By Fred A. Shewmaker
A member of a certain college faculty reportedly made a habit of advising young men, who expressed the desire to become preachers: “Don’t preach, if you can keep from it.” By that advice he sought to do two things: Discourage those who were not driven by a compelling desire to win souls, and encourage those who were motivated by a true desire to win souls to make preaching their life’s work.
Today, when gospel preachers are in short supply, we may be tempted to encourage every man showing the slightest interest in preaching to become a preacher. It may require considerable restraint to overcome that temptation, but overcoming it will be worth the effort. Those not highly motivated by a desire to win souls may have the ability to become excellent speakers, but it is not reasonable to expect them to become effective gospel preachers.
If you are entertaining the desire to become a preacher, give careful consideration to the question: “Why do I desire to preach?” If your desire arises out of an observation that preachers drive late model cars, wear nice clothes, receive a good salary with no deductions taken out of their checks and receive many compliments on their sermons as they speak to those who are leaving the building: forget it! A careful examination of the work of preaching would have dispelled the idea that preachers live glamorous lives.
A member of a local church where I was preaching moved to another state to begin “full-time” work as a gospel preacher. A few months later he and his family returned for a visit. As we talked he tried to explain certain problems he was encountering. I was totally unacquainted with the church with which he was associated and could scarcely comprehend the enormity of the problems which he was describing. After listening for some time, I sighed, “It doesn’t take long for the glamour to wear off, does it?” I will always regret making that remark. I had encouraged that man to make preaching his life’s work, but at that moment a suspicion had formed in my mind that my encouragement had been given to a glamour seeker. In the years that have followed, his work as a gospel preacher has completely erase that suspicion from my mind.
Every child of God should encourage faithful men to preach the gospel (2 Tim. 2:2). Some who have received my encouragement are making preaching their life’s work. One of them is the dear brother mentioned above. Others are doing appointment or fill-in preaching. Before we encourage a brother to make preaching his life’s work, we should be convinced that he is driven by a desire to win souls.
As a preacher’s work takes him from place to place, it is not unusual for him to meet some brother for the first time and immediately be informed by his new acquaintance, “I would like to become a preacher myself.” Too often preachers with the best of intentions extend immediate encouragement, without knowing a thing about the brother’s motive or background. It might be that the preacher has not even caught the brother’s name.
A brother who, when meeting a gospel preacher for the first time, blurts out, “I would like to become a preacher, myself,” displays a lack of maturity. It is probable that he expects his declaration to be received with enthusiastic approval. Possibly he even has an unreasonable and unjustifiable expectation that the preacher will be transformed into a fountain of effervescent enthusiasm, gushing out encouragement.
A gospel preacher caught in such a situation should neither discourage nor encourage the expressed desire. Probably the most appropriate response that can be made is simply to ask: “Why?” That response avoids the discourtesy of ignoring the brother’s declaration while calling for the information one needs in order to determine whether to encourage or discourage him. At the same time it calls upon the brother to give some consideration to what it means to do the work of a preacher. Any brother, who cannot satisfactorily explain “why” he desires to become a preacher, should not be encouraged to make preaching his life’s work.
One brother, with whom I was acquainted in years gone by, frequently said, “Some can preach and some can plow; those of us who can’t preach need to be plowing and supporting those who can preach.” An older preacher said, “We need the small churches. They provide a great service. They cannot afford to have a full-time preacher working with them, but they are a great training ground for those who desire to become gospel preachers. When a man expresses a desire to become a preacher, they are willing to give him an opportunity to try. If he does a decent job, they will ask him to come back. If he continues to do well, other churches will hear about him and call him to preach to them. If he grows in knowledge and increases his ability to clearly present the word, his services will be in demand. On the other hand, if a man does not do well, he will not be asked back. He will have some opportunitites at other places, but after a while they will dry up and he can forget about becoming a preacher.”
So you still want to preach. If you are driven by a compelling desire to win souls and will humble yourself in the hands of God, it may be possible for you to become an effective gospel preacher. Men with very little speaking ability have become outstanding gospel preachers. It takes hard work and lots of it, but if you truly have a compelling desire to win souls, you probably will thrive on the work and most likely will have opportunities to scatter the precious seed far and wide.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 20, p. 591
October 6, 1988