Letters To Young Preachers
Dear Brethren ________ and _________,
Your letters to me, which were published in the 4 July 1985 issue of Guardian of Truth, were greatly appreciated. Thank you for "pressing your thoughts and conveying some of your problems to me. Many of the events and problems in your lives at this time are common to most young preachers and, in fact, to older ones as well, in many cases. All too often older people turn a deaf ear to the thoughts of the young, and older brethren are many times far too prone to dismiss, without consideration, the problems, hurts, feelings, discouragements, temptations and judgments of younger brethren and preachers. We all have a great deal to learn from each other-if we will listen. Churches and families have been greatly hurt at times because a "generation gap" and a "communication gap" were allowed to develop between older and younger brethren, and between parents and their children. Several years ago, I was in a meeting with a church where some excellent and talented younger men were appealing to the elders for training classes, for special Bible classes to study various topics, and for opportunities to use their talents and to be teachers of classes, and to do some preaching when the local preacher was away. The elders turned a deaf ear to these appeals; the preacher was evidently too lazy or unconcerned to work with these young men as he was involved in secular projects of his own, and frustration and discouragement resulted. After a while there was a division in that congregation and over half the church left, began meeting separately, and have grown in number and in spirituality. My impressions were and my opinion is that the elders simply did not know how to lead people in Christ, how to use and develop the talents of souls entrusted to their care and oversight, and how to listen to others, especially younger people, and profit by what they might say.
Being well over twenty-five years older than both of you and the father of four grown sons (three married, one still single), and the grandfather of three grandchildren, I have found that some of the best lessons I have learned in more recent years have been from my own sons, as well as from other young people whom I have met and worked with in local church work and in my travels in meeting work. I find, and have found, many, many upright, excellent, noble young people and young families, in all parts of the country, who are intent on living soberly, righteously and godly in this present world and in serving God in their homes, work and/or businesses, and professions. I only wish there were more of such young people than there are. Yet all these young people, even though not preachers as such, are having problems similar to yours and oftentimes are having difficulties in finding their places and work in God's kingdom where they can serve well, develop themselves spiritually, and be happy as Christians.
"There is no age . . . in which people . . . do not have their hurts and heartaches, problems and perplexities . . . All of us have to learn to trust in God (Prov. 3:5-6), press on, walk by faith, deal with our problems and set-backs and successes as best we can . . . do(ing) our best to serve God and be faithful to Him as His children in His kingdom. . . ."
Our younger brethren have come up in difficult times. An almost completely materialistic society,- an emphasis on things which money can buy as a means to happiness, rather than contentment of heart and peace of mind by doing God's will; a "sexual revolution" in which nudity, immorality, pre-marital sex, extra-martial sex, so-called situation ethics and homosexuality are condoned, winked-at and glorified as being acceptable and proper behavior in the sight of God and man, in opposition to the purity, virtue, modesty, decency and lifetime commitment in marriage which God's word teaches; wars, hatreds, genocides, mass killings of the unborn through abortions; strains and stresses between nations and individuals instead of peace and love of our fellow human beings; lying, hypocrisy, dishonesty and political chicanery in high places have caused deep, widespread doubt, distrust, and disillusionment with the very foundations of orderly society, law and government; major and steady increases in crime and violence have made many despair of their basic rights to life, liberty, happiness and ownership of property; education which is skeptical, humanistic and godless, debasing humans made in God's image to descendants and offspring of animals; glorifying science and human wisdom as the answers to our needs and leaving the masses and multitudes without a knowledge of God and without a conscience against evil; these, and other components of this present evil world (Gal. 1:4; Tit. 2:11-12), have caused the young to doubt, to waste their precious, God-given lives in futility and vanity, and to have no certain objectives and goals in life.
Besides those conditions and circumstances without, have been the conditions within the kingdom of Christ which have been so hurtful and so far-reaching in their disastrous results. Youngsters of my own children's ages have been subject to all the problems, heartaches, stresses and divisions which occurred among the brethren-and are often still occurring (sometimes foolishly and needlessly). The terrible tragedies of the forties, fifties and even into the sixties, of divisions in the churches over institutionalism, centralization of power and money in certain churches and elders, liberalism in doctrine and a spirit of apology toward err; all the ostracisms, strifes, alienations, broken friendships and fellowships, divided friends and families; the present, continual tendency and drift of liberal, institutional churches to become more liberal in doctrine and practice, and modernistic in attitude toward God's word, and more friendly to and closely associated with denominations, especially the Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ; the drift of "conservative," "faithful" churches into a shell of isolation and opinionism, magnifying opinions and so-called "conscientious scruples" into doctrine and matters of the faith with all their resulting suspicions, arguments, divisiveness and alienations; worldiness (social drinking, dancing, mixed swimming, filthy movies and television, immodest and indecent dress, etc.), and indifference, a lack of real concern for lost souls and a lack of sincere spirituality, dominate in many "faithful" churches; a lack of high-quality, scripturally qualified leadership in elders, deacons, and preachers, and real work and aggressiveness to save souls; all these and many other internal factors have been discouraging to young people and many have not obeyed the gospel or have become unfaithful to Christ, skeptical, and even doubting the worth of salvation, the church, and of worship of God and work in His kingdom. Young people have told me various times of a "double standard" they see: piety and sincerity at the meetinghouse, but worldiness and inconsistent conduct and language at home among their parents and among older brethren; admonitions, warnings and even dis-fellowship of some brethren by elders and preachers, yet others go freely on in unfaithfulness and indifference with never a reprimand; use of some people in public services and class teaching whose habits and conduct are questionable, yet refusal to use others at all because of some fault or weakness they might have; a double standard in preaching where we preachers really "bear down" on some subjects but ignore sins and subjects which are equally as prevalent and damning.
