Preachers and Preaching

The Preacher from a Scriptural Standpoint (1)

James P. Needham
Louisville, Kentucky


After preaching the gospel in meetings and local work in many states for approximately twenty years, there are certain observations and suggestions which this writer would like to make regarding the preacher and his work. Many have written on the subject and their material is certainly worthy of consideration, but we feel the necessity of a continued study of the matter with the hope that such shall be beneficial both to preachers and churches.

By no means does the writer feel that his experience or knowledge qualifies him as an expert on the subject, but years of close observation create a desire to say some things that need to be said.

OBJECTIVITY: I shall make every effort to be objective in these studies, though I realize that it is impossible to be completely free from circumstantial influences and personal preference. This writer, however, has no axe to grind in these articles. These observations are not the outcries of a bitter preacher who is soured on the brotherhood because of feelings of mistreatment. The author is presently preaching for one of the best churches in the country with a completely congenial and satisfactory working arrangement. Brethren, as a rule, have been good to me and my family in my preaching experience. There have been rare instances where I feel they could have done better (and some where I could have also), but such are to be expected in the affairs of men regardless of the field of labor.

I shall also seek to be objective from the standpoint of looking at both sides of the coin; to deal with matters from the standpoint of the congregation as well as the preacher. My observation has been that the majority of the articles written along this line are almost wholly from the preacher's standpoint. This serves to make it appear that most, if not all, congregations are rather ruthless and out to take advantage of preachers whenever and wherever they can. This is no doubt true of some, but not of all by any means.

SOME WILL DISAGREE: It is realized that some will disagree with some of the observations made in these studies. This will come about because of a misunderstanding of what is said in some instances, and because "the shoe fits" in others. In any case, we are accustomed to brethren's disagreeing with what we say, so if anyone feels disposed to make counter suggestions and/or observations, such will certainly be welcomed. We realize that many of the things we shall say are matters of judgment and opinion and also that others may sincerely differ on them. In any case, we urge an open-minded consideration of this material, and pledge ourselves to be as practical and fair as possible.

In order to discuss anything practically, it must first be studied scripturally. Only as we understand the basic scriptural principles are we able to apply them to practical life situations. If we understood the teachings of the scriptures on "the work of an evangelist," many of the problems along this line would disappear. Let us, therefore, look at the preacher from a scriptural standpoint:

A. Scriptural Descriptions:

1. EVANGELIST: (11 Tim. 4:5; Eph. 4:11, 12; Acts 21:8). From EUANGELISTES, "A messenger of good" (Vine, Vol. 2, p. 44) "This name is given in the N. T. to those heralds of salvation through Christ who are not apostles" (Thayer p. 257). The evangelist is one who brings good news, the good news of the gospel concerning the way of salvation for lost and dying man. "How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things." (Rom. 10: 15).

2. PREACHER: (I Tim. 2:7; Il Tim. 1:11; Rom. 10:14). From KERUX, "a herald" (Vine p. 202). "(KERUX indicates the preacher as giving a proclamation; EUANGELISTES points to his message as good tidings.)" (Vine p. 72).

3. MINISTER: (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25; 1 Tim. 4:6). From DIAKONOS, "Laborer, ministrant" (Young's Analytical Concordance). "A servant, attendant, minister, deacon. Is translated 'minister' in I Tim. 4:6" (Vine p. 72). DIAKONOS "views a servant in relationship to his work." (Vine p. 273).

A consideration of the above scriptural facts forces the following conclusions: a. preacher tells what one does: proclaims a message. b. Evangelist tells the nature of one's message, good news, and glad tidings. It does not tell whether he is located or itinerant. c. Minister describes his relationship to what he does; he is a servant, not a master. Also, it should be pointed out that he is a spiritual rather than a physical minister or servant. Physical ministration is the work of deacons. The apostles, proclaimers of the word, said "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables"' (Acts 6:2). This principle is still true. It shall remain true as long as the soul is more important than the body. Many brethren need to learn this principle and cease requiring and expecting the preacher to spend the major portion of his time ministering to the physical needs of both saints and sinners. Certainly the preacher has physical obligations, but not as a preacher. To require physical service of him because he is the preacher is to violate the principle of Acts 6:2. d. None of these descriptives is ever used as a title. They each describe some phase of the preacher's work, and should never be used as a title on the level with "Reverend," "Doctor," etc. That this is often done cannot be denied. Whenever they are used as titles they are misused. It is quite inconsistent for some to condemn the use of such title as "Father," "Reverend," and "Doctor" then use one of the above descriptives as a title. One is as much a violation of Matt. 23:8-12 as the other. The Bible does not authorize (it rather condemns) a clergy-laity distinction among God's people. Such is very prominent in the world, but it must be kept out of the Lord's church. Let us use caution in the use of these scriptural words.

