Observations on Thirty Years of Preaching (2)
My wife didn't think the first article on Observations was one of my better attempts at writing. I too, viewed it as mediocre so we were surprised that it sparked several responses. That was also the case with the articles written on this subject at ten and twenty year intervals. I am persuaded it must be the subject matter for I received nine letters, two phone calls, and several word of mouth comments all from preachers. Two of them suggested I write a follow up. One asked that I write on changes I have seen in 30 years of preaching. Another on my theology of preaching. I am assuming I understand what that means. First, I want to consider some changes I have seen, both good and bad.
1. More Acceptance Of People From Different Races Or Social Classes. We still have a long way to go. Most congregations I am familiar with are made up of white middle class Americans. I hope we are not content with this for God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11; Jas. 2:9). But this is a better mixture than what I remember 30 years ago. I have visited a congregation that literally had red, yellow, black, and white members. That did not cause any problems. I know some congregations that are predominantly white but have one or more black elders or deacons. I have also observed members who had professions which made them millionaires who regularly socialized with members that made less than $25,000 annually. This is as it should be (Jas. 2). The church at Antioch was a racially mixed church (Acts 11:19f). Yet they were the ones who grew and thrived and sent Paul and Barnabas out on their first journey. Race did not seem to be a problem. Is it any wonder the disciples were called "Christians" first at Antioch (Acts 11:26)?
2. More Willingness To Forgive Sins Of Immorality. I know cases where I thought it would be hard for an individual or a congregation to forgive a person of a particular sin and fully accept the one who committed it. But they did. We can-not afford to do otherwise. Jesus said one who can't forgive should be delivered to the tormentors (Matt. 18:21-35).
1. More Churches splitting. One brother made a joke upon his departure from a luncheon. He said, "Let's make like a church and split." A split church is no laughing matter, but it is becoming proverbial. Thirty years ago there were still churches dividing over institutionalism. Very few were dividing over anything else. The command is to "maintain unity" (Eph. 4:1-3). There is no command to physically divide a church. There is no example of such a thing happening. The only way one might arrive at the conclusion that he should leave a congregation is through a necessary inference. In a situation where one is being forced to practice error by his remaining in a congregation, he would be compelled to leave. Collective error, such as singing with an instrument or donating to institutional projects in which the individual becomes a partaker in sin (since he is commanded to sing and give), would fall in that category. More and more I am hearing of congregations dividing over personal problems and attitudes.
The church at Sardis was condemned by the Lord for being a dead church, having "found no works perfected before my God." It needed to repent (Rev. 3:1-6). However, he said there were some in the congregation who had not de-filed their garments and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy" (3:4). The error in Sardis apparently was not of a collective nature and one could still be faithful and serve the Lord in that congregation regardless of some-one else's behavior. Though there were numerous errors in the church at Corinth, not once did Paul even hint at the idea that they should physically divide. He told them to solve their problems.
2. Less Churches With Elders. There are fewer men who desire the eldership today. Here are some possible explanations why: (a) It seems like a thankless task, a no-win situation in which you cannot please everyone. This may be because we are looking for our reward here and now. We are not here to receive glory from men, nor to please everyone. We should be seeking God's approval. Christians who want to see the Lord's will carried out should remember to encourage and assist godly elders. The Bible says they are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17-19); (b) Some don't want to be tied down. They forget Jesus was nailed down. True Christianity involves a willingness to deny yourself. Are we totally or only partially committed to the Lord when Christianity doesn't interfere with our lifestyle)? (c) Christian men are not as spiritually mature as they were 30 years ago. This is a generalization. I know several exceptions, for whom I am grateful to God. But there are less men willing to try to qualify and make the sacrifices necessary. (d) Though more educated, young people have more worldly knowledge and less Bible knowledge than 30 years ago. The influence of music and TV has been far greater than we ever imagined. Given another 30 years, how much more difficult will it be to find men qualified? (e) Some brethren don't want an eldership. The brother who can't or won't qualify himself won't have as much say-so with an eldership as he did when decisions were made in business meetings. So he may find every objection to having an eldership.
The church has been greatly hurt by this problem. A church is not all God wants it to be until it is scripturally organized. It is "wanting" and not "in order" (Tit.1:5).
3. Less Young People. In recent years I have held meeting at places were audiences had more gray hair and fewer young people. The young are often involved in sports, social functions, and school activities. They are not being raised with the same philosophy as many of their parents that the kingdom of heaven comes first, even before homework (Matt. 6:33). My mother always said she would rather see me make an "F' and be faithful to the Lord than to make an "A" and put him in second place.
