Preachers and Preaching (VIII)

Church Problems with Preachers

Louisville, Kentucky
James P. Needham


We are all too prone to generalize. Preachers who have had difficulty with a church or two tend to generalize and think all churches are ruthless and out to take advantage of preachers. When churches have a bad experience or two with preachers, they have a tendency to identify all preachers with them. This practice is unfair, and has done untold harm to both preachers and churches. The truth is, there are some churches and preachers which are not what they should be and are not always fair and just in their dealings. This statement leaves another alternative, namely, there are some preachers and some churches which are good, fair and just in their dealings. Generalizing is a bad practice in any field. It will bring one to erroneous conclusions and warp the mind if one persists in it.

In this article and the one to follow I want to look at both sides of the "coin," (and I insist that there are TWO sides). I want to consider CHURCH PROBLEMS WITH PREACHERS, and PREACHER PROBLEMS WITH CHURCHES. It is devoutly hoped that by a frank presentation of these problems we can all come to a better understanding, and make our work more harmonious and beneficial to all concerned. First let us look at some legitimate complaints churches sometimes make against preachers:

1) PERSONALITY: Some preachers pose problems in local work because of certain personality traits. To some degree our personalities are inherited, but to a much larger degree, they are acquired. We have the power to influence what we are, especially when we add the tremendous power of the gospel to our own wills. Let us look at some of the personality traits in preachers which cause problems to churches in local work:

a) Immaturity: Some preachers are immature. This is manifested by:

A) A martyr complex. They are terribly offended at any kind of criticism. They cannot stand for anyone to disagree with them. They must always be right, and have their way or they are being persecuted. In their conversation, writings and preaching they are constantly bemoaning their lot and feeling sorry for themselves. They are always mistreated. They can see a conspiracy against them in almost everything the brethren do or say, hence, they are constantly on the defensive against everybody and everything. The brethren are afraid to talk to them about any problems, and so sit back and wait for them to move.

B) Demand for special treatment. They want the local brethren to "make over them," to constantly show them special attention. If they fail to receive it, they pout and feel that they are not appreciated, and take it as a sign that their work is finished in that locality and it is time "to move on for the good of the cause." They thus feel that the only time they are succeeding is when everyone is showering them with special attention.

b. Egotism: Some preachers pose problems because of their extreme egotism. They think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Rom. 12:3). They feel that being a preacher exalts them above everyone else, and entitles them to have "an high look and a proud heart" (Prov. 21:4), which are sin. They seem to feel that the whole world is trying to Catch up with them and that "wisdom shall die" with them (job 12:2). These brethren are the untouchables! The brethren cannot approach them, they are too high and mighty to condescend to the level of the commoners (Rom. 12:16). These brethren continually boast of what "I" did. They are great; if you do not believe it, just ask them!

c) Antagonism: Some preachers are constantly antagonistic. Their attitudes are nearly always negative. They seem not to be able to live at peace with anyone (Rom. 12:18). They keep the brethren up in arms most of the time. They have the strange ability to get everybody mad at everybody else. They seem unable to be happy if things are going along smoothly, so they have to "start something." They must constantly swim up stream to be happy. Nobody should shy away from swimming up stream if and when it is necessary, but should not want to do it just for the excitement of it, and when it is foolish to do so.

There are some preaching brethren who need a good, course in human relations. They have just not learned how to get along with people. They are able in the pulpit, but rude, sarcastic, and antagonistic out of it. Regardless of what may be said, a preacher just must be able to get along with people if his work is to be successful. This is why some brethren who lack pulpit ability sometimes do more effective work than some outstanding pulpiteers. They are able to live with the brethren, and feel their problems. They are interested in people, rather than demanding that people be interested in them. They solve problems rather than cause them. They have matured - grown up.

2) FAMILY: The question might arise as to why the preacher's family should be any more of a problem than any other member's. Especially does the preacher whose family has become a problem raise such a question. It may be hard for some to see the difference, but it is there whether we see it or not. James dealt with the problem when he said the teacher "shall receive the greater condemnation" (James 3: 1). 1 am of the strong belief that this has reference to what men think and demand of the teacher.

The preacher's family has the unique power to make or break him as a preacher. If his wife "over dresses" or "under dresses," people take note of it. If his wife is lazy and sloven about her house and/or her person, it will adversely affect his work. If his children misbehave at any time, it is always viewed differently than when others' children do so. If his wife talks too much, it seems to do more harm than when other brethren's wives do it.

