Preachers and Preaching (No. 4)
Man's Concept of the Preacher's Duties
James P. Needham
The preacher's duties are many and varied, and not at all what many of the brethren, some of the preachers and most of the world conceive them to be. The duties of preachers have been misconceived so long that they are often spending much of their time doing things AS PREACHERS which are no part of their work. This means that churches are paying preachers to do what God never intended they should do as preachers. It is my purpose in this article to consider some of these misconceptions; to study man's conceptions of the preacher's duties; to study the duties of preachers from the negative standpoint. Let us see what the preacher's duty IS NOT.
A. NOT TO DO THE WORK OF THE ELDERS, DEACONS OR MEMBERS: Many congregations think they HIRE a preacher to do THEIR work FOR them. Some churches feel that since they axe supposed to engage in certain works, the matter of HOW they get the job done is immaterial. THEY could do it IF THEY HAD TIME, but since they do not they can employ a preacher to do it FOR them. They look upon the work of the preacher as being like an attorney. If one is unable to represent himself before the court, he can pay a lawyer to STAND IN for him. The result of this concept is that the preacher does just about everything but preach. In some places preachers do the works of elders, the elders do the work of deacons and the deacons and the members do practically nothing. Deacons have become "vestigial organs" in the body of Christ. A large number of them have a very vague concept of what they are supposed to do, but since the New Testament says to have them, we pick some and hang them up in the congregation to serve as ornaments.
The idea is -wide-spread that THE PREACHER should get out and round up all the straying sheep. If brethren within the church get "at odds" with one another, THE PREACHER should arbitrate as the preacher. If anyone in the congregation gets a headache or a sore toe, THE PREACHER should drop everything and rush out to see about it. If some of the members become needy, the PREACHER should find out their needs, call a business meeting and see that they are taken care of. The congregation's and the elder's work ceases when they decide WHAT and HOW MUCH they shall receive. In many cases, elders spend very little time taking care of the SPIRITUAL needs of the flock. That has become the PREACHER'S job. Elders in many places are little more than a glorified finance committee. Their work is more physical than spiritual.
Preachers are almost universally EXPECTED to make WEEKLY rounds to all the community hospitals and visit the homes of all members where sickness is present (regardless of how minor it may be), run errands for everybody who calls on them, turn their cars into taxi cabs on a moment's notice, and perform various secretarial jobs in the church office.
I think I am safe in saying that in the majority of cases of illness in the congregation (whether it be physical or spiritual), the first thought is, "When is the preacher coming to see me?" It is often awaiting game. If he does not show up, the members run to the elders and report, "I was ill, and the preacher did not come to see me." The elders then feel that they need to remonstrate with the preacher for not doing HIS PREACHERAL duties, and if he does not get busy and do what he gets paid for, he will have to move on "for the good of the Cause."
One sometimes wonders if we get anything out of our Bible study. The scriptures say, "Is any sick among you? Let him call the ELDERS of the church . . ." (Jas. 5:14). Some folks never read this, or else they blatantly ignore it. If they are sick spiritually or physically, it is the PREACHER that is supposed to go to see them. Indeed it seems that many conceive this as his NUMBER ONE duty.
Understand this: I am not saying that a preacher should not visit (care for) the sick, or run errands, or help the needy. He has these duties IN COMMON with all other Christians, but he does not do them as PREACHERAL DUTIES. There is absolutely no scriptural evidence that such works are to be performed by a preacher AS A PREACHER.
In Acts 6:2, the apostles said, "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God to serve tables." Here the principle is well established that preaching the gospel is more important than taking care of physical details. The Jerusalem church under the inspired guidance of the apostles selected certain men from among them to take care of the business of serving tables so the apostles could give themselves "continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4).
