Preaching, a Medley of Matters
While this material particularly pertains to preachers, the material is not limited to preachers. There are so many things that both preachers and Christians in general need to know. Such knowledge mutually shared can also help to break down barriers between preachers and members. Writing under "Öa Medley of Matters" also provides me the opportunity to cover divergent matters in a relatively short space. Hence, there will not usually be any direct continuity between sub points and no descending order of importance is intended. I might also inject that I do not view myself as an authority on preaching. However, the word is the authority and I suppose I have learned a little, having fifty years of experience.
Preaching is a lofty and grand undertaking. Many talk about preaching, but few have the courage and commitment to leave the job security of the secular world and enter a life that without great faith can be discouraging and, sometimes, depressing. Paul wrote to Timothy, a young preacher, "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: 16). No mere job can offer the satisfaction and gain that full-time preaching can afford. First, there is the self-benefit aspect of preaching. The fastest way to excel is to preach the word and deal with the entire attendant doctrinal and people challenges involved in preaching. In addressing these matters, one also experiences growth. Then, there is the matter of being able to uniquely help others (Ibid.). Make no mistake, there is no greater work than preaching, not being a medical doctor, law enforcement, or engaging in social work can compare to the nature of the work and the potential gain of preaching (cf. Phili. 4: 1). There will be discouragement and times when one will have second thoughts as to their lifeís work, but overall preaching provides so much more than just income (cp. 2 Tim. 4: 5-8). If there is "greater condemnation" in failing to correctly effect the responsibility of preaching and there is, then there is an understood "greater blessing" in faithfully discharging the charge (Jas. 3: 1).
Preachers and encouragement. The ideal characteristic of the man aspiring to preach is one who is self-motivated. I say this for several reasons. One being that self-motivation and discipline are required in the work of an evangelist as one must usually monitor oneís own work. I also say this because there are times and circumstances when there is no human encouragement. Churches and individuals who need the truth the most often do not want it and the messenger, so to speak, becomes the target for their resentment and rejection (cp. 2 Tim. 4: 1-5). Men who must be constantly encouraged, usually do not last long in preaching. Since we do not possess prophetic foresight, we can be dissuaded by the present. We need to be reminded of the encouragement of the Lord. The Lord thus encouraged Paul:
"9: Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: 10: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city" (Acts 18).
The preacherís job is to sow the seed and leave the result to the hearer and God who can provide the increase (I Cor. 3: 6-9). The encouragement is that if we faithfully do the work of the evangelist, our labor is not in vain, God will be with us, and we have a reward vastly superior to any this life can provide (cp. Isa. 55: 11; I Cor. 15: 58; 2 Tim. 4: 8).
Preachers must take heed relative to building on the foundation. Some preachers desire, as did Paul, to preach the word in areas not having the gospel (Rom. 15: 20). Some expend their energies working with churches, as Apollos did, strengthing them (I Cor. 3: 6). Many combine their efforts, over a life time to both preach to the lost and to the saved (Paul did both types of work, as he usually stayed for a while after starting the Lordís church in a given location (cp. Acts 18: 18-23). Elders and supporting churches can place undue pressure on preachers whom they support in other places by intimating that a certain quota be met, so many baptisms, etc. Notwithstanding, the preacher must be as careful as possible to correctly build on Godís foundation, or, put in common parlance, he must do all he can to see that the emphasis is on spiritual quality and not placed on carnal quantity (numbers).
"10: According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11: For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12: Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13: Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14: If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15: If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (I Cor. 3).
I understand the building action being considered in the foregoing that can result in the "wood," "hay," and "stubble" not to be intentional, but happenstance. I say this since no punishment is to be imposed on the builder. Yet, the passage contains the plain warning that preachers need to focus more on the quality of how they build up a church rather than matters of how large the contribution is, how many attend, or simply how many "baptisms" are occurring. To the converse, I believe we must necessarily infer from the passage that any who intentionally simply strive for numbers at the expense of spiritual qualitativeness shall be held accountable.
Preachers and knowledge. All Christians are enjoined to increase in knowledge (Col. 1: 10). I do become tired of hearing the argument from members and preachers alike, "A preacher has no more responsibility than any member when it comes to knowledge, etc.!" A man who is fully supported by the church where he labors should have more time and opportunity to study; hence, I believe there is the increased responsibility to develop. The acquisition of knowledge should never cease, only abound because the more we learn, the more we are able to learn. Early on, I admired men who could stand up before an audience and allow the knowledge to flow and emanate. One early impression that has had lasting effect was attending an effort in preaching being conducted by one of the larger churches in Texas with a preacher friend (I was about twenty and he was about forty). Just before time to start the service, the local preacher addressed the audience and said that he had just learned that the visiting preacher who was scheduled to speak did not show (I do not recall the reason). The local preacher was viewed as one of the big name preachers. I assumed he was going to announce that he would be preaching that night. Instead, he said: "I am at a loss as far as what to do, is there a preacher in the audience who could with no notice present a sermon?" I thought to myself how terrified I would be to have to rise to the occasion. My friend raised his hand and proceeded to the pulpit and delivered a great sermon (no notes or outline) before a huge audience containing around ten preachers.
