Observations On Thirty Years of Preaching
Deciding what to preach has always been difficult. The subjects that need to be preached in a local work may differ greatly from what is being discussed in the papers among us. A preacher's first priority is the congregation with which he has agreed to labor.
It wasn't planned this way, but at ten year intervals I have penned a few observations on preaching. Some personal experiences that have never been put into print and related to only a few are contained herein. It was the last Sunday of September 1966 that I began what is commonly called full-time preaching. I did alternate preaching for two congregations for about one and a half years prior to that. During the 30 years I have worked with seven congregations. One for as long as ten and a half years and one for as short as two years, two months. With one exception I have been invited back to conduct gospel meetings at these churches. I have had the good fortune of working with some of the best people on earth.
When I began preaching I was apprehensive about support. For nearly half of my preaching life I have worked with congregations that were not self-supporting. None of us likes being in a position of asking for sup-port. Sometimes you feel like a beggar asking for a few crumbs. Among the problems is that of writing to a congregation for support and not receiving a reply. This has led to preachers sending out several form letters in hope that a few will respond. The problem for the churches is that most congregations don't have secretaries to answer all the mail and some congregations receive many requests for support. The local preacher often becomes a secretary in trying to respond to all the mail. It would be a good idea for the congregation to pre-pare a form letter if they are unable to support him, since most requests come as a form letter. A person in the congregation (other than the local preacher) could be designated to respond by mailing the form letter explaining that they will not be able to provide support at this time. This would be better than leaving the preacher wondering whether he will receive the needed support or whether they even received his letter. He can be left in a drastic predicament with these uncertainties.
Another problem for preachers receiving outside support is that they rarely receive a raise, unless they do so by asking for more support. Over twenty years ago I reported to my sup-porting congregations that one of them had voluntarily given me a raise.
One of the other churches used it as an opportunity to decrease their sup-port. So the raise was never realized.
Conducting Business Meetings
Decently And In Order
Some congregations do not keep a written record of what is discussed in business meetings. Memories are faulty with the passing of time. Trying to recall what was decided can create problems in the congregation. Twenty-eight years ago I tried out at a congregation and understood that I was hired. The congregation had made arrangements for someone to move our belongings. I had preached my farewell sermon, cut off all my outside support, and had all our possessions packed in boxes, awaiting the truck that was to move us the following day. I made a phone call to one of the brethren of the congregation, which was 600 miles away, inquiring as to what time to expect the truck. I received a vague answer and made two more calls before I realized I was being given the run around.
As it turned out, that congregation had wanted to hire an older man (several felt they had a bad experience with the younger preacher who had been there). Being unable to find an older preacher, they hired me, knowing that I was 25 years old. Between then and the moving date an older preacher became available and they hired him. I received a few letters of apology from those who thought I had been hired, but there was dissension among the men. Some thought I had been hired and others did not. No notes were taken in the business meeting so there was no way to check what had actually been decided. To make a long story longer, I had to eat crow by notifying my supporting congregations, take back my farewell sermon and unpack our belongings. Sleep was lost and tears were shed, but I learned a valuable lesson. Not all congregations are as mature as they want their preacher to be and decisions, especially important ones, should be recorded in written form and reread at the next meeting to check for accuracy. This is a decent and orderly thing to do and helps prevent dissension (1 Cor. 14:40). If no one else thinks to do it, the preacher should insist on it.
Sympathizing With The Brethren
A preacher hears more than his share of complaints. He should expect this before he begins preaching. One should never become calloused of heart or insensitive to the hurt and problems of others. He should be more understanding of what the average man on the job is up against. If you've never been in secular work, it will be hard to appreciate what the average Christian has to endure. Pray for your brothers and sisters and encourage them. Build them up, bear their burdens, and be long-suffering (1 Thess. 5:11; Gal. 6:2; 1 Tim. 4:2).
