By Bill Cavender
Recently in the Guardian of Truth there was an article by me entitled “Wages to Preachers.” This was a rewritten and reprinted article that I had written about nine years ago in a church bulletin I edited. Then, as now, the article elicited a number of letters to me from preachers, thanking me for my effort and telling me of problems they had encountered, problems in principle which I had mentioned in the article. It is my purpose now, in this present article, to present two of the letters written to me, deleting the names of the writers and places to which they refer, and deleting the congregations which they have worked with or are presently working with. I hope to follow this article with a series of articles, “Letters To A Young Preacher,” which I trust will be helpful to all preachers, young or old, and to all brethren in their dealings with preachers. The two letters are now presented.
I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your article on ‘Wages To Preachers.’ It was a topic I feel should be discussed more often in more places. I come from a faithful family that has produced many gospel preachers, men that I admire and have tried to follow their example. Among these men are my uncles, and a first cousin (here he names three well-known gospel preachers-BC). I was a full-time preacher for two years in _________, Kentucky. Before that I was a part-time preacher at ________, Texas. I am now working on my master’s degree at __________ University in ________, Texas, and am preaching part-time with the church in __________, Texas.
“The reason for writing this letter is simply to let off steam and get something off my chest, to mention a few problems that I encountered, that may or may not benefit you or others.
“I received about as much discouragement as encouragement when I first decided to preach, which I couldn’t understand. Nonetheless, I went on. Then came the chore of finding a church that would take a beginning preacher. I spent over $300.00 driving around ‘trying out’ that I was never paid for, just for my expenses. I drove from __________, Texas, one Friday to preach the next day, on Saturday night, over 900 miles to a church in Kentucky. I just barely had time to look over my notes and shave before preaching. One of the men gave me $20.00 and said, ‘This is for your trouble.’ Another church in Kentucky told me they did like me but they were considering another beginning preacher who was unmarried and 20 years old but who had 2 years at ________ College. I was married, 25 years old, and a Viet Nam veteran, and had a college degree from ____________ University. One night at 10:30 they phoned me. I’d been to this church twice in Kentucky and they still hadn’t made up their mind after 2 trips. Well, they finally phoned and said their first choice decided to go somewhere else, and would I come. They had kept me on a string for 2 1/2 months and I needed a job. I told them if a ________ College graduate didn’t want them, that I didn’t either! So I took the offer from _______, Kentucky, which is another story I won’t go into. The problems of this first work and the lack of opportunities for the beginning preacher were so discouraging.
“Another complaint is the big churches with big name preachers, with young men in that church who want to preach. This is how I started along with many other men I know. We went out in the ‘boon docks’ with the small country churches that have been sitting there for years doing nothing. Now this is how it is always done. But is this the best way? To send a young, inexperienced preacher out like this on his own? Maybe this is how it should be to weed out those who ‘really don’t want to preach.’
“The problems encountered in these small churches that these young preachers have no way of handling are so discouraging. They are there to preach and gain pulpit experience. The handling of problems comes with experience which they simply do not have yet. I’ve seen, and have been one, of those young preachers whove been hounded and run off. It would seem to me that it should be the other way around. Let the young preacher stay in the large church with elders to gain experience, in a friendly atmosphere among brethren who are trying to develop this potential gospel preacher. And let the big name preacher go out in the ‘boondocks’ and take on the brethren who just sit back and wait for fresh meat of the young preacher.
“There are big churches that do use young men as a second preacher to train them but there aren’t enough of these churches to take care of all those who want to preach.
“Another complaint is that it was always hard for me and other young men to be able to discuss our problems with the big name preachers, to seek counsel and advice. We always felt we were taking their time or that our problems were too small and childish to bother them with. But to us our problems were big and important.
“While in Kentucky, I met many big name preachers, some of whom I highly respect and admire. Others I do not. Some of these men helped me quite a bit when I went to them with questions. Others did not. I remember talking to one preacher who said he would drive nothing but a big Buick or Cadillac. His car was worth more than my yearly salary. This was a discouragement at the time. I grew tired of hearing preachers and elders ‘putting down hard’ those men who are full-time preachers and being quiet on those who were only part-time preachers. I haven’t met many elders in a large congregation who were willing to stop being part-time elders and leave their high paying jobs and let the church support them, as the church can. But how they encourage men to be full-time preachers!