All of this emphasizes the importance of a preacher's keeping his family under control. His influence will be very limited if he fails, and the brethren will very likely be glad -when he decides to move, or else they may ask him to do so. We all know of some preacher who is outstanding, but whose work is terribly handicapped by his wife and/or children. Some preachers' wives are constant issues in the church where they work. No doubt in some cases unjustly so, and yet in many she conducts her self in such a way that she becomes a point of controversy.

There are many instances where the preacher's wife is not spiritually dedicated. She is lukewarm and indifferent. She is not a preacher's wife by choice, but by necessity, and just about everybody knows it. She would much prefer that her husband do something else. She is a constant discouragement to him. She is dissatisfied with his income, and unceasingly complains that she is deprived of things she would like to have. Because she blames the church for all her troubles, she is sour with the members, and is not interested in her husband's work. He must meet his responsibilities as a preacher in spite of her rather than with her help and encouragement,

"The preacher's children are meaner than anyone else's." Did you ever hear that? Why is it said so often? Is it because it is so? Hardly. It is because people expect more of his children than of others. Of course, some preacher's children are worse than some of the members, but we cannot justly generalize on specifics. When preachers' children fail to conduct themselves properly, it is magnified by virtue of the fact that their father is a preacher. This emphasizes the importance of a preacher's being more careful to discipline, and properly train his children. The misconduct of anyone's children always reflects on the parents, but this is especially true in the case of preachers. It is easy for a preacher to neglect his children. Sometimes, like Eli, we get so busy doing the work of the Lord and trying to save other people that we lose our own children. This is, hardly justifiable, but it often happens. Too, the fact that the preacher and his family live in a goldfish bowl, makes it hard on his children. They have a tendency to resent this.

A great deal of the discipline of the preacher's children rests upon his wife. He is often gone in meetings, and when he is at home, he spends much time in private study, and in services he cannot sit with his wife and help with the children. I am certain that all of this and perhaps other considerations heavily influence what a preacher's family is. I am not trying to excuse anyone's misconduct, but to explain it. Maybe when we determine the cause of the problem, preachers will seek to improve the situation, and churches will grow more understanding and sympathetic.

3) LAZINESS: It is bad for anyone to be lazy. The Bible makes no provision for a lazy person. Man is supposed to work (Eph. 4:28), and the church is forbidden to feed a brother who refuses (2 Thess. 3:10~). It is unfortunate, but sometimes a lazy man becomes a preacher. It is not a bad occupation for a lazy man! It is possible for a lazy man to GET BY as a preacher. I said "get by," not be successful or effective. With a bare minimum of work, and a lot of socializing with the brethren, one can sort of make it with a few churches. Most of them, however, expect more of the preacher than just getting by, and when they fail to get it, problems with the preacher arise. There is hardly anything they can do about it except ask him to move. It is hard to change a lazy person.

Laziness in a preacher is manifested in several ways. In most instances it is seen in his personal appearance. He will not keep his clothes clean, or his hair cut. He will look untidy, and unkempt. It is, more evident in his lack of activity. He will sleep well up into the morning, spend considerable time at his favorite recreation or past time activity, and his study will go almost unused until sometime Saturday. He will then rush in and dig out an old canned sermon, or frantically browse through some sermon outline books for a second-handed one he can get to "lather" without much "rubbing." It. is said that "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," and so, the proof of the sermon is in the hearing. Hence, the preacher's laziness is most vividly manifested at the time of delivery. He wanders around like a gander in a hail storm, gets lost in his notes, and frantically grasps for something to say on every point. He does not have anything to say but he has to say something! He unwittingly maneuvers himself into saying things he has, not thought out, and gets out into deep water without knowing how to swim. He goes down and blubbers until his time is up! If someone asks him to prove some unguarded statement, he becomes furious with fright and hot with anger. He blames his problems on people who are "out to get him," but deep down in his own heart, he knows his troubles stem from his own laziness and inaction. The people go away feeling much worse than when they came, and are often times at a loss to explain why they cannot get anything out of brother Blankmind's sermons.

Preacher laziness is also manifested in one's lack of interest in preaching. Some brethren do not want to preach if they can get by without it. They do not want to hold meetings for small churches where their help is badly needed. They will accept a few meetings if they are located where they have friends who like to fish or golf, and/or the pay is good, but without these benefits, they will tell the brethren, "I just cannot arrange to come." It may be hard for some to imagine a preacher who does, not want to preach, but there are several of them around. There are preachers who do not want to preach just like there are overseers, who do not want to oversee, and servants who do not want to serve, and members who do not want to work.

