The Training of Preachers, How Done?
It has been said, "The state of local churches is determined by the quality and type of preachers instructing the local churches." Could it be that such a view of the importance of preachers is exaggerated? Perhaps, nonetheless, the scriptures do present the work of preachers as very important and as a stay of truth and preclusion to religious departure and apostasy (2 Tim. 4: 1-5). The pertinent question is how are men to be trained and produced to serve as local preachers?
Some would answer that a man in order to be qualified to preach must be miraculously endowed. While the apostles and many in the First Century church possessed miraculous ability, this age of supernatural gifts was to cease (I Cor. 12: 8-10, 13: 8-10). In anticipation of this cessation, Paul urged Timothy to "study" and acquire through "natural" means (2 Tim. 2: 15, I Tim. 4: 12, 13). There was a time in the infant church and in the absence of the revelation observed in the New Testament when men did not have to give thought to their presentation, even the words were supplied, but today we must study Godís revelation to ascertain his will and doctrine (Matt. 10: 19, I Cor. 2: 13, cp. 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17).
Another common answer to our question regarding how men are to be educated to preach would be seminaries and schools that have a Bible Department. In fact, this answer is so standard that it is seldom even questioned. Hence, if a man desires to be a preacher, he is expected to seek out a seminary for his indoctrination and expertise. In fact, most religions of which I am acquainted to some degree have such a requisite, even many churches of Christ (see addendum 1). Hence, if a man has Baptist leanings, he is expected to attend a Baptist College and a degree from such an institution is often required by a Baptist Church in order for the man to serve as their local preacher (they would use the term "Pastor"). On a practical level, how can a man become versed in a particular denominational theology or theological slant if he does not seek out a source for such indoctrination (human creeds and doctrines are not resident in the scriptures)? Once again, Baptist Schools produce Baptist Preachers, Methodist Schools, Methodist Preachers, etc. Even regarding churches of Christ, consider the following and pay particular attention to the importance placed on the school in the production of preachers ("preacher training") as seen in a letter written by James Cope, then President of Florida College, April 20, 1949, to Yater Tant regarding the Bible department at Florida College (the sentiments of President Cope have since been re-established and affirmed):
"ÖAs you know I am to assume my responsibilities in connection with Florida Christian College, Florida, July 1. ...Occasionally you will be asked your opinion concerning the school; hence, this letter is for your own information and brethren who may be asking. ... (6) Preacher training. While we expect to have academic work accepted as readily by other educational institutions as that of any of our sister institutions, we make no apology to anybody for placing emphasis on the teaching of young men desiring to teach the gospel and others desirous of doing religious work. We believe that the safety, security and soundness of the church depend upon the kind and amount of preaching and teaching done. Those who take the lead in this matter are elders and preachers, and unless they are thoroughly grounded in the faith innovations, errors, and inertia will abound; hence, we expect to have a Bible department second to none. Our students will be taught the issues and how to meet them...."
As quoted, President Cope made no apology as to the role of Florida College in keeping local churches doctrinally sound.
Is the college/seminary, then, the answer to how to train men to preach? As a side observation, due to the belief that churches must depend on colleges and their Bible departments, colleges usually end up in the budgets of local churches, a matter totally without biblical authorization (see addendum 2).
Concerning how men are to be trained to preached, it seems that many have forgotten to consult what should be viewed as the standard and source of authority as to how things religious are to be done: the Bible (Col. 3: 17). First, it is significant to note that the New Testament mentions nothing about seminaries or colleges with Bible departments to produce and provide degrees to men desirous of preaching, to which local churches looked for their preachers (yes, "secular" schools did exist in the First Century, cp. Acts 19: 9). Consider the simple teaching of the scriptures:
"1: Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2: And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2).
