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The Work Of Preachers

The Work Of Preachers

by John Paul Gibson, M.D.

Published in
The Christian Informer
July, 2002


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Last updated:
July 22, 2002.

IT IS ACCORDING TO God's will that the gospel be spread by preaching. "It was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (1 Cor.l:21; Rom. 10:14).

A preacher is a Christian who knows God's word and is able to tell it to others. In order for his training to be effective, he must "practice what he preaches." "They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4)."

The preacher has no "divine call" above any other Christian. He has no special code of morals to live by above that of other Christians. If he possesses talents for speaking and teaching, the church may ask him to devote all of his time in that way under the direction of the elders, while the church will meet his living expenses. "The laborer is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7)."

The work that the preacher is to do should be outlined by the elders. It is up to them to hire him, to give him specific duties, and to dismiss him when, in their opinion his dismissal is best for the church.

For some time it has been the general custom for each church of fair size to have one full-time preacher, who spends most of his time preaching to the church. Some of the larger churches have, in recent years, begun to employ a younger man also, as "assistant minister" on a Paul and Timothy basis. This arrangement glves a young man valuable training in working for a church under the guidance of the elders and with the help of a more mature and more experienced gospel preacher. The elders and preacher can help him to develop his talents and become more useful in the church.

There is no reason why many churches could not employ three, four, or five full-time preachers. When ten wage-earning Christians contribute at least a tenth of their income, that will support one full-time preacher on an average economic level of his fellow Christians. Many Christians can give more than a tenth of their earnings, some less. In a church where there are one hundred wage-earners, then ten full-time preachers could be employed. Since, however, there are other expenses, five full- time preachers could be employed, and the other half of the church income could be used for other expenditures. There is no better way for a church to invest its money than in its primary job of preaching the gospel.

To whom shall the preachers preach? This must be decided by the elders. Let the elders avoid the common error of bestowing upon the preacher all or most of their duties in feeding the flock ( I Pet. 5 :2), and overseeing it. It is true that the elders may be engaged in business, and may not have as much time as the preacher, but this does not excuse them from being teachers and pastors (I Tim. 3:2; Eph. 4: 11). And a preacher is not a pastor.

The elders may ask the preacher to preach to the church a part of the time, but if this preaching to the church takes all of his time and energy, then the great unsaved population will go on their way to destruction without hearing the gospel.

The ideal situation would be to let the preacher devote his full time to preaching, teaching, and visiting outside the congregation, working almost exclusively on the unsaved. Then as he converts these, and they are added to God's church, the elders may take over in teaching, guiding, and training the new Christians on to perfection. This is the New Testament plan. If a Christian proves wayward and needs visiting, reproof, or discipline, again this would be the elders duty, and this arrangement would leave the preacher free to carry the gospel to the outsider.

But just as Paul and his co-workers liked to come home at times to Antioch and Jerusalem and report on their work, so, too, the preacher should do that. As did Paul, that he might remain and teach for awhile in the church, before going out again on another missionary tour. "And they tarried no little time with the disciples" (Acts 14:28).

One great advantage of hiring several preachers is, that they can go together to difficult fields as did Paul and Barnabas; Paul and Timothy; Paul and Silas, with Luke and Mark; or they can rotate their duties away from home.

All preachers should be "located." No preacher can do any preaching unless he is located. Every New Testament preacher was a located preacher. He may have been located in a moving chariot, (Acts 8:29-31), in a synagogue for a few weeks, (Acts 13:14-51), or briefly on Mars Hill (Acts 20: 17-31), or for a period of several years in some city (1 Cor. 1:11-13). But always, he did his work while located. Until some brother can tell us by inspiration just how long a preacher should stay in any one location, we must depend upon human judgment to determine such matters.

However, we must avoid the favorite-preacher complex of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:3-9). If a church feels that it just cannot exist without hearing every Lord's day one certain preacher, a very unhealthy spiritual condition exists. It would be wise to send that preacher out immediately on a missionary tour and keep him away for some time. It should make no difference to a church who preaches, as long as a faithful man is proclaiming a pure gospel. To avoid over-emphasis on the preacher, it might be well at times to devote the entire period of assembly to worship, with no sermon-instead, to have the reading of God's word. And a church that does not care to listen to talks by its elders has either the wrong kind of elders or the wrong kind of members. or both.

Now that we have the preacher ready to go out from the home church, just how shall he go about preaching to the unsaved?

First, let him take another worker with him for mutual help and encouragement. This is according to the New Testament pattern! If Paul needed someone to go with him. so does a preacher today. Next, let him map out a territory and visit the main centers of population in a circuit one after another, as did Paul. Let him preach wherever possible, in a synagogue, in public assemblies, in the market place, on the riverbank, on stair-steps, in upper rooms from house to house, in rented houses, in schools, in courts and jails, and in any other possible place. The place was never important to Paul. He preached anywhere and everywhere. He was always glad to speak to one or two as well as a crowd. He continued there until he had established a church or was thrown out of town, or both. Then he returned later to strengthen the brethren, and appointed elders in every church. Time seemed unimportant; it was the task that counted. (See Acts 13-28)

We have some advantages that Paul did not have, but these advantages may also be hindrances. We have the printing press and can distribute circulars and church literature. But this literature should not be substituted for personal work and oral preaching.