Preachers who only study for Sundayís sermons are essentially wasting their potential abilities. The key is to study, study, and study, be ready for any and all occasions. One reason I moved to worked with a certain church when I was a young preacher was because they hosted an hour long live radio question and answer program. I was extremely intimidated, but I forced myself to engage in the task of providing immediate and spontaneous answers to all manner of questions. I learned to love this endeavor and have since done it on many occasions (I Pet. 3: 15).
There is so much to be learned from language, especially a Greek language study; yet, so many neglect the vast opportunities thus afforded. One of the most personally challenging exercises to stimulate personal growth that I have found has been written exchanges or what we would call written debates, especially the ones before large internet audiences. Writing not only requires study and knowledge, but also the ability to articulate truth in writing, which is a discipline within itself. Writing forces one to review oneís ability to express oneself in a clear and intelligible fashion, being more aware of the function of nouns, verbs, and syntax.
Preachers and finances. The scriptures unequivocally teach that churches are to support those who faithfully teach the truth (see a detailed study of this subject, click on, "The Support of Preachers"). As Paul succinctly worded it, "14: Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (I Cor. 9). I might also add that preachers are to be well supported and that the "vow of property" is not taught in the scriptures (Ibid.). Preachers should start when they are young to save and manage their income to where they will not be dependant on others when they reach the age when due to age or health, some churches may not want them. I recall one email from a seventy-five year old preacher who said, "Brother Martin, my health has failed me and the church where I presently labor has asked me to move. I cannot find anywhere to relocate and I am looking at the possibility of my wife and me being indigent." Save, I do not care how little your income may be.
Preachers are known for not being good money managers, but such does not have to be the case. My wife and I are now in the final leg of our lives (we should statistically have a good twenty plus years left). We planned to where over a consistent forty-five years that we would be financially able to support ourselves and go where we desired, Lord willing. We started a work about three years ago where there was none and the brethren and we are presently building a meeting place. You, too, can do this if you discipline yourself when you are young. In our case, we planned even before we married to create a carrier for my wife, one in which I could assist on a limited basis, after the children left home. For over twenty years, we used the income from the business to invest and save. I do not agree with the thinking, "Preachers are to live by faith, and such means that they do not consider finances." God holds us all, including preachers, responsible for providing for our own (I Tim. 5: 8).
Preachers and sisters. I could not begin to enumerate how many cases of which I have knowledge have occurred involving preachers and female members in adultery. My first experience with this was before I entered full-time preaching. A preacher in the area where I resided committed adultery. It turned out that he had a long, consecutive history of such immorality. I was asked to assist the brethren by filling in the pulpit until they secured a faithful preacher and also to help them address their problem. You see, he remained in the church and demanded that he be allowed to preach. I must admit that I played a role in leading the church to do what they should and I was really surprised when I later incurred the rebuke of more than one well known preacher. I subsequently learned that every one of these preachers themselves had committed adultery.
This may come as a shock but the opportunity to commit adultery is very present in many local churches. I knew one local church that attempted to secure a preacher based on the "young womenís selection." They required that he be very outgoing and good looking. This was a very worldly atmosphere, one that was conducive to all manner of immorality.
I personally have always had the practice, no exception, that I do not meet alone with a woman. I recall moving to a new work after even telling the elders of my practice and soon encountering problems. One young female member who was very dissatisfied with her marriage wanted to meet alone. I asked her to come to the house and that while my wife would be there, there could be some measure of privacy if she preferred. She refused. It was not but a few weeks that the exact same thing occurred with another young female. This time, she complained to the elders. They met with me and charged me (one led the other two) with not doing my job. I stood firm and told them that they were out-of-place and actually using terrible judgment. I found out that the preacher who preceded me had been involved with some of the young females in improper relationships, to put it politely. I never cease to be amazed!
Paulís teaching to Timothy needs to always be before us. "The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity" (I Tim. 5: 2). Preachers who have an office at the church building need to be especially careful. In fact, I have for the most part insisted on having my office in my house. I know such a practice appears extreme to some, but I have never regretted such caution. I could write volumes about this ongoing danger, providing one example after another of ruined marriages, lives, and divided churches, but I think I have made my point.
