Tomorrow's Preachers Today
Ronald D. Howes
One of our major concerns in the church of the 1970's is finding preachers to fill the pulpits of the 1980's. With the projected growth of the Church, and the already critical shortage of preachers, what are we going to do? Is there a workable solution to the problem of rebuilding the depleted ranks of preachers among churches of today? I believe there is an answer to the problem.
The Inadequacy Of Present Methods
This is not a criticism of Florida College or of the various congregations around the country like the brethren in Kirkland, Washington. Brethren who provide systems of study as complete and well taught as presently exist are to be praised, their efforts emulated, and systems explored by others.
However, schools like these have serious drawbacks. How many of the young married men in the congregations of today can afford to uproot themselves and their families and pay the admittedly expensive education costs of any private college.
The program in Seattle is restricted necessarily to those who can commute to the classes, which limits their effective range to within 50 to 60 miles of the school. The excellent learning experience available there is, therefore, limited to those with ready access to it.
We have been presented with two major problems. Shortage of candidates and the restriction of our present methods continue to hamper preacher production. There are workable solutions.
Getting Our Program Started
Several years ago, Jim Puterbaugh, who then preached in my hometown, took me aside and encouraged me to become a preacher. Ever since then, I have been following his example. When we came to work with the brethren in Hawaii, one of the first things I did was to analyze the prospects for future preachers among the men of the congregation. I started out with a list of 10 prospects and after talking to the men, soon cut that down to 5. Our conversations usually started out with a question like "How would you like to become a preacher? Or "would you like to go preaching full time for 3 years from now?" We were promising immediate tangible results.
Getting Our Program Started
Each of the men was told that he had the potential to become a gospel preacher. But, potential is not enough. We sat down in small groups and talked about the things they would need to know before going to work, and what I would expect from them by way of a commitment. Basically this is what we set lip:
1. Each man would have to participate in a one and one-half hour class once a week.
2. Class work would be supplemented by research, required book purchases, and tests.
3. Every man would receive speech coaching and the opportunity to preach once a month.
To back up our claim of immediate results we began to work. The student were offered a program of courses that made the study worthwhile and their participation worth their while. Our original study plan included Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, Modern Cult Religions (Jehovah Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists, etc.). Sermon Preparation and Delivery, Life of Christ, and Evidences. The men began to rotate in giving the Sunday evening lessons. Each one received personal coaching on his speaking and Sermon material. Outlines were scrutinized and improved. They began to see and hear the result, by preaching good lessons that they had worked up, and speaking better than they could when they began.
Libraries began to grow, the men started knowing and able to recall 20 or 25 passages each. They responded with initiative and enthusiasm. their enthusiasm has in creased mine. I find that the more time I spend in the preparation for their classes, the greater response I get from them.
Keeping the Program Going
To keep the men enthusiastic and the program going, we did several things. Every so often, we would suspend classes for a break and give everyone a breather. You cannot ride men too hard too long without loss of interest. We supplemented classroom time with field experience by taking men along when having a class with a new convert or prospects. Men involved in private studies with friends of different religious persuasions were given extra help and exempted from some of the regular duties.
Partly to help these men, and for the general welfare of the congregation, the adult classes were accelerated. We started having Bible drills and memory work, and giving an occasional test in the Sunday morning and Wednesday evening classes. Most benefited and there was a marked increase in class response in the way of discussion and interest. We tried to provide an atmosphere of growth for the whole congregation to stimulate everybody. And, it worked.
In addition, the church here is starting several programs, which will directly benefit these men. Plans are being completed for the publication of a paper to be sent to churches in the Pacific area. Beginning shortly we will be sending men to the other islands to preach for small isolated groups of Christians. Plans are in the works to send men to Maui where we know of 2 families of Christians.
An Appraisal of the System
Every system has bugs. This one has had its ups and downs, and every so often we sit back and modify areas that need to be improved. At least once a month the men in the program get together and we discuss preaching methods, the kind of material we are studying, the progress of each of the participants, and the value of the material. One of the keys to success is our flexibility. We can drop what we are studying and spend one or two classes studying a special topic. Occasionally we will drop everything and go hot and heavy over a problem like the Indwelling of the Spirit, or the Godhead, or what have you. We do not pursue a course at the expense of the overall interest manifested in the course.
Among those who began the series. all are still with it after the first 6 months of the program. One of those who began uncommitted to going full time at the end has since made the commitment. Another who did not begin with us has just begun a special course of 3 two-hour classes a week to put himself on the same level with the others. We are hoping to put 4 men into the field within 3 years.
Every Congregation A Preaching School
Elders and Preachers all over the country need to recognize their own potential. Elders are to be "apt to teach." (1 Tim. 3:2) Preachers know what new preachers will be getting into. Every fair-sized congregation is therefore a potential Preaching School. Our congregation averages about 100 in attendance Sunday morning. Out of this we found 4 men wanting to preach. How many in your congregation have shared this desire but rejected it because they could not go to Florida College or to a special program somewhere?
You may have just one man, fellow preacher. How about giving him one day of your week to turn him into a preacher? Share your appointments with him, put him in your classes and coach him. Invest your time in him and you will be amazed at the results.
Talk to your elders and men, wake up your congregation next Sunday morning by telling them that you are going to start accelerating your Bible classes and change them from opinion sessions to learning experiences. Start asking your classes questions, give them tests, have them memorize passages, find out how many can tell you the books of the Bible. Put more time into your classes. Corner a younger brother, and ask him "How would you like to be a preacher?"
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 22, pp. 9-10