Preachers and Preaching (No. X)

Preacher Problems With Churches Employment Practices

James P. Needham
Louisville, Kentucky


In a previous article we dealt with CHURCH PROBLEMS WITH PREACHERS. You are asked to refer to that article should you doubt that our discussions are well balanced. From the beginning of this Series I have tried to be objective and fair in all considerations; to present both sides of the problems of the preacher-church relationship. In the present article I shall discuss some of the problems preachers have with churches in the area of employment. Preachers almost universally resent some of the practices of the churches in their efforts to employ a new preacher. Let us consider the following:

A. PULPIT PARADES: It is not unusual for some churches to "try out" 8 or 10 different brethren in their efforts to employ a new preacher without giving any one a definite answer. Most preachers resent this sort of thing. They do not like to be put in competition with other brethren for a given church. It professionalizes and carnalizes the whole situation. Beside this, it has been proven to be a very poor way to select a preacher. Different people have varying tastes, and just as surely as a church brings in two preachers for comparison, the members are going to be divided; some liking one, some another. There will be almost as many divisions of sentiment as there are preachers paraded before the church. Some of these pulpit parades remind one of the old talent show. People of varying talents are asked to participate and the one scoring highest with the audience gets the prize. The whole thing smacks of carnality, and reduces the great work of God to the ridiculous level of personal competition.

I can almost hear somebody say, "Show us a better way." Well, I believe I can. Most anything would be better than the plan described. Why do not churches investigate a preacher before they ever contact him; learn something about his life, ability and work. Decide if he is the sort of man in which they would be interested, and if he is, then contact him to see if he is interested in them. Should he be, invite him for a discussion of the work. Settle with him one way or another as soon as possible. If no agreement with him can be reached, repeat the procedure with someone else. This is far better for all concerned than the pulpit parade whereby a number of preachers are called, heard, talked with, and left pending the brethren's hearing some other men they have in mind before making a definite decision.

There are some cases where the "pending decision" is just a polite way of telling the preacher that be has lost the contest. It leaves him thinking he might have a chance to win it when the church has already decided he has lost it - for some reason they do not tell him. It is one of those "Don't call-us-we'll-call-you" situations! The preacher continues his consideration of other places, but holds all of them in abeyance until he learns whether or not he won a previous contest. This many times results in his going nowhere.

I think just about everyone will agree that no preacher can be judged fairly on the basis of one or two sermons. (I prefer not to be so judged). Most any preacher can preach a good sermon or two, and in a "trial sermon" situation, everyone, including the preacher, is on his best behavior. How can a preacher or a church make a fair judgment under such circumstances? If the preacher preaches one of his bad sermons, he will not be asked to move. If he preaches one of his best and gets the work, the brethren will be disappointed later. Why not invite the prospective preacher to hold a meeting? Hear him preach numerous times. Ask him about his work, his life, his methods, etc. Give him a chance to visit the homes of the brethren and ask them questions. (This is a two-way street, you know). In this way both the preacher and the church will be in a better position to decide whether they could work together harmoniously. This would avert many heartaches, and tragedies in local churches. It would prevent many unnecessary moves on the part of preachers and benefit all concerned.

B. EXPENSES: Some churches are very inconsiderate of a preacher's expenses when they ask him to come and consider working with them. Some churches make only a token contribution toward his actual expenses. There are a few churches which will pay 'nothing. I knew of a case where a preacher traveled over a thousand miles to investigate a certain work. The brethren offered him nothing toward Iris expenses. He asked one of the elders if they planned to let him bear all the expenses of the trip. He got this reply, "Yes, we had a meeting and decided that you were looking for a job, so the expenses for the trip are your responsibility." It seemingly never occurred to them that while the preacher was looking' for a job, they were looking for a preacher. We need to learn to be fair with each other.

I think many such actions are unthoughted, though I doubt that this one was. Brethren seem to fail to realize that those who give full time to preaching are wholly dependent upon the church for a living (I Cor. 9:14). A great deal of what a preacher is paid goes back into the work anyway, and every instance of such treatment works a great hardship on him and his family. There are not many brethren who WANT to do this, but they do it nevertheless through unthoughtedness.

C. RECOMMENDATIONS: Most churches want a prospective preacher to come "well recommended." I think this is a good idea, if it is properly used. All should recognize, however, that one's friends will always recommend him and his enemies never will. This emphasizes the necessity of making sure the recommendation is objective; that it fairly represents the facts in the case. I have known of churches which recommended a preacher to another church because they wanted to get rid of him! I have also known of preachers who could produce a "good recommendation" when they did not deserve one. Furthermore, I have known of some preachers who got a bad one without deserving it.

