"Docent has been invaluable to me. I think I have had them do nearly everything but cut my grass. They have saved me hundreds of hours of work and multiplied my effectiveness. I have recommended them to lots of friends because any ministry that serves leaders who serve God’s people is a great gift."
If you saw the photo of Mark Driscoll's new church at the top of our previous post, you will remember the Jonah banner strategically placed in front of the building. One of our commenters, Judas Maccabeus, remarked that he thought he had seen a similar sign at another church and wondered if Driscoll's messages would be a "packaged" series of sermons. Our friend Todd Wilhelm chimed in with this response:
Suddenly, I remembered a post Dee wrote several years ago about the Docent Group. Todd Wilhelm also wrote about them at this link. I have decided to re-publish Dee's enlightening post because our readership has increased. Looking forward to reading your responses regarding this interesting pastor resource…
Deb and I hold MBAs. We believe, in general, in the free market and have confidence that businesses will arise to meet a particular demand. Therefore, it is our purpose, with this post, not to critique the existence of this business but to look at those who have created the demand for such a service. We will look at some of the marketing techniques in order to fully understand what this company perceives to be the needs in today's megachurch machine.
I remember a conversation that I held with my now husband, Bill, late one night when we were dating. He told me that he was interested in high intensity medicine like cardiology. He liked the pace and enjoyed focusing on one particular system as opposed to being a generalist. As the daughter of a family doctor, I suggested he look at something like dermatology since the lifestyle was a bit less demanding. But that was not his interest. Throughout the years, as he got the inevitable 3 AM emergency calls, requiring his immediate presence, I would often express my sympathy. But, he always replied, "This is what I signed up for." He would never think about complaining about the "relentless frequency" of heart attacks. This job is what he wanted to do.
How much time does sermon preparation take?
We have read that most pastors believe that the sermon part of their job takes priority. Here is something that Ed Stetzer said:
At Grace Church, there are three things and ONLY three things that I do: I meet with the staff/apprentices, I preach about 70% of the time, and I lead a small group in my home.
Ed doesn't do funerals, hospital visits, etc., because his priority is preparing for the Sunday service.
Thom Rainer did an informal survey of pastors on how much time some pastors spend in preparation for their sermons.
- 1 to 3 hours — 1%
- 4 to 6 hours — 9%
- 7 to 9 hours — 15%
- 10 to 12 hours — 22%
- 13 to 15 hours — 24%
- 16 to 18 hours — 23%
- 19 to 21 hours — 2%
- 22 to 24 hours — 0%
- 25 to 27 hours — 1%
- 28 to 30 hours — 2%
- 31 to 33 hours — 1%
Furthermore, in the same post, he says:
70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.
The median time for sermon preparation in this study is 13 hours
This does not appear onerous if the sermon is considered the highlight of the week. When we talk about megachurch pastors, we know they get great salaries. Many of them live in expensive homes and travel frequently and well. I would say that this leaves about 27-37 hours a week (big salaries usually result in work schedules that are in excess of 40 hours.)
Digression: Are pastors expected to volunteer at church?
Most people in the congregation work in excess of 40 hours a week and then are expected to give time to the church by ushering, leading groups, etc. Some elders are known to spend 20 hours a week on church business. This is addition to their work outside the church. Do pastors also give that volunteer time or are they exempt from the expectations for non-pastors? Thoughts? Also, why are there rarely any blue collar workers who are elders? Off topic-I know.
Is book writing and conference speaking considered part of the pastor's duties?
I would not expect that pastors will write books or speak at conferences on church time. Both of these activities are usually reimbursed by the outside business entity.
Now back to the topic of the post. A reader, Peter, let us know that there is a group used by high powered pastors to "help" with sermon preparation. We had not heard of this and were a bit surprised.
Docent Research Group
This is a not-for-profit group which earns its keep by doing research for pastors. Here is an overview of what they do.
- Research briefs which are primarily geared to sermon preparation. They offer everything from stories with a hook, statistics, to exegetical analysis of Scripture.
