Preachers and Preaching No. (XII)
Keeping the Preacher
J. P. Needham
"And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, that passeth by us continually. Let us make, I pray thee, a little chamber with walls; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a seat, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunemmite. And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee . . ." (2 Kings 4:8-13).
From the days of old, preachers have lived an itinerant life. Most preachers spend many days each year as guests in the homes of others. It seems to have always been so. Let us notice several instances in addition to the classic one given above from the Old Testament:
"Go your ways; behold I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no wallet, no shoes; and salute no man on the way. And into whatsoever house ye shall enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if a son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him: but if not, it shall turn to you again. And in that same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house . . ." (Luke 10:3-7).
"And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth" (Acts 9:11).
"And now send men to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side" (Acts 10:5, 6).
"And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, if ye have judged me faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us" (Acts 16:15)
"And on the morrow we departed, and came unto Caesarea: and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him" (Acts 21:8).
Some people think this must be "the life of Riley," and vow they would enjoy this feature of the preacher's life. It is certainly true that, for the most part, it is a very pleasant experience. It does have some problems, however. It is the purpose of this article to discuss some of them in a very frank and brotherly fashion. The observations and suggestions made herein will be appreciated by most preachers, and can be very profitable to brethren and sisters who heed them.
I. Where to Keep the Preacher
Many churches have trouble deciding where to keep the preacher. Their decision is often made in ignorance of his needs. He usually stays with those who volunteer to keep him. In most congregations this is narrowed down to two or three families who have kept the visiting preachers many years. Here are some suggestions as to where the preacher can best be kept.
(1) Not where he will be alone with the lady of the house all day: It seems quite absurd that such a suggestion is necessary, but it is. Common sense and good judgment should automatically tell brethren not to put preachers in this kind of a situation. I am not suggesting that either the sisters or the preachers are necessarily endangered by such circumstances. I am saying that it is senseless to create a situation where a problem might arise. Even if no real problem exists, one can always be imagined by those who have over-active minds and tongues. It is much easier to prevent such gossip than to stop it once it is started. We should "give no occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully" (I Tim. 5:15).
Most preachers have been put in this type situation at one time or another. I think most of them would be quick to say that it creates a sticky climate and an uncomfortable position. One finds it difficult to be at ease, and will often spend much of his valuable time window shopping or loafing somewhere in order to relieve his discomfort. The brethren should try to put themselves in the preacher's shoes; view the matter from his point of view. No right thinking man enjoys spending 8 or 10 days alone with someone else's wife!
(2) Where he can have some privacy: Preaching the gospel is a very demanding task. To do it well, the preacher needs a great deal of time alone for study, meditation, and relaxation. Brethren often seem to put him where be is least likely to have these. Noisy children can be very annoying when one is trying to relax or prepare a sermon. Unfortunately, many of today's children are ill disciplined, and are allowed to -frequent the preacher's room, ask a thousand questions and meddle in his private belongings. In such homes the preacher is often deprived of bathroom privacy. The children line up at the door to get in, or beat on it and yell, "Let me in!" In many homes the bathroom door has no inside latch, so for fear of having his shower interrupted by the children, the preacher makes other provisions for his bath, or does without, by necessity. Most preachers will readily admit that some meetings are periods to be endured rather than enjoyed.
It is often true that the people who keep the preacher are the most poorly equipped to do so. He may be forced to share a room with children and the bathroom with the entire family while those with more accommodating facilities stand by unconcerned.
The point is not that preachers are too good to stay where accommodations are less than the best, but most preachers would greatly appreciate brethren doing the best they can. When this is done, 99% of the preachers will appreciate it, and it is safe to' say that about that same percentage will resent the unconcern that is often manifested by churches toward this matter.
Another point of irritation is the lack of planning in reference to where he shall stay. He often arrives for the meeting with absolutely no idea as to where he is to stay. Sometimes plans have been made, but the brethren do not bother to notify him. He gets to town and has to make 2 or 3 telephone calls or locate some of the brethren to find out where he is going to lodge.
Then there are times when two or three people have decided to keep the preacher. After the first service they all invite him to stay with them. They get in a big discussion over the matter before everyone in the vestibule. The preacher becomes their embarrassed victim. To resolve the matter, they tell the preacher to "take your pick." The preacher does not know what to do. He can hardly make a decision that will please everyone concerned, so he tries to put the responsibility to decide upon those inviting him.
Brethren, this is absurd! Where the preacher shall stay is "church business." The decision concerning this should be made before he arrives. He should be notified either by the church or by those who will keep him. Surely we can all agree that this is the decent and orderly way to do it (I Cor. 14:39).