I often hear it said, "If you want to know about a preacher's work, ask the brethren for whom he has been preaching." I think this is generally true, but there are exceptions. In cases where there has been some trouble, churches will sometimes make the preacher into a "escape goat." They will unjustly attribute the trouble to him, and give him a "bad recommendation" in order to make them look better. They chop him down so they will look taller. Then there are also cases where people will give a preacher a "good recommendation" because they are ignorant of his rascality. Most of us have been guilty of this. Then there are those who will give a preacher a "good recommendation" knowing he does not deserve it. They are swayed by friendship or other loyalties to try to help this brother. In reality it helps nobody. It may very well hurt everybody involved. It is really an unwitting act of dishonesty to give one a recommendation we know he does not deserve.

Recommending preachers is dangerous business. All should exercise great caution. A recommendation is a good thing, if it is true. Churches should seek them of prospective preachers, and prospective preachers should seek them of prospective churches. Both should guard against unfairness. It is usually best not to take any one party's word, but strive for a cross-section; weigh all the facts, then decide.

D. NEGOTIATE FOR LOWEST SALARY: Some churches approach employment of a preacher like trading for a new automobile; they want the best man at the lowest price. They act as though the church treasury belongs to them and they want to make every bargain they possibly can. They measure everything in the work of the Lord in terms of dollars and cents. This is sometimes the motivation of a preacher parade. Several preachers are "tried out" so the brethren can pick the best one with the lowest price tag.

Brethren cannot help but know that the preacher is at a disadvantage in such matters. Most preachers are aware that some brethren are pretty handy with the charge that preachers are mercenary, and hence will not look out for their own good for fear of becoming the object of such a charge. They will allow the brethren to treat them any old way. I have known of many preachers who have agreed to inadequate salaries simply because they were not willing to stand up for their rights. After a few months in the new location, they are struggling to meet their budget, and things begin to become unpleasant. He begins to feel that the brethren have taken advantage of him, and the church has less respect for him than they would have had he stood up for his rights. Time to move on for the good of the cause comes rather soon in a situation like this!

Brethren need to have more consideration in the matter of preacher's salaries. (See the previous article for a fuller discussion of this matter). The money given on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1, 2) is for the work God gave the church to do. Supporting preachers is one such work (I Cor. 9:14; 2 Cor. 11:8). Each church should give some serious thought to its preacher's salary to determine if it is adequate. Every effort should be made to make it sufficient for all of his needs, rather than getting him to do the work of an evangelist at the lowest possible price. Churches should be as liberal as possible, rather than as miserly as possible. They should not be worried about over paying the preacher. It is impossible to over pay a good one - he will not allow it. This must not be a very grave danger anyway since God nowhere warns the church against this "evil."

I often hear it said that "a preacher should make as much as the average member." How do we figure this? It is a bit difficult. Here is a suggestion as to how it might be done:

1. Add up the GROSS income of all members of the church.

2. Divide it by the number of wage earners in the congregation.

3. This will give the average gross income in the congregation, hence, what the preacher should be paid, if he is to be paid as much as the average member.

I believe I can guarantee that this formula will give 75% of all the preachers I know a good raise.

Preaching carries with it a certain amount of emotional strain. It requires great concentration. It is very difficult to do the work of a preacher with the strain of financial pressure added to the stress that naturally goes with preaching. When brethren are dissatisfied with the work of their preacher, they would do well to look into his salary. Many years of observation have demonstrated that this plays a major role in preacher inefficiency.


I firmly believe that if churches would take heed to the suggestions set forth in this article, some very prevalent problems in the church-preacher relationship would be solved. I am certain that I do not have all the answers, but personal experience has convinced me that I have arrived at some of them. I would like to see both churches and preachers try to come to a better understanding of each other's point of view. There is absolutely too much friction in their relationship. This produces some very serious consequences that eight not to be, such as stifling growth in the local church, too frequent moving of preachers which is a useless waste of money that could be better used, and general misery for all concerned. The seeds of much of this are sown at the point of employment due to failures in both preachers and churches. Preachers are too reluctant to speak out concerning their needs and many churches are too uninformed to know them otherwise, or they may just be given to poor practices. The work of our Lord is far too precious and important for churches and preachers to waste so much time and money seeking perfect churches or preachers and finding none. If both churches and preachers would speak out and conscientiously strive for thorough understanding at the time of employment, much of this could be eliminated. Churches and preachers which start off wrong do not usually end up right! There is no substitute for understanding.

January 1968