- Book summaries. Docent says that this is to help the pastor to understand the contents of the books when the pastor doesn't have time to read them. Is this how these guys get through their vaunted "What I am reading" lists?
Book projects which involve research and collaboration. Hmmm.
Did you know that the weekly sermon is relentless and that Sunday, which occurs on a weekly basis, is akin to tyranny? link to Docent Group
The pressure from high expectations, combined with the relentless frequency of weekly services, creates for many pastors "the tyranny of the coming Sunday." Add the countless, diverse demands on a pastor, and too many weeks there simply isn't time to get it all done. Let Docent help.
Is this the way pastors view their chosen profession? Relentless? The tyranny of the coming Sunday? What in the world did these pastors sign up to do? Sit around Starbucks and write books? Thirteen hours of preparation is considered rigorous?
Do they not understand that every single person in their congregation must deal with the unbending expectations of their jobs? The bank teller, the nurse, the sanitation worker, the construction worker, the mother, etc. all have to work hard, often doing backbreaking labor. I have a question. If the pastorate is so relentless and Sunday is so tyrannical than why do they do it? Could it be that they are mixing conferences, book deals, and speaking engagements into their church responsibilities?
It take a team to raise a sermon.
Better yet, have pastors raised the expectations of their congregation that he is a superstar who is able to hit home runs every Sunday? Maybe, just maybe, they are just like us and that is something that they do not want us to discover?
I was absolutely shocked by this statement at Docent's website. Pastors need a team of dedicated researcher to
write research the weekly sermon. A TEAM!
Because preaching is highly personal, Docent’s approach is relational. We start by forming a relationship with pastors to determine their research needs. Then dedicate a team of seminary-trained researchers to provide weekly research briefs according to a pastor’s specific instructions.
As I watch one megachurch involved with this group spread its tentacles around a metropolitan area, I wonder how the average pastor can compete with a team of scriptwriters who churn out awesomely cool sermons week after week? No wonder the average church pastor's sermons can't compete. That is why he is losing to the predatory church satellite planter. Hollywood professionalism has invaded the pulpit.
Who utilizes the service?
I bet you think that the most frequent user of this service is some poor pastor, killing himself, maintaining an outside job and also being a pastor? If you do, you are wrong. It is the pastors of the wealthy megachurches who have tons of staff to help them. Go to the home page here and see who does endorsement videos at the Home Page. It reads like a Who's Who of the au courant megachurch pastors.
- Mark Driscoll
- Matt Chandler
- Jon Ortberg
Look to the bottom right of the home page to the section called Pastor's Stories link.
Have you ever wondered why Mark Driscoll can prepare his sermon in two hours while watching the sports channel? Could this be the answer?
Docent has been invaluable to me. I think I have had them do nearly everything but cut my grass. They have saved me hundreds of hours of work and multiplied my effectiveness. I have recommended them to lots of friends because any ministry that serves leaders who serve God’s people is a great gift.
Mark Driscoll, Founding and Preaching Pastor, Mars Hill Church, Seattle
Driscoll was so excited he contacted his good buddy Craig Groesche.
Mark Driscoll first contacted me about Docent Research. After his glowing recommendations of how Docent had improved his sermon preparation, I decided to give them a try.
Mark was right. Docent proved to be exceptional at scholarly research. I was especially impressed at the speed at which they could gather information. I've found their work most useful when I give them specific requests to help in my preparation for sermons.
Craig Groeschel, Lead Pastor, LifeChurch.tv, Edmond, OK
Who pays for this service?
Is the pastor, who uses this service for his sermons, also expecting his church to pay for the research help? If so, the pastor has truly become a talking head. You get to pay him a great salary, let him do his book and conference thing and pay for his scriptwriters. Then you can pretend you have a pastor. You may as well go to a satellite where they beam in the pastor's well groomed visage since church increasingly appears to be in the process of becoming the latest released movie.
Is this process honest?
Craig Groeschel, utilizer of the sermon for hire, says the following (quote has been removed – wonder why?)
It isn’t plagiarizing if you’re given permission.
