Through the years in discussions with elders, I have asked them, what is one of the most difficult jobs or tasks they have to perform as an elder? The consensus always contains three answers: (1) Encouraging the members to be faithful, (2) Selecting a preacher, and (3) Stewardship issues related to giving. (There are others but these are the top three).
While attending a brotherhood lectureship at a college I ran upon an eldership I hadn’t seen in several years. When I asked them what they were up to? One brother answered, “We’re here to preacher shop." A second brother said with a smile, “We’re here to steal some congregation’s preacher.” A third asked, “Do you know any good men who are looking to make a change?”
A casual reading of ads for preachers in brotherhood papers reveal a myriad of requirements, desires, and works expected of preachers. There is even a business known as “Preacher or Pastor” placement services. Yes, there are, as there are physician headhunters, preacher headhunters. One thing which seems to be obvious is that in exercising local autonomy each congregation has the freedom to approach the selection of a preacher any way they desire. However, I would hope that the core of the selection would be based on correctly interpreted and applied Scriptures.
While we can turn to book, chapter and verse to find the authority, qualifications, selection, appointment, and work of an elder; we aren’t able to find such a blueprint for the SELECTION of a preacher for a local congregation. While there is no Bible example of a congregation working out a preaching contract for the services of a preacher; we do know a preacher is “worthy of being supported.” (This is not a desire to resurrect the old church-splitting argument about “located preachers.”)
Since words matter, I think it would be wise to spend a few minutes studying what the Scriptures say about a preacher. Here are those words:
- Evangelist. An evangelist was a spokesman for God “who announced the good news” Timothy was told to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Paul affirmed that one of the gifts to the church to help her mature in Christ was the work of “an evangelist” (Ephesians 4:11). Philip was an “evangelist” (Acts 21:8). When was the last time you heard a preacher refer to himself as an “evangelist”? When was the last time you read an ad where a congregation was wanting to hire “an evangelist”?
- A preacher according to the Bible is someone who “is a crier, proclaimer, herald, to cry forth, to proclaim. This word is used in 1 Timothy 2:7; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Peter 2:5; and Romans 10:11. He preaches the Gospel (Romans 1:1-16).
- This word describes what a preacher and evangelist does, it means “to tell or announce the good news.” It is fund 125 times in the English text of the Bible.
Therefore, do these words describe the primary function of the desired preacher? Or is he
wanting to be hired to do “101” ministries as developed, desired, and outlined by the congregation? Is his primary mission to be “out there” or “in house”? Yes, I know that each hiring church will determine either or are both. Where do Scriptures tell us how?
A DIFFICULT TRUTH TO ACKNOWLEDGE
Yes, it’s a difficult truth to think about or acknowledge that some congregations run through preachers like a minor league ball team runs through pitchers. I have known numerous congregations that have had a new preacher ever 2 or 3 years. Likewise, I have known some preachers who have chosen to move on after a couple of years with a congregation. I know a preacher years ago who went into the moving van business just to service the moving of preachers. Thankfully some preacher stay 10, 15, 20, 30, etc. years with one congregation.
There is a phenomenon which usually occurs with the selection of a new preacher. It is called the “honeymoon period.” Usually this last for the first six months, sometimes a year or two, he is with the new congregation, the church leadership, as well as some members, start to see his flaws, weaknesses, and face the unforgiving reality that he is just a man. He is still “not one of us” but an outsider. The words etched in stone “We need to make a change” are circulated.
Some members start to notice that his sermons aren’t on the same level his “tryout” sermons were, which formed the basis for being hired. They have picked up hints that he doesn’t hold the same “jot and tittle” position on some traditions and aren’t totally against all the things they are against (Rarely it may involve some questionable doctrine related to correct interpretation of Scripture, but not a condition of eternal salvation). As the preacher starts to express his passion and strong beliefs relative to certain ministries, programs, and activities, not doctrinal issues, he starts to accumulate negative check marks related to his tenure. He is labeled “a change agent.”
The other side of the coin is the congregation which isn’t happy or pleased with the preacher’s speaking abilities and people skills, but as one elder said, “We don’t have to worry about brother Doe he is sound and we can even fall asleep during his sermons and know he will always be sound.” Oh yes, his wife and family soon become spotlighted.
Can you imagine the owners of an electronic business are so in need of a plant manager that they cruise the highways and find a man on the corner with an “I’ll work for food” sign and after a few hours of showing him around the shop and asking a few questions, they hire him? Guess what happens to the company. My point is it’s somewhat ironic that the task of selecting a preacher is placed in the hands of men who don’t know, from a biblical standpoint, what the real work and ministry of the preacher are all about. They have their “our qualifications” list which must be met by the “right man.” And yes, the other side of the coin is that a few preachers have their “list of qualification” the hiring congregation must have before he calls the moving van.
