By Cecil Willis
Though many problems confront the church today, one of the most acute is the shortage of trained men to preach the gospel. Timothy was told to transmit that which had been committed to him “to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The perpetual need for the dissemination of the gospel assures the continuing need for a supply of gospel preachers.
Any church that recently has gone through the ordeal of trying to locate an experienced, able, and faithful preacher to work with them is aware of the shortage of preachers. A few years ago, some of the liberal brethren tried to warn young preachers that if they did not “line-up” with the liberal clan, they would be without a place to preach. But our liberal brethren have proved to be very poor prophets. Apparently there are considerably more faithful churches than there are faithful preachers.
This shortage of faithful preachers has caused a number of churches to begin giving more attention to the need for training men to preach. A few years ago, some “sage” (?) concocted the aphorism, “If you can keep from preaching, don’t preach.” Certainly every gospel preacher must have a strong commitment to his duty as a preacher. But many competent young men never become preachers simply because they never get the encouragement to prepare themselves to preach. Quite frankly, I was not having, any trouble at all keeping from preaching. But some brethren encouraged me to consider devoting my life to gospel preaching. I now am very much appreciative to those who were not passive about whether I preached or not.
Every church should be a preaching school. 111indreds of churches which have used the fulltime services of a gospel preacher for a score or more years never have produced one gospel preacher. Why is this true? Frequently the reason why young men do not devote themselves to preaching is because they do not get the encouragement and the necessary training at home. Hannah planned from his birth that Samuel should be the Lord’s servant (1 Samuel, Ch. 1). Timothy was trained by his mother and grandmother from his childhood (2 Tim. 1: 35). The initial encouragement for young men to preach the gospel should come from godly and consecrated parents whose greatest delight would be to see their son devote his life to faithful preaching.
Recently I read where 35 gospel preachers have come out of one congregation. Yet there are many other churches, which have not produced a single gospel preacher. Why the difference? Some churches deliberately try to prepare competent young men to preach. Just as one does not accidentally become a child of God, neither are gospel preachers produced by accident. Someone must devote attention to encouraging and training young men to preach.
Several churches, in recent years, have really begun to concentrate on trying to qualify men to preach the gospel. Some are doing an outstandingly good job in their effort. The Expressway church in Louisville has devoted considerable time for several years to classes especially designed to qualify men to preach the gospel. As a result, at least three men are now preaching the gospel full-time, and a host of others regularly preach on weekends. The Brown Street church in Akron, Ohio has conducted some special classes that would be helpful to young men who aspire to preach. At least three or four men who studied in these classes now are preaching full-time.
The Valley congregation in Phoenix, Arizona recently has announced some special preacher training classes, which will begin in October. Teachers in these classes will be Tom Baker, Maurice Barnett, John Coffman and Homer Hailey. These special classes will last two or three weeks each. Classes will meet daily for four hours, and then four to six hours will be spent daily in the library. Students will take only one course at a time, but will complete 40 to 60 class hours in two or three weeks. Each course will be followed immediately by another. The complete series planned will be covered in two eight-month sessions.
Perhaps the most concentrated effort to train preachers being made by any faithful church known to me is that of the Kirkland, Washington church. This church employs two men on a full-time basis. These men, Lowell Williams and Jim Puterbaugh, constantly are conducting classes to edify the members and to train preachers. I am not referring to just a class or two a week. These men teach several hours every day. Another brother or two share in this teaching program of the Kirkland church in classes especially designed to qualify men to preach the gospel. There are nine men now preaching the gospel full-time who have been schooled by the Kirkland church. Last Spring when I was in a meeting at Tacoma, Washington, I learned that nine additional men were at that time engaged in a two, three, or four-year training program designed to prepare them to preach the gospel.
Recently the Nacogdoches, Texas church (Mound and Starr) has announced its intention to try to devote more time to preacher training type classes. W. R. Jones, the regular preacher for the Mound and Starr congregation, will assist in this teaching program. For several years Harold Tabor has been supported by the Mound and Starr church just to teach special classes for those interested in such studies. James W. Adams, a former Mound and Starr preacher, and who now lives at near-by San Augustine, also is going to assist in this special training effort.