Preachers and emotion. While emotion is involved in preaching, emotion must not be the sole motivator. Speakers who only use emotion can fire up an audience, but they also can teach and require just about everything imaginable. Observe that Paul mentioned "emotion" ("obeyed from the heart"), but he also wrote of obeying that "form of doctrine" (Rom. 6: 17). I imagine that Peter had emotion, both from his presentation standpoint and in his basic appeals, as he preached about Christ being murdered, how they, the Jews, murdered him, and what they were to do to have forgiveness (Acts 2: 14- 47). I should also think that the nature of the sermon and the surrounding circumstances determine emotion. Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus how he had served them "with many tears" (Acts 20: 19). Paulís departure from these brethren was replete with emotion:
"37: And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, 38: Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship" (Acts 20).
Truth without emotion is cold and incomplete (cp. 2 Cor. 2: 4). However, there are different ways of expressing emotion and age, experience, and maturity all play an important role. When I was young, I could preach on children and the family with comparatively little emotion. Now that my own children are grown and in view of the years of experience with others in their joys and sorrows, I absolutely cannot preach on this subject without tears and great emotion. In fact, I must struggle with my emotions in an effort to control them.
Emotion, though, must be natural and not faked. I was looking at a preacherís outline one time and I noticed small side notes. One said, "pause," another "shout," and still another, the one that caught my attention said, "cry." I am not sure how you sincerely cry on command. It must always be remembered, regardless, emotion is never to be used as authority or proof of any point thus made in a sermon or as the sole motivator.
Preachers and church problems. The preachers recorded in Holy Writ, those whom we are to mimic, dealt with many church problems. Those to whom John addressed in I John appeared to have greatly been influenced by what later clearly became known as Gnosticism. Gnostics taught that one could be a Christian and not walk in the light and even live a life of dissipation. The flesh and spirit were two separate, detached matters, said the Gnostics (cp. I John 1; 3). Just about all the churches with whom Paul dealt had problems, from denying the resurrection, ignoring open sin, sinfully suing one another through the civil courts, to you name it (I Cor. 15; 5; 6). The point is, these men addressed and preached on the church problems. So many of the preachers today, yes, even in churches of Christ, do not believe in preaching on problems. I have personally heard some of our most popular preachers say words to the effect, "I refuse to preach on anything that is a problem within a church or within an area." It is amazing how they can waltz around any problem and talk an hour and say nothing of any pertinence (cp. 2 Tim. 4: 1-5).
Preachers and cliques. The inexperienced and those in reality denial have no idea at the level of politics in preaching. There are also power struggles that take place from within most local churches, involving churches in an area, and even on a "brotherhood" basis. Cliques offer protection and number identity. Paul saw his share of cliques among brethren and he was also the target of their contempt (Phili. 1:15, 16). Nonetheless, Paul did not play politics or show partiality (cp. Gal. 2: 11ff.). Cliques often involve "brotherhood magazines," foundations, schools, etc. My advice to the young and old is to stay clear of all these groups. Some of the most disillusioned preachers whom I have observed have been preachers who were in various cliques who for different reasons were excluded by their respective clique. It seems many of these preachers cannot exist without their clique brethrenís acceptance and approval. It is really sad how many brotherhood issues these cliques affect and politically manipulate.
Preachers and appearance. While there are certainly matters under the heading of the appearance of the preacher when in the pulpit that are "matters of opinion," there are also matters that involve principle and are true. First, there is the matter of protocol relative to dress and general decorum (cp. Matt. 22: 11ff.). This protocol is obviously influenced and even in some cases determined by culture. For instance, what might be serious and dignified attire in one culture, might not be so viewed in another. Yet, there are cultural norms. I recall attending a meeting where the preacher got up with his shirt out and dressed in street pants. His appearance was very casual and it matched his very casual sermon. This man effected casualness every where he preached and churches that desired to be laid back loved him. The point I am making is that our dress itself makes a statement. Preaching is serious, solemn, and reverent business. Paul thus taught the preacher Titus:
"7: In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity" (Tit. 2).
Regarding Titus 2: 7, David Lipscomb wrote: "In his public teaching and private intercourse with the people he must never forget he was the teacher of the message of eternal life, and that he must have a dignified manner that vindicates his profound seriousness of purpose and devotion" (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, vol. 10, p. 275).
Preachers and courage. One quality or trait that I have found lacking in too many preachers is courage. In order to "fight the good fight," one must be courageous (2 Tim. 4: 7). When I obeyed the gospel, I had already experienced many instances requiring courage. However, in view of the seriousness and solemnity, the first time at age nineteen that I presented a "sermon," I was almost tongue tied with fear. Over my preaching life, I have stood up to face potentially hostile audiences. I recall one time that I was told that a murder for hire contract had been placed on my life and I for several months drilled my wife and children on how to go under the pews in case of gun fire and not worry about me. The pinch and bleed, backboneless, scared at a threat have no business in preaching. The namby-pamby have no ability to even relate to what I am saying because they preach the gospel of compromise and none-militancy (cp. Jude 3, Phili. 1: 7, 17). Some who are latently mean can wax bold when they do not get their way. Paul said of himself, "ÖI have fought with beasts at EphesusÖ" (I Cor. 15: 32).
