“I went by to pick him up, but I think he had snakes in his boots this morning.” After hearing that report, regarding why a brother was not present, I was still as uninformed as I would have been had I not heard any report at all. However, that report turned out to be the beginning of my education regarding the brother being discussed.
It was my impression that he enjoyed talking about the Bible and its teachings. He arranged for me to meet his landlady and have a Bible study with her. She responded to the teaching of the word of God and obeyed the gospel. Still the brother’s attendance remained irregular. He blamed his frequent absences on his poor health.
One day, while trying to prove some point to one of his friends, he began searching the Bible for the proof text he wanted to use. After a fruitless search, he decided to call and ask me to help him find the elusive passage. When I answered my telephone, his voice sounded different to me than I remembered it. As I began discussing the point about which he had called me, he interrupted and said, “Wait a minute; I’ll let you tell him.”
His friend’s voice sounded to me as though his tongue was too thick for his mouth. After talking for a few moments, I was fully convinced that both my brother and his friend were intoxicated. Having reached that conclusion, I said, “You fellows have been hitting that bottle pretty hard, haven’t you?”
That startled him, but after a short pause, he replied, “I’m not going to lie for him. Yes, we have.” As it turned out that brother was a known drunk in that city and the church found it necessary to withdraw from him.
No two local churches are alike. Each, as it were, has its own personality. Every church has a set of problems and needs peculiar unto itself. The first thing a preacher should do, when he associates himself with a local church, is to become aware of the particular problems that church is experiencing and to ascertain its special needs. (It is not necessary for a preacher to be nosey or to go snooping around in order to acquire such information; he only needs to keep his eyes and ears open.) After discovering the problems and needs of the church, to do an effective work, a preacher must adapt his preaching and teaching to try to meet the needs of that church and to try to bring about solutions to its problems. Failure to acquire such an awareness and to make such an adjustment in his preaching and teaching may cause a preacher to become more and more frustrated in his work with that church. He is apt to blame all of his troubles on the church, decide that church is just plain dead, and that the thing for him to do is move on to another church, but it is quite probable that preacher will replay the same scenario with the next church with which he becomes associated.
Not all churches are aware of their real needs nor do all recognize what their problems really are. After working for a short time with a church, where the members thought the need was rapid numerical growth, it became apparent to me that the members there were not pulling together. Some held petty grievances against others and were somewhat less than secretive about those grievances. It was not hard to imagine the effect such an environment would have on new converts. If it would be possible to baptize several persons, probably a very large percentage of those baptized would soon fall away. The older members probably would begin saying, ‘ ‘He baptized them, but they were not converted.” Never “in a month of Sundays” would the older members suspect that their petty grievances had anything to do with those babes in Christ falling away. Instead of working to produce rapid numerical growth, I made an effort to meet the real needs of that church and to bring about solutions to the problems there.
The time came when the brethren asked me to make preparations to move elsewhere. Rapid numerical growth had not occurred. I explained that I had concentrated my efforts upon trying to draw the members of the church closer together. Then I said, “I believe you now are much closer to one another and are pulling together much better than you were, when I came here.”
One of the men who had worked to bring about my dismissal spoke up, saying, “That’s right.” However, the die was cast. I would not try to persuade them to retain me longer than the date set for my termination. Some preacher at some time in some place may have accomplished some good by fighting a church’s decision to fire him, but I suspect that for every such case there are hundreds more where such a fight caused great harm.
After I preached my last sermon as the regular preacher there, the brother who led the movement to have me move on said to me, “This church is in the best shape it has ever been in.” I do not know how a preacher should feel, when he has been “fired” because he did the work it was his duty to do. Should he feel frustrated? Obviously he should not feel bitterness. I had a feeling of satisfaction. To the best of my ability I had performed the work which needed to be done in that part of my Lord’s vineyard. I had fulfilled the instruction: “. . . do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Gossip plagued one church with which I became associated. Upon returning home after Sunday morning services, I could be certain that within 10 minutes my telephone would ring and a member of that church would begin telling me what had happened that morning in the services of the church across town. A short time after my arrival, a new preacher became associated with the church across town. We went to work trying to break up that gossip network. To this day, I am uncertain about how we succeeded, but succeed we did. The proof of our success came one Sunday morning, when a brother _________ asked me, “Do you know that for the last three weeks brother – has not been able to preach?”
He had just then learned about the brother’s illness. My reply was: “Yes, I know. His wife called me the morning after the night he was hospitalized and I have visited him regularly. “
A preacher should be cautious not to act nor speak, when he only assumes that he knows all the details of a situation. By basing one’s actions or statements upon assumption, a situation may be made more complicated. I have had that experience. A brother, with his family, moved into our community. He came and talked with me about certain things and then decided to enter into fellowship with us. We were willing to accept him and his wife and they became identified with us. But a short time later, he bagan to demand that certain changes be made by the church. I was aware that he had been divorced and was married to his second wife, but had been convinced that he had a scriptural right to be married again. The elders were unwilling to make the changes he was demanding, but were having meetings with him to discuss the matter. After a time, the brother decided to move and become identified with another church. I received a call from the preacher of that other church and explained to him all I knew about the situation. Shortly thereafter the elders called me on the carpet. In their meetings with that brother they had learned certain details about his divorce which had led them to question his right to be married again. I had been unaware of those details because they had not told me about them. However, my mistake was my failure to refer the preacher who called me to the elders who were handling the case.
A brother, who had not been living up to duty, suddenly passed away on a Saturday. His funeral was conducted the following week. The Sunday morning after his funeral, a sister, as she was making her way out of the building, stopped and said to me, “It is terrible the way this church mistreated him.” After I informed her that another brother and I had visited him; told her what had been said and explained that the brother had attended services only once, after our invitation for him to make things right; she exclaimed, “Oh! I didn’t know that.”
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 15, pp. 456-457
August 2, 1984