Preachers and Preaching (No. 2) Man-Made Qualifications For Preachers

J. P. Needham
Louisville, Kentucky


That God has set forth certain qualifications for those who reach the word, no in formed person will deny. The brethren have also developed a long list of qualifications of their own. These do not comport with God's word, and need to be eliminated. They are sometimes absurd, sometimes humorous, and most of the time unscriptural and damaging. In this article I want us to take a look at some of them in the light of the scriptures. In the article to follow, we shall look at God's qualifications so we can make a comparison and see the difference.

1. SECULAR EDUCATION: In some congregations brethren feel a preacher is not qualified unless be holds a certain degree from a certain college. They might not tell him that their rejection of him is based solely upon such a consideration, but deep down, it is. Some brethren's demand for an educated "clergy" is more than a figment of somebody's imagination. There is certainly no effort here to overlook or even minimize the benefits to a preacher of a reasonable amount of secular education. I think it is possible for us to go too far either way: to demand too much, or accept too little. it goes without saying that one should be able to do a fair job of understanding and speaking the language in which he preaches, We sometimes make the mistake of equating education with FORMAL training. It is not necessary for one to attend Harvard to be educated. One can educate himself both in his language and in God's word if he will. Many brethren have done this, and in many instances, they are some of the most able and effective proclaimers of the word among us. There is no excuse for a preacher's remaining inadequate either in his Bible knowledge or his language. With diligence most anyone with sufficient intelligence to preach can prepare himself to do a good job of proclaiming God's word in the proper language He who through slothfulness fails thus to do, should not be surprised if the brethren reject him, and the brethren should not be criticized for so doing.

It is disturbing to see more and more preachers yielding to the brethren's demand for more secular education. Numerous brethren who do outstanding jobs as preachers bury their talents in a school room in search for higher learning. During this ' time, the good they could have done in the work is lost, and can never be regained. In many such instances, the additional education is a detriment rather than an asset. In some cases education that exceeds the average mind takes the "preach" out of a fellow rather than putting more into him. Effective preaching is the ability to make God's word real and applicable to real life situations. Higher education sometimes hampers rather than helps this ability because it increases one's ability to complicate matters, dampens his appreciation for simplicity, and makes him want to portray himself as a scholar. Those who can understand a matter when it is complicated could certainly understand it if it is simplified, so increasing the preacher's education does not increase his ability to reach the masses.

Paul preached Christ "not with words of wisdom lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect" (I Cor. 1: 17). He affirmed that he "came not with Excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God" (I Cor. 2:1). He said further that his "speech" and preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Cor. 2:4, 5). He declared that "though I be RUDE IN SPEECH, yet not in knowledge" (2 Cor. 11:6). Paul said all of this in spite of the fact that he was likely one of the most educated Jews of his generation (Acts 22:3; 5:34).

From these considerations, therefore, we are able to reach these deductions in reference to preachers and higher education: (1) It does not in all instances make of one a more able preacher, more capable of communicating with the common mind; (2) It is not a scriptural qualification for an evangelist; and (3) when brethren demand it as such, they are seeking a worldly status symbol and are on the same ground with those who demand seminary training for professional clergymen.

II. A DYNAMIC PERSONALITY: Certainly all Christians should be pleasing in their manners, and attractive in their personalities. There is a difference, however, between these and what brethren sometimes require of a preacher. They demand that he be dynamic; that he be always bubbling over, effervescent. They want his personality and dynamic manner to be the talk of the town. They deem this essential to draw the people of the community to the church, which it may do, but only to be entertained by a dynamic personality. In one community where this writer lived it was feared that the brethren were going to fire him and hire the local Baptist preacher because they constantly compared our personalities. They said he had a "million-dollar" one. I do not remember the dollar and cents value they placed on mine, but it must have been rather cheap! A church that is built up around anything else than Christ is not a church that is of Christ (Rom. 16:16). It is OF the person around whose personality it is built. Paul condemned this sort of thing in the Corinthians.

III. HANDSOMENESS: Some of us were born with more good looks than others. The unfortunate ones can do very little about the matter except just do the best they can with what they have. Having done this, they have done all God expects of them. The brethren should not expect more. Some brethren are looking for a real "specimen" for a preacher. They sometimes do this because of the pressure of the fashionable sisters. They are sometimes quite demanding that the preacher be a real dude, and there are some of these around. This individual must not be just a neat dresser, he must be flashy! A real playboy type. His clothes must be of the latest style. His hat band and his socks must match and his shoes polished to a glassy finish. The crease in his suit must be razor sharp, and his shirt freshly laundered, and he can increase his popularity even more if he will preach short, shallow sermons and call the sisters "darling," as I knew of one or two doing. These people would have found John the Baptist in his Camel's hair clothing (Mt. 3:4), and Paul in his prison garb quite repulsive. They could not have tolerated some of the "pioneers" who preached and baptized in the same clothes because they were all they had. These would offend their delicate sense of propriety.

