By Jim King
It is a fair rule of thumb to be at least suspicious of practices in the church which take their cue from practices in the world. I have employed this rule for some time while watching the migration of preachers from place to place. Since I am planning to “relocate” soon, the way in which preacher meets church and church meets preacher is of particular interest to me. And though relatively new to “full-time” preaching, I am being duly initiated.
As the secular working world is filled with hiring and firing, promotions and demotions, resumes and cover letters, so brethren have begun to use the same jargon. The preacher attempting to make a move will quickly encounter it. He soon discovers that the disciples are looking for that nebulous, but much sought after evangelist – “an older, mature man, with experience.” Indeed, this demand seems so widespread, it is enough to make one wish for wrinkles and covet gray hair. Though no Bible passage gives this qualification for an evangelist, each church certainly has the right to decide what qualifications they require. What is disturbing is the seemingly subjective way in which many go about the selection process.
Instead of viewing each preacher on his own merits, it seems customary to greet the inquirer with, “Send a resume.” And it appears that many churches with problems or without problems, with elders or without them, feel an insatiable urge to judge that resume mainly by how many years “experience” the preacher can legitimately claim. Never mind that age and maturity are not synonymous, nor experience a sure indication of ability. Rather, if a Timothy or a Titus cannot put down that magical number, let him find some less discriminating brethren with whom to work. Of course, one can always do as Paul did, and go into some area where the gospel is unknown, not building on another man’s foundation (Rom. 15:20). This approach has much to commend it. Yet it seems a shame that a younger man must pursue it by necessity, and not by choice.
It is especially interesting to note advertisements for “preachers needed.” The brethren usually ask for very little. Most simply request the wisdom of a Paul coupled with the eloquence of an Apollos, all wrapped in that all-inclusive phrase, “we desire an older, mature man, with experience.” Some wax bold, and insist that he rob other churches to do them service – that is, they inform him that he must bring his own support.
The difficulties mentioned here are really part of a larger problem – the whole system of preachers looking for churches and churches looking for preachers.. From search, to “try-out,” to selection, the entire process seems strange compared to first century standards. I find it hard to envision Peter and Paul vying for the “preaching job” at Jerusalem, or feverishly sending out resumes to Corinth and Antioch, hoping that their credentials will look good on paper. Surely there is a better way.
I make no pretense at having all the answers. But I believe certain actions would point us in the right direction. Let preachers appreciate the gravity of their work, and never think of themselves nor allow others to think of themselves as mere clergy juggling for positions with the most “desirable churches.” And let brethren initially be clear and forthright about what qualifications they seek in a preacher. If they require certain years of experience, regardless of a man’s capabilities, then let them say so at the beginning. This one courtesy could save much time, money, and inconvenience. And let churches refuse to be wedded to a concept that says a “mature” preacher is the panacea to all problems – problems that in some cases should have been dealt with by the elders long before.
Some congregations have made it a point to give younger men the chance to work among them and grow. May their tribe increase. Until a more objective, practical way is found for a preacher and a congregation to begin their work together, many preachers will yet hear that depressing request – send a resume.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, p. 589
October 1, 1987