I write all the above, brethren, to let you know that I think I am somewhat aware of the thinking and problems of young people, the perplexities of the times in which we are living, and the difficulties you face. Many of the afore-mentioned matters are, in my judgment, the reasons why we think as we think and do as we do, but it is still forever true that "the way of a man is not in himself.- it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23) and that "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, for it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain " (1 Cor. 3:18-20). We all must realize that all people in all places in every generation have had their hard times, and difficulties and discouragements of those times. The Bible is God's history of men and women as they lived their fives before Him, striving against sin (some of them), and learning to live by faith and in righteousness in the midst of a sin-cursed world. We have never encountered many of the hindrances faced and conquered by our brethren who walked by faith in the olden days (Heb. 11:1-40). We have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin, that I know of (Heb. 12:4). Those preachers and brethren of my generation and age had the great depression, lack of material goods (my father never owned a car in all my growing-up years), hard work with little income, fears among nations resulting in World War II (with the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, Stalin, etc.), military service, trying to get a bit of education, etc. Within the churches of our Lord (I was a Methodist until February, 1946) were the gigantic errors of premillennialism, and then the rise of institutionalism, and centralization of money, power, planning and oversight into the hands of a few powerful churches, elderships and institutions. There is no age, generation or time in which people, in the church and out, do not have their hurts and heartaches, problems and perplexities, and great discouragements and decisions. All of us have to learn to trust in God (Prov. 3:5-6), press on, walk by faith, deal with our problems and set-backs and successes as best we can, and keep on doing our best to serve God and be faithful to Him as His children in His kingdom (Heb. 12:28). To walk by faith is to keep on keeping on and not shrink back to perdition (Heb. 10:32-39).
Your plans for education, financial self-sufficiency, to make your own way without support and wages from brethren if need be, to preach regardless, and to prepare for service as elders are worthy goals you have set for yourselves. I hope you will persevere. I pray God will bless you and will attain that for which you strive, in harmony with God's revealed will and by His good providential care for His children. But do not be overly disappointed nor discouraged if you see your life slipping away and some of your goals, plans and hopes remaining unfulfilled and unrealized. One lifetime in this world, be it threescore or fourscore years (Psa. 90:9-10; Gen. 47:7-10), is not time enough to go in many directions and to become proficient in many things. Those who do the best work, in the over-all view, in God's kingdom as teachers, preachers, elders and Christians, are those who begin early and young in their years and pursue their service to God all their days, not turning to the right hand nor to the left. Paul's instruction to Timothy to "give thyself wholly to them " (1 Tim. 4:15, please read the context of 1 Tim. 4:6-16), is excellent inspired teaching, wisdom and advice.
I think all preachers, especially young preachers, when they experience the initial hurts and heartaches of preaching, when they are mistreated by either malicious or unthinking brethren, when they are opposed or ignored instead of helped and encouraged, think in the same ways that I know I did, and that many of my closest preacher friends did. As a young preacher I also had hurts and heartaches, disappointments, oppositions and discouragements (and still do at times), and I saw the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in many brethren and how they deal with preachers, and I saw many who didn't seem to understand or even care. So I determined, as a young preacher, to get some education, teach school, own my own home and a little farm, live in one area all my life, not subject my children to moving about, teaching and preaching God's word wherever I could, and being a preacher-elder among people I would live with and know all my life. But it didn't work that way. I received some education (I could stand a lot more I think), never owned a farm, owned one home briefly, never lived in one area all my life, did subject my children to moving about, and have never worked with and known the same people all my adult life. Instead I've lived to see that God had other plans for me and that it would not have been best for me or my family had I done what I thought in my early years. I have been enabled to do more work in Christ's kingdom, more preaching and have more influence for good (I hope) than if the plans of my early years had been fulfilled. You men are both young in years, having your children, and still finding your ways along through life and in the church. You will change your minds and your plans many times in the next ten, twenty and thirty years, if you live. Some ideas, ideals and convictions will be changed as you live and learn from life and from the word of God. The years change and temper us quite a bit, helping us by our experiences and knowledge of God's will, to sort out, add, eliminate and change things of more or lesser importance to us in our quest for eternal life, and in the rearing of our children and our building of a good family life and marital relationship.
I appreciate your love for the truth of God, for the church of Christ, and for the souls of the lost. Your willingness to preach the gospel and work where you can, in the cities, in the country, in the towns and villages of the world, is most commendable. My first years of preaching were in the small areas and places, in the country and in the villages, and since then, in an instance or two, in the cities. Meeting work has carried me over most of the USA and into one foreign country on two occasions. I still love to go back to the rural, country, small town places and churches. My roots and raising were there. I suppose I will ever be a small town, country person at heart. I have always held meetings on a "first-come, first-served" basis, regardless of the largeness or smallness of a congregation. I believe preachers ought to help, work and teach wherever they can. What you have to say about older, more experienced preachers going out into the "boondocks" and young men like you working with strong churches and elderships has much merit. I hope to discuss that matter in a later article in this series of "letters" to both of you. Faithfully yours in Christ, Bill Cavender.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 16, pp. 488-489, 499