped up in.

The co-preaching option

So how do we make more room for more voices, more stories, more dialogue, more imagination on Sunday mornings?

Obviously, there’s more than one way to move towards multivocal preaching. At our church, we incorporate them all to varying degrees, from teaching teams and guest preachers to interviews and small group breakouts. In our experience, it’s more common for churches to rotate solo preachers than to truly de-center single stories and make the time connecting with God through Scripture more conversational.

But there’s so much goodness possible as you make that shift, or even just begin to play with it at times. And you don’t need to have a co-pastor or plan to preach this way as often as we do. You can co-preach with interns, elders, therapists, anyone, as frequently or infrequently as you’d like!

Brenna Rubio is Co-Pastor (with Bill White) of City Church Long Beach and Co-Director (also with White) of Small Church Big Table, a transformational leadership coaching initiative oriented toward those in faith-based organizations, like churches and non-profits.  Brenna and Bill will be leading a free one-hour webinar on co-preaching April 27, 2022.

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