By Mike Willis
Let me begin by making a disclaimer. I have never worked with a church in a preacher training program either as the student or the teacher. Nevertheless, there are a few words that I would like to say about the preacher training programs that are being conducted around the country.
The Value to the Preacher in Training
The apostle Paul trained Timothy to preach by taking the young man with him as he did the work of an evangelist (Acts 16:1-3). Working side by side with Paul was an excellent arrangement to learn how to preach and how a preacher should conduct himself. He saw the God-given qualifications for a preacher exemplified in the life of Paul. Paul spoke of his work among the Thessalonians as follows:
For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: but even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burden-some, as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: as ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:1-12).
Seeing Paul working with brethren in the fashion so described was a perfect training situation for a young preacher. If we can understand why doctors go through a residency and skilled laborers go through an apprenticeship, we should be able to understand the value to a young man that a preacher training program serves.
A Way To Serve, Not Merely Be Served
When a church is considering whether or not to have a preacher training program, they may be tempted to highlight the question, “What are we going to get out of it for this local church?” The answers may not be readily forthcoming, apparent and immediately tangible. However, the comment needs to be made that in such a program a congregation is serving, regardless of whether or not it receives anything in return. The spirit of serving others is the spirit of Christianity for, “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Is not the concept that only asks what is the local church going to get out of it based on the denominational concept of the preacher as a pastor to serve the needs of the local flock? Is the question reflecting a lack of perception of the church’s obligation to send the gospel into areas where there is no gospel preaching being done or where the local church is exceptionally weak? If that be the case, churches needs to be educated in their responsibility to take the gospel to those who are dying outside of Christ.
While some churches are asking, “What are we going to get out of it?” other churches have an ongoing training program that turns out 2-5 men a year who are qualified to preach the gospel. Another church may have one younger man work with their older, more experienced preacher and prepare one new man every couple of years. Still others invite a young man to work with them during the summer to complement another program of study (such as work toward a college degree) in preparing oneself to preach. In each situation, the local church is doing one of the things that God has given us the charge to do to teach faithful men who in turn will teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). It is the church’s responsibility to prepare men to preach! Preacher training programs are churches in action, doing one of the works God gave it to do to train men to teach others.
And how some churches serve! They not only provide a salary for the men in training, they frequently purchase books for his library and, on some occasions, suits to wear when he preaches. These young men are in the prayers of the brethren as they travel from place to place preaching. These young men go out forever indebted to the local church that had the foresight to provide training for them.
Some preacher training programs have served in ways other than supplying full-time preachers. There are many congregations unable to afford full-time men working with them that depend upon men who work five days a week to support their families and use their week-ends to preach. As a young man, this was practically the only preaching I knew. There are area congregations able to have preaching every Sunday because another church served in training others to preach.
Benefits to the Local Church
Despite the fact that the church should look at its training program as an opportunity to serve, rather than to be served, still there seem to be some apparent benefits that come to the local church as a result of a preacher training program. Here are some of them:
1. A man in training will do local work. I have not known any man who was training to preach who did not teach a Bible class in the local church, preach from time to time, or write articles for the bulletin. He usually fills in for the local preacher when he is away on meetings or vacation. He will, first of all, bring an enthusiasm for the work of the local church that will add to its work. If he is a younger man, he will probably have a significant impact upon the younger members of the local church (the teenagers, young adults, and young married couples).
2.These men will be an example for others to follow. Men who have committed themselves to devote their full-time to preaching the gospel are good role models for others in the congregation. In contrast to those who have a half-hearted commitment, these men have committed their all. I believe that associating with men who have made such a commitment helps all the members of the local church.
On many occasions, the younger man in a training program will work for a summer with a local church and stay in the homes of two or three families one month at a time. His impact filters down to the fourth and fifth grade children. They have a favorable impression of preachers and preaching. Some of these younger children will make it their goal to become a preacher or marry a preacher because of these favorable associations. The teenagers in a local church are frequently the strongest benefactors of a young man’s coming to work with a congregation over a summer.
3. A spirit of brotherliness sometimes comes through the program. As area congregations are made aware of the man in training looking for opportunities to speak, they will sometimes invite him to preach to their congregation. Other congregations are inspired to have a training pro-gram of their own. A spirit of brotherly affection is nurtured by these associations.
4. Older brethren are encouraged to see a younger generation take up the banners of Christ. Witnessing the faith being passed down to another generation encourages us who are older to persevere in our service to the Lord. Not the least of those encouraged is the local preacher who delights in the opportunity to train others to do the work of preaching. Some brethren report an increase in contribution because brethren want to be part of training men to preach and are willing to provide the resources to support the man while he trains and then when he moves away to a small congregation that is unable to support him.
5. The local church will develop a greater interest in its young people because of the training program. The young men will be encouraged to develop their individual skills in the service of the Lord, whether it be in song leading, preaching, waiting on the table, or some other way.
6. His impact on area congregations. In some sections of the country, the part-time men who have been trained in stronger churches have gone into the smaller nearby congregations to preach on weekly appointments and have been God’s instrument to salvage brethren from institutionalism. West Virginia is a good example of places where this has been done. Had some churches not encouraged their men to develop, several congregations in West Virginia would not now be standing for the truth.
The church both serves and is served by the preacher training programs. The Ellettsville congregation where brother Johnie Edwards preaches has been supporting the work of training preachers for many years. Dale Wilson, Gary Fiscus, Mel Myers, Tony Mauch, Carl Lungstrum, and John Henry are some of the men who have worked in preacher training with brother Edwards. In addition, two of Johnie’s sons are preaching full-time Titus Edwards (Tampa, FL) and Johnie Paul Edwards (Belleville, IN). Johnie Paul’s sixteen-year-old son John Isaac is one of the men in training at the present and is going out regularly to fill week-end appointments.
Some churches are able to look at their work and see that every man who has gone through their program is faithfully serving in preaching the gospel full-time and standing firmly for the truth. Other programs have not had such a good track record, witnessing many of those who have gone through their program either decide not to preach or go off into some departure from the faith. There are strong and weak preacher training programs just as there are strong and weak churches and preachers. A young man wishing to preach should use good judgment in choosing a program that will give him the training he needs.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 8, p. 2
April 21, 1994