Letters to Young Preachers (4)
Dear brethren ___________ and ____________,
Your letters to me, printed in the July 4, 1985, issue of Guardian of Truth, mention a number of matters regarding relationships between congregations and preachers. In discussing difficulties and problems which are encountered from time to time, we must ever be mindful of all the good blessings and spiritually edifying associations, works and fellowship that we do have with brethren. We should try, earnestly so, to always have an optimistic and constructive attitude toward our brethren, a spirit of kindness and goodwill and patience, and to really want to be helpful and improve any situation which may not be right. I do not want these letters to you to be construed as being one-sided or biased in favor of preachers. I am trying to be as objective as possible in what I am thinking and writing to you, that both preachers and brethren may be instructed, and be more considerate in our relationships with one another. God knows, and I know, and most brethren know, that we could all learn and practice the gospel a great deal better in our associations and working relationships with one another. There is far too much friction between preachers and congregations. Far too many preachers leave congregations in hurtful, sad, divisive conditions. Far too many brethren, in their unfair treatment of preachers, do not care what effect their ill-treatment of preachers and their families will have on the congregation(s) or upon 'their communities. The gospel is hindered, churches are divided or weakened, preachers and their families are hurt for years and years due to a lack of brotherly kindness, patience, love and understanding between those very brethren who should be spiritually mature enough to know better and to avoid conflicts, fights, and alienations which are unnecessary. Comparatively few "conservative" churches are really at peace, working and growing spiritually and numerically, with true brotherly love existing among the brethren. Most congregation are plagued by nagging problems and opinions, under-the-rug differences, which might erupt at any time given the right set of circumstances. And almost all of these divisive principles and practices are caused by and instigated by the "pillars" or "leading brethren" in the churches, including preachers.
You speak of "big churches" with "big name preachers," and their attitudes toward young men who want to preach. You mention how these young men "go out into the boondocks" as inexperienced preachers, to wrestle with "small country churches that have been sitting there for years doing nothing." You mention how discouraging this is, with the problems young preachers have to cope with in such churches where they are "hounded and run off,". and how it ought to be that older preachers would be sent "out to the boondocks" to "take on the brethren who just sit back and wait for fresh meat of the young preacher." You mention that there are not enough bigger churches which will use young preachers as "a second preacher," to teach and train them, to let them gain experience, and you say that young preachers need to stay in churches with elders to gain experience.
These thoughts of yours, which I have summarized above, have much merit. I agree with much of what you say. In some matters mentioned, I do not. Your characterization of preachers as "big name preachers," I do not approve of. There may be preachers who hope to be and want to be and try to be "big name preachers." But my experience of thirty-nine years of preaching is that very, very few men feel this way or have the inordinate desire to be "a big name preacher." In fact, I don't know of any preacher whom I have met or been acquainted with, who has ever said or indicated that this was his desire or aim. And anytime that might appear to be the case with a preacher, I could not judge his heart and motives to attribute to him an attitude or desire which he might not have at all. If any man who calls himself a gospel preacher should have that (being a "big name preacher") as his goal and objective in life, then he certainly ought not to be preaching.
On the other hand it is normal and scripturally right that if a man has preached the gospel faithfully, lived righteously and uprightly before God and men, and worked hard to save souls of the lost and build the kingdom of God in this world, that such a one should be loved, respected, honored, appreciated and listened to, for his work's sake. Giving "honor to whom honor" is due certainly would include godly and good brethren, as much or more than the rulers of nations, who often are such ungodly men (Rom. 13:7-8). As years go by in the life of any faithful, diligent preacher, he will become known among his brethren and his influence will increase. This is right and good for all of us. We need older, wiser, experienced men of knowledge, ability, integrity, and maturity as preachers, elders, deacons, teachers, and leaders among God's own people. It is then, in their mature years, that men generally do their best work in God's kingdom. Older preachers who have loved the Lord through the years, fought battles of truth against error, and weathered storms of opposition and persecution, are to be and ought to be highly respected by younger men and brethren. Older, true, tried and tested men ought to be the "role models" for younger men and preachers (Tit. 2:1-8; Heb. 13:7,17). It ill-becomes young men, just beginning to preach, to engage in epitaph-formulation, disparagement, and casting aspersions at older brethren and preachers. God told Moses to teach the people saying, "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord" (Lev. 19:32). Solomon said that "the hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness" (Prov. 16:31). Children and young people are to honor and obey their parents, and younger brethren are to entreat and deal with older brethren as fathers and mothers (1 Tim. 5:1-2). Any society -- nation, family, church -- which does not give proper respect and honor to its aged-its grandparents, fathers and mothers -- is destined for destruction. The strength of nations and churches revolve around the proper honor and respect being given to the older and wiser and experienced.
As a young preacher I was privileged to hear and know and be with some of the great preachers and elders of a generation or two ago, well-known brethren. I rather stood in awe and respect of them for their knowledge and ability and influence. I lived to learn that they had their weaknesses, made their mistakes, erred from truth at times, and had feet of clay like we all do and have. I appreciated what they did for the church and the world, and what they meant in the cause of truth and righteousness. They influenced me greatly. I never at any time referred to older, well-known brethren as "big name preachers" or "big name elders." I never called them by their first names, as trying to be too familiar. I felt that was out of place and unbecoming to me as a younger man and brother. I never called Foy E. Wallace by "Foy," although I was with him and heard him preach numbers of times. I never called W. Curtis Porter by "Curtis," nor G.C. Brewer by "Grover," nor N.B. Hardeman as "Brodie," nor C.R. Nichol as "Charley," nor C.D. Plum as "Dewey." Yet I knew and respected all these men. One of the greatest men I have ever known, and possibly one of the two best elders I have ever known or worked with, was brother J.A. Bruton in Port Arthur, Texas. He was a father to me, yet I never addressed him as "Alex." A spirit of decorum, and a respect for age, experience, knowledge and the hoary head, dictates among Christians that the younger people be taught and that they develop an attitude of "esteeming them highly" for their work's sake, toward the older and wiser among us (1 Thess. 5:11-13). Some day, down the stream of time, if the young man and preacher lives long enough and works for the Lord hard enough, he will possibly be a "big name preacher," although that was not his personal desire, ambition and goal.
