I have spent years of my tenure as a preacher teaching preachers, training preachers, writing about preaching and preaching. All of my 53 years as a preacher I have heard over and over the statement that “We have a preacher shortage.” A once popular statement related to this statement was “For every new preacher who begins preaching there are two or three who are leaving.”
Through the years there have been numerous responses with efforts to curb or eliminate the preacher shortage. These have included: Schools of Evangelist, Schools of Preaching, Colleges with Bible Departments, Schools of Biblical Studies, Bible Institutes, Correspondence courses, special weekend programs, mentoring programs, etc.
I’m not sure when the issue of who needs to train preachers and where should preachers be trained became a topic of discussion, the point of controversy, and causes of division among churches? Also included in this point is the question, “Who should be trained to preach?” The answers ranged from “Any faithful male Christian” to those “Who are academically qualified” to enter a collegiate program, etc. Entering this area is the qualifications congregations require, demand, or expect a preacher to have. And whether he should be “fulltime” or “part-time.”
A major issue relates to training preachers in a formal setting such as a college, school of preaching, Bible institute, etc. is what should the content of the curricula be? Who should teach various courses? What qualifies a teacher for specific courses? What role, if any, does having experience as a local preacher have in selecting teachers? What is the tenure of teacher’s preaching experiences as well as the fruit of his labors in a congregational setting? Usually, the beliefs, attitudes, and practices of the persons in charge of the training determine the answers to these and other questions related to training preachers.
Some institutions training preachers are governed by “accrediting associations,” some by elderships, some by boards, and some by the founder of the training program. Thus, the reasons why there are various dynamics involved in training preachers, with no two being “exactly” alike. While there is a place to have discussions and dialogue in this area, my purpose is to briefly write about one way to train preachers today. And I think, or assume, that we all agree that we need “trained preachers” today.
THE TRAINING OF FIRST CENTURY PREACHERS BY JESUS
There were no colleges, seminaries, schools, etc. designated as training institutions for preachers related to the church in the first century. Yet, there were preachers. Jesus was the Master Preacher as well as the trainer of preachers, who said on one occasion, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preacher there also because for this reason, I have come forth” (Mark 1:38). Therefore, the training of the first preachers for the spread of the Gospel and building up of the ekklesia (church) was done by THE PREACHER—Jesus Christ.
We have an example of how Jesus called and trained His future preachers. The Scriptures reveal that one day Jesus was walking by the fishing docks and upon seeing some fishermen, whether Jesus knew them or not, we aren’t sure but we do know this: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will MAKE YOU fishers of men.’ The immediately left their nets and followed Him…” (Mark 1:16-20). Notice the next verse, Then THEY went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught” (Mark 1:21). The later in 1:38 we read: But He said to THEM, ‘Let US go into the next town, that I may preach there also because, for this reason, I have come forth.’”
Several things are obvious in this historical narrative about how Jesus selected disciples (preachers) and how He started to train them immediately. We aren’t told if Jesus knew these fishermen before He called them, if He had heard about them, or they had been recommended to Him. We have no record of Jesus quizzing them relative to their knowledge of the Law of Moses, which sect within Israel were they members of, e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Essenes, Zealots, etc.; which synagogue they were members of, and which rabbi had trained them. He knew their hearts and potential. Jesus was more interested in who and what they would become than in their diplomas, degrees, present theological, sociological, and credit score. Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Make is the Greek word poieo and refers to, “to do something, to make something; to bring together.”
We know the rest of the story relative to HOW Jesus trained preachers (disciples). Here are a few of the key ingredients in Jesus’ training methodology:
- He was with them for approximately 3 to 3 ½ years. He ate with them, traveled with them, lodged with them, etc.
- He was continually teaching them lessons which were going to be key subjects in the future of His ekklesia (church) (Matthew 18:15-20).
- He taught them how to pray by praying and teaching lessons on prayer (Luke 11:1-4).
- He taught them how to relate to people and engage in social events (John 2:1-12)
- He taught them how to be considerate and compassionate with people, even sinners John 4:1-30; Luke 15:1, 2).
- He taught them about how few necessities of life one really needs (Luke 9:58; 10:4).
- He taught them how to rebuke, expose, and respond to false teachers (Matthew 23).
- He taught them the true traits of servant leaders, which is what He wanted them to be (John 13:1-16).
- He taught them the need to relax and get away from pressure at certain times (Mark 6:30-33).
- He taught them how to handle rejection, scorn, and false accusations (Matthew 5:43-48).
- Above all Jesus taught them the importance of loving God, one another, and even one’s enemies (Mark 12:28-31).
- Jesus taught them how to die faithfully…and be forgiving regardless of the circumstance (Luke 12:28-46).
- Jesus taught them to carry on His work (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
- Jesus continually taught and demonstrated humility (Matthew 21:1-11).
- Jesus made it clear that potential followers knew and counted the cost (Matthew 16:24).
There are obviously many other lessons to be learned about how Jesus selected and trained preachers. Here’s the foundation truth undergirding all of His teaching and training. Luke stated in just prior to Jesus’ ascension to heaven: “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of ALL Jesus began BOTH to DO and TEACH” (Acts 1:1). JESUS FIRST PRACTICED WHAT HE TAUGHT! He wasn’t a textbook theorist, a talker instead of a walker, a borrower of other preachers’ successes. The Lord had been there, done that, and now able to teach that which He had learned from hands-on experiences.
THE TRAINING OF FIRST CENTURY PREACHERS BY PAUL
That God wants men to be taught and trained in how to preach is evident by the ministry and writings of the apostle Paul. Most preachers, sadly not all, have studied or been taught Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus relative to preaching. In writing to the ekklesia (church) in Corinth in exposing division, he noted the first a major reason for the vision was over preachers (1 Corinthians 1:11-15). Then he declared his emphasis was not solely on “converting people” but in preaching the Gospel: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to PREACH the gospel, not with wisdom of words, unless the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Corinthians 1:17).
Paul employed the same method of training preachers as used by Jesus. He had them accompany him on preaching to the lost, establishing, and strengthening churches. Read 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus for a full account of Paul’s messages to preachers.
TRAINING PREACHERS TODAY
Based on Paul’s admonishing to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 to commit to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” here are a few suggestions for those of us who preach to teach and train preachers:
- Inform yourself about the needs for training preachers; pray about this great need.
- Select one or more men and share with them your plan to help them, if they so desire, to become a preacher (Keep in mind we are not necessarily talking about “fulltime preaching.” That may evolve but at first, it is getting his feet wet with initial training in the local congregation).
- Select the core Bible subjects, including books of the Bible key doctrine which need to serve as foundation knowledge for “preaching the word.” Don’t try to duplicate a “fulltime schools” curriculum.
- Be sure to include basic courses in hermeneutics (how to study the Bible) and homiletics (how to prepare and deliver sermons).
- Select a time for the classes to be taught (E.g. Tuesday and Thursday night; Saturday, Sunday afternoon, etc.).
- Be sure the classes are not just “talk and theory” but including doing and practice. Have opportunities to preach in the congregation.
The key is to be creative and committed to preachers training preachers. What if each preacher trained one preacher? How about two or three preachers?
J.J. Turner has a new book titled, 505 Observations About Preaching, available on amazon. com