Today there is a wide-spread tendency to burden the preacher with all kinds of physical details. Most congregations want a weekly bulletin. They make the publishing of it part of the preacher's duty. It is understandable that he should do most of the writing for it. This comes within the scope of his work as a teacher. But he is usually expected to take care of all the petty details that are involved in it. He usually buys the paper and other supplies and takes care of most of the mechanics of getting it out, including: the layout, printing, folding, addressing, mailing, and keeping up the mailing list. I have heard any number of members complain because the preacher wanted them to help with the bulletin, and it has never occurred to many deacons that this might come under the heading of their work. People feel that the bulletin is the preacher's work, "after all, what does he get paid for?"
Certainly, the preacher has as much physical responsibility in the program of the local church as any other Christian, but again, we need to make a distinction between what he does as a Christian and what he does as a preacher. It is not that the preacher as a Christian has no physical responsibility, or that he is too good to dirty his hands in physical labor. The problem involved is the perpetrating of an unscriptural idea of what constitutes "the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). It is a serious problem.
The quality of work being done in many pulpits today is far below what it should be. Much of the preaching from the pulpits of the Lord's church today is shallow, and shows definite signs of inadequate preparation. Often this is attributable to the fact that the preacher has knocked himself out all week doing somebody else's work and did not find any time to do his own. This has become so common that it is alarming, and its disastrous consequences are discernable in the famine of Bible knowledge within the church (Amos 8:11).
B. NOT TO GO DRESSED UP: It is not the preacher's duty to go around dressed up all the time. Some preachers and church members believe it is. Unless the preacher is dressed like a "Philadelphia lawyer," "he doesn't look like a preacher." I have never read in God's word just how a preacher is supposed to look. I read that John the Baptist wore Camel's hair and a leathern girdle (Matt. 3:4). I wonder if he looked like a preacher. I was out with some friends once on an occasion where being "dressed up" would have been inappropriate. We chanced to meet up with an elder of the local church whom I knew. In the course of the conversation he asked me, "Are those your preaching clothes?" I guess he thought I did not look like a preacher!
There is a tendency on the part of certain preachers to dress in black or navy blue. This is considered "proper attire" for a preacher. It almost takes on the connotation of clerical garb. If one happens to have on a black suit, he may be asked, "Are you a preacher?" Some preachers wear this type of clothing so much that they take on a definite professional air. Some of them not only look professional, they act it. I know of one preacher who refuses' to mow his lawn because he thinks it would not be good for his neighbors to see him without his coat and tie on! That would be very unprofessional, wouldn't it? (Oh, yes, I almost forgot to tell you, his wife mows the lawn!)
C. NOT TO EAT FRIED CHICKEN: Some people seem to think it is the preacher's duty to eat Fried chicken. I guess the chickens hide when they hear the preacher is coming! Some preachers feel that it is one of the rights of their profession to gorge themselves on the brethren's hospitality without any obligation whatever to show appreciation for it. They get offended if the brethren do not constantly invite them to their homes and feast and fatten them upon the dainties of the dining table. Preachers, due to their itinerant lives and the nature of their work, often find themselves objects of the brethren's hospitality. It is easy for them to become the spoiled, gluttonous, demanding "darlings" of the kind-hearted brotherhood and take too much for granted. Some become too nosey, demanding, and meddlesome, assuming that they have the right to pry into the private affairs of those who extend to them their hospitality.
D. NOT TO BE A BACK-SLAPPING SOCIAL BUTTERFLY: Some feel it is the preacher's duty to be a social butterfly to flit around in the community and become known as a man about town. I knew of a preacher in a small town who made it his business to pay a short visit to all the merchants in town each morning. So far as I know he never converted any of them, but he was supposed to have done much good! Within this concept also is the very popular notion that the preacher should have a regular schedule of SOCIAL visitation among the membership of the congregation. In an interview for a work in a certain community, one of the brethren asked me, "How many times would you say you would visit in the homes of all the members in a year?" It is very common to hear members complain, "Brother BLANK has lived here for so long and has never visited in my home." (Upon inquiry I usually determine that he was never invited). It does not bother them that the elders, deacons, and other members have not visited them. It is the preacher's failure to come that irritates because they have been led to believe that this is part of his work as a preacher.