We do not mean to leave the impression that a preacher is justified in being sloppy in his dress, and unkempt in his person not by any means! Nothing commendatory can be said for a Christian, much less a preacher, who takes no pride in his person. One should make an effort to look neat and clean and as well as good judgment and resources will allow. There is a vast difference, however, between this and a deliberate effort to be a flashy dandy who adorns himself in that which is gaudy with the idea of creating a "trade mark," and drawing more attention to the message he is supposed to bring. There is something drastically wrong when people can see more of the preacher's personality and dress when he is in the pulpit than of the gospel of Christ. We preachers should avoid extremes at either end of this matter. We dare not be slovene and we must not be dudish.

IV. SOCIAL FINESSE: Some brethren expect a preacher- to be a skilled artisan in community social affairs. They demand that he be seen at the right places, and be elected to office in the proper community organizations. This makes him a real community leader, and draws attention to the church. They want him to be a real mushy, gushy, back-slapping social butterfly that can make his way in civic and social circles. There are cases where this is the brethren's prime concern.

V. A LOT OF BRASS AND A BIG MOUTH: The brethren sometimes demand that a preacher be a brassy big mouth. Some seem to think these are the essential ingredients of a gospel preacher. They want someone who can talk (palaver); who can carry the conversational ball to "pay dirt." They think a gospel preacher should be a bumptious, brassy personality to the point of being uncouth and meddlesome (1 Pet. 4: IS). When he shows off, they -brag on him, and he gets worse. He prides himself in getting folks told, and feels that he is not being effective unless he is stirring antagonism within the church over trivialities. He preaches in a bombastic tone, making brash and sometimes uncouth statements which he overbearingly dares anyone to deny, and when he has no takers, he and his followers gloat and take courage in the fact that he is a real "champion of the faith." If someone challenges his opinions, he is at once buried beneath an avalanche of epithets and handled in an unscrupulous and unbrotherly manner, and be who does not relish such an involvement and steers clear of such a fellow, "is just a coward who knows he doesn't have the truth." It is not unusual to find such a fellow with a large following because many brethren consider this an important qualification of an evangelist.

VI. COMMON INTERESTS: Sometimes brethren demand that the preacher have common interests with them. If they are avid golfers, he must be. He either gets interested or the brethren get sour. If he happens to like to fish, they complain that he spends too much of his time at the lake, but if he spent twice that much time with them on the golf course, he would be a real live-wire preacher - "one of the best we have ever had!"

Or there may be a few brethren in the congregation who think they are the only members with enough gray matter to "run the church" and who look down their sophisticated noses at the commoners and set themselves up as the self-appointed watch dogs over the congregation. This group feels that they have a monopoly on the preacher and his time. He is supposed to feel honored that they consider him a part of the "in" crowd, the clique, and he should show his appreciation by spending a great deal of his time in their company conspiring about what will be the next move in the business meeting.

If the preacher, however, chooses to spend his time discharging his God-given responsibilities to study and preach (2 Tim. 2:15; 4:1, 2) and "doing nothing by partiality" (I Tim. 5:21), he is "uncooperative," and ~4won't listen to advice" and should be moved on "for the good of the cause." He is not qualified for the job!

VII. WELL RECOMMENDED: Some brethren are very demanding that a preacher come well recommended. That means that their friends like him and their enemies do not! This constitutes a good recommendation with some. Otherwise a fellow just could not amount to much! I had one elder to tell me that they were going to employ me because I "knew the right people" and I had been "associated with the right company."

Brethren sometimes act very foolishly about recommendations. I certainly would encourage them to learn something about a preacher's character and work before employing him, but they need to be realistic. Are brethren too naive to see that a man's friends will always recommend his and his enemies never will? Just about anyone can find someone who will recommend him. He may be a sorry father and husband. He may be a poor excuse for a preacher and he may have left behind him a string of unpaid debts, or even be a fornicator, but he can still find somebody who will recommend him. Sometimes well-meaning and well-known brethren will recommend such a preacher. They refuse to take into consideration that this preacher's work and life may be a reproach to Christ and a detriment to the church. They give such men a "good recommendation," the brethren rejoice that they have a "good man" because brother blank gave him a "good recommendation." After a few months the brethren learn the truth, and heartache and sorrow follow.