Preachers and church bullies. In my personal years of preaching, I have thus far encountered two strong church bullies. These men had for years controlled the local church where they were members, respectively, forcing their own codes on the members and bossing the preachers. I recall one of these church bosses meeting with me a couple weeks after I moved there to work with the church and saying, "Brother Martin, here is how it works, if you do what I say, you will find your stay here profitable. However, if you cross me, I will exert my wide influence and see that you are removed, not only from this local church, but also barred from preaching anywhere!" John faced a church controller by the name of Diotrephes (3 John 9-11). You will notice and appreciate that John refused to be controlled by this self-appointed boss. After a similar fashion, preachers today are to be courageous and unyielding. In my personal foregoing example, it took a year, but the church finally withdrew from the man I mentioned (2 Thes. 3: 6, Tit. 3: 10, 11). The other boss left and became the church boss of the church that received him. Alas, this man had controlled all the preachers that had preceded me, many of whom were highly respected, and had made demands that resulted in the church being spiritually deplorable and impoverished. Shame on brethren and preachers for allowing such!
Preachers and example. I am aware that every Christian is to be an example (cp. I Thes. 1: 5-8). However, I believe that in a special sense those who preach serve as examples. Paul wrote thus to a young preacher: "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). I believe the expression "Öof the believers" (ton piston) both includes Timothy representatively viewed and Timothy setting an example to the Christians where he preached. Preachers should be examples in holilness of life, how they stand for the truth and expose error; how their families appear; how they maintain themselves in their physical appearance, their yards, and their dress. Churches usually do not rise above the example set by their preacher. I believe this is one reason James wrote, "1: My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (Jas. 3, "master" is from the Greek, didaskalio, "teachers"). I have conducted gospel meetings for churches whose preacher was a disgrace, this is putting it mildly. Even the community talked about the preacher being involved with "other women," not paying his bills, and being lazy.
Preachers and plainness of speech. I have been amazed at how some men can use so many words and expend so much energy and say so very little. In fact, it seems some are masters at evasion, ambiguity, and equivocation. I recall some men having preached on an issue and after the sermon, I have approached them with the question, "I still need some help in understanding your points, may I ask you some questions?" After a thirty minute session, I still did not known what they were saying. I recall one preacher preaching on social drinking and after carefully listening, I could not determine if he was for or against it! Paul wrote:
"12: Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech" (2 Cor. 3).
One fact that is outstanding upon studying the preaching style of the recorded preachers, from the prophets to the apostles is that they spoke very plainly and applicably (cp. Acts 2: 14-40). One counters, "A preacher must be allowed time to decide on various matters and learn how to directly speak." I grant this, but if such learning takes years, perhaps one is in the wrong business!
Preachers and trying out. One dreaded event experienced by many preachers is the "job interview" or trying out, as it is often called. This is when the prospective new preacher appears before the church so that they can decide whether or not "he is the one" to preach for them. Many problems have begun at this time of "try out." I have known of several local churches that have divided due to some wanting brother Smith and others demanding brother Jones (I Cor. 3: 2-6). Preachers can be responsible for such division. The first question the tying out preacher should ask the church is, "Am I the only one presently being considered?" I recall agreeing to talk to one church and having them assure me that they were not going to have a preacher parade and that they would decide on a preacher before going to another one. So, I went and preached for them. After the service that Sunday night, they called a meeting and the one presiding over the meeting said, "I have talked to various members here and it seems certain that the church is ready to offer brother Martin the work." I watched the reaction and saw what I thought was a problem. I spoke up and said, "If there is concern, please feel free to express it." The reply was, "We thought we had already decided on brother Brown and he is home packing as we meet!" Over half then spoke out, "We had rather have brother Martin." Brother Martin then rebuked them for the competitive circumstance they had arranged and I removed myself from the shopping list.
Preachers wonder if they should "Let the church have it" when trying out or appear very mellow (cp. 2 Tim. 4: 1-5, 2: 24-26). My advice is a mixture of both. I do very much encourage meeting with the church and allowing them to ask questions and I also encourage the prospective preacher to be frank and honest in his answers, also asking questions of them. Such can be good regardless of the presence or absence of elders.
Some matters should be spelled out in writing, I believe. Matters such as how much off time is to be allowed (vacations), and what he is to be paid and how it is to be paid. If there is to be a housing allowance, make sure it is set up in advance according to IRS requirements (a housing allowance can be of great help to alleviate some of the preacherís self-employment tax circumstance).
Some requests are unreasonable, on both sides. I have had churches to want me to provide my word that I would remain with them for various periods of time. I have also known preachers who have wanted the church to commit to three, four, five or what ever period of time. Such matters can not only be unwise, but can be legally viewed, especially when in writing, as a binding employment contact. Some churches have signed such contracts and they have been sued by a preacher whom they have fired (he failed to live up to the requirements set for preachers, the church believed). One good way for the preacher to have a feel of what he may experience without creating extra problematic circumstances is to find out how long his predecessors have stayed and how they have been treated.