I think most preachers would enjoy socializing with the brethren. I would certainly enjoy doing more of it than my schedule allows for, but there are other things that are so much more important. Any preacher worthy of the name would gladly go to anyone's home at any time HE IS NEEDED, but to expect him to frivolously flit around like a butterfly for SOCIAL visitation as a Dart of his PREACHERAL duty is to demand something not authorized in God's word.
E. NOT TO VISIT AND PRAY FOR THE SICK: I can just hear some members shouting "holy horror" at this statement. I do not mean by this fact that the particular Christian who happens to be a gospel preacher has no obligation to visit and pray for the sick. I am saying' that AS A PREACHER, one has no SPECIAL DUTIES to perform in this field. If so, where is the scripture that teaches it? I would like very much to see it. Yet, there are many members and preachers who think the preacher should make his rounds among the sick and insist that he pray aloud for them. If he does not do this, some church members ask, "Well, what kind of a preacher is he?"
I visit the sick and seek to encourage and help them as much as possible, but never ask or insist that I be allowed to pray aloud for them (though I will do so if it is requested). God has not given preachers SPECIAL KEYS to the storehouse of his blessings. Any action that intimates that He has, smacks of a clergy concept, or is a first cousin to the Catholic claim to special powers in a priesthood. This, of course, does not mean that I will not pray for the sick. I should and do pray for them as all other unfortunate people in my private prayers, but I have no more responsibility or duty along this line than any other Christian. The gospel preacher is not a clergyman, or a pastor, or special priest.
Upon two occasions that I know of when a preacher called upon brethren to pray in the assembly, they replied: "Pray yourself that is what you get paid for!" This is actually how some feel. It demonstrates how little they know. They think the preacher gets paid for praying!
F. NOT TO WORK WITH THE YOUNG PEOPLE: It is not the preacher's duty to have some special talent with the young people. It is not at all unusual to hear someone say, "We want a preacher who can work with the young people." Practically every gospel preacher has been asked when interviewed for a work, "What kind of program do you have planned for the young people?" If he tells them he has the, same program for the young that he has for the old, the gospel, they feel insulted and wonder in which college he got his preacher training!
The best way to make a SPECIAL PROBLEM of the young people in the church is to make a SPECIAL YOUTH PROGRAM for them. God has not authorized the church to conduct various special youth programs designed to meet some supposed peculiar need they have. So far as the church and the preacher are concerned, they have the same needs as do the older people. Both the young and the old need the gospel preached to them in a plain and simple way. Neither the preacher nor the church has any scriptural right to partition off the church according to age and show partiality to special groups. Paul told Timothy to do "nothing by partiality" (I Tim. 5:21).
G. NOT TO RUN THE CHURCH: It is not the duty of the preacher to "pastor" (run) the church. Some preachers feel that they have a SPECIAL VOICE in the affairs of the congregation, and' the elders should not proceed with any program without first consulting them. Some churches feel the same way, and turn most of the "running" of the church over to the preacher. This is not a part of the work of an evangelist, and it is unscriptural to place him in this position. To be sure, most preachers with years of experience and study of God's word are in position to give a church or elders some good advice, but their advice and judgment are no more inspired or infallible than anyone else's. If the preachers are supposed to "run" the churches, what are elders supposed to do? Paul said the Holy Spirit makes elders the overseers of the flock (Acts 20: 28), not the preacher. If preachers will do their duties as preachers, they will not have time to "run the church."
I am acquainted with some preachers who know so little about the work of an evangelist that they feel that they are in charge of everything. When the brethren of the congregation carry on the work they are supposed to do without involving the preacher, he feels left out and complains that he has not been accepted by the congregation. He feels accepted only if everybody wants him to be in charge of everything and makes him feel like a pastor - somebody who is indispensable.
One of the greatest needs of the church today is men who understand and who will diligently perform the work of an evangelist. I realize that this article has only dealt with the negative side of the question, and some may be wondering just what a preacher's duties are. Our next article will discuss this in detail as it is found revealed in the New Testament. Be sure to read it.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 8, pp. 17-20