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:
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:
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.
Among all the things Churches of Christ are noted for is singing which is usually at the top of the list. We are known for our acapella singing or singing without instrumental accompaniment. Next to baptism for the remission of sin singing is the second most discussed and debated issue.
Singing has a prominent place in Scripture. In one form or another, it is mentioned approximately 400 times and 50 times as a direct imperative. An Old Testament example is Psalm 96:1-3: “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.”
The Bible affirms that God sings. In Zephaniah 3:17 we read, “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with SINGING.” Jesus sang with His disciples after inaugurating the Lord’s Supper: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out on the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). The apostle Paul affirmed to the church in Corinth that understanding must be at the heart of our worship, including singing: “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will SING with the spirit, and I will also SING with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). In Acts 16: 25 we read where Paul and Silas were singing in prison: “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and SINGING hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening.”
THE POWER, BLESSINGS, AND BENEFITS OF SINGING
Singing as presented in Scriptures is not just a form of fleshly entertainment or used to fill in a time slot on a schedule. For the Christian and person who desires to please God and reap the benefits of singing, here are several positive observations about the power, blessings, and benefits of singing. Therefore, singing is more than an exercise in four-point harmony or a response to “Shall we sing?”
Here are several dynamics involved in the power, blessings, and benefits of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs:
BEWARE OF HYPOCRITICAL SINGING
Since Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 commands us to sing with meaning and understanding, we must guard against falling into the trap of simply mouthing the words of songs without any real heart, meaning, and application to ourselves. Since we are teaching each other we must know and apply what we are teaching unless we fall into the trap of “saying and not doing”—being a hypocrite.
Here are a few songs we need to examine carefully how well we mean and apply them after the song is finished:
This sampling should help us to be continually aware of what we are singing. Words have meanings and especially when we are offering them to our heavenly Father as the fruit from our hearts expressed through our voices.
May we never forget that singing which is to self, others, and to God must meet His approval. It is more than four-point harmony—it may include “Making a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
J.J. Turner. Ph.D. ©
Back on the 22nd of March, 2015. USA TODAY ran an article titled, “Has The Sun Set On Sunday School? Basically, the answer was yes but there were also some bright spots in some churches. I typed in this search question on Google: “Why Sunday School Is Failing?” and 148,000,000 responses came up. Evidently, there is a lot of interested in the state of Sunday School. How is your interest?
Some call it Sunday School, some refer to it as Bible classes or Bible study. Regardless of what name, if any at all, the reference is usually to the one-hour in which members assemble in a classroom setting to study the Bible before the worship hour. It is a period where an organized effort is made to instruct, learn, fellowship, and apply the Bible. Some congregations use it to evangelize.
Years ago the number in Bible class attendance varied little from the number in the worship assembly. That has changed in most congregations, regardless of size or location. For years the attendance spiral was been on a declining trend. Recent research has revealed that the difference between Bible class attendance and worship is from 35 to 45 percent; and in some even 50%. Some congregations with once thriving attendance in youth Bible classes are now without or with only a few in attendance. Vacation Bible School used to be a major event in summer months is now only a memory in the minds of those of us who attended. What is causing this downward spiral?
How about the congregation where you worship and serve the Lord? What, if any, is the difference in Bible class attendance and Sunday morning worship?______% If there is a percentage difference? Do you know why? Most congregations keep and post worship attendance numbers but not Bible classes. Why?
How about you? What is your attendance record for Bible class in comparison to Sunday morning worship? Are they the same? [ ] Yes [ ] No (Something to think about).
35 Reasons Why Some Christians Don’t Attend Bible Classes
I am presently researching and writing another book for my Wake Up series titled, “Teachers, Wake Up! I have collected an almost unbelievable list of reasons and excuses some Christians give for not attending Sunday morning Bible classes. (I won’t even dare to discuss Wednesday night classes) Here are some of those reasons and excuses. They aren’t given in a priority because each one may constitute the priority in a Christian’s personal list of reasons; for others way down the list or not on their list.
Again, how about YOU? What is the ratio between your attendance in Bible class and worship services?
The Sunday morning Bible class can still be a vital tool for educating the body of Christ in the 5-E mission of the church. The challenge is to review it, revive it, and rededicate it to God’s glory.