LET THE BIBLE SPEAK
It’s true that each congregation is autonomous under the oversight of elders who are qualified and should be able to lead in the selection of a preacher based on what the Scriptures reveal. They know there’s isn’t a specific example of a congregation going through the process of hiring
A preacher or any other person for the congregation. Therefore, there is obviously some room for expediencies is pursuing the process. But the question is—How far should or can we stray from Scriptures by creating our own “wish list” for the ideal preacher. In recent readings of ads by congregations in search for preachers, the list of requirements averaged 3 to 5 based on Scripture and the rest referenced management skills, counseling skills, organizational skills, community organizer, aged related sills, etc.
Here are a few suggestions which I believe are biblical and will help a congregation looking for a preacher to do so on solid Scriptural ground:
- Spend some quality time studying First and Second Timothy and Titus with special attention given to the character and ministry traits outlined by Paul for preachers. An example would be the 16 qualities listed in 1 Timothy 4:7-5:9.
- Give special emphasis to seasons of prayer for wisdom to choose the preacher who is scripturally qualified for the spiritual needs of the congregation. Have special prayer services which emphasize this challenge.
- During the seasons of prayer be careful to note the major or special spiritual needs the elders need help with in order to lead, tend, and oversee the flock, etc. The question is: Why do we need a preacher?
- During this time of congregational education and preparation for selecting a new preacher to be specific as to why the present or last preacher needs/ needed to, biblically speaking, be replaced?
- Just as the elders have a plan in place for the congregation to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord,” they should have a biblical plan to help the new preacher develop spiritually and skills wise. He is under their oversight too.
- Be alert to the inside and outside influences which will be exerted, with good intentions, to help the elders of leaders of a congregation select a preacher. A best friend, good-old-boy, and popularity of a preacher must not guide the selection of a preacher.
- In my opinion based on years of experience as a preacher, elder, and trained of preachers, the “try out sermon” should be at the bottom of the list as the reason for selecting a preacher.
THE NUMBER ONE TRAIT TO LOOK FOR IN SELECTING A PREACHER
I have volumes of books on preachers and preaching, drawers filled with articles about this subject, written and researched extensively on this subject, and have been involved in preacher selection in one way or another for years. During these experiences, I have concluded that while all the desired, required, and essential qualities of a preacher may be numerous, there is one that will always be at the top of my list. That trait is CHARACTER!
I take this liberty with Paul’s magnificent description of love:
“Though I preach with the tongues
Of men and angels, but have not character,
I become a sounding brass
Or a clanging cymbal. And though
I have the gift of prophecy,
And understand all mysteries
And all knowledge, and though
I have all faith, so that I could
Remove mountains, but have
Not character, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods
To feed the poor, and though
I give my body to be burned,
But have not character, I am nothing”
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
For an accurate description of how agape (love) is expressed in character read the rest of the chapter: e.g. “character suffers long, character is kind, character does not envy, etc. etc.).
Sadly, and I’m ashamed to admit, that I have known a lot of preachers who are “characters” but with little real character such as is outlined in First Corinthians 13. From the nightly news to the behaviors in our schools, communities, and even congregations we see a lack of genuine character.
What is character? It is that inner quality which is developed during a lifetime of struggle, mistakes, choices, victories, successes, and moral integrity. It is more than the perfect pictures painted on a resume bragging about accomplishments. It is those qualities which compose our eulogy virtues. Character is a focus on the virtues that form our identity in our minds and the minds of others who know or heard about us. It’s the biblical principles of “By their fruit you will know them.” When was the last time you studied character?
Character is expressed in observable marks of spiritual maturity such as, “…temperate, prudent, respectable … not pugnacious” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, NASB). “…not self-willed, not quick-tempered…” (Titus 1:7). Paul helps us identify immaturity in character with these words: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Sometimes in the training or selection of preachers, we confuse the acquiring of correct Bible knowledge and mastery of speaking skills with the inner maturity of character. Satan would like for us to equate head-knowledge and mouth-skills with being signs of character. Yes, character development requires knowledge and is displayed with behavior skills, but it requires time (Cf. Hebrews 4:12-6:3); experienced in the quest “To grow up into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-17). It’s having the “attitude of Christ” in every situation (Philippians 2:4-9).
Therefore, my thought in this article on selecting a preacher is let’s start with CHARACTER.