Priorities In Preaching
Deciding what to preach has al-ways been difficult. The subjects that need to be preached in a local work may differ greatly from what is being discussed in the papers among us. A preacher's first priority is the congregation with which he has agreed to labor. He should be conscientious in not allowing someone from elsewhere to determine the subjects. I have not al-ways felt the need to preach on an issue just because someone somewhere else thought I should. One should certainly keep his eyes on the horizon as a watch-man for potential problems and dangers and not be neglectful. But there is no point in introducing a problem to the congregation that it is not likely to have. Be urgent in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).
Keep The Doctrine Pure
A lot of books have been written and sermons preached by popular preachers that are mostly fluff and little substance. Pious platitudes and catchy phrases may be the longings of some, but remember what the Bible says about smooth words and fair speeches (Rom. 16:17). They are beguiling in nature and are associated with those who teach contrary to the doctrine. Not only should a preacher make an assessment each month what needs to be preached, he should also be alert to subjects he may be neglecting. He should preach the whole counsel of God and shrink not from declaring anything that is profitable (Acts 20:20, 27). He needs balance in his subject matter lest he become guilty by default.
As I look at some of the subjects dealt with by the popular institutional preachers who write for audiences "at large," I see a great void on such subjects as the sin of denominationalism, worshiping in spirit and truth, keeping the doctrine pure, etc. There is nothing distinctive in what they write that anyone in denominationalism would disagree with. Of course, that sells more books. While they may teach truths that nearly all of their audiences agree on, it is the areas that they are neglecting that pose the greatest danger. It only takes one untaught generation for apostasy to occur. In the Old Testament great emphasis was placed on teaching the next generation (Deut. 6:7). Read Deuteronomy 6:20-25 and notice that one of the di-vine motivations of Israel was to tell the tale for the benefit of future generations. If some complain that "we've already heard that," they need to remember that there were those who had already heard that when they were hearing it for the first time. This was also true in Old Testament days. Three times within four verses Peter says we need to be put in remembrance (2 Pet. 1:12-15). Who should know better than Peter? Or the Holy Spirit who in-spired him to say it?
From time to time we also need re-minding that false teachers cannot be identified by their appearance (horns, pitch fork, forked tail, etc.). They can only be identified by their teaching. Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves (Matt. 5: 15, 16). They bring "smooth words and fair speeches" (Rom.16:17). It is no great thing that his (Satan's) ministers fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). These passages are not saying that those who teach truth will be ugly monsters while Satan's messengers are good looking. They are showing that false teachers will not look differently than teachers of truth and will not be identified by their appearance, but by their teaching. Don't be deceived by their charisma.
You Are Not An Actor
Eight years ago I was told by an elder at a place where I tried out that a preacher is like an actor before an audience. He needs to do everything he can to get and hold people's attention. It goes without saying that a preacher should do his very best. But Paul was not a good speaker. They said his letters were weighty and strong but his bodily presence was weak and his speech of no account (2 Cor. 10:10). I didn't get the job, for two reasons. I had preached too long (my sermon lasted 32 minutes. I was told the local preacher had preached for fourteen minutes the previous Sunday). And I was told I preached "over their heads." In 30 years of preaching that is the only time I had ever been so accused. The sermon was on the existence of God and was primarily designed for young people. The last thing I wanted to do was preach over anybody's head. I didn't run around in the pulpit so people would concentrate on what I was saying rather than what I was doing. A preacher is neither an acrobat nor an actor. Everything he does had better be genuine and sincere from the heart. I believe this elder would have great difficulty opposing the pageants, cantatas, and dramas of the denominations while holding his view that the preacher is an actor. Timothy was told to give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching." (1 Tim.4:14). He was not told to give heed to acting. He was to be diligent in these things "that thy progress may be manifest unto all" (1 Tim.4:15). If your progress in these is not evident to others, a self-examination is needed.
In thirty years of preaching, there have been a few bumps and scrapes along the way. I purposely did not write articles about any of them at the time for fear that my thinking might have been colored by the emotions of the moment or that it might appear that I was seeking revenge by writing somebody up. The emotions of those moments have long ago subsided and I hope that I have used those experiences in an edifying manner. I have been treated so much better than I deserve that those few "less than happy" experiences fade away in comparison. Regardless of those few occurrences, I have never regretted the decision made thirty years ago.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 2 p. 5-8