Often the solution to the problems herein discussed is the modern motel or hotel. Where it is either inconvenient or impractical to keep the preacher in a private home, brethren should make provisions for his lodging at some commercial inn. Most preachers welcome this arrangement because it gives them privacy to live more closely to their normal routine rather than try to fit themselves into someone else's. They can come and go as they please, and not feel they are imposing upon someone. They can study and write and generally hold a much better meeting than under less relaxed circumstances. The brethren will be more pleased with, his work, and the few extra dollars it will cost will be well spent.
II. Some Do's and Donts for Those Who Keep Preachers:
(1) Do not over feed him: Experience has shown that preaching is not what makes meeting work hard on preachers; it is the eating! The sisters with good intentions mistakenly feel they must cook all of their finest dishes when the preacher comes. Their insistence and the preacher's weakness add up to serious stomach problems and/or obesity. Sometimes the sisters appear to be insulted if the preacher does not eat something of everything they fix. Certainly nobody with culture and refinement wants to offend a hostess. Hence, for fear of doing this, many preachers eat more than they should. By the third or fourth day, he might as well close the meeting and go home! He is so stuffed that he cannot preach! His brain will not work and his lungs have no room to expand. By the end of the meeting he is a sick man! The brethren will brag on his work, and he may feel well when he leaves for home, but it will take him at least a week to recover.
Paul advised Timothy, "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities" (1 Tim. 5:23). Preachers had stomach trouble even in New Testament times! A large percent of them have it now! A major cause is overeating of rich, fancy foods. Following some comments along this line a lady recently said to me, "What you are saying is that preachers are doing a poor job of obeying Gal. 5." To which I readily agreed, but replied that the sisters are doing a good job of leading them into temptation! It is true that preachers should learn to practice self-control, but the good sisters could surely help by feeding them as they would feed other people (preachers are sort of like people, you know).
The sisters need to learn that preachers are generally pretty common folks. They enjoy visiting in brethren's homes, but do not require or desire the fancy treatment they too often receive. In some meetings the brethren book the preacher for three meals a day. Each sister does her best! By assembly time the preacher is a miserable man! He feels more like going to bed than to the pulpit. His brain is sluggish, and he stammers and stumbles as he struggles to come up with his thoughts. He cannot draw enough breath into his lungs to complete a good sentence!
Gospel meetings are designed to be spiritual feasts, not physical ones. How much better it would be if the sisters would spend the time and money expended in providing fancy foods for the preacher in trying to get people out to hear him preach. I feel certain that most preachers much prefer this.
(2) Do not entertain him or expect him to entertain you: Preachers do not like to be treated as "company." A certain amount of socializing goes with a meeting, and while it is very enjoyable, it is not the main purpose of the meeting. The preacher appreciates being treated as one of the family rather than with all the fanfare of a celebrity. A conscientious preacher has work to do every day whether he is at home or away, and it is difficult to keep up with it when people feel he must entertain or be entertained.
Some families where preachers stay think they need to help him fight off boredom, so they keep him in a rat race all week. They show him all the sights in the country, take him to see all their relatives, and visit everyone they can think of. He has no time to himself during the day for study and meditation, and when he gets up to preach he feels tired and unenthusiastic. Thus, the real thing for which the preacher has come is pushed into the background, and sacrificed for trivialities. Do not worry about the preacher's boredom. If he is what he should be, there will be no chance for it.
(3) Do not provide him with new linens! Many people think they must beautify the preacher's bed and bath with new linens! They think he deserves the very best, but do not realize that new linens are not the best. Did you ever try to wash with a new bath cloth, or dry with a new towel? One cannot get the bath cloth wet and the towel will not dry! Remember; treat the preacher like home folks!
(4) Do not tell him your family problems: Some people make it a practice to tell the visiting preacher about all their family problems. They tell him about their problems with finances, discipline, sex, each other's weaknesses, etc. By the time the meeting is finished, the preacher may be too depressed to preach! If the preacher could be of some help, certainly his aid should be sought, but in my experience, people are not often seeking advice, but rather someone to agree with them.
(5) Do not gossip and backbite: Some members who keep preachers think it is their duty to inform him about all the congregational problems, and tell him about all the member's weaknesses. They may appoint themselves as a committee to tell him what he should preach about while there. Some preachers find it hard to resist the urge to use this information in their sermons. Experience will prove the folly of this. At best, one gets only a one-sided view of the matter, and his information is liable to be slanted by the personal prejudices of the informers. The result has often been that the preacher got up half cocked and shot off his mouth about something concerning which he knew but little. If a preacher knows of some problem in a congregation, certainly he should do what he can to teach the truth about it, but he needs to be sure he has his information straight. Otherwise he may get himself out on a limb with a saw between him and the trunk! Such poor judgment never helps a bad situation; it serves only to make it worse.