B. Importance:

I fear some brethren (both preachers and others) fail properly to evaluate and appreciate the work of an evangelist. Some brethren have a degrading concept of anyone who gives his life to the work of preaching. Because of an unpleasant experience or two with some preacher, they automatically identify all preachers with the one or two they have come to dislike. I have known of a few brethren who automatically close the door of friendliness to anyone who is a preacher of the gospel. It would seem that they feel that there is no such thing as a "pretty good fellow" giving his life to proclaiming the glad message of the gospel. Therefore, if they learn that one is a preacher, they draw a circle that leaves him out. To this type of person, the preacher is a stepchild, a sort of a second-class citizen of the kingdom. He is automatically inferior to other members of the church, and they refuse to pay any attention to anything he says, and readily object to practically everything he does. With such people the preacher is never accepted, just tolerated. He is a sort of a necessary evil!

Some preachers also fail to realize the importance of their work. This is seen in the slothfulness with which they go about their work, and the poor attitude they maintain. It becomes evident that some preachers don't feel that what they do is very important. They are content to work at about half their potential, and that half is done with an attitude of indifference, sarcasm, and lethargy. The great importance of the work of an evangelist is seen from the following considerations:

1. ITS ORIGIN: It is. a gift of Christ (Eph. 4:11, 12). "When He ascended on high . . . He gave gifts unto men . . . He gave some evangelists . . . 11 This same idea is also set forth in I Peter 4: 11: "If any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified . . . 11 Of the word "gift" (Gr. DOMA) used in Eph. 4:8, Vine says, "DOMA ]ends greater stress to the concrete character of the gift, than to its beneficent nature. Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13; Eph. 4:8; Phil. 4:17." (p. 147). The evangelist's ability to do his work is supplied by God. Not in that sense that God has arbitrarily blessed each individual with the ability to preach the gospel, but God designed that the evangelist should have an important role in His kingdom. It is a distinct part of God's plan that there be evangelists, proclaimers of the glad tidings. Most everyone is duly impressed with the importance of the "pastors" work. Acts 20:28 is often quoted to show that the Holy Spirit makes elders, and from this it is argued that it is an important work. But the Holy Spirit makes elders in the same way that Christ makes evangelists. Pastors are also said to be a gift of Christ in Eph. 4:11, 12. This is really just another way of saying that God makes elders. He makes elders as they are qualified according to His word and are appointed according to His law. In this same sense, He also made apostles and prophets in New Testament days, and makes evangelists and pastors, and teachers now. Hence, any considerations that would make the work of elders important, would to some degree at least, make the work of an evangelist also important.

I would that everyone understands what is being said here. We are not suggesting that the preacher as an individual is more important than other members of the body, but rather that the work he does is an important work. One of our greatest problems is our inability to separate a preacher from his work; to distinguish between the messenger and the message he brings. Paul commanded the Thessalonians in reference to those "that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceedingly highly in love for their work's sake." (I Thess. 5:12, 13). These men are not to be esteemed "exceedingly highly" because of who they are, but because of what they do: They "labor among you and admonish you." There is a vast difference.

In like manner Paul did not tell us to highly esteem preachers because we like the way they cut their hair, wear their clothes, like to fish, play golf, visit our house often, kiss our children, hold our pet opinions, or preach for big or little churches. All this may cause us to like a person more or less as an individual, but when we begin to judge them as preachers or elders as being good or bad; significant or insignificant; liked or disliked, on such a trivial basis, we need to restudy our Bibles. If such temporal considerations are the only bases for our appreciation or lack of it for a gospel preacher, we sorely need to make some changes. The work of an evangelist is an important work because it is ordained of Christ. Let us learn to appreciate and properly evaluate it on this basis and none other.

2, ITS VAST POTENTIAL: a. It is designed to build up the church by: "Perfecting the saints" (Eph. 4:11-14). This means to bring the saints to a state of maturity by "teaching them to observe all things" that Christ has commanded them. (Matt. 28:20). This places a vast potential on the work of preachers. If we would each' keep this in mind we would labor more diligently in this great work. b. It is designed to save souls: "Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee." (I Tim. 4:16).

The vast potential of the work of an evangelist is often unrealized. When properly prosecuted, it saves the soul of the preacher and those who hear God's message he proclaims. But let it also be remembered, that if properly doing his work saves his and his hearers' souls and builds up the church, then improperly doing his work has the reverse effect of damning his and his hearers' souls and breaks down the body of Christ. This also serves to emphasize the vast potential of the evangelist's work. We are prone to think of the former, and forget the later.

3. ITS SACRED TRUST: ". . . the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust." (I Tim. 1:11). "O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee . . ." (I Tim. 6:20). This trust caused Paul to be very conscientious about his work as a preacher: "But even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts." (I Thess. 2:4). May it do the same for every gospel preacher.

We are entrusted with the gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation . (Rom. 1: 16). The word "power" here comes from the same word from which we get our word "dynamite." We all understand how careful we must be as to whom we entrust dynamite, or any other powerful weapon the world has ever known or ever shall know. If all the nuclear weapons in the world were exploded at once (God forbid!) they would not generate the vast power of the gospel. They could not save one soul! Yet the gospel has saved millions! This should serve to emphasize the importance of the work of an evangelist. The work of those entrusted with such great power should not be considered lightly. Let each and' every preacher of the gospel realize that within his hands is the power to save or damn, enlighten or blind, guide aright or mislead. When we all understand this, we will be able properly to evaluate the work of an evangelist. Until

we understand it, we will continue to consider the work simply as a social profession with an earthly mission.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 5, pp. 4-7
February 1967