A Deadly Parallel: Farming and Preaching
The use of parables (setting one thing beside another) is an accepted and effective method of teaching (Matt. 13:1013).
When we are blind to the truth, a familiar secular practice can be used to convey a spiritual lesson. Nathan used such an approach to teach David a lesson (2 Sam. 12:1-7). One of the prophets used this method in order to teach Ahab a needed lesson (1 Kgs. 20:30-43). Jesus taught many spiritual lessons by pointing to flocks, herds, fishermen, and tillers of the soil.
One common practice associated with farming is allowing the government to pay farmers not to farm. While this practice had its origins in good intentions, the fact remains that human solutions often end up being more ridiculous than the problems which they were intended to solve.
Brethren, without stretching a point to fit the title of this article, I believe that in many instances we are paying preachers not to preach. We may think it is humorous at best, and pathetic at worst, to pay fishermen not to fish, and farmers not to farm. But there is nothing humorous about a practice which pays preachers more not to preach than to preach.
We would not deny that sectarian preachers are paid to preach human creeds and dogmas, and that they would lose their wages if they started preaching the doctrine of Christ. We would even concede that some churches of Christ will pay some preachers well, provided they don't preach the whole counsel of God.
But what I'm talking about is the practice of paying preachers to do everything except what they are supposed to do -the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). And, the principles involved have nothing to do with a preacher locating with one congregation or even doing the work of an evangelist under the oversight of elders.
I know that there are congregations which emphasize, and support, the preaching of the gospel. God bless them, and may their number increase. And, if it is necessary to stop here and prove that the preaching of the gospel deserves such emphasis, someone is ignorant of what the Bible teaches on this subject in the first place, and any further pleas would fall on dull ears in the second place.
While we may believe in congregational autonomy, and do not believe that recreation and entertainment belong in the mission of the church, we may still be guilty of paying preachers not to preach. Congregational autonomy is one thing, but congregational selfishness is something else; keeping the home congregation solvent is one thing, but keeping the home congregation and the local preacher in luxury while the gospel goes begging is another thing entirely.
Some congregations do not want the elders and deacons to accept their God-given duties, but are willing to pay a preacher to be a "church manager." If the preacher will do the visiting, tend the flock, be a secretary, and maintain favorable public relations between the local congregation and sister congregations in the area, and represent the church in the eyes of the community, he will be paid, and often paid well.
It matters not that the members can be worldly and derelict in their duty and attendance, or that discipline and spiritual growth can be non-existent. As long as the preacher's presence gives an air of respectability to a group of adults "playing church," we pay the preacher.
But, if that same preacher or another one wants to preach the gospel to the lost, wants to help weaker congregations, or establish and confirm the cause of Christ in some near or distant place, the gospel goes begging, or starving. We will pay the preacher well to preach 52 Sundays a year, but if he is willing, able, and has the opportunity to preach twice that much, we will cut off his support.
Another area where our parallel between preaching and farming becomes obvious is in the length of the sermon. Quantity does not necessarily mean quality, but all things being equal, one can preach more Bible in 45 minutes than he can in 20 or 25 minutes.
In spite of all the rationalization we can offer, the fact remains that some congregations will pay a preacher more for a 25 minute sermon than they will for a 45 minute sermon. And, some members would rather listen to 25 minutes of a social gospel than they would to 45 minutes of the saving gospel.
Every congregation from the first one in Jerusalem down to the present hour was established by the preaching of the gospel. When the church of the Lord starts paying preachers not to preach, congregations will cease to be established, and those in existence will not only dry up, but will eventually have their candlesticks removed (cf. Rev. 2:5).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 14, p. 430