4) THE LEECH: There are some preaching brethren who are like leeches. They refuse to move when they should, and then there are those who continue to interfere in the work of the congregation after they are gone. Churches never get rid of some preachers. I know there are some churches which are too anxious to move the preacher. They think this will solve all their problems and usher in a golden age in the history of the congregation. But then, we must all admit that there is a time to move and a time to stay. A preacher who has or creates some of the problems we have discussed can reach the moving point rather quickly. There are actually cases where the preacher is the source of most, if not all, of a congregation's problems; where his continuing with a particular church is a detriment to it. Such a person should move, but many times does not. The brethren sometimes try to make it easy for him to move, but he refuses to go without a point blank "firing." When it finally comes to this, the preacher takes it as a personal insult, and tries to use it to prejudice other people against the congregation or as fuel to feed the flame of rebellion and unrest within the congregation.

There are preaching brethren who never really move from any church with which they have worked. The continue to interfere in the work, and seek to influence their followers who remain there. Churches are never able to rid themselves of the bad influence of the problematic preachers they have had. We know brethren who are quite adept at building up a cult of personality - a personal following; a band of people in every church with which they have lived who constantly seek their counsel and follow their bidding in continually causing problems within the church. Then, when a sufficient number of congregations discover such a preacher's characteristics and it becomes difficult for him to find a place to preach, he can always back-track and start him a church of his own from his personality cult. Such groups are called churches of Christ, but they are really cults of personality they are churches of those personalities around which they are formed.

5) THE SALESMAN: It is sometimes difficult to determine if some brethren are preacher-salesmen, or salesmen -preachers! It is indeed hard to discover which is the most important to them: the proclamation of the gospel, or the selling of a commodity. It seems that they view every Christian, not as a beloved brother in Christ, but another opportunity to make a few dollars; it is shameful for a preacher to use his position and influence among brethren as an opportunity to peddle something. It is not only degrading to him personally, but it cheapens the church and the gospel. It is not often that such merchandising turns out well, especially if intangibles are involved, When Christians buy from other Christians they have a tendency to expect too much of what they buy, and if it does not meet their expectations, they say, "I bought this from brother Money Back, and he has taken advantage of me." It is folly to deny this because too many concrete examples of it can be produced. No doubt Paul included such in his instruction to Timothy when he said, "No soldier on service entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." (2 Tim. 2:4) Today as in the past the church desperately needs gospel preachers who are dedicated to the task of "full-time preaching." Much of the preaching done today shows a serious lack of preparation. Some churches with "full-time" preachers are starving to death spiritually. When someone comes in for a meeting who preaches meaty sermons, the members say, "I wish we had that kind of preaching all the time." This is sometimes due to the fact that the preacher is thinking about and working at something else more than preaching. There are preachers who work so hard at trying to sell some physical commodity during gospel meetings that one wonders if they came to preach or sell. As a result, the meeting suffers.

Now, I know there is another side to this 14coin." I am sure someone is ready to say that churches do not adequately support preachers, and I know that this is often true, but 1 ask: is the preacher's becoming a salesman the solution to the problem? Should all preachers become part-time preachers and part-time salesmen, or insist that the churches discharge their duty to adequately support them? One bad situation does not justify creating another one. We shall deal more adequately with the support problem in a later article.

6) MISCONCEPTION: Some preachers become problems to churches because they misconceive their work; hence spend the major portion of their time doing what preachers are not supposed to do. It may be that the preacher is trying to take over the work of the elders, deacons or members. He is busy overseeing the flock, taking care of their physical needs or serving as church secretary and office boy. This may make him popular with some churches and unpopular with others, but it always makes him a poor preacher. One cannot be a good preacher when he spends the major portion of his time doing what in previous articles we have shown is not a preacher's work. You are asked to refer to them if you have any questions.

Churches who complain about the inefficiency of their preacher AS A PREACHER will do well to observe what he is doing with his time. If he is spending more of it at something else beside studying and teaching, you have found the problem. No man known to me can be a fresh, interesting and instructive preacher who does not spend a large portion of his time reading, studying, praying and meditating. One cannot teach what he does not know. He will not preach God's word if he is not full of it.


Perhaps there are other problems which churches have with preachers that should be discussed. It was necessary to choose some of the more prominent ones, rather than try to be exhaustive on the matter. It is our hope and prayer that these articles will result in a better relationship between churches and preachers, and greatly improve our effectiveness in spreading the gospel of Christ.

November 1967