We have radios by which we can reach into thousands of homes over a large territory, but again, this radio preaching should not be substituted for personal face-to-face teaching.

We have good highways and easy ways of traveling, but often we travel too fast, or too far, or too continuously instead of preaching everywhere there is opportunity to preach. We have comfortable, sleek house trailers that a preacher could use on a missionary tour, taking his family along. Yet he should get away from the idea that he is on a roving vacation at the church's expense.

We have amplifying apparatus to make it easier to speak in the open, but this device should not become a public noise-making nuisance. We have the law to protect us against physical persecution, but we should not brutally "skin the sects," and preach in such an insulting manner as to arouse unnecessary opposition. The gospel should be preached plainly, yet in love. Even when it is done in this way, opposition will arise without our consciously inviting it.

The preacher who follows Paul's example will lead a strenuous life. He, like Paul, will undergo privations, persecutions, disappointments, successes, dangers, thrills, hardships, and uncertainties, but he can do all things through God who strengtheneth him (Phil. 4: 13). Contrast this with the sedentary life of the gentleman-and-scholar type or "pastor"-preacher who spends most of his time in his study, calls on a few members of the church, and is a "pul-pit preacher" to comfortably pewed disciples. A very pleasant, but extremely unprofitable life!

But we are all spoiled! Preachers are spoiled into a pleasant home life, preaching to large, attentive crowds in beautiful church buildings, flattered by appreciative auaiences. Elders are spoiled into becoming inactive, letting the preacher "take charge of the church" and do the elders' work. Church members are spoiled into expecting, and even demanding nice little sermonettes by their favorite preacher, who shall visit them at frequent intervals. Sinners are spoiled into not caring for religion and into appreciating the church's letting them alone while they "enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season" (Heb. 11:25).

The New Testament is unexcelled as a textbook on what to preach and how to preach. Human nature remains the same. And the gospel is the same. We do not need "a modern gospel for a changing world." We do need the same old gospel preached in the same way to the same kind of sinners. These moderns are not really so modern. What is modern about getting drunk, committing adultery, stealing, lying, and Killing?

Jesus taught by parables. This is still an ideal way to teach. Yet the gospel preacher today who tells a story or a parable to illustrate a truth is often accused of aping sectarian preachers. Jesus talked the language of the common people. He used simple words, easily understood. Preachers today should avoid the theological school terminology. Many, many people today cannot define the words apostasy, Pentateuch, decalogue, dispensation, omipotent, postdiluvian, incarnation, and other similar words so glibly used by preachers. Paul said, "I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue."

The tendency today is toward shorter and shorter sermons, or "sermonettes." The same people who will willingly sit two hours Saturday on hard bleachers in raw weather to see a football game will complain on the Lord's day if the sermon is over thirty minutes long. Yet many a preacher has condensed a forty minute sermon into a fifteen-minute radio speech, and has felt that the radio version was an improvement on the original. Why not have two twenty-minute sermons, separated by a song and a prayer? Or three fifteen minute sermons with interval devotional periods? This would probably be more effective than one longer sermon.

The tendency today is to make the preacher and his sermon the main feature of the worship hour. In contrast, we read, "and upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them..." It seems that the Lord's supper was the main event, and That the preaching, even by Paul, was incidental. The modern tendency is to reserve the preacher selfishly for the church only. The preacher is given to understand that "as long as you stay here and preach for us, we will pay you well, but if you must be away to hold meetings, you will have to do that on your own account, and in the meanwhile we will try to get someone to replace you." It is far better for the church to say, "We enjoy hearing you, but there are so many unsaved persons who have never heard the gospel, we are willing for you to go and preach to them. In the meanwhile, we will carry on, and your support is guaranteed whether you are here or away. If small churches where you hold meetings choose to pay you, accept it, and we will make up the difference in your regular salary plus travel expenses."

That is standing behind a preacher in real missionary work. To send a preacher out to hold a series of meetings in destitute fields, and to small churches that could not otherwise have a meeting will do much good in the field. This plan will renew the preacher's fervor, and he will return to the home church with an increased zeal that will be contagious to the home folks who encoura~ed him to go. "How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?"

[This article is from The Church at Work copyrighted 1947. John Paul Gibson was born in 1903. Among other things he was a noted baby doctor. We agree with much that he says in the above article and are amazed at this man's pleadings realizing he was with the cups and classes brotherhood. The tendencies described by him continue among them and us even today. The pressure brought by "Christianettes" for short, watered down "sermonettes" still plagues us. May the Lord help us!!! Please note that the above article has been reformatted for this publication. - R.N.].

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