As one grows older and wiser, it is amazing how the New Testament order not only avoids human machinery, but provides teaching that can preclude politics and human control. Schools serving as seminaries are prolific of a number of evils. First, they become viewed as the source of doctrine and what is right. As history shows, most schools have given in to the exerted pressures from Modernism, etc. (they do have to campaign for contributions, etc., which promotes compromise). This is true regardless of the particular religion, including schools associated with churches of Christ. History also is replete with instances of schools attempting to influence and even control local churches (supplying preachers and elders for local churches automatically positions colleges to a place of influence, even if they do not accept monies from local churches, see addendum 3).
I have, as a preacher, on a number of occasions practiced 2 Timothy 2: 2 and I know from a practical standpoint that it works. When I was a young man, I sought out men who were especially qualified in different areas and even at my own expense went and studied under them (I also attended college for a secular education, at my own expense, I might inject). I have participated in, using my own time, the arrangement of a local church financially supporting a man to assist in the work of preaching while he, on his own time, studied with me. Hence, such an arrangement provides not only the class advantage, but the hands on experience. Due to the "small class" advantage, I was able to really focus on relevant matters and also people study considerations with the man.
Back to Paulís how to train men to preach statement: Notice the three paramount teachings of 2 Timothy 2: 2. First, sound doctrine is indicated in the expression, "the things that thou hast heard of me." Every school of which I have been aware has included in their training staff some instructors who are doctrinally unsound. This pure doctrine is to be "committed" to "faithful men." "Committed" is indicative of the lofty responsibility associated with preaching and "faithful men" is reflective of the requisite moral and also doctrinal condition of these prospective teachers and preachers.
Godís plan is simple and it works. Preachers are to train men to preach and such training does not require a formal college milieu and all the potential problems associated with such a practice. Such a biblical practice also precludes the temptation to place colleges on the church budget and basically eliminates colleges influencing churches as to their preachers and official doctrinal stances (see addendum 4).
One other observation relative to the arrangement of 2 Timothy 2: 2: Paul told Timothy to commit to faithful men, not the church at Ephesus where Timothy preached. Many will disagree with this observation, claiming that such a distinction splits hairs. However, where is the authority for a local church to set up a preacher training school? Some in order to offer a degree or diploma have to have the civil recognition of a school and all that that entails. Hence, they support and oversee (their elders) a separate entity, the school of preaching (usually involving a separate treasury, etc.). Even if such development is avoided, Paul said preachers are to train men to preach (see addendum 5, also be sure to consider the question/answer section following the addendums and for related reading, "Schools Among Brethren").
Addendum 1: A local church certainly has the right, yea, even the obligation to require a man who is to serve as the local preacher to be capable and qualified (see qualifications found in I and 2 Timothy and Titus, etc.). A man must have some degree of resident ability in order to preach. The old belief, "If a man desires to preach, a church must not refuse him, regardless of his absence of ability," is not only false but it promotes all manner of incompetence. To the other extreme, I have on many occasions witnessed a local church in seeking a local preacher to have the requirement, "He must be a graduate of Ö school." Is such a view of certain colleges justified or even scriptural? In fact, while writing this material I had a member of a local church of Christ, which is dissatisfied with their local preacher tell me: "The church did not research whether or not he attended preacher training school, which one, and what degree he received from the school. The preacher was unqualified from the beginning because he had not attended one of the schoolsÖ."
Addendum 2: Relative to church supported colleges viewed as producing preachers, Batsell Baxter wrote: "It is my conviction that the schools need to be dependent upon the churches for their financial life blood in order for the schools to remain permanently loyal to the goals and principles the Bible teaches" Questions and Issues of the Day, pg. 30, ca. 1964). Of historic interest regarding the church supported college issue in churches of Christ, W. L. Totty affirmed: "It is scripturally right for churches to contribute money from the church treasuries to support what is commonly called a Bible College in its work" (October 18, 1954).
Addendum 3: It has been said that some colleges do not solicit churches for financial support and I do not challenge this claim. However, some have a way around direct church support of colleges. Churches simply support a man while he is attending a certain school.