"Big churches" cannot send preachers, younger or older, to "small country churches," unless those "small country churches" request and desire preachers to be sent to help them. The concept of "big churches" and "small country churches" always leads to much error and digression. The missionary society of 1849-1910, and the "sponsoring church, Herald of Truth, overseeing eldership" type of centralized cooperation and control of churches and funds would never have been except for this "big church," "little church," thinking. Congregational autonomy, equality and independence forever forbids this concept of God's churches. A church of twenty members is just as big in God's sight as a church of two hundred members, just as important, and just as responsible to Him. In the New Testament no numbers are given after the "about three thousand souls" of Acts 2:41, and the "five thousand" men of Acts 4:4. We have no idea or indication of the numbers in any congregation of the first century. How large was the church at Ephesus? How small was the church at Corinth? Were the churches of Galatia in the cities or in the countryside? We do not know. All of that is really not important or God would have told us more. Big problems in churches of Christ now and in the past find their roots in big city churches planning and promoting programs, and exerting undue influence upon brethren and other congregations, in the cities and in the country. Churches, city or county, large or small in numbers, have problems from time to time which linger, fester, erupt occasionally, and ruin and devour those involved and those who would try to correct them.
Preachers, older or younger, cannot solve some problems among brethren. Only God can do that through His word to us, and the faith of men and women in what God says. But we will not believe and practice what our Father says, so our problems persist and we ruin the cause of Christ in our obstinacy. Often brethren do not want to solve problems by repentance, and by doing God's will. True, sincere repentance and change toward God and man is pretty much a lost doctrine and practice among the brethren. Rarely ever are there tears of penitence and anguish of spirit due to sin anymore. Sin has blinded and hardened us against God and against each other. Rarely ever are differences really settled and forgiven and forgotten by true confession, repentance and prayer. Therefore, it remains for time, death, and the judgment of Christ to take care of these unresolved sins, problems and alienations. Young preachers, and older ones also, are often scarred for life by being unfortunate enough to get involved with problem brethren and brethren with problems. We preachers hardly learn that if God's will does not settle problems among brethren, then we will not be able to do so. And sometimes preachers themselves, young or old, can be a problem!
I think our brethren generally are making serious mistakes in not using young preachers along with older preachers. Many congregations are financially able to support two men in a local work. Many churches could become financially able if you could get the brethren to really give as they are truly prospered, and to give as much as they spend on tobacco, hunting, fishing, camping, sports, etc. A church with a good, qualified, strong eldership could easily carry on such a well-organized program of teaching and work so as to involve to the fullest a young man desiring to preach, and at the same time use fully all the local talent of the men in the congregation. Most elders will not do this because it takes planning, purposing, work, time, encouragement, oversight, etc., and most elders and elderships do not operate that way' and do not want to be bothered that much in developing the souls intrusted to their care by the Lord (Heb. 13:17). if more elders and churches would develop their talents and give young men opportunities to preach and teach, the churches would be spiritually stronger and better developed within. More men would be coming along all the time, qualified to preach, teach, serve as elders and deacons, and be better husbands and fathers. Older preachers would be free to go about helping others, preaching in many places, encouraging the weaker churches and planting new congregations. To me the ideal work of a preacher would be to study, write, teach classes, visit people, and preach all the time, every night, if possible, especially in the barren areas of the world. I get greatly discouraged when I see elderships, brethren and churches which are so dependent upon a preacher, as if they couldn't do without him. They want him there, at home, with them! It makes no difference that the brethren can run around on the weekends, going to the lake or camping out or visiting uncle John and aunt Suzy, or miss and skip half the services, miss the Bible classes due to sleeping late, miss the lessons and sermons for any silly excuse, and then sleep while the preacher preaches. The preacher just must stay at home if the "work is to prosper." "We need him at home," is the cry of the brethren, in case somebody dies or someone wants to get married or someone gets sick. These lazy, uncaring brethren, who should be preaching and teaching the word of God themselves, will
not be moved and they want the preacher to be at home, and the shorter his lessons (and shallower), the more they will praise him and pay him. I know of many churches where men of much ability sit on the pews, never feeling really necessary nor developing their talents, while the preacher goes about "his regular work" and "his regular preaching" to them, and the world goes to hell about us.
Many churches, otherwise known as "faithful churches," have a "pastor system," whether we want to admit it or not, where the preacher is burdened down with office work, problem-solving, visiting, socializing, etc., along with his studying, reading, writing and preaching. The brethren make a one-man pastor out of a preacher and then complain that that is what he is when, if anything gets done, he has to do it. Some brethren have an ungodly attitude toward young preachers, in not being willing to use them, hear them, support them, and encourage them. We are losing many young men who otherwise would preach, because of the ways brethren deal so unthoughtfully and unkindly with them. Many churches have the idea and concept that if "our preacher" is not preaching for us and to us, then he is not doing any good. "We pay him to preach to us and for us" is the thinking. Such brethren have no concept of the Lord's statement that "the field is the world" (Matt. 13:38), and that wherever we can go to preach the gospel we are doing good. Much better use of preachers and their talents and knowledge could be made if brethren would have the attitude of sending preachers to preach, and if "big churches" would free preachers to "go to preach the gospel" everywhere. (To be continued.)
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 21, pp. 652-654