Things Required and not Required ofPreachers
The proclamation and acceptance of the gospel is essential to man’s salvation (Rom. 1: 16). Hence, in practical application, the gospel is observed relative to both the lost coming to God and the nourishment and growth of the Christian (Rom. 10: 1f., Jas. 1: 18-21). While I would not affirm that a local preacher is absolutely necessary, I would state that having a local preacher is a very important option and expedient for a local church. I am referring to a man who is capable and has sufficient knowledge of the word to instruct the local church, as Timothy did (2 Tim. 4: 2f.). In this circumstance, essentials and non-essentials need to be clearly established and respected. In common parlance, brethren sometimes fail to require of the preacher what God requires and then they require what the scriptures do not necessitate. In this simple study, we shall endeavor to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials with the aim to assist churches and preachers in the exercise of making such determinations.
Things God requires of preachers. The requirements of preachers are necessary in order for preachers to fulfill their obligation and work of preaching the word. In these requisites, one can also gain a general understanding of the type work the preacher is to perform (see addendum).
First, the preacher must be a male. Perhaps this observation may seem unnecessary to some; yet, it is becoming more a point to be made. I say this in view of the movement toward installing women in the pulpit of churches. I recently dealt with some problems being experienced by a local church due to the women’s movement. One influential member argued with me, "I have sent my daughter to the best of preparatory schools and seminaries and now you are telling us that she cannot use her talents in the pulpit!" The scriptures are plain regarding such matters:
"11: Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13: For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14: And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15: Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" (I Tim. 2).
It is binding that a preacher set a proper example in his life. Too many preachers fail in this respect and there are serious and adverse consequences forthcoming. Paul instructed the young preacher Timothy thus:
"12: Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (I Tim. 4).
The expression, "…of the believers" (ton piston) is grammatically indecisive, perhaps intentionally so, in terms of whether Paul is precisely requiring the preacher to set an example for the lost as to what a believer should be or if Paul is meaning to say that the preacher is to be an example for the believers to consider. Some translate the Greek expression, "for believers" (see The Amplified New Testament). One work renders it, "…set the believers an example…." (English Standard Version). In actuality, the preacher is to serve as an example to both the lost and the saved.
The preacher is viewed as the representative of the local church, whether fairly or unfairly. Preachers who say, "Nothing should be expected of me that is not to be expected of all Christians" are only partially correct. Preachers are held to a higher standard. James wrote:
"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (Jas. 3: 1, English Standard Version).
The preacher should be able with confidence to say as did Paul, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11: 1). In every regard, the life of the preacher should be exemplary. His life, in short, is to be characterized by moral purity and doctrinal soundness (I Tim. 4: 6-16). Alas, too many preachers fall into moral traps that have far reaching effects, not only to their lives and future utility in the Kingdom, but also to the lives of many whom they negatively impact. Preachers who meet alone with sisters having marital problems are extremely indiscreet and vulnerable.
I recall when I was a relatively young preacher working with a church that had a large number of younger married couples. A percentage of these couples had problems in their marriages and, as usual, the wives were vocal and wanted to talk about these matters. "I want to meet alone with you to discuss some very private and intimate matters," I heard on a number of occasions. I had told the elders before I agreed to move there that I did not do such counseling alone, but that I insisted on my wife being present. Alas, some of the elders attempted to require me to meet alone. I absolutely refused! I wonder just how many times preachers fall into adulterous situations due to lack of discretion on their part and elders who try to force them to practice such counseling.
As a husband, the preacher should be an example (assuming he is a family man). As a father, other fathers should be able to receive guidance even from his example. As a citizen, he stands out in the community. He pays his bills and is known for honesty and trustworthiness. Some of the preacher transition and relocation is due to a man having ruined and destroyed any influence he might have due to flaws and failings in his personal life. Alas, some preachers and churches expend much energy and money just in transition and relocation.
Biblical preaching is required. Preaching that emanates from the Bible and is biblical in nature, tone, and application is absolutely an essential relative to the preacher (Jas. 3). Timothy was instructed:
"16: Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (I Tim. 4).
The preacher is to be a doctrinal stay in the work of the local church and warn pertaining to anything to the contrary.
"2: Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4: And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5: But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry" (2 Tim. 4).
Too many elders and churches tolerate men who are not sound in the faith and before they know it, the church has gone the way of error and apostasy.
We received a request for support from one preacher who in stating his "virtues" and why we should financially assist him wrote:
"I am not an issue oriented preacher. I have found dealing with doctrinal issues in the pulpit only causes problems and I avoid such in my preaching."
Such a man has no business in the pulpit and churches need to exclude preachers with such an attitude and concept about preaching. The New Testament is replete with examples of how Spirit led men cogently addressed the issues of their day (cp. I Cor. 15: 12f.).
Regarding some preachers it is said in their defense, "He does believe error on…, but he does not teach it from the pulpit." How sad that churches fall for this line. Even if the man does not teach his erroneous views, he still will not preach the truth and error is taught by omission. When a subject, any subject, is neglected ignorance prevails and more error finds reception in the absence of truth. A man who is thus doctrinally hampered cannot and will not "declare the whole counsel of God," as required (Acts 20: 27).