Too many preachers look for the ideal church and too many churches search for the ideal preacher. I had a little different philosophy when I entered preaching. I looked for the one with the most problems and what I perceived to be the most need. I recall meeting with the men after the try out Sunday and having them tell me, "Brother Don, we want you to move and work with us. You do understand, though, you will be subject to what we want you to preach and there are certain subjects that you will not mention." My reply was, "May I inquire as to these forbidden subjects and why they are not allowed?" They stated them without hesitation. My next question to the present twenty-seven men was how many of you men agree with this condition? All but two raised their hands in agreement. I asked the two who did not agree with the demand why they did not agree, after I first went down the line and had each of the twenty-five to say why these subjects, all biblical subjects, by the way, were forbidden. My final reply was, "I will move here and I shall start by preaching on the forbidden subjects and I shall also look to the two brethren who want the whole truth and God for support." "Any objections?" Not a one said they objected (as I look back on such events, I am amazed at Godís providence, especially considering that I was such a young man). I remained there for seven years and had a good, challenging work. I believe that while I hoped I helped them, I probably learned more from this first work, addressing all their problems, than I would have learned any where else.
Preachers and vocabulary. The one who originated the law, "The preacher must speak on the level of the youngest audience member" did not use scripture. Now, do not misunderstand me, I do believe, as previously stated, that the presentation must be understood. However, the just mentioned and often bound law is man-made. This law also involves Spirit led writers and preachers committing sin. A similar law is that "One must speak and write on a seventh grade education level." Again, where is scripture for all these laws? Still another law is, "The speaker must not use a word over two syllables." I repeat, all these "laws" are absent in scripture. Especially in reading the Greek New Testament, one encounters many five to eight syllable words and words that are indicative of a higher education. This is especially important in view of plenary inspiration, the Spirit providing the very words (I Cor. 2: 13, 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17).
I do believe that every preacher needs to study vocabulary. Words are to a preacher what tools are to a mechanic. Using the right word that precisely conveys just the right nuance and intensity is of the utmost importance. The science of semantics, word etymology, and philology are invaluable and can make or break the preacherís presentation. No, I am not advocating that the preacher must be an elocutionist or orator. Such emphasis is the very thing Paul condemned (I Cor. 2: 1-5). However, many truths are presented in the Greek based on word difference, shade, and verb tense, etc. (cp. John 21: 15-17; I John 3: 8-10; Gal. 1: 6-9).
Preachers and providence. Let me say in no uncertain terms that I absolutely believe in Godís providence and without this belief, I would have never entered full time preaching (cp. I Pet. 3: 12, 13). There is no way an intelligent man would commit to preaching knowing the often negative and no win situations unless he believed that there was more impetus involved than just man. However, even with this firm belief there can be times of indecision and not knowing what choice to make. I recall as a young preacher I experienced in one year over fifty local churches to beg me to move and work with them. At first, I was complimented. I soon begin to wonder, though, if this was providential, with which one should I move to work? As I look back, there was some indication in each instance that helped me to decide. I ended up staying where I was and where I was the most needed.
Preachers and gospel meetings. Holding what we call "gospel meetings" is highly esteemed among many preachers and often used as the criterion for deciding how popular and capable a preacher is. One veteran preacher told me when I was a young preacher holding my share of meetings, "Young man, do not make the mistake of judging your worth by the meetings you hold, some meeting preachers are sought out due to their inability or refusal to say anything of substance and relevance!" After I got over being insulted, I seriously considered the warning and through the many years that followed, I have observed what the preacher told me. Some of the most severe confrontations that I have had have been with so called meeting preachers and some of the most uncomfortable times have been experienced having to sit and listen to these men tip-toe-through-the-tulips and the brethren thinking "what powerful preachers" they were. Many of these men are fluff and have no real personal conviction and dedication. Their positions are determined by the wind and popularity and I have no respect for them.
Relative to "gospel meetings," there is certainly a need. I recall the first meeting in which I was involved as the local preacher. The preacher arrived and spent the first day talking to me, asking me various questions about the church and the area. He proceeded that first night to preach on relevant matters in plain, cogent terms. He called on the church to repent and put in place the needed changes. To my amazement and joy, the church did what was needed. It was, I do believe, the best meeting in which I was ever involved! In contrast, I had another preacher to come for a meeting and he questioned me the first day. I told him about the other preacher and I asked him what nights he would be addressing the needed subjects. "Address them nothing," said he, "I just wanted to see what subjects to avoid!" Conducting a meeting affords the visiting preacher many wonderful opportunities to build up the church and assist the local church in reaching the biblical goals (I am not advocating the visiting preaching becoming involved in "private" matters, or simply taking a side. However, a man can preach the truth on relevant circumstances without meddling.)
