By Irven Lee
Death is taking one older preacher after another. Some of these men where brave soldiers when promoters of digression worked with much zeal and bitterness to persuade all of the churches to pool their resources into the hands of boards and brotherhood elderships, and to get ample equipment and personnel to turn the churches into social clubs. A prayer of thanksgiving is in order for these men who prepared themselves and then fought valiantly for truth and in opposition to pride and worldliness. Satan turned every man back toward denominationalism in spite f the worthy efforts of these good men, but a remnant was saved. I am sorry to see such able men pass off the scene, but that is the way of all the earth. It is appointed unto man once to die. All the apostles and great inspired prophets died after they served their own generation.
Where Are The Great Preachers?
I went to a funeral of a truly great preacher several years ago. Many good people were lamenting his passing. Preachers who had gained much from his great store of knowledge came from several states for that funeral service. Among other things he had been a preacher’s preacher, and had encouraged many young men tho came to him for help when they faced difficult situations and fearful responsibilities. Men of this caliber die, and men of lesser influence die also.
I heard some say at that funeral that, in a few years, we would no longer have any of that man’s stature left. Several may have felt that way. This statement was not, however, in harmony with truth in every way. Military heroes of the past have died, and able generals appear in each war. Paul and Timothy died, but great men have preached in America and elsewhere in recent years, and there will be more. I am confident that there are a few young men who work with the unselfishness and faithfulness that were in the life of the young man Timothy (Phil. 2:19-23). These men will soon be older and still, hopefully, serving their generation.
It is not necessary that every one be exactly like that special preacher whom you admire so much. It was necessary for Andrew to be like Peter in order to be an apostle. Every loyal servant of Christ can do a good work in his own way in the kingdom. It would be very fortunate if Christians everywhere could accept and honor all worthy preachers. Some will accomplish more than others, but there is work and room for all. There is no required personality pattern any more than there is a certain height, weight, and hair coloring required. Let each man be himself under the guidance of the Holy Scriptures.
A Time For Preparation
Age is related to the ability to preach effectively. We sometimes hear of some “boy wonder.” In such cases these boys may make mistakes, become egotistical, lose faith, and give up the work of preaching. It takes time as well as desire to become a great servant of God. Before one is desired as an able gospel preacher, he will need to know more about he Scriptures than the typical man or woman in the pews. If about any man in the audience can present a more useful lesson in a better way than the boy, the young man may not be supported financially to preach full-time to these people. This is understandable. People would not want the boy to be the surgeon when they must go into the operating room. There is some parallel in this regard between the doctor and the preacher. The child who would be an able preacher or an able surgeon must study long hours before the people are ready to count him an able man in either endeavor.
The young man who desires to preach may study much in his own room at home, listen to many sermons, make short talks in classes or special service at the home church, listen to wise people, and pray as he gradually grows into that useful preacher. It will not be a blessing to himself or to others if he jumps into the work over his head before he is well prepared to speak as the oracles of God. Sometimes we bury the people on whom the surgeon makes his mistakes. His work has fearful responsibilities. What happens when the unprepared man makes serious mistakes in the pulpit and in other aspects of church work? One should do all to stand before he takes his stand in battle with the skilled servant of the devil (Eph. 6:10-20).
Was John the Baptist nearly thirty years old when he began his public ministry? Did the Master begin His public work when he was about that age? I am not saying that all young men should wait until they are thirty to go into the work, but some might have accomplished more in a lifetime if they had waited longer and had been better prepared when they began. Some of the great workers today are in their twenties, and we say, “More power to them.” Giving an age when one should go into full-time preaching is a little like giving the exact age when one should be baptized or the exact age when a couple is ready to marry. The preacher should not go into full-time preaching until those who know him see that hie prepared to do a good work. The sons of Kohath, under the law of Moses, waited until they had reached the age of thirty to serve with the holy things in the tabernacle (Num. 4:1-4). Please understand that we all realize that there are some remarkable preachers that are younger than this. WE are only trying to suggest the need of patience to wait until the whole armor is in place. David did not run out to meet Goliath until he was very skilled with his sling. He could face a lion or bear in combat. He was young, but he was prepared to stand his ground (1 Sam. 17).
The young man who would preach should first learn to be an example. (Read 1 Tim.3:15; 4:12, 16; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2:21-26; Titus 2:7.) If he mows his lawn with only one very short garment on, many will think he is not ready to preach. If his beautiful young wife parades in public in such a way as to invite lust from those who pass by, many will think there should be some changes (Tit.2:3-5). Social drinking, foolish jesting, and any other things that come by way of atheistic entertainers need to be discarded. An able gospel preacher avoids the very appearance of evil.
There was and is such a need of laborers in the vineyard that we are encouraged to pray for more, but no soldier is needed in the army of the Lord without his sword and complete armor. The enemy is cunning (Matt. 9:36-38; Eph. 6:10-20). We may well pray for the young Davids who have gone out to meet their Goliaths. Spiritual strength includes zeal, humility, courage, purity, patience and other good traits. The word of encouragement or instruction given in good spirit may be worth very much to the worthy young man who would like to preach.
Physical strength fades away as age comes on bringing one into this last phase of life. With strength diminished, one becomes less effective in local work. Senility may cut one down before death. It is possible that the church may be weakened by the less effective preacher trying to cling to the work he has loved. May God help us to know when to sit down in the audience. The span of life in which one can be most active and useful is not long. It is as a vapor that appeareth for a little while and then vanishes away.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 10, pp. 302-303
May 16, 1985