A Medley of Matters

Preachers and Preaching

James P. Needham
Owensboro, Kentucky

As stated previously in this column, we intend to have some things to say from time to time about "preachers and preaching." We are convinced that there are numerous abuses and abnormalities among us on the part of those who "live of the gospel." From the very beginning of the church this has been a recurring problem, and thus became a frequent subject for comment and correction in revelation. As early as the book of Acts the church had her "John -Marks" who refused to go with Paul and Barnabas "to the work" and turned back (Acts 15:38). To the Corinthians Paul unsheathed his sword against those brethren who "commend themselves" and measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves." (2 Cor. 10:12.) To the Philippians he spoke of those who "preach Christ even of envy and strife "of contention, not sincerely and "in pretence." (Phil. 1:14-18.) To Timothy Paul wrote extensively of the dangers and abuses into which he as a "preacher" might fall. He instructed this "young preacher" as to "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God . . ." (1 Tim. 3:15.) He admonished young Timothy: "These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth: but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee . . . Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee." (I Tim. 4:11-16.)

These are only a few of the passages that could be given which suggest the antiquity of problems with preachers.

We now turn to a consideration of the fact that since the beginning of the "restoration movement" this has been a frequent source of trouble in the church. Indeed, it has occasioned bitter strife and division among brethren who should have been pulling together.

As one reads the history of the "restoration movement" he notices periods in which problems with preachers were hardly mentioned; suggesting that there was none to speak of. During such periods one reads of many sacrifices made on the part of those who preached publicity, and the enormous growth which resulted. But as the church grew to "respectability" a drastic change is noted on the part of some of the public preachers. One reads of their attaching such vain and unscriptural titles to their names as "Rev., Pastor, Elder," etc. signalling the development of the antiscriptural concept of "clergy" and "laity."

Such action produced reaction. There were those who protested and resented such absurdities as indeed they should have, but with some, opposition to such became a sort of an obsession and they blundered into the ever fatal practice of condemning all because of the abuses of a few. This brought them into conflict with the wrong segment of brethren. Those guilty of the abuses knew they were far too vulnerable to attempt a defense of their unscriptural actions, and those who were innocent of them came to the front to defend themselves against being identified with them. Actually this brought brethren who agreed on the teaching of the scriptures into an awkward, unfortunate conflict. And on this point many public debates have been held and several preserved in book form for our reading and evaluation. Some of these debates I have heard -- others I have read - and almost every defender of what we call "the located preacher" has been far too reluctant to admit the many bald-faced abuses which they couldn't help but know about. As I view these debates I pronounce this a tragedy! How much wiser it would have been to admit and condemn the abuses which are openly evident. What can one possibly gain by refusing to admit a well-known fact?

I certainly do not hold with those who contend that it is unscriptural for a preacher to live with and preach to a congregation which has elders, and yet I admit as freely as I ever ate a meal that I know of many abuses among brethren who practice such. I cannot possibly see how such a frank, honest, and I might say forced admission does any violence to that which I believe is a scriptural position. I know of no practice which can be absolutely condemned solely on the basis of its abuses. Christians should always admit the truth regardless of who proclaims it, and I do not hesitate to say that even though I believe the "located preacher" practice to be scriptural I think those who have opposed it have had more truth in their condemnations of the abuses of it than many of us have been willing to admit.

From the division over the missionary society and instrumental music to the second World War the growth of the church was slow but steady. Since the second World War it has mushroomed until again some brethren have a passionate desire for it to take a place of "respectability" among the denominations, and again many public proclaimers have begun to sectarianize with unscriptural titles and denominational concepts of the work of an evangelist. Of some of the concepts and practices to which we allude we now speak particularly.

Something Special

One of the most common abuses I have noticed is the idea that if one gives full time to the proclamation of the Word, he is something special-entitled to special privileges, and extraordinary consideration. Some church members believe this, but more especially do many preachers believe it. The concept is that when one "becomes a preacher" he takes on importance he didn't possess as "an ordinary church member." Now he merits a "courtesy card" at the clothing store, hotel, restaurant, etc. He is entitled to a discount at the doctor's office, drug store, and gas station. His brethren are supposed to look up to him in some kind of a special way--the world, the community, and society should now consider him a more honorable citizen, and to make sure that they don't forget this important duty. he can order a "Minister's marker" for his automobile from the Gospel Advocate Co.

If all this isn't an effort to separate the church into clergy and laity, I admit to poor judgment. I have always been taught that a public preacher is just a Christian who gives his time to the public proclamation of the word. But is this true in the concepts we have herein mentioned?

The New Testament teaches that the members of the Body have different functions, but no graduated acceptability in God's sight. It has the seeing, the hearing, the feeling, the speaking, etc. and while one might argue that the speaking is more important than the feeling or the hearing, and though he should be. able to prove his contention, it would still be left for him to prove that "speaking" in the body makes one more acceptable to God and entitled to special privileges. The whole thing is summed up by Peter when he says "If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth; that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever." (I Pet. 4:11.)

Whatever ability God gives the members of the body let each of them use it accordingly to the fullest measure, and all to the glory of God and not of themselves.