I might inject that the church where a man primarily works has the right to have input in the matter of how many meetings their preacher conducts. I say this knowing that many preachers take issue with me regarding this point. I know preachers who are gone six months out of the year. I do not believe a man, any man can do justice to a local work holding this many meetings (there could be a special arrangement, etc.).
Preachers and elders. Elders also referred to as presbyters; overseers, bishops; shepherds, and pastors are observed as being the leaders of local churches in Bible days (Tit. 1: 5, I Tim. 4: 14; Acts 20: 28, I Tim. 3: 1; I Pet. 5: 2, Eph. 4: 11). Indeed, it is Godís plan and teaching that elders, men who meet the qualifications in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 superintend local churches where they serve (cp. Acts 14: 23, the pastoral system, local preacher, running the local church instead of Godís leaders is foreign to the scriptures). There can be and are a number of circumstances involving one or more bishops also serving as the preacher/preachers and a preacher also serving as one of the pastors (I Tim. 5: 17, 18; I Pet. 5: 1-3). It appears that Timothy worked under and with a group of overseers as the local evangelist (Acts 20: 17, I Tim. 1: 3, 2 Tim. 4: 1-5; I Tim. 5: 17-22).
There can and should be harmony between the eldership and the preacher. In reality, there is commonality in some of their work (Acts 20: 31; 2 Tim. 4: 1-5). While such should not be the case, competitiveness can and does exist between the elders and the local preacher (even when the preacher serves as one of the elders). I have heard "elders" complain, "The preacher gets to be before the people more than we do" and, "The members go to the preacher with their problems rather than come to us." I have known preachers who resented elders suggesting sermon topics, etc. The preacher must allow the elders to do their work of overseeing the flock and the shepherds are to allow the preacher to do his work of preaching the word. Their work should compliment one other as they all perform the work God has assigned to them.
There can be occasions when the preacher must expose an elder for his sin (I Tim. 5: 19ff.). In this matter, the preacher must make sure he has proof to substantiate the charge, as the text in I Timothy 5 sets forth. When there are scriptural elders and a preacher, there is much strength in the local church. It is wonderful when the elders can publicly commend the work of the evangelist and when the preacher can endorse the eldership.
Preachers and audience participation. As a public speaker, the successful preacher is aware of the level of attention of his audience and will do what he can to initially acquire, maintain or regain that attention. Spirit led preachers are observed capturing the audienceís attention (cp. Acts 13: 26). The preacher has the right to demand the awareness and an appreciative cognitive level of his audience (Ibid.). He possesses information of the most imperative nature and the audience needs to hear what he says.
First, attention should be paid to the particulars of the elements making up the physical surroundings of the presentation. Questions such as, "What are the acoustics or sound carrying ability of the physical surroundings?," "On what is the preacher to stand and preach and its allowed range of movement?," "Is there a public address system?," "What kind of lighting is present?," these are just a few areas of concern. As a rule, much improvement can be made, all improving the presentation potential for the preacher. Alas, many churches concentrate on the conditions that assist singing, but pay little attention to the conditions that make for a better sermon presentation and, hence, level of interest and attention.
There are many things that the preacher can do to effect the ideal condition. Voice modulation, gesticulation, physical positioning variety, and the overlooked pause are so valuable. Eye contact is necessary to keeping the audience alert. Visual aids can tremendously increase the attention. With aids such as PowerPoint, one can present a potentially complicated subject on a simple level. Regarding all these mentioned matters and many not mentioned, however, we must remember that the emphasis must not be placed on these particulars. They must only be used to further emphasize the mighty truths that are presented and not themselves be allowed to be the focus.
I might add a word of warning: I think preachers need to avoid any method of audience participation that decreases the serious and reverent nature of the gathering (cp. Acts 10: 33). I personally try to avoid a back and forth group dialogue such as, "Hello audience/ Hello preacher, etc." I do like presentations that offer a question/answer session following the service. However, I personally think that if we try to incorporate a lot of this into the sermon itself, a circus and chaotic atmosphere can prevail (I Cor. 14: 33).
Preachers and brotherhood issues. I recall one preacher who contacted us (the eldership) and asked for financial support. To prove his worthiness of support, he wrote: "I do not preach on or deal with issues. I have found that dealing with issues only causes problems and I totally ignore them." Rather than making a good impression, the decision was immediately made to not support him. Alas, there are too many preachers with the same attitude as the preacher seeking support. These men I call hirelings. Jesus does not condemn a man taking support for his work, but he does denounce the man who will not face issues or problems and set forth appropriate warnings. Jesus called him a "hireling," one who simply preaches for money and does not care about the doctrinal purity of the church (cp. John 10: 12ff., Tit. 2: 1). One said in defense of not addressing doctrinal deviations and trends, "I refuse to be a hobby rider." One can so focus on one subject as to neglect other necessary topics (Acts 20: 28ff.). However, dealing with doctrinal aberrations is not necessarily "riding a hobby." I wonder what these men think Paul is enjoining on Timothy (I Tim. 1: 3-10)?
