Preacher Training Programs
All four of the young men who worked with us through the past four summers are now preaching "full-time" in Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky; and we already have secured another young man to work with us during the summer of 1977.
The responsibility to commit the gospel to faithful men, enabling them "to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:1) is clearly required of gospel preachers. Early in 1973, the elders of the local church in Danville, Kentucky, began making plans to accomplish that work by inviting Bruce Edwards, Jr., to spend May through August working with us, developing his skills and knowledge in order to do the work of an evangelist.
The results were so gratifying that the elders have continued the work in successive summers with Barry Hudson, Rick Lanning, and Scott Vifquain. Helping to develop and to train five preachers in five summers has been one of the most productive and edifying works in which this church has engaged. Rich dividends have been paid to those young men, to practically every family in this church, and especially to our large number of teens and pre-teens.
The basic idea behind the work is to take a young man who knows he wants to preach and to give him practical experience in teaching and preaching while under the guidance and instruction of the elders and the local preacher. So many "beginning preachers," still wet behind the ears, so to speak, begin local work with no idea of what to expect or what to do. When problems arise within the church, these inexperienced young men often have no elders to turn to and no experience upon which to draw. Consequently, devastating mistakes are sometimes made when, with some previous teaching and guidance, they could have been avoided.
By preaching, teaching, exhorting, and edifying in a learning situation where he receives correction and advice from both the elders and an experienced evangelist, the preacher-to-be has a great advantage when he begins "full-time" work. Especially does this training and teaching show its value in situations involving possible disciplinary action within a local church. But this principle is universally seen to be true in every area of life: a prepared worker is a better, more productive worker.
When possible, the young man lives with my family; seeing exactly what transpires daily in an evangelist's life removes any hazy, romantic notions in that regard. By watching how every situation affects a preacher and his family, and seeing the great demands made upon a faithful preacher and his wife, the young evangelist's work and expectations will be realistic and, hopefully, maturely aimed.
The specific works engaged in by these young men were greatly varied. For the most part, they were held responsible for a great amount of the work normally done by a located preacher: regular sermon deadlines, at least two classes to teach, a weekly bulletin, and a weekly radio program. In addition, we involved them in writing articles for a local newspaper column, leading one of the four work groups into which the church is divided, teaching home studies, visiting sick and needy brethren, and observing how the elders handle the spiritually ailing brethren. When needed, special studies were held with these men to strengthen their Bible knowledge.
Other local churches have started similar efforts only to watch them quickly die. The success with which we have been blessed is due, to single out the greatest factor, to the strong enthusiasm of the local saints themselves. If the elders and the saints in general are not zealous for such a work, I doubt that it would continue productively. But because the local elders were careful to involve the fellow-members in the work, we have reaped greatly from it.
For example, it was thought essential to get every saint to feel a share of responsibility in this work. To that end, the elders arranged for the young man to be in the homes of different families on at least two nights of every week (often it was more). The teenagers met, on their own, prior to the arrival of these men, to draw up a list of projects for the summer, most of which involved the help of the "trainee." With the elders, the regular evangelist, most of the families, and an active teen group all planning ahead and feeling a shared responsibility, the four men received much and gave much.
Naturally, we have learned more about what we are doing every year we are involved, and we try to upgrade our efforts accordingly. Consequently, Bruce did not get nearly the help Scott received; and with God's blessings, we shall do a better job this summer.
Over and above what benefit these summers have been to these aspiring evangelists, by far the greatest fruit has been ours! Seeing the local church's work actually resulting in four "full-time" evangelists, feeling a common share in the development of these men, and seeing the inestimable good effects these men have had on our own young people's concern with spiritual things have helped to generate more and more enthusiasm for the continuation of the work.
It was this feeling of thankfulness for our blessings that led us to enlarge the work somewhat. Beginning this past August, we began a series of intensive Bible studies for any who wish to study, and especially for any young man desiring to become an evangelist. Brother Kelly Ellis, one or our elders, and I teach three trimesters of Bible classes each year, from August through May. During each twelve week session, six different Bible classes are taught each week, Monday through Friday mornings. This way, by the time one has studied six courses per session, over the two-year arrangement, he will have studied every book in the Bible.
This enlarged teaching work is in addition to the summer work; their aims are distinctly different at this point, and we plan to continue them both, the Lord willing. We began the first trimester's work with six students; three of those have had to drop out for various reasons, but the future of this work looks promising. Several have inquired about it and are considering taking advantage of it.
It might be appropriate to mention that we have at no time arranged this work as being in competition with any school or college. Our only motive is to do all we can in our local situation, under the direction of our own elders, and using only the local church's resources, to teach the Bible and develop the abilities of any Christian desiring to study with us. The work is totally scriptural, it is completely local in nature, and it in no way involves taking money or anything else from anyone but local members.
It also is appropriate to add that this teaching program is in no way a reaction to the college Bible department dispute. In fact, believing that issue to be a matter of one's personal judgment, it has not even been considered in our planning to do all we can do, in keeping with the Word, to produce fruit for the Lord. We are simply a local church doing a local work with local resources; anyone wishing to study with us is welcome. These classes will be of distinct benefit to any who wish to study in them.
While the church in Danville is not, in anyone's mind, an ideal church, we have been richly blessed in this work. By local saints cooperating in a scriptural work, we have fellowship with four "new" evangelists; a fifth has pledged to be with us this summer, and we anticipate, with the Lord's blessings, more.
Every year I hear of more and more local churches having a part in similar works and it greatly encourages me to see such zealous interest and activity. Any suggestions you brethren might provide on arrangements you have found helpful, I would appreciate. Likewise, we will be happy to share anything we might have found useful, if anyone cares to inquire. May the Lord's work increase, and may we all zealously and enthusiastically go to work to help each other in the common work of righteousness.
Truth Magazine XXI: 28, pp. 444-445