“And then finally, churches that think they need full-time preachers when they do not. I know of a church right now in the area that was built from scratch, composed of many young families. They built a fine building and hired an exfull-time preacher, who at one time was outstanding but in his later years amounted to little. It seemed to me that they should have fired this man and done the preaching themselves. They had about 10 men who were good speakers. Think of how well they themselves could have grown spiritually if they did the preaching for one or two years, paid for their building and then looked for a full-time preacher. A man learns much more from preparing a sermon than he normally does from hearing it. His whole family could have learned more. It seemed to me a rare chance for those men as a whole to learn and develop. But instead they kept the man they had and as a result lost many members that were discouraged and moved away. They could not afford a new building and preacher at the same time. It is a shame because a good work could have been done in that area. I see all these things happening over and over again.
“I truly love the church and intend to always serve the very best I can. But I will never be a full-time preacher again, unless I am financially independent. However, I will always, if possible, be a part-time preacher because I now see a real need in those small towns and rural churches that cannot afford or attract a full-time preachers. I highly respect any man who is working as a full-time preacher and I understand his problems. One day I hope to be a full-time elder and help solve some of these problems. The most discouragement I ever received was from my own brethren, and many times I didn’t even know why.
“Thank you very much for your kind consideration. I hope I did not appear to be bitter or mad because I am not. But I am concerned and only want to help as I can. And I hope I haven’t made you mad. I am only 27 years old and know I still have a lot to learn. I may change my mind completely in 10 years. But as for now, these problems do exist and are big and important to me. Again, thank you for your time. Yours in Him, _________.”
A second letter I wish to print is from a preacher of 12-15 years experience, a husband and a father, and of good reputation. His letter says:
“Once again you’ve done an excellent job and provided a service to brethen by writing on ‘Wages To Preachers.’ Though I’ve taught on it some, I admit that I’m one of those who is uneasy because of the charges brethren make when you do.
“Let me give you a personal example of how brethren treat preachers. When I moved here, they had someone preaching ‘part-time- who was earning $260.00 per week. With the size of the congreation (175 in attendance) the preacher suggested they hire someone ‘full-time.’ I was hired two years ago. I was told they could pay no more than $400.00 per week (that’s total, everything!), because of their big building payments. But they would evaluate my salary every year and do better when they could. I believed it and with the extra income from our business we felt we could get by. Well, two years have gone by and no raise. But we are making extra payments on our building. Last year we made 8 extra payments on the principal!
“Bill, I learned one thing-you have to deal with the brethren when you first move, because after you get there, you are at their mercy. Another case I know of, first hand, in a nearby congregation. They were looking for a preacher and offering $21,000.00 per year. Finally, they raised it to $23,000.00 to a certain man. He tried out and said, ‘I have to have $32,000.00.’ That upset some of the members, but others said, ‘We can do better.’ Anyway, to make a long story short, they offered him $28,600.00 and he accepted, and last Sunday was his first Sunday there. But there’s an example of a situation, if he had accepted their offer of $23,000.00, he would have been stuck. I wonder? If the brethren could pay $28,600.00, why didn’t they do it in the first place? It’s the old story: ‘the best preachin’ for the least pay.’
“After seeing your article, I just wanted to share those two stories with you to let you know how badly it is needed. By the way, I have resigned here and will be moving sometime this summer. I don’t know when or where yet. Lack of adequate wages was not my only reason for resigning, but I must honestly admit that it was one reason. Of course, in my situation, some think we are getting ‘rich’ in our business, and if we’re making some of the side, the church is not obligated to pay as much. I don’t suppose the members would agree to let their boss cut their pay because they had a side-line income, do you?
“Bill, don’t think I am discouraged over this or am thinking about quitting. I know I could make much more if I devoted my full time to business, but I want to preach. I just wanted to let you know that your article was appreciated and update you ‘information rile’ on actual situations regarding wages to preachers. Best wishes to you and yours. God bless you in your work. Brotherly, _______”
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 13, pp. 387-388, 402
July 4, 1985