I might further inject under the canopy of the preacher being a doctrinal stay that a man should not only have a good familiarity with truth, but also be able to applicably present it to an audience. The truth, though, is some do not believe in making application, they know they might incur the wrath of ungodly members who do not want the truth and their sins revealed. There is even the opportunity and occasion for supplying names from the pulpit, a matter that in some churches would cause a few coronaries, no doubt (cp. 2 Tim. 1: 15). Such is what some term "negative preaching," a vital and required component of biblical preaching (2 Tim. 4: 2).
Things not required. We have, I trust, established some essentials relative to preaching and the preacher. It is our task now to determine some matters not required by God; yet, some brethren bind them.
Binding certain physical features. That is right, I have personally known of churches that bound certain physical characteristics for a preacher. I actually knew one church that allowed the young sisters to select the preacher and they only wanted the "handsome" ones. Perhaps I should not mention such, but I do it to illustrate how ungodly some can be in using carnal standards and requirements. Jesus himself was not physically attractive and brethren have no right requiring such (Isa. 53: 2). Too many churches and elderships have sought and found a man having personal magnetism only to later discover that he had by his charms pulled away a large segment of the local church, those attracted to his person. To the other extreme, I once conducted a series of meetings in which I preached the gospel where the local preacher had a severe speech impediment, even to the point that he could not be understood. When I required as to how the man was able to fulfill the charge of preaching, I was told, "The man wants to preach even though he cannot be understood and we cannot refuse him." How ridiculous!
Some require the preacher to "leave off sensitive subjects" in his preaching. A number of churches have never heard a detailed and biblical sermon on marriage, divorce, and marriage to another. Many preachers refuse to preach such sermons and these churches are placated. It has been my practice to publicly challenge any demand to leave off certain subjects. One eldership where I preached told me, "Brother Martin, there is no need for you to mention divorce and remarriage while you are here; therefore, we are requiring you to omit the subject." That same Sunday, I began a series on the subject. The eldership was wrong and overstepped their authority (see addendum 2). We must be as compassionate as possible, but preachers must continue to preach the truth, all the truth, even when it is not wanted (2 Tim. 4: 2, 3). Churches have no right to require such manipulation of the truth.
The requirement to quote every verse from memory and have a certain minimal references to scripture location. Yes, I have known churches that required such. In fact, when I started full-time preaching, I was myself under such influence. My rule was that I would not read a verse or even chapter, I had to quote it from memory and I would have at least twenty-five verses. I soon realized that such was not only an unscriptural requirement, but often resulted in shallow preaching. The truth is sometimes Spirit led preachers quoted scripture verbatim and provided references and sometimes they did not (cp. Acts 2: 14f.). I challenge this man-made requirement while I emphasize the necessity of biblically oriented and saturated preaching. I learned while a young preacher that matters of real importance were an understanding of the verse, its syntax, grammar, and general milieu, and the ability to make proper application of the verse.
Some churches bind sinlessness. This is a delicate point and capable of being misunderstood. As we have seen relative to the preacher being an example in purity, churches and brethren have the right to expect and bind a certain lifestyle. However, some go too far and virtually require the man to be sinless, to which state preachers and brethren to not arrive, even though it is the desired target (I John 1: 7-10, Matt. 5: 48). These churches spend their time, energy, and money going through preachers in an effort to find Mr. Perfect. Some churches that have ability even advertise, "The preacher must bring his own support." Even if they found such a man, he would not want to be associated with them! I mention such matters knowing there are nuances and gradational considerations. Let us face it, some churches are more mature, advanced, and knowledgeable and in order for a preacher to be able to stimulate them, he needs to himself be above average, if we can establish what average is.
Binding domestic matters. I understand the often advantage of domesticity matters; I am referring to marriage and children. However, churches must be very careful when they start binding such. One church said, "We are in search of a preacher who must be married and have a minimal of two children." From a biblical perspective, a church does not have the right to make such a requirement. However, I believe a church does have the right in general to consider their total needs. I knew one church that had a number of unmarried females and they obtained a young, single preacher. Before they knew it, internal churning began and families were alienated because they all wanted the preacher to pick their daughter.
I have only provided and briefly considered some requirements and things not biblically required of a preacher. The New Testament is our guide and it does present qualifications for preachers, to the surprise of some. Not every male Christian is qualified to serve as the local preacher and no small amount of harm has been done by brethren teaching such foolishness. As a rule, as the preacher goes, so goes the local church. Preachers and preaching, then, is of the utmost importance. Let us use caution and approach this and every subject with both knowledge and respect for the teaching of the Bible.
Addendum 1: It is good that we realize that there are different types of preachers seen in the New Testament. Paul’s driving force was to preach the gospel where it had not been heretofore preached (Rom. 15: 20). Yet, he also worked with local churches to edify and establish them in the faith (Acts 19). A lot of Timothy’s emphasis and work seemed to have involved strengthening local churches (2 Tim. 4: 1f.). The doctrine that a faithful preacher cannot preach the gospel to the church is patently false and is usually a bi-product of the mutual edification doctrine (no local preacher as such allowed, cp. Rom. 1: 15, 16).
Addendum 2: I am not suggesting an antagonistic relationship between the local elders and preacher. However, elders have no right attempting to silence the preacher. They may certainly make suggestions and requests, knowing local needs. However, to attempt to bind certain subjects be removed from the pulpit is wrong (cp. Acts 20: 17-27).