Most Preachers Have Come From Poor Circumstances

By Donald Townsley

Brother J.W. McGarvey, in his Chapel Talks (which were delivered to the students of the College of the Bible in the school year 1910-11), shows that the title which I have chosen for this article was true in his day. Under the subject, “Poor Preachers, ” he said: “Some twenty-five or thirty years ago when we had about two hundred preachers in the state of Kentucky, I took pains to find out in regard to those whom I did not know personally how many of them were the sons of wealthy men, not millionaires, but such men as pass in rural sections as rich men. Out of all the number there were only two that were rich men’s sons – one in a hundred. That tells the story in regards to Kentucky. On another occasion when chapel was more largely attended than it is today I called upon all students whose expenses at college were being paid by their parents to stand, and out of nearly a hundred only nine stood up. That shows that not only was the preaching done by the poor, but it was the sons of the poor that were preparing to be the next generation of preachers. This has been the case all the way back to the beginning. So we can say of this as the Episcopalians so often say in their prayer book of another subject, “as it was from the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”

I think brother McGarvey’s statement is as true today as it was then. Poor boys are still making preachers and carrying the gospel to the lost of the world. But, someone may say, “Don’t you think that one of the reasons we have a preacher shortage today is the way preachers are being paid?” With that attitude before us, let me remind all of us, preachers included, that preachers are not made by wages! I say to the extent that this (wages) keeps men from preaching is a blessing to the Lord’s church! Brother McGarvey said it this way: “Any young man who declines preparing himself for the ministry for this reason (money) is not fit to enter upon it.” And to the extent that the anticipation of poverty keeps men out of the ministry it keeps out those who would be an encumbrance, a dead weight, and a disadvantage. They are not fit to go into the pulpit who are controlled by this consideration.”

The Lord and his church do not need men who are motivated to make preachers for the purpose of earthly gain or selfish ambition. The Lord needs men who are “faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2). I shall never forget what brother Roy E. Cogdill told me when I was a young preacher. He said: “When a preacher becomes ambitious for himself, that is the end of his usefulness to the Lord and his cause.” I have tried to live by that advice till this day. Where the cause of the Lord needs men most is not necessarily where the most money is: in fact, most of the time, where a preacher is needed most is where the least money is! A preacher’s success in the Lord’s cause is not measured by the size of his weekly salary, the kind of car he drives, the type of meeting house he preaches in, or the kind of clothing he can afford to wear. If these things are marks of a preacher’s success, then John the Baptist was a complete failure (his raiment was “camel’s hair” which was very similar to “sackcloth” – only the poorest of people wore garments of this kind of material, Matt. 3:4)! This preacher (John) did not eat too “high on the lamb” either: his diet consisted of “locusts and wild honey” – what the poorer class of that day ate.

Preacher, if you count your success in terms of what you can attain in a high salary, a large congregation to want your services, a popular name on the tongue of the masses, and the privilege to travel in the circles of the socially elite, then I say that you have misunderstood what it means to be successful as a preacher. Please don’t misunderstand – I am not against a preacher being paid a good salary or a large congregation wanting his services; I am not against his being popular (if preaching the gospel will make him so), and neither do I object to his traveling in the circles of the socially elite (if he doesn’t get to thinking that this is the crowd he belongs with all the time). What I am saying is that when a man thinks of these things as his attainments of success and anything less than this marks him as a failure or is beneath him, then he has the wrong attitude toward the work of the Lord and what success in his cause is.

Faithful preachers must learn to endure some “hardness of affliction” (2 Tim. 2:3; 4:5) – things won’t always be rosy, but that is no sign that he is a failure in the Lord’s work. Men need to preach who have enough faith to trust the Lord to supply their needs (Matt. 6:24-33) as he supplied the needs of the twelve (Matt. 10:9,10); men who believe what David said in Psalms 37:35: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

I have not written this to justify those who might abuse preachers from the financial standpoint by not paying them adequately, but to show that “men of God” will not go hungry or without the necessities of life if they will faithfully preach the gospel to the lost.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, pp. 482, 503
August 15, 1991