The preachers of the New Testament including Jesus himself went out of their way to deal with issues that threatened precious souls (Matt. 5-7, Acts 15, etc.). How can one even casually read James and I John and not observe the doctrinal militancy? (See also Philippians 1: 7, 17, Jude 3.)
Preachers and sin. As we have observed, preachers are to set an example (I Tim. 4: 12). It is sad when the local preacher indulges in sin with no strong opposition (cp. 2 Pet. 2: 10-22). More preachers themselves are falling victim to the epidemic of divorce and marriage to another. I recall holding a meeting and preaching on marriage, divorce, and marriage to another. The local preacher came to me that night and set forth the circumstances of his second divorce, as I recall, and his present marriage. Based on his own confession, he was living in adultery with his then wife. I had to so inform him and I asked if the church knew about his marital status. "They know and they do not have a problem with my marital state," he replied. The man was highly respected in that area of Texas where he did local work.
I remember having lunch with a preacher who was holding a meeting for us that week. The subject of divorce and marriage to another came up. He said that this matter did not present a problem to him and his work of baptizing people. Being interested in his statement, I asked him for some detail. "I baptize them," said he, "knowing that they are in unscriptural marriages and I do not mention their marriage." I inquired as to how he could mislead the people and also introduce sin into the local church. His reply was, "If we do not make allowances, we will baptize very few, comparatively speaking!" He went on to explain that he would at some point discuss their marriage with them. When I asked him when, he replied, "Years later when I think they might be willing to cease a husband/wife relationship."
Preachers and balance. Where is the scripture that states the law, "There must be balance in preaching" and what does such a man imposed law mean, in the first place? Having said this, I do believe the preacher should keep records and every so often review them. Paul enunciates the principle of all truth or subjects being presented (Acts 20: 27). If by "balance," we mean a church should not be fed an exclusive diet of first principle sermons, I agree. There is more to talk about than just baptism (Heb. 5: 11-6: 1). I recall one preacher saying, "There must be a balance, fifty percent commandments and fifty percent love." Such a statement reveals ignorance of such verses as I John 5: 3. Another wrote, "A balance of fifty percent positive and fifty percent negative must be maintained." I do not believe 2 Timothy 4: 2 is meant to bind "balance," but if so viewed, even this verse would be at least sixty-six percent what men term negative. I recall another well known preacher saying, "Hobble riders do not maintain balance in their preaching." All of these positions and, again, man-made laws are not only unscriptural, they are also intellectually flawed.
Circumstances and need should determine the subject matter and thrust of preaching, not these shallow sayings of men. John saw a special need to address what appears to be Gnosticism, and he spent most of I John in a refutation of that growing movement. Jesusí Sermon on the Mount is mostly an exposť of Phariseeism (cp. Matt. 5: 20, etc.).
Preachers and sermon type. In addressing both aspiring and present preachers, I have, as part of the study material, had them outline many of the recorded sermons in Acts. These sermons, beginning with Acts 2 lend themselves well to outline formation. The point? First, the sermons of the Spirit are intelligible and organized. They often contain gradation of thought, beginning with a stated introduction, the body, and the climax. They would, simply stated, often constitute what we call the topical sermon type. There are, in fact, a number of sermon types. The expository type is when one takes a verse, for instance, and engages in an exposition of the verse; there is the inferential, sort of a loosely organized topical, and the topical itself. I have noticed in some circles a movement away from the topical sermon and even a growing criticism and aversion toward it. While I concur that error can be more easily manipulated in the format of the topical, to say that this presentation is unscriptural is going too far. Another point relative to approach and outline type, I know that it is difficult for the beginner or tyro, but if at all possible, avoid looking too much at an outline or simply reading your sermon. Doing this is one of the fastest ways of loosing the attention of the audience.
I think there is a time and place for various styles or types of presentation. The topical affords easier treatment of a given subject and, thus, is probably the most common. The expository also has endemic advantages. Regardless of the approach, the preacher must strive to be organized and understandable. His thoughts should be connected, sequential, consequential, and replete with logic if, albeit, simple and mostly disguised.
For style and delivery variation, one may even want to avoid any material or hard copy outline. Still, the thoughts and consequent expression should be organized and connected. I like to offer variety by moving aside the pulpit and stand before the audience without any hard copy outline. The danger in doing this is that such requires much discipline because it is so easy, assuming there is the requisite knowledge present, to wander too far away from a central theme and, thus, disjunction is experienced. Remember, the preachers recorded in the New Testament were Spirit led, we are not (cp. Matt. 10: 19).