(6) Do not carry on a family argument before him: It is very uncomfortable and embarrassing to stay in a home where there is a running family fuss. There are cases where the husband, the wife or the children take advantage of the preacher's presence; they try to get him to take sides and justify their position. I have stayed in homes where the husband and wife could not agree on the time of day! Everything one affirmed, the other would deny. When one tried to relate an incident, the other would interrupt to correct even the insignificant details. I here give an imaginary incident which is typical of the absurdities to which preachers must sometimes listen:
Husband: "Last year we went to Miami, Fla. for our vacation."
Wife: "We did not go to Miami, it was Miami Beach."
Husband: "Well, it is Miami area."
Wife: "Well, it may be Miami area, but Miami Beach is not Miami."
Husband: "Well, anyway-, as we were returning I became ill and had to be put in the County Hospital in Birmingham."
Wife: "Now you know good and well you were not put in the County Hospital. It was the City Hospital."
Husband: "No, it was the County Hospital. Do you not remember? We turned right off the freeway and the hospital was located within sight of the freeway."
Wife: "I do not remember any such thing, and besides we did not turn right, we turned left. Furthermore, the hospital was ten blocks off the freeway, and how can you sit there and say it was in sight of the freeway?
Husband: "Well, anyway, I had to be in the hospital 10 days before we could come home. I went in on Tuesday morning and they released me the next Thursday."
Wife: "You know very well that is not true. Why do you not tell it right? You did not go in on Tuesday morning, it was Wednesday morning, and you were not released on Thursday morning, it was Saturday morning, and that is not ten days, it is eleven."
Husband: "Well, that is incidental to the point I was making."
Wife: "It is not incidental. You are just trying to dodge the issue. You might as well admit that you are wrong about it and stop trying to cover up."
Husband: "Alright, if that is what you want, I admit I was wrong. Anyway, we left Birmingham on Thursday morning."
Wife: "I thought you were going to admit you were wrong about it, and you are still saying we left Birmingham on Thursday morning. I am telling you for the last time; it was Saturday morning, not Thursday morning. If you are not going to tell it right, why don't you shut up!"
Husband: "Alright, if you do not think I can tell it right, why do you not tell him about it?"
Wife: "No, sir, you started it, you finish it! I do not want to tell it: I just want you to tell it straight."
Husband: "Well, anyway, when we got home several of the church members had prepared our supper for us, and about 30 minutes after we arrived they all brought over covered dishes."
Wife: "Now there you go again! You just cannot remember anything, can you? In the first place, it was not the church members who brought in covered dishes, it was our neighbors, and it was not supper they brought over, it was lunch."
The conversation goes on and on like this about everything that is brought up. By the time the meeting is over the preacher is about ready to pull out his hair. He can hardly wait to remove himself from such a circumstance. Those who think the preacher has it made should endure some of his experiences!
(8) Do provide him with basic necessities: We note that the Shunemite woman was very thoughtful in her provisions for Elisha: she provided him with bread, bed, a seat and a candlestick. There are so many things people do not think of providing for a preacher. For instance, it is not unusual for the preacher to be given a room without a mirror. Visiting preachers often get the boys' room. Since the boy has such little need for a mirror, one is not provided in his room. When only the family is home, he can use the one in the bathroom, but the preacher cannot do that because the family has the bathroom occupied. Numerous times I have shaved, combed my hair, and tied my necktie by guess during the whole meeting.
I am very glad Elisha had a seat, because often the visiting preacher is not so fortunate! If he wants to sit down, he either uses the bed or the floor! People just do not think about putting a chair in the preacher's room.
Since most preachers have considerable reading and writing to do, their rooms should be provided with a working table and above the-average lighting. I personally like a good light beside my bed so I can read a while after retiring.
Most preachers appreciate the many nice things brethren do for them in meetings. (There are a few exceptions). Nothing said in this article should be taken as a lack of appreciation for the brethren's hospitality. Since staying with the brethren is such an integral part of the preacher's life, I thought they might profit by knowing his point of view. We should always be anxious to better understand each other and improve all our relationships. Most preachers had much rather be at home with their families, but since this is not always possible, they prefer that their lives in the homes of others be as close to normal as possible. If this article results in making it easier for brethren to keep preachers, it will have fulfilled its purpose.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 8, pp. 10-14