By Denver Niemeier
I have learned that God so loved man that he gave his Son and his Son gave his life so that man could be saved from his sins and live eternally with his Master (John 3:16).
I have learned that those who are saved are added to the church that the Son built (Acts 2:47; Matt. 16:18), and that in the church God is glorified (Eph. 3:21).
I have learned that God has provided for man every instruction needed to inform man how to conduct himself as a child of God and a member of the church (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). From the divine point of view, the church is perfect, nothing is missing, everything is just as it should be. But, I have learned there are problems among those who are members of the church. These are caused by many things: differences of opinion, lack of understanding, ignorance, bad attitudes, meanness, anger, and lack of consideration, just to name a few. Until these are removed on the part of the humans in the church, the problems won’t cease.
My purpose is to point out some things from what I have learned and experienced in my years of preaching and from serving as an elder that might cause us to be more careful in our association with brethren in Christ.
Improper elders are the cause of many problems. There is a dire shortage of proper elders today. Churches with large numbers cannot (evidently) find men who are qualified to serve or else the men refuse to serve. It is a sad commentary when so few are qualified and willing to serve. Men, who profess to have heaven as their goal, are not willing to press forward and prepare to serve in what Paul said was a good work (1 Tim. 3:1). We have a problem and it certainly is not God’s fault. How can we expect to have that crown of life if we will not get involved as we should as Christians?
I have learned that there are those who do not know how elders get to be elders. Recently, I learned that some years ago there was an elder (?) who, when he became ill, appointed his wife to serve, during his sickness. He died from his illness and his wife carried on until she died. This happened at a church in southern Indiana, the other man who was an elder (?) at that time told me about it.
My first meeting was for a rural church in Barren county Kentucky. One of the men informed me that he was the “acting elders” having been appointed by the “real elder” to serve, while the real elder was away on vacation.
On another occasion as I pulled into the parking lot of a rural church in Pulaski county Kentucky, where I was conducting a weekly Thursday night Bible study, one of the men came over to my car and asked if I had heard the good news about him? My answer was, “No.” He then told me he had been made a “Junior Elder.” I asked what that was, and he replied, “A junior elder is one who is in training to be an elder.”
I have learned that there are those who pay no attention, or are unaware of what the Bible says about elders and their qualifications and work. Many seem to want to stress the physical qualifications and pay little attention to the spiritual.
I have learned that some elders do not want the members to know what is going on. In Acts 26:26, Paul told Agrippa, “For this thing was not done in a corner. ” However, some conduct their oversight as if the best way to do things is in a comer. Years ago a church in Kentucky had elders who reached the decision that it was in the best interest of the church to change preachers. They made this known to the church but, when they were asked their reasons for making that decision, they said they did not want to reveal them. The preacher, not wanting to move, found among the members those who resented the decision and silence of the elders and started working toward the end of his staying and getting rid of the elders. Needless to say, a lot of trouble was the result.
As preachers sometimes have the opinion that elders are “my elders,” some elders at times act as if they think the church is theirs. I have learned that some want to be “boss,” some love pre-eminence, some are poorly prepared and do not have the vision and foresight their responsibilities require.
Before I go on, let me say that there are good, honest, sincere, dedicated, conscientious, sacrificing, properly prepared men who are serving as elders; the same is true of many who are devoting their lives to preaching the gospel. I thank God for them; may their tribe increase. So when I mention these things concerning elders and preachers, I am not down on all.
I have learned that every member of the church does not always act like he should. I have also learned that some who preach along with some who serve as elders will take advantage of the brethren, just as there are brethren who will take advantage of preachers and elders.
I have learned that elders and preachers need to have a clear cut understanding on many things when they enter into a working arrangement together. The same is true when a preacher agrees to work with a church that is without elders. An invitation is issued to a preacher to move and work with a church, the preacher accepts, yet details that involve all of them are not-worked out before the move takes place. Such things as moving expenses, amount of support, vacation weeks, number of meetings the preacher is to be away each year, pay adjustments, etc., need to be discussed and agreed to by all concerned. Many problems occur as the result of misunderstanding on these things.
In my opinion the best way for this to be handled is for it to be put in writing. For example, time passes and the ones who discussed these things with the preacher may no longer be there. Sometimes people forget, but if it is in writing and all involved have a copy, it is very easy to check and see what was agreed to.
A preacher looking for a place to move, learned of a church that was looking for a preacher. He contacted some of the members, went to “try out” and afterward talked with one of the members and was told that they wanted him to move there. When he showed up thinking he was to be preaching there, he found out that the one man he had talked with did not have the approval of the church to ask him to come.