VIII. THE RIGHT AGE: A very important preacher qualification with some brethren is that he be the right age. It is sometimes hard to know just what is the right age, because if one is old he is too old, and if young, too young! The brethren tell a young preacher he does not have enough experience without realizing that if every church were like them he would never have enough - in fact none!! Then, if an older preacher is being considered, they drop the experience qualification and say "he is too old to do the work we want done." So, in the final analysis, they want the vigor of youth and the wisdom and experience of age all in one person. This is not possible. The truth of the matter is that there are advantages and disadvantages to both age and youth. A young man usually is able to stir up more enthusiasm, while his pulpit efforts may suffer from lack of depth and experience. An older preacher may not be the live wire he once was, but the years have matured his preaching and his sermons are gems of wisdom which spring from the depths of his understanding of God's revelation gained through many laborious hours of study and a rich experience. Either one would do any church good. Every church needs what either can supply; whether depth of Bible knowledge or youthful enthusiasm. Paul recognized the problems of a young preacher when he admonished Timothy: "Let no man despise thy youth ..." (I Tim. 4:12). He also demonstrated the advantage of age when he wrote Philemon and said, "Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as PAUL THE AGED, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Phile. 9). When "Paul the aged" wrote to the Philippians of ' the younger Timothy, he said: "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I HAVE NO MAN LIKE MINDED, WHO WILL NATURALLY CARE FOR YOUR STATE" (Phil. 2:19, 20). Such dedication is still characteristic of many young men known to this writer. With all of this evidence before us, we need to be careful about accepting or rejecting a preacher of the gospel on the basis of his age. It is purely a human qualification.

IX MARRIED: A very important qualification with MOST churches is that a preacher MUST be married. Had they lived in the first century, Paul, one of the greatest preachers of all time, would have been almost without a place to preach. Brethren say that a preacher can do more good if he is married. That is debatable. But whether it can be determined one way or another is beside the point. The real question is where did God make this qualification for a preacher of the gospel? This is what we need to know. How many of the preachers about whom we read in the New Testament were married? Just study and try to find out! There are many able men who would give full time to the preaching of the word if the brethren would cease imposing this manmade qualification. I certainly think it is good that a preacher be married. God designed marriage, and knew that it was conducive to man's greatest happiness, but nobody has the right to REQUIRE it of a preacher of the gospel.

X RIGHT NUMBER OF CHILDREN: In order to be used by some churches, a preacher must have just the right number of children. Usually it is the fewer the better. It takes more to sustain a larger family, so the brethren prefer a preacher with a small family. Some have been heard to remark that a preacher with a large family should get a secular job to support his family more adequately. Because of this, we have lost many great talents who have left the great work of full-time preaching in order to more adequately provide for their own (I Tim. 5:8). Those who have had the dedication to tough it out live on sub-standard wages, or the wife is forced to seek employment to supplement his income, which action is often severely criticized by the brethren.

XI. WIFE: One of the most unjust qualifications the brethren have invented is what they many times require of the preacher's wife. It is not unusual for them to REQUIRE that she not work outside the home. Now, in many cases known to me, the very brethren who made this requirement have working wives. They have a double standard. Their wives can work and give them a double income, but not the preacher's! In some such cases I have known these brethren's income alone was more than the preacher's, but it is fine for their wives to work, but not for the preacher's. Brethren, where is our sense of justice and fairness?

But, the brethren say they want the preacher's wife to be free to help him in the work. They want her to be active in the local church program, and to be free to make calls with him. What it really boils down to is that the brethren want two employees for the price of one! They pay only one salary, which in some cases is inadequate, but they want it to procure the services of both the preacher and his wife.

Then, there are some brethren who want the preacher's wife to be known in social circles. They want her to be prominent in the woman's club and in the PTA. They want her to be stylish, and wear good clothes and be a woman of society. If she stays at home and quietly does her work and discharges her God-given responsibility, she is not satisfactory.


These are some of the man-made qualifications which the brethren have invented. Not a one of them can be found in the New Testament as a requirement of a gospel preacher. Brethren need to take stock of their attitudes and dispositions to see if they are demanding more of the preacher than does God. If they find they are, they need to stop it. Some of the matters dealt with in this installment play a prominent part in the present preacher shortage which will be dealt with later. There are so many lost people in the world. They are dying and going to torment for lack of workers. In, the midst of all this, the brethren many times manifest attitudes and place such demands upon preachers that they hinder large numbers of individuals from entering the harvest field. Brethren, it is a very serious matter. We need to bring our thinking into line with God's. We need to encourage rather than discourage men who would become preachers of the gospel. To accomplish this has been the design and desire of the writer of this article.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 6, pp. 4-8
March 1967