Addendum 4: Even colleges that have a Bible department and associated degree in Bible that do not stress doctrinal conformity result in another serious problem: the mentality of unity-in-diversity. Many of the preacher training schools are nothing but doctrine melting pots that bring together aberrant doctrines from all over the country and even world. Most of the preachers coming out of these schools bring this unity-in-diversity mind-set into local churches where they preach and circulate. Alas, many of the graduates of these schools have more manifest loyalty to the school than to the Lord and his church!
Addendum 5: There is a marked difference in a preacher training a man or men to preach and in a school or even local church doing such, this should be obvious to all. As noted, a local church may elect to "employ" a man in such a training arrangement to assist with the local work or a local church may invite a man to present lessons on certain occasions. Overseeing a preacher training school, usually separate and apart from the local church, is not the work God has assigned to elders (I Pet. 5: 1-4).
Questions and Answers
If you make use of Bible Truths on a regular basis, you know that when dealing with material that especially has the potential for misunderstanding, I have often included a question/answer circumstance following the article.
Question: After reading, "The Training of Preachers, How Done," it seems to me that you are playing down training and preacher preparation. Is this the case?
Answer: "The Training of Preachers, How Done?" is not meant to be used or understood to promote ignorance or the lack of education. While it is true that a number of the apostles were not secularly educated, it must be understood that they had the baptism of the Spirit to supply their knowledge (Acts 4: 13; I Cor. 7: 40, 14: 37). Preaching requires a spectrum of education involving familiarity with the teaching of the scriptures, how to study, language skills, communication ability, basic psychology, etc. Much of this study is ongoing, but there is certainly a prerequisite amount. Moreover, preaching requires strong character and courage that in some ways, a man either has it or he does not.
Question: Are you saying that a man who desires to preach is wrong in attending a school to acquire applicable skills and that to do so constitutes the seminary concept?
Answer: Simply seeking out secular learning is not analogous to a seminary arrangement. However, when we accept and even demand the practice of a man being a graduate of a certain college that has a Bible department (Bible degree) and the school, by its own charter, at least partly exists in order to produce preachers, we have gone too far in our demands!
Question: What is wrong with brethren arranging an accreted college situation that attempts to also provide a good atmosphere for Christians?
Answer: I do not believe there is anything necessarily wrong with such an arrangement. Most schools associated with churches of Christ have started, having such a goal. However, before some realize it, the simple college offering a good atmosphere has become something else.
Question: Is it wrong for a school totally operated by individual brethren, accepting no funding from churches, and determined to avoid a seminary image to offer a study of the Bible to all under "literary studies" and would it be wrong for an aspiring preacher to benefit from the curriculum of such a school?
Answer: The simple answer is, I believe, "no."
Question: What in your mind constitutes the seminary image?
Answer: The seminary image would normally involve a Bible department that provides a degree in the Bible program, that presents itself as the provider of preachers, and that encourages the mentality that a degree from the school should be held in high esteem by churches looking for preachers.
Question: What do you think of the rationale that a Bible department really consists of men, instructors, who are individually functioning and such action is not organizational or school action and that as such, it is in harmony with the action set forth in 2 Timothy 2: 2?
Answer: I think such reasoning is seriously flawed and is often dishonest in its essential nature. How is the diploma presented, from the school in view of academic achievement or from an individual or individuals? It is hard to view such arguments with any degree of seriousness. Do the financial contributions go to an individual Bible instructor or to the school having the Bible department?
Question: What do you think of the belief and sometimes requirement that in order for a man to be viewed as preacher material, he must descend from a line of faithful preachers?
Answer: The problem with all such man-made requirements is that they are not set forth in the scriptures. Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother, but his father is not even mentioned (2 Tim. 1: 5). Please do not misunderstand me; having godly fathers, grandfathers, etc. can be of great advantage. However, faithful preachers have come from all sorts of backgrounds, some very unlikely backgrounds. Perhaps I should not mention this, but my father was in organized crime and I only briefly saw him one time past age five. Too much importance is placed on ancestry (cp. Tit. 3: 9).
