By Larry R. Houchen
As a young gospel preacher, I suppose that I am just now learning one of many things experienced preachers learned when they were younger. Some brethren, either intentionally or unintentionally, discourage preachers. Contrary to the belief of some brethren, we preachers have feelings too. How would you feel, if, in your secular work you were never complimented for your efforts, but either taken for .granted or constantly chided? I shall mention four methods which brethren use to discourage.
1. The first method, for accomodative purposes, we shall “dub” “the personal attack.” “Hey, preacher, you said Acts 1:38 instead of Acts 2:38,” or, “You were way off base on one point,” are typical statements which flow from the mouths of some “loving” brethren immediately following services, Some seem to delight in catching the preacher in a mistake and making sure that the victim is aware that he witnessed the “whole thing.” We might just as well call this method the “gotcha game.” I do not know about other brethren, but it does make me feel a little uneasy when I know that such a person is sitting in the audience. There is nothing wrong with joking with or correcting the preacher occasionally about some mistake he has made. For an example, I remember the blunder that I made when I said, “Preachers are not fallible, but infallible.” Several jokingly said after services that they felt lucky to be a member of the only congregation with an infallible preacher. What does become most discouraging, however, is for the same ones to remark about every mistake, and never lend a word of encouragement.
2. A second method which brethren use to discourage might be called “the guessing game.” Those brothers and sisters who participate in “the guessing game” are those who never reveal how they feel about the sermons. It does not really matter what the brethren think, so long as a brother is preaching the gospel and is doing so with the proper attitude, but encouragement is a psychological need. Lack of encouragement may result in the same as discouragement. There is always some brother or sister in Christ who can give the preacher a detailed weather report or describe in detail his or her physical condition, but never utter one word in regard to the sermon. (In fact, whatever happened to the occasional, “Amen,” from brethren during a sermon?) I know that in my limited preaching experience I have not always preached “winners,” in fact, there have been some “duds,” but neither am I going to be so naive as to believe that I have never preached a gospel sermon which fitted the need of the congregation precisely. One does not need to comment on every sermon. In fact, the statement, “That was a good sermon” every service can become a “wee bit” old and not as meaningful as an occasional, “That was an excellent sermon.” No, most preachers are not so sensitive as to always want their backs patted, but please, brethren, let us know you are out there-encourage us from time to time!
3. A preacher can become discouraged when the brethren use the “cry-on-the shoulder” routine. Sometimes when the preacher makes just a social visit, a member will unload all of the ills and the troubles of the congregation on the shoulders of the preacher. “I’d like to see us have a more active visiting program.” or, “I’ve never been satisfied with the eldership,” typical statements which seem to be made to solicit a response of agreement from the preacher. All such statements should be directed to the elders of the congregation. Yes, even if the problem lies within the eldership, take it to the elders. If you have an accusation to make, say it only in the presence of two or three witnesses (I Tim. 5:19). In the event that there are no elders, bring out suggestions and problems in the next business meeting. When the brethren take problems to the elders, there is always the possibility of the overseers becoming discouraged. However, I would not be a bit surprised if the element of discouragement was one of several reasons why the Holy Spirit commanded a plurality of elders in a local congregation. When the problem is laid on several shoulders, the discouraging effect is not nearly so devastating. Even if elders do become discouraged occasionally, the problems should still be directed to them, not to the preacher-it is God’s plan.
4. The final method that we mention which brethren use to discourage is the Apreacher vs. preacher” method. If grieves my heart whenever two men of “like precious faith” who have chosen to render the greatest service to mankind, that of preaching the gospel, compete with one another. Sometimes when a group of gospel preachers are gathered together on some occasion, one will be heard to brag about all the work he is doing in the congregation of which he is a member. Now if the brother mentions these things because he is truly excited about the Lord’s work in that locale, that is one thing. If, however, he mentions them as a subtle attempt to “put his other brothers down,” that is an entirely different situation. It would be extremely difficult fairly to compare the work in one place with the work in another locality. There are just too many variables involved priorities, population, dominate denominations in the area, etc.
Members sometime compare one preacher’s capabilities with the capabilities of another. Brethren, if a man is proclaiming the gospel to the best of his ability, he is a good preacher in the sight of God, and that is what counts! Sometimes these comparisons are thoughtlessly made in the presence of the local evangelist, comparing him unfavorably with the previous minister. Some members try to be a little more subtle by constantly quoting from the previous evangelist and commenting that “Brother Idol did such and such in such and such a way.”
Preachers sometime blackball gospel meetings if the preacher does not happen to be a “big name” in the brotherhood. Experienced preachers sometime discourage young preachers by never attending their gospel meetings. I do not know if the situation stems from religious politics, a feeling that they will not hear anything they have not already heard, or if it is just pure thoughtlessness. I do know that it is a sad and discouraging situation. As a young preacher, I can think of nothing more encouraging than to have in the audience an old-battle-scarred-warrior of the cross. I can think of nothing more profitable than receiving a few helpful hints from a “pro,” whether they be in the homiletics or hermenuetics category. On the other hand, the young preachers who have followed after the Ketcherside Amumbo-jumbo” must have a disheartening effect on those who have so bravely and fearlessly attacked innovations on the front lines. I am sure that weighing constantly on their minds is the destiny of the church of tomorrow. Let us resolve in our hearts to encourage one another – not discourage.
These things have not been mentioned with any animosity in my heart, but with love for my brothers and sisters in Christ. This article should not be taken as an indictment on the brotherhood – far be it from that! I suppose that during periods of depression, besides prayer and my good wife, the one thing that keeps me preaching, and I suppose always will, is the encouragement received from beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. These thoughtful and wonderful brethren, I will always be indebted to – thanks brethren!
Truth Magazine, XVIII:39, p. 13-14
August 8, 1974