Leaders need to step forward and
Growing up in a small village, population 200-plus, it was easy to recognize and know your neighbor. I remember one family had a couple of boys who were known to be “rough and rowdy”; another family was referred to as the “gossips”; another as the “holy rollers”; one was called “those rednecks”; another had the reputation of being “stand-off-ish,” etc. Because of man’s carnal nature the practice of giving families “nicknames”; seems to be a popular practice. Whether positive or negative, right or wrong, it creates a reputation.
Think of the families you know or have known and ask yourself “What is or was their reputation? How about your family? Do you know what reputation it has in the minds of those who know you or who may observe you from a distance?
The local church is the “called out family of God” (i.e. ekklesia). Here’s Paul’s reference to the church being a family: “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulation for you, which is your glory. For this reason, I bow my knees to the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the WHOLE FAMILY in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 3:13-15).
In writing to the young preacher, Timothy, Paul admonished him to behave himself properly in the house of God (i.e. family): “[B]ut if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Just as families in neighborhoods, etc. have reputations, the church family in local neighborhoods have reputations. The reputation is established whether deserved or not by the actions of individual members as well as by the enter congregation. I am ashamed and embarrassed to mention some of the reputations I have heard applied to some Christians and congregations. Whether true or not, deserved or not, the truth remains that every Christian and congregation has a reputation.
Most congregations have a priority or several priorities. The English word priority means to “create or recognize an order of importance, precedence in time; to make first, etc.” I have observed over my years of ministry how congregations have created and maintained their various priorities, which related to the place and practice of local autonomy—each congregation is independent of a governing board or dictates from a sister congregation. I have noted that some congregations have established some of the following priorities:
I am not passing “right or wrong” judgment on any of these practices. I am only sharing what I have seen as various congregation priorities. According to Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the Lord Judges each congregation on its own merit and practices. It is a congregation’s priorities which build its reputation.
Since Jesus built His church (Matthew 16:18); purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28); is the head of His church (Colossians 1:18), etc. He has the right to establish the priority for members of his church—His body and family. Here’s the priority Jesus gave to His followers—His church: “A new commandment I give to you that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER, as I have loved you, that you also LOVE ONE ANOTHER. BY THIS all will know that you are MY DISCIPLES, IF you LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (John 13:34, 35).
According to Jesus the priority of any local congregation must be LOVE, because love for God, neighbor and self is the core identifying characteristic and behavior of the church we read about in the Bible, which belongs to Jesus. This priority is consistent with the Greatest Commandment taught by Jesus in Mark 12:28-31: “And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceived that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ And Jesus answered him, ‘The FIRST of all the commandments is “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: THOU SHALL love the Lord thy God with ALL thy heart, and with ALL thy soul, and with ALL thy mind, and with ALL thy strength: this is the FIRST commandment. And the second is like, namely this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is NONE OTHER COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE.”
The priority of loving one another in the church is taught over and over in the New Testament with reference to how it is the priority of God’s family, and love is what established the church’s reputation both in and out of the church. Jesus said, BY THIS shall all men KNOW you are My disciples if you have LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.
There are approximately 60 Scriptures in the New Testament which reference our responsibilities to ONE ANOTHER in the local congregation—the church. Here is a sampling of these Scriptures:
LOVE (agape and philia) is the undeniable badge of Christianity demonstrated by local congregations and individual members. A reading of Paul’s letter to the church of God in Corinth reveals one problem after another. Ranging from division to going before secular courts to solve problems. What was the ONE solution to all these problems and issues? LOVE! Read Chapter 13 to see how Paul used the greatest of all virtues—LOVE—to resolve their problems.
When the weather permitted the preacher of a city congregation would stand at the bottom of the steps of the church building and greet the members and guests attending Sunday morning services. He noticed Sunday after Sunday a young boy, maybe 12 to 14, passed by with a large family Bible tucked under his arm. One Sunday morning the preacher stepped out and stopped the boy, asking him where he was going to church (Evidenced by his dress and Bible). When the boy mentioned a church across town which required the catching of a bus and transferring to get there; the preacher invited him to attend his congregation, asking “Why do you go way over there, we are close to your home?” The boy replied, “Thank you, sir, for the invitation. I know you folks must be wonderful here, but I’m going over there because at the First Street Church they know how to love a little fellow.”
Isn’t that where we all want to be? In a congregation where they know how to love a little and big fellow; a tall and short fellow; etc. WHAT IS YOUR CHURCH FAMILY’S REPUTATION? How about your reputation?