I think it is time for pastors who use these services, including websites which reprint sermons, to tell the folks that they use them. Be honest. Let them know that you really aren't who you pretend to be.
It is OK to plagiarize because it all belongs to God excuse.
A commenter, Blake Wingo, on Groeschel's site, said the following. (link no longer works)
I think we put to much value in whether something is “ours” or not. It seems to me that everything we know is something we’ve learned from somebody either through their verbal instruction or their writings. Isn’t this true? No matter how original and creative something might sound, it’s still just a regurgitation of the collective knowledge that a person has accumulated. All we’re doing is coming up with more ways to say what God has already said. I don’t think a message belongs to anyone, I think we are stewards of the message “all things were created by him and for him”. Having said that, I agree 100% with Craig, giving credit is a great thing. Especially when it introduces people to great communicators that will have an impact on their lives.
I have heard this excuse over and over again. There are copyright and trademark laws. The Bible tells us to follow the law of our land, even if we don't like them. Remember, even Mark Driscoll utilized these laws and got himself a pack of attorneys who went after a church whose trademark resembled his vaunted enterprise.
Carl Trueman thinks something is wrong with utilizing services such as Docent link.
I think I have agreed with Carl Trueman several times in the past week which is pretty astonishing.
Speaking of wealthy churches, this brings me to my next point. Third, seeing the names who endorse this product, I was perplexed. The ones I recognize are pastors of large, wealthy churches with big ministry teams to support them. So why is their time being so squeezed that they find this service helpful?
the nature of some of the commendations disturbs me. Just a little too much about how 'my' time is saved by this ('saved' from what exactly? Carefully preparing to preach God's word to those whom He has entrusted to me?) and how 'I' am improved and made to look good. Perhaps they were ironic comments. I do hope so.
Jared Wilson who used to be a Docent employee disagrees with Trueman link.
I agree with Trueman and Wilson does not. Things are indeed strange.
Wilson used to work for Docent and claims that Docent does not write sermons for pastors. He says that they would be fired if they did so. He says that they save the pastor the "grunt" work. We now have three adjectives for the weekly sermon: relentless, tyrannical, and grunt work. Good night! How awful it all sounds!
Docent serves much like an on-site research assistant would — gathering resources, summarizing them, paraphrasing them, etc — so that a pastor is saved this “grunt work” and may spend more of his time doing the actual “wrestling.”
Wilson claims that some of the employees of Docent get hired away by the pastors. I bet they do! It saves the phone call and email.
No, client-pastors and team captains talk regularly and develop friendships. There are some researchers and captains who have actually eventually been hired by pastors full-time to their church staffs as research assistants or even associate pastors.
Thoughts and Suggestions for Pastors
- Consider listing all sources used for each sermon and have it available for the congregation.This would be a wonderful way to share your materials with those who listen to you. They could learn along with you and could consult the same books, commentaries, etc.
- Tell your congregation if you use Docent Research Group or any other group.
- Make sure the amount of money that is spent on this resource is reported to the members of your church and not hidden under some subcategory.
- If you consider your job relentless and look at the coming of each Sunday as somehow tyrannical, get some counseling. Maybe you shouldn't be a pastor.
- Examine yourself. If you rely on such groups to make you seem awesome, theologically heavy, incredible, etc. ask why? Do you really need to build your church so that it has tens of thousands of members?
- Examine why you need to expand satellites which beam your visage into localities that already have good churches. Is it about the gospel or you?
- Do you really read those books on your "list of books your pastor is reading" or do you read a synopsis of the books? If you use a synopsis, stop the pretense. Better yet, give out the paid for synopsis to your congregation.
I understand that these groups claim not to write sermons. However, with a "team" and "team captain" assigned to the pastor's sermon each and every week, it sure sounds like the bulk of the pastor's preparation work is done. No wonder Mark Driscoll can write his sermons in 1-2 hours. The secret is out and frankly, I am not impressed.
If you attend a megachurch in which the pastor must buy services (and charge the congregation) in order to preach a knockout sermon, stop giving money to that church. Give it to a homeless shelter. And why get out of bed? Watch it on TV. Isn't it all a show anyway?