Using Young Preachers
Another very encouraging practice has become fairly prevalent among faithful churches. This is the scriptural practice of using a young man in a training program as he works along side a more experienced preacher. Some of the churches known to me which have been using a young preacher to work with an older, more experienced one, are South Johnson Street in El Cajon, California; Manslick Road in Louisville, Kentucky. Floral Heights in Wichita Falls, Texas; Bellaire in Houston, Texas; and East Florence church in Florence, Alabama. Certainly there are a good many other churches engaging in this same excellent procedure.
Usually these young men are supported for a year or two to help in various ways in the local work. Then when they leave that congregation, they usually go to some beginning work, and the church that helped to train them then helps to support them until the church with which they are working is able to support a man on its own.
A part of the assignments given to the young preacher is one of special study in connection with the local preacher. Wayne Timmons of El Cajon church devotes three or four hours a day to study with a young preacher working with the congregation. That church is just now finishing work with a second young preacher, and intends to support him as he begins full-time work. Already they have begun looking around for another young man to work with them.
The young preacher is not looked upon just as a congregational “flunky.” He is expected to be at work in the congregation’s program of work. Such young men get experience at writing and preparing a bulletin, usually they get some beginning experience in radio work, they have the opportunity to engage in some gospel meeting work, they have the opportunity to participate in various aspects of the program of work of an active congregation including home Bible classes, and they have the experience of working with elders and mature preachers. Such young men are very fortunate indeed, and surely will make -less blunders and do more effective work, as a result of this experience and training.
The purpose in this article is to encourage other congregations, which are able to do so, to use more young preachers in their work. Unfortunately, churches sometimes think only in terms of what a preacher can do for them, rather than in terms of what they can do to help prepare a young preacher. Without doubt, having a young preacher to assist in the local work will be a benefit to any congregation. But perhaps the most important phase of work will be the preparation and experience gained by the young preacher.
In the section of East Texas where I grew up, there were very few full-time preachers. The smaller congregations out in the country were dad to get someone to preach for them. Luther Blackmon has said they would accept anybody who could even “mock a preacher.” That’s how I got in. I have often thought back on about six years of part-time preaching, which I did as a student. Probably I did not contribute much toward the edification of those churches, but they contributed wonderfully toward my edification and preparation. For all those beginning opportunities, I am very grateful.
Many young preachers would be delighted to have the opportunity to work with a congregation, if only during the summer months. Some small congregations, which I know, cannot support a preacher on a full-time basis. So they have employed student preachers, just for the summer months. Such a practice can be very helpful to a struggling work, and to a struggling young preacher.
A young man cannot learn to preach without opportunities to preach. Many of the young men, who are yet pursuing their college educational work, have virtually no opportunities to preach. The little congregations which used student preachers when I was a college student often have full-time preachers now. While a student for four years at Florida College, I had the opportunity to preach nearly every Sunday. Some of the young men there now who plan to preach get very few opportunities to preach. This circumstance is unfortunate for these young preachers.
In some instances, young men have begun full-time work with congregations when they have not preached more than 25-50 sermons in their lives. How can brethren expect young brethren with such meager experience to do a first-class job of preaching? I propose to churches, who can possibly afford to do so, to consider employing these beginning preachers in order that they might get the experience they need really to be qualified to preach the gospel. For about $1500, imagine a church could get one of these young preachers to work with them during the summer months. Such an opportunity would do wonders for these young preachers. Perhaps men who hold a good many gospel meetings then could concentrate them in the summer months, and the availability of the young preachers would be helpful in the ongoing of the local church’s work.
This idea of the proper training and use of young preachers has been upon my mind for many months. I now toss out the idea for the consideration of brethren, hoping that it will lead to the development of more and abler young men who might continue to preach the gospel after the “old-timers” among us are long dead and gone. Think not only of what a young preacher may do for you, but think of what you may do to help encourage and prepare young preachers.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 42, pp. 3-6
August 30, 1973