While day care centers meet a need in today's society, more children are growing up without the spiritual training needed to help them be faithful. There will soon be a whole generation who were raised by someone who spent more time with them than their parents. There could be a connection between this and the fact that there is also more child abuse and parent abuse today. A mutual affection has not been allowed to develop in many cases. I do not imply that day care centers are responsible for training our children. They are not. This is primarily the parents' responsibility (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21; Prov. 22:6). Too many parents are involved in making a living while neglecting to make a life for their offspring. Nor is it the responsibility of the church. However, individual Christians who are worth their salt will take an interest in those going through this crucial time in life and help them over the road. Parents need all the help they can get.
Suggestion For Young Preachers
I prefer "suggestions," rather than "advice," but call it what you will.
1. The purpose of preaching is to impart knowledge and edify in view of saving souls. At times reproof and rebuke are needed. But some brethren don't think you are preaching unless you are giving someone a good skinning every time you enter the pulpit. A preacher can "skin" an audience without imparting any knowledge or edification. Try not to get out of balance and be sure to study verses which deal with proper attitudes, such as 2 Timothy 2:24, 25.
2. Where to deal with problems. Some problems can only be dealt with from the pulpit due to their widespread nature and when false doctrine has been publicly pro-claimed. It may seem expedient to handle all problems this way rather than talk heart to heart with those involved. Generally, it is a good rule of thumb to remember that problems are better settled out of the pulpit if possible, for a couple of reasons. Those who need correcting often appreciate it more if you show them you are not trying to publicly embarrass them or win a point at all costs and are more receptive. Also, the better a problem is contained among fewer people the less potential for greater and worse con-sequences. If it can be settled over a cup of coffee, things will be better for all concerned.
3. Frequent teaching on Matthew 18:15-17, 21-35 is helpful. It is better to do this before problems develop (preventive medicine) rather than afterward. There is great reluctance to do things God's way, though his wisdom can-not be improved upon. When charges are made, ask for the witnesses, especially if they are made against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19). Notice that the accusation is "at the mouth" of two or three witnesses, "not at the ears." The witnesses are to corroborate the testimony, not merely listen to charges they know nothing about.
4. "Trying out." When "trying out" at a congregation, the brethren usually have a list of questions for the preacher. It is also good for him to have a list of questions for them. It will be easier to get an agreement at this point than it will be later. Are the brethren committed to doing their part? Get it in writing, preferably in the business meeting notes. This will be best for all concerned (1 Cor. 14:40).
5. Become a part of the congregation. Try to be personally acquainted with each member. Don't be aloof or develop an attitude of paranoia "us" versus "them." And be yourself.
6. Don't do one-to-one counseling with the opposite sex. Even if innocent, you can be falsely accused.
7. Avoid crude language.
8. Try not to contribute to stereotypes among brethren unless you want all preachers to be stereotyped.
9. Read Proverbs 27:2.
Suggestions For Churches
1. Preachers who receive outside support do not usually have any kind of agreement for cost of living increases. Try to be mindful of them.
2. Most preachers who receive outside support often live from paycheck to paycheck and most of their bills come due around the first of the month. Try to get the support to them on time. Also, please be more patient with men being supported in places that rely mainly on conversions to be-come self-supporting. It takes a while to make enough conversions and lead them to a point of maturity where they have learned to financially support the work. And keep in mind the nature of those wage earners. Some congregations are made up predominantly of "blue collar" workers and the congregation may not reach the point of self-maintenance as quickly as one made up of "white collar" workers.
3. Try to be patient with the preacher and from time to time mentally put yourself in his place. It is good for congregations and preachers to have a clear understanding of what is expected of each from the very beginning.
4. When new congregations are beginning or when a struggling one is trying to get back on its feet or has been hurt by problems, try not to kick it when it is down. There is a scarcity of pioneers who want to be involved with a congregation that is trying to become self-sustaining and fly on its own. For various reasons when Christians move to another city they usually unite with the larger, more established congregations. They often become a "number" whose talent is frequently buried. Sometimes it is good to "ask not what a congregation can do for me, but what can I do for a congregation that needs me." Those in these circumstances need your help. It can be rewarding, both in this life and the next.
If some of these appear to be random (and often unconnected) thoughts, they are. They were written as they came to mind. There are some generalizations to which there are exceptions. I hope you kept that in mind and were charitable as you read. Thank you for considering these things.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 14 p. 8-10