Question: How can one acquire the skill and knowledge to be a successful preacher?
Answer: Knowledge of the Bible, acumen in various related areas, and practical experience are all involved. One does not have to have a college atmosphere in order to learn the Bible. For what it is worth, I knew a young man who set out to acquire all the acclaimed books relative to Bible study and set up his own classes, using these books as his text books. He built a Greek reference library, critical and conservative commentaries, etc. and each day set aside time for serious study. He engaged in such studies at night, after he had conducted home Bible studies with interested individuals. Before six in the morning, he engaged in secular studies for his college work and between these times, he worked at a regular job to support himself (he attended local college shortly after work and before his home Bible studies). He was used by the local church where he was a member to teach classes and fill in for the local preacher. He also filled in pulpit preaching for numerous churches in three adjacent states. Over a period of four years, he was viewed as already one of the most knowledgeable young men of his time, even compared to a percentage of "seasoned" preachers!
Question: What do you view as the primary motivation prompting a man to preach?
Answer: I do not think a man should be in the pulpit who simply wants to be before people. I also do not think preaching should be approached as just public speaking or developing leadership and good job skills. I had one young man to tell me, "Brother Martin, I want to preach because I must be batting." This man was a football star in school and he had to be before the people. You might not believe this one but it is true, "Brother Martin, I want to preach full time because the women are impressed by such a man and position." There are many emotions, desires, and aspirations involved in preaching, no doubt. Many motivations are good, if only gradationally so. However, I believe one of the most precipitous is a sense of responsibility to serve God and his fellow man. If a man wants to be an entertainer, we do have some today in the church, draw people to his innate and exercised magnetism, or simply be a public speaker, he needs to stay out of preaching!
Question: To what do you contribute the source of your abilities?
Answer: Anterior to entering full time preaching, now almost fifty years ago, I spent ten years in the secular field, doing all manner of work, from rough necking in the oil field to management positions for various companies. One job from which I have greatly benefited all my life was in quality control. I taught factories, etc. how to organize and more efficiently produce their products. This ten year period was not wasted, as I learned many things that would assist me later in my lifeís work, preaching. Lifeís experiencing can produce character and moral courage. When I was ten, for instance, my mother married a man who owned a house in one of the roughest sections of one of the most notorious cities in the South. Learning how to survive such a gang invested condition taught me courage that you cannot learn in school. It also taught me how to deal with problems and not be bullied.
It is said that one is the sum total of oneís experience and with this, I basically agree. I am afraid that too many men want to start preaching before they possess basic maturity. How can a kid who has led a sheltered life enter preaching for a church that is replete with worldliness, false doctrine, and you name it and expect to do the work of an evangelist and survive? Involved in any detailed answer to the question is the matter of native ability. We all differ in our mental and physical capabilities. While I mention the foregoing, I humbly give God the glory for anything worthwhile that I am and possess!
One thing that very much concerns me about many of the current and future generations is the apparent lack of the sense of responsibility. We have become such a fun loving people, everything is gray scale, and politically driven that I have more concern for future preachers and churches than I ever have heretofore had. A man must so value the truth of Godís word that it takes precedence over everything else in life, oneís school, oneís family, oneís friends, and the unity-in-diversity thinking that has invaded the minds of so many today. A preacher who is worth his salt, so to speak, will over his life many times place his whole future on the line for the sake of truth. Many times in dealing with issues and the promoters of these issues, he will be told, "You either agree with us or we shall see that you will never find another church for which to preach," or worded more positively, "If you work with us, we shall see that you and your family have all you financially need and that you have job security." Preaching is definitely one of the most responsible undertakings there is and at the same time, one of the most rewarding.