Preachers and declaring the whole counsel. Preachers do not have the liberty of picking and choosing what they shall preach on in terms of the totality of their preaching coverage. Consider Paulís statement as to why he was free from the blood of others:
"26: Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. 27: For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20, cp. Ezek. 3: 18-21).
We must teach the grace of God, but we also must teach on the fate of those who "receive in vain Godís grace" (2 Cor. 6: 1, Tit. 2: 11ff.). We are to present how Christ loved the church, but also on the lost condition of those outside of Christ (Eph. 5: 21ff., Rom. 8: 1). Many subjects due to cultural circumstance are not popular today. Social drinking, modern dancing, and language are subjects that must be addressed (Prov. 23: 31; Gal. 5: 17-21; Eph. 4: 29). Many moral trends tend to gain acceptance or at least tolerance in the church due to preachers not preaching on these matters. Too many churches are fellowshipping those in unscriptural marriages because preachers do not care enough about the church and souls to preach on divorce and marriage to another (Matt. 5:32, 19: 9). Just as one is free from the blood of others as a result of speaking the whole truth; one shall have the blood of others on him due to not speaking the whole truth (cp. Jas. 3: 1).
Preachers and mistreatment. Any preacher who cogently preaches the truth will suffer mistreatment. To a young preacher, these words and warnings were issued, "3: Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2).
Paul and many early preachers suffered much due to the message they presented. Paul endured "distresses," "afflictions," and "sorrowfulness" as a preacher (2 Cor. 6: 4-13). He was in "weariness," "painfulness," and "beatings" (2 Cor. 11: 23-30). Yet, in all these privations, Paul gloried (2 Cor. 11: 18).
The watered down preaching of positiveness and Church of Christism will not result in mistreatment, but the simple preaching of the Jerusalem gospel will (Acts 5: 41). Today and too often, if it gets out that brother Doe was fired or he was attacked and beaten because of his scriptural preaching, the reaction of many would be, "We do not need such a man, he causes trouble!" Alas, these churches would not allow the apostles or Jesus himself were they present today to preach for them.
Preachers and extremes. In my continued study of dialectics and polemics, it is apparent that many have the tendency to go to extremes. An extreme teaching or position is not the truth, it has either gone too far one way or another and it constitutes an aberrant position (Josh. 1: 7). Preachers especially need to learn to test and probe their positions. Yet, every subject has attendant and extant extremes. An extreme position is not only an untruth, but it also often discourages people from finding and accepting the truth. The position relative to the divorce and marriage to another issue that, "It is all civil protocol" makes it harder for those who teach that it is not all civil protocol, but that applicable civil compliance is part of the biblical process and the making known of motive and intent (Matt. 5: 33, 19: 9).
One common practice of the small minded and often dishonest is to simply assign an extreme view to the preacher and thus prejudice others from even examining his actual teaching. We need to establish the perimeters of each position and move toward the position that not only has the most truth, but is essential truth itself (Rom. 9: 1).
Preachers and the allowance of time. Just as time is involved in the growth process of the average Christian, so it is with preaching and preachers. While I believe the preacher has already attained to a certain growth, he will or should continue to grow and advance in the gospel all of his life (cp. I Pet. 2: 1, 2). We must also keep this in mind in working with people (2 Tim. 2: 24-26, such should not allow the compromise of truth). However, this is not exactly the point I want to herein make. God does have a time table in the matter of sin. He allows some time before the "Lampstand is removed" (Rev. 2: 21). For instance, how long does a preacher continue to work with a church that is allowing open sin? It is understood that the preacher targets the problem, but the church does not repent. Perhaps of some help is the matter of Corinth. The church at Corinth had many unchecked problems (I Cor. 5, 6, etc.). Paul clearly dealt with these matters and urged them to repent.
It is evident from the language of the Second Letter that had they not repented, he would not have continued to view them in fellowship or if so, the time would have been expiring (2 Cor. 1-7). We are talking about an approximate time period of seven months between the writing of First and Second Corinthians, not years. God knows the time, we do not. However, if there is no change, even incremental change, I could not personally stay on when sin is openly and unchallengingly practiced. Our responsibility is to address problems and observe attitudes and allow the time issue to remain with God. I know this, by preachers being oblivious of time; churches are encouraged to allow conditions that are sinful. After a while, such non-action becomes the norm.
In conclusion and of a personal note, I would not trade my life in terms of the decision to preach for anything. Preaching has afforded me many personal advantages to grow and do things that the limitations of time would have precluded had I stayed in the secular field. As to material matters, my wife and I presently have all that we need and more and we have never missed a meal. It has thus far been a rich and rewarding life. Having said this, I do not believe, contrary to the thinking of many, that full time preaching is for everybody. Only the courageous and those who fully believe in the power of the word and Godís providence need to consider a life of dedicated preaching.