Some Suggestions to Elders on How to Keep Preachers From Leaving

By Royce Chandler

Just as the local work seems to be getting off to a good start and the future harvest appears promising, the preacher calls together the elders and informs them of his intention to move. After all the time spent in searching for a replacement and the money spent in moving him, it still takes, usually, at least a year or more for the church and the new preacher to adjust to each other, and for things to level out to where they were (if, indeed, such is possible) before the former preacher resigned.

The new man must start from scratch to win the confidence and respect of the local saints; programs begun by the former preacher are discontinued, often in midstream; contacts made by him are forgotten; fruit that was almost ready to show itself will not be harvested, for that accumulative influence which the former preacher would have exerted during the next several months is aborted, and the hidden sprouts of faith in sinners’ hearts, which with only a little more work and support would surely blossom forth into obedience, silently die. Those indifferent saints just being inspired to interest and zeal by the example and influence of the preacher are suddenly deprived of that motivating personality and, having not yet developed the independence to stand on their own devotion, lose that surge of growth as the “prop” moves to another local church.

With the new preacher comes a new stress in the local program; while the former stressed local edification through improved classes, special series of instruction, training sessions, etc., the new emphasis is placed on those areas which especially suit the new man. Thus, the entire local program often takes a good amount of time to readjust, and much damage has been done in the vineyard by churches having to readjust far too often.

How many are the elders who have not had to wrestle this problem? How many have not often asked, in frustration, “What can we do to keep this man?” “Why do preachers so often just get things going smoothly, and then leave?”

This article is not inclusive to the point of exploring the faults of preachers in upsetting local works by foolish, selfish and ill-considered decisions to move; we desire only, for the present, to offer some ideas on how to prevent such moves. In keeping with this one-sided theme, then, let us suggest that local elderships could prevent many preachers from moving by giving due regard to this statement: “. . . for the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of light” (Lk. 16:8); i.e., they are more mindful, more prudent concerning the matters of everyday life.

Can we not learn from the sons of the world? How do successful businesses prevent within their ranks this same upheaval, which surely would destroy them? Are we to refuse to learn all we can from what practical wisdom the world so prudently employs? To do so is an evident sign of folly. How, then, do successful businesses retain their most qualified men for many years of service with little fear of their leaving in favor of another company? It there is a general statement to explain it, perhaps it is this: the sons of men have learned that when a man is made to be happy in his work, and when this happiness and his productive efforts are reinforced with positive rewards from those around him, there is little motivation for leaving. This one small bit of secular prudence could often enable an eldership to retain a hard-working, productive preacher for many years, resulting in an abundant harvest that can hardly be matched by churches which regularly must be searching for new preachers.

Acts of Kindness

In one sentence, elders could frequently secure a continued and fruitful work simply by showing genuine consideration to the preacher with whom they work.

As this article must be brief, let us now suggest some simple acts of kindness-of consideration-that would greatly aid a preacher in his work and would in most cases disarm the ever-present temptation to leave. This list of suggestions is necessarily brief, and should be used as a springboard to other suggestions.

1. Do not ask a preacher to leave unless there is a strong and pressing reason for such. Giving in to the baseless idea that a preacher should move every four or five years promotes an atmosphere of insecurity and futility, to say nothing of the unsettling effect it has on his wife and children. Knowing that they might be told to move at any time does nothing to give a preacher’s family a sense of belonging and of security. Children do not need to be shuffled around, always having to leave friends and to change schools, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Would you want your family to be treated that way? The emotional impact can sometimes be devastating on both the preacher and his family. Be considerate; be fair.

2. Realize that a good preacher is just really getting started after his first two or three years. Give him the support and the security he needs to spend several more years building on the foundation of the first few. This is a major key to local growth.

3. Periodically, tell both the preacher and the brethren how much you appreciate his work. Every man needs to know that his work is beneficial, and the brethren need to know that the elders are well aware of what work is being done, and that they are solidly behind it. Encouragement breeds more diligence.

4. Send your preacher to “training” or study situations which will help him to grow. Maintain his support and pay his expenses to go study; this is for his benefit; but mainly for that of the church, as he can return to teach those things which he learned. Especially would this sort of work be good for young preachers, who have not yet had the time to study, in detail, certain subjects. If business organizations recognize the great benefit of such programs to their employees and leaders, why cannot we use a little of that same wisdom?,

5. Look for things to do to encourage him and to make things comfortable for him and his family. Don’t make him ask for every little thing that needs doing to the house, if the church owns it; be considerate enough to purposely notice things that could improve his situation. Provide him with study space and efficient equipment, such as a typewriter, an overhead projector, etc., to be used in his work.

6. Show some initiative in the local work. Many times there will be no organized program of work unless the preacher thinks it up, organizes it, and drives everyone into helping with it. This is shameful. The elders ought to constantly be thinking of ways to improve and to expand the local work; let the elders shoulder the task of providing new and better methods, concentrated studies, etc., instead of just sitting around until the preacher comes up with another “hot idea.” If the church’s program of work moves away with the former preacher, the brethren see a distinct picture of figureheads, not of true elders. And, they also may see the reason why they cannot keep a preacher-at least, not a good one.

7. Why not give your preacher a set amount of money year specifically for books. There is nothing more valuable to a preacher’s work than a good library. Good books are expensive, and most preachers have enough to pay for without having to sacrifice unduly to purchase the best study aids. Since the books are used primarily to benefit the brethren in the classes and sermons, why cannot churches give $100-$200 each year, unrelated to his regular support, for providing your preacher with what he needs. The benefits will far outweigh the cost.

8. Provide, automatically, a cost of living adjustment every six months. Inflation hits a preacher, too. Any man worth keeping is worth showing this consideration. He has no union to bargain for him, so the brethren must take the initiative. Is it “Christian” to let the world be fairer to its own than brethren are to the local preacher? This should be completely unrelated to any raise that might be given.

9. Do not make the preacher beg. How many businesses retain employees by going on and on, offering no raise until the employee finally comes in and asks for it? Consideration and fair play ought to eliminate this problem. If the world can recognize the need to increase productive workers’ salaries on a regular basis, why can elders not profit from this understanding? Is it so hard to go to the preacher, sit down with him, and open-mindedly discuss his increased financial needs on a regular yearly basis? Do you treat the preacher any less considerately than your company treats you? It is hard to leave a church where the preacher knows for a fact that the elders are constantly thinking of him, are aware of his needs and are willing to be fair with him.

10. Understanding that preachers have no fringe benefits like most workers have, recognize that an inflation adjustment is not a -raise. If a man receives only enough increase to meet inflation, he simply treads water at the same buying power he had when he first moved among you. If a man is worth keeping, he is worth an increase in his support on a regular, fair basis. If he is not worth that consideration, he should be asked to leave. And surely all would recognize that when a new child is born in his family, it takes more to support that family than it did before. Be considerate; be fair.

These suggestions are offered in a meek and humble spirit; it is hoped that they will be considered in the same spirit. They are, admittedly, one-sided; perhaps some good elder would help us preachers by offering a list of suggestions from the other perspective.

Truth Magazine, XX:12, p. 9-10
March 18, 1976