I made a similar mistake some years ago. I agreed to move and work with a new church some 300 miles away. Between the time I accepted the invitation to move and the time of the move, I talked several times with the man who had phoned me and told me the church wanted me to come. We discussed several different things concerning the move and the work to follow. However, when I arrived, ready to start the work, I found out that things I had been assured of over the phone had not been discussed with the rest of the men. I have learned to work these things out before the move takes place.
In 1956 I accepted my first work as a “full-time” preacher. I was with that church over three years and had a good work there. During that time they never mentioned any adjustment in my support, and neither did I. That would not happen again on my part. I have learned better. How many would stay with a secular job that long without a raise?
A young preacher was talking with me some time back about his work with a certain church. He said, “I have been here almost two years and nothing has been said about an adjustment in my support. I don’t know what to do. If I bring it up they just might tell me that if I want more money to go somewhere else.” Again to repeat, work these things out beforehand.
One night after services during a gospel meeting we invited several to our house including the visiting preacher. One of the guests mentioned that the preacher was a “Big Preacher.” I will never forget his reply when he said, “A big preacher is just a little preacher away from home.” How about that?
While on that thought, there is something else I have learned. A church will bring in a visiting preacher to hold a meeting, sometimes lasting a week, or in many cases today, even less than a week. The visiting preacher will be supported (paid) far and above the amount that same church will pay the local preacher for the same period of time. Surely the travel expenses of the visiting preacher need to be taken care of in addition to his support, but to pay one man such an excess is unfair to the local man?
I also have learned that some have the idea that a preacher going to preach in a meeting is going to get rich. This leads some to want to decrease or even stop his support at home during that time. Too many times what he gets for that meeting is not equal to the support loss at home.
I once drove 500 miles during a meeting and was given a sack of potatoes and $15.00. Even then the brother who gave me my “gas money” as he called it, acted as if he did not want any one to notice that he was doing so. I have learned that brethren are not thoughtful at times concerning preachers and support.
I have learned that preachers are expected to be ready to go whenever called upon. Day or night, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year be ready. Have the car in shape to run, gas in the tank, money in the pocket or bank to take care of any expense that might be involved. Any preacher worth his salt will go when called if at all possible. However some of these occasions put him to extra travel and expense. Whenever this happens, those who have called for him need to give consideration to that added cost.
I think of an occasion when I was called to speak at the burial services of a member of the church who had died in a western state and was being returned home. I had never met the man or his family, the services were to be held at a meeting house some distance from where I lived and where he had worshipped in years past. After the services someone handed me some money and said that the family wanted me to have it. Shortly after that I returned to that area to preach one night. One of the men came to me and started reading me the riot act, about taking money from a poor widow and her children. When I was able to calm him down some, I found out he was talking about the money I was given at the funeral I just mentioned. Did I mention that some brethren will take advantage of preachers?
On three different occasions involving three different churches, three different preachers I know of, went to the brethren at the end of the year or when they were leaving that work and asked for their vacation pay stating that they had not taken the time off for vacation so therefore the church owed them so many weeks support even though they had been paid every week of the time they had been there. Did I mention that some preachers will take advantage of the brethren?
I have learned that some think the preacher and his family are their personal property and are at their beck and call. The first work that I moved to where the church furnished the house for the preacher to live in resulted in learning other things. We had been there less than a week, many things were yet to be unpacked, not all the furniture was in place, well, you know how it is. One member suggests we have a get acquainted pitch-in on that Sunday afternoon in the backyard and that all could use the facilities of the house in getting the food ready etc. No thought was given as to what might be convenient for us. We did not have a pitch-in at that time.
A young couple I know would drop in on the preacher and his family around supper time about once a week and would spend the whole evening without checking first to see if it was suitable with the preacher’s family or not. No consideration was given as to what plans might have been made by the preacher and his family for the evening. When this couple was asked about this they replied, “They live in the house that belongs to the church, and since we are a part of the church that makes the house ours and we can go into our house any time we want.” This reflects the attitude that some have: “We pay him, he and his belong to us. He had better jump whenever he is told.” Again I ask, did I mention that some brethren will take advantage of preachers?
God’s plan calls for elders to oversee – preachers to preach – members to live and work with all as his children. It takes all members, each doing his best for the body of Christ to be built up (Eph. 4:16).
Problems exist because the people in the church fail to be as God would have them to be one to the other. These problems would be done away with if we would all be as God would have us to be.
Now comes the question. Am I helping to do away with these problems or am I helping to create them? Let’s all learn to do better.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 14, pp. 432-434
July 16, 1987