Wife Something Special Too

A twin idea to that which we have just treated is that the public proclaimer's wife is also something special, burdened with specific duties not obligatory upon other sisters. Hence, we hear much of the activities of preacher's wives which are not characteristic of their sisters. Some of them have even become brotherhood sisters! Many congregations are very careful when "hiring a preacher" to make sure that his wife is an efficient worker. To demonstrate: I recently sat in a business meeting when a congregation was considering the names of several brethern as possibilities for the work there. When one man was mentioned, one of the brethren very aggressively urged the church to get him. I think I call almost quote him. He said, "If it costs us $150 a week to get him, I say, let's pay it. If he did nothing at all, his wife would be worth that much to us." If this doesn't mean that the preacher's wife is something special in this brother's estimation, then the church would be obligated to pay all the sisters for their good works according to their efficiency. If not, why not?

The demands some congregations make on a preacher's wife are ridiculous. To be frank about it, they have never been of too much concern to me! It is nothing short of absurd to think that a preacher's wife should cease being "a keeper at home" (Tit. 2:5) and start "keeping" at everybody else's home and leave the "keeping" of her own to the "keeping" of a baby sitter. Why should more activity in the church be expected of her than other women? Why should a preacher be expected to spend a goodly portion of his salary to hire a keeper of his home while his wife keeps at somebody else's home gratuitously? Surely, nobody would attempt a scriptural defense of such !

Lack of Humility

Closely related to the idea that a man who preaches publicly is something special is an enormous lack of humility on the part of some preachers. Some do more strutting than preaching; more advertising that evangelizing; more promoting than proclaiming. They fill the news columns with their own boastings of what all has happened since I have been here," they attend all the large gatherings of brethren and try to peddle their influence, adorned in some piece of ridiculous attire as a trade mark. They speak great swelling words about their accomplishments, boast of how many meetings they held last year, and brag that "I am booked up solid for five years." They like to tell of "how many calls" I've had to turn down." Their outstanding abilities are in great demand; if you don't believe it, just ask them. All of this is sheer egotism, and is foreign to the spirit of God's humble children. I have even heard some brethren admit that they are egotistical - when a man admits it himself there can't be much doubt about it! One brother was heard to say recently, "The secret of my great success is my deep humility." When a man becomes haughty about his "humility", egotism has gone to seed!

More Sermons, Fewer Lectures

Much present day preaching is mere lecturing; some of it on Bible subjects, some of it off Bible subjects. Much that is said on Bible subjects deals with moral subjects on which most all religious people are in agreement. The time has come when softness characterizes many sermons; very little is said that is distinctive. More and more brethren are failing to tell sinners what they must do to be saved. I have heard more than one preacher conduct an entire series of meetings without giving the plan of salvation one time! I am afraid this is becoming a trend, and I say it is treading on dangerous ground! People don't learn what to do be saved by mere accident, but by diligent and persistent teaching. When we eliminate this important phase of gospel preaching we simply fail to preach the whole counsel of God. Brethren, let us return to fundamentals in our preachings. Let us give the world more gospel preaching and less lecturing; more divine wisdom, and less of our own.

Lack Of Moral Purity

All public men are favorable targets for certain silly women, but more especiallv is a preacher. (I might say too, that all silly women are not outside the church.) Many preachers have fallen into their traps---the ever increasing number of such victims is both alarming and disgusting. I am constrained to affirm that often times it is their own fault. Some allow themselves to be led into temptation by foolishly visiting at such addresses as surround them with unhealthy circumstances, or they permit their minds to dwell in the gutter. The latter is the more frequent offense. Solomon said ". . .as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7 ). If one allows his thoughts to dwell in the gutter, it is just a matter of time until he crawls down there with them. A man's words indicate where his thoughts dwell, for they are an index to his heart or mind. (Matt. 12:34.) Some preaching brethren I have known seem quite elated with their abilltv to turn every decent subject of conversation into an illicit channel and thus have the dubious honor of getting the most laughs. They are masters at using language suggestive of immoral deeds and telling jokes of all off-color hue. And such practices they freely employ in the presence of other men's wives, BUT CERTAINLY IN THE ABSENCE OF THEIR OWN!

Then there are those evangelists who indiscreetly handle the sisters from time to time. I have witnessed it in homes where they stay during gospel ineetings, and I have witnessed it right in the church building as they greeted the people following the services. They seem to find it hard to keep their hands off the sisters, especially the pretty, young ones. These are "honored" with special, prolonged greetings, the preacher holding the ladies' hand brtween his as he talks to her, or maybe he throws his arm around her shoulders.

I have known of a case or two where parents became disturbed because of the way married, middle-aged, preachers handled their daughters, and I could not say their disturbances were completely unfounded. Paul instructed Timothy to ". . . intreat . . . the younger . . . women . . . as sisters, WITH ALL PURITY." (I Tim. 5:1, 2.) He also admonished him, "Be thou an example of the believers . . . IN PURITY." (I Tim. 4:12.) Let all evangelists "learn what that meaneth."


One of the noblest callings to which God ever called man is to stand before His creatures with the responsibility to lead them into paths of righteousness by his unerring Counsel. Woe be to that man who would presume to do so for any other motive than that prescribed, or with thoughts or deeds in his own life that blind his hearers to that which he speaks.

Truth